How to do the Trans Canada Adventure Trail

The Trans Canada Adventure Trail (TCAT) might be the greatest motorcycling challenge in Canada: an adventure riding route that takes you through 15,000 kilometres of back country trails and gravel roads, from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

The TCAT includes muskeg, forest, prairies, the Rockies, and whatever other wilderness Canada can throw at you. An end-to-end TCAT run isn’t just a trip, it’s an expedition. We’ve talked about the TCAT before ( here and here), but never yet spoken to anyone who’s actually run the route coast-to-coast.

In 2014, Keith Larkin ran the TCAT with his friends Bryan Donaldson and Mike Vinsen (who joined the trip in Winnipeg, riding from there until the end in BC). They’re from New Zealand, and were the first group to ride the TCAT from St. Johns to Vancouver; they returned in 2016 to ride the Vancouver Island section. Here’s what Larkin learned along the way (we’ve edited the answers slightly, for length).


Canada Moto Guide: When you did the ride, quite a few people seemed surprised you did it on WR250s. How did that decision play out — how did the little bikes handle big miles?

Keith Larkin: We were the first to attempt the entire route and we were not sure what conditions we would experience, so elected for smaller bikes. The WR250R proved ideal, although luggage capacity was a challenge.

Probably less than 1,000 km of the 18,000 km we rode were sealed, and we were, in a way, proving the accuracy for Ted (TCAT master planner Ted Johnson – Ed.) of his GPS files, developed over five years, so we had lots of turnarounds, challenges and route changes in some unplanned snotty terrain, so small bikes worked well.

Trans Canada Adventure Trail
The Yamaha WR250 proved to be a reliable TCAT mount, but the aftermarket fuel tank was an important add-on, due to distances between gas stations.

How easy was it to find supplies like gas and food en route? Were there times when you thought you’d be in trouble and run out?

Overall gas and food was no problem. There were only two nights on the entire route that we could not find motel accommodation and had to camp. It is essential for ADV riders to carry snack food and water at all times anyway. One challenge was when the distance between towns was greater than a long day’s ride, the other was due to gas not being available at the time we arrived.

What about bike wear parts (sprockets, brake pads, chain, etc.)? Would riders be well-advised to sort out pick-up points for consumables ahead of time?

This depends on the bike used. For example, on the TAT (Trans-America Trail — Larkin has also completed that journey – Ed.) we found 17-inch rear tires difficult to buy.

We had a trade contact in Canada, who sent tires ahead upon request. Our bikes were purchased new in St Johns, so reliability was not an issue. We replaced the original chains and front sprockets about two-thirds of the way across. We paid close attention to bike set-up and spares, and daily maintenance is key. We had heavy duty tubes, fat bars, bash plates, Barkbusters, etc.

When you started the ride, you noted cold temperatures across Newfoundland/Labrador, Quebec and Ontario. Should riders make temperatures a big factor in their planning?

It snowed in St John’s the day we left (June 10). I don’t think Labrador got over 5 degrees Celsius, and it rained most of the time. So yes, quality cold/wet gear is essential.

The TCAT has a main route, and technical options. Did you do many of the technical options? And, would you recommend them to a rider planning to do the whole TCAT, or can they become a trip-slowing distraction, with potential to end it all in a crash?

We did some, as time allowed. We did lots of turnarounds and detours in proving Ted’s initial GPS files, so time was against us a bit. The route was about 14,000 km and we rode 18,000 km to Vancouver.

You would expect bears or black flies to be more dangerous than deer, but a deer almost ended the trip for one of the New Zealanders. After hitting one at highway speed, Bryan Donaldson finished the trip with a broken collarbone.

Which do riders need to worry about more: Bears, or bugs? And how can they prepare for either?

We got up close to quite a few black bears, but without incident. We only saw grizzlies from afar thankfully. New Zealand has no predators in the wild, so this is not my area of expertise!

Bugs were not a problem other than when we camped. Deer were a bigger problem. Bryan got knocked off his bike by a deer leaping from a remote drain about 150 km from Swan River, Manitoba. He was doing about 80 km/h, fell heavily, and the X-ray next day showed a broken collar bone. He rode the last 7,000 km strapped up – an epic performance of determination.

3 thoughts on “How to do the Trans Canada Adventure Trail”

  1. I have read many articles on the TAT and TCAT, and never get tired of the reads. Not many of us can take months out or our lives to do something as epic as this, so I appreciate the effort those Kiwi’s put into it! I live in the “boring prairies”, but if I had time to meander across our massive country, it would be a dream come true.

    Small bore 250cc bikes seem to be the right choice to do most everything!

  2. Actually, it’s mostly from Thunder Bay to Sioux Lookout where the washouts have occurred in the Northwestern Ontario section the rest of the route is in better shape.

  3. Wow. Loved this interview Zac. I know the TCAT between Thunder Bay and Kenora is washed out in places and virtually impassible currently. I’ve hosted a few riders who have tried to conquer the original section solo with no success (and ultimately suffered both broken bones and bike in the process). Riding it solo isn’t advised, as mentioned. I must say that I’m proud that a bunch of Kiwis did this on WR250Rs though. There’s very little that the WR250R can’t do.

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