Ed Note: This is the first in a new series from our regular contributors that describes our favourite roads. Each month, we’ll take you to a different province (and maybe territory, too) to give you a guided tour of some of the best roads for motorcyclists.
Most of them will be pretty twisty, but some might just be pretty and all of them will be well worth riding. Some will be a day trip and others might include an optional night away, if you want to make a weekend of it.
Today, CMG’s Zac Kurylyk takes us for a toot through southern New Brunswick, proving that his beloved province is not just a bunch of trees and moose in the way of getting to Nova Scotia. Well, it is that, of course, but it’s a lot more too.
I’m a lucky guy. Although New Brunswick has a reputation for being the “Drive-Through Province,” it actually has some pretty good motorcycle roads—and I live right in the middle of them all.
It’s hard to pick a favourite route. I’ve got the twisties along the St. John River (Rt. 845, Rt. 102); the excellent coastal roads through St. Martins and Gardner Creek (Rt. 111, Rt. 825); the easy, stress free farm roads from Hampton to Petitcodiac (Rt. 121, Rt 890) and a lot of interesting gravel tracks and trails in between.
But if I want one route that combines all that fun into a busy afternoon, then my go-to route is what I call the Downshore Loop, a ride from Saint John to St. George along paved byways and gravel roads, with some diversions thrown in.
The ride starts just outside Saint John, heading south on Rt. 1. If you know the right place, you can hop off the highway and on the natural gas pipeline maintenance road just after Spruce Lake. It’s an easy warm-up for the day’s off-roading; the gravel road here is mostly straight and hard-packed, and if you’ve been away from dirt riding for a while, it’s a good way to regain a feel for it. If you avoid all the ATVs and UTVs coming in the opposite direction, you can cross the highway and ride through Prince of Wales on pavement, then get back on gravel for the ride on the abandoned railbed through the Ducks Unlimited marsh in Musquash.
This is where the riding gets fun; there’s a twisty, unpaved side road here that takes you to up a mountain to a scenic lookoff over the Musquash Estuary nature reserve. When you get back on the marsh road, you’ll see birds, deer, and massive whoops that will chuck you off because you were too busy watching the wildlife to pay attention until too late. By now, you’ll start to smell the saltwater as well, a scent that you’ll notice often during the day’s ride.
Leaving the marsh to rejoin the highway, you have a decision to make; if it’s early in the day, and you’ve got extra time, you can head down to South Musquash. There are a few miles of twisty pavement here which lead to another fun series of gravel roads, bringing you to deserted coastal settlements, falling into the ground now that the fishing weirs are unproductive. It’s a rugged, lonely view you’ll share only with the seabirds, and maybe a ghost or two. Maybe. I’ve never ridden down here at night, so I can’t say for sure, but if you poke around the woods, you’ll stumble across long-abandoned cemeteries. Who knows what’s hanging around there after dark?
If it’s later in the day, I skip South Musquash and go straight down Rt. 790. Running along the coastline from Musquash to Lepreau, this is one of the best street rides in New Brunswick, offering decent curves and some hills as well, to make it more interesting.
And best of all, the traffic police rarely bother you (although it’s one of the more frequently patrolled back roads of the province). It’s a fun road for a big bike or a small bike. And the scenery along the way – yards full of brightly coloured buoys and fishing boats, coves with breakers loudly bashing the beach, marshland filled with wildlife – makes it all the better.
There are several interesting diversions along the way, including short dirt roads to hidden lakes, and wharves where you can ride down, snap a few photos, and talk to the local lobstermen.
Taking a side trip down the Maces Bay road, which splits between land and sea, gives you some of the best scenery in Atlantic Canada. Pull over here, and you can see for miles out to sea, watching fishing vessels ply their trade. It might not be Peggy’s Cove, but at least it isn’t filled with tour buses. In a few spots, you can ride your bike right on to the beach, but between the dangers of saltwater corrosion and environmental regulations, you’re better off putting off the idea.
Then, after gassing up in Lepreau, it’s time to head inland on Rt. 780, aka the Old Saint John Road.
The Old Saint John Road starts off as crappy broken pavement, but turns into pretty decent gravel. It’s heavily used by locals, so you can’t hang the bike out too far in the corners and you’ve got to watch for cagers. It’s some of the twistiest dirt road in the province, running through cottage country then woodland for miles, finally ending in a section of blueberry fields just before Pennfield. If you’re doing this ride in late August or early September, you’ll find a lot of blueberry bushes in the ditches here, and you can get a tasty snack. With a warm mid-day sun, there’s no better way to take a break from riding for a couple minutes.
At the end of Rt. 780 in Pennfield, you could keep on pushing south to the Deer Island or Grand Manan ferries, or head to scenic St. Andrews, or even into Maine. But I usually do this as a shorter day trip, and at this point, I’m usually low on daylight because I’ve spent too much time riding around in the woods or otherwise enjoying myself earlier. That means I head back home on Rt. 175, the old highway that heads through Pocologan (but not before fried clams at a local seafood joint, or at least grabbing some eats at the Irving Restaurant, an underrated Maritime institution).
Rt. 175 is a relaxing ride, especially if you’ve been pushing hard through all the off-roading earlier in the day. The sea runs close to the road for much of this leg of the trip, giving you lots to look at now that the riding is less intense. There’s always a chance for a photo stop again along the way, with plenty of sea birds and scenic coastline. Eventually, you’ll end up back in Lepreau.
From here, there’s two options: suck it up, and superslab it home, or take the uninspiring Wetmore Creek Road, and work back home on the trails after that. I prefer to take the dirt roads through Musquash and Prince of Wales in reverse, and I’ll always take this option if I have time, but I have noticed that I tend to get myself into more trouble off-road on the return journey, especially once I build up some confidence earlier in the day …
I’ve ridden in the Appalachians, in the deserts of the southwest US, and in the California canyons. I know New Brunswick’s street riding can’t compare to the fun to be had in the US, or even the other Atlantic provinces. Still, I’m very thankful that I have routes like this that are close to home, that allow me to mix up street and trail riding, and enjoy the same ocean scenery that I grew up with. I don’t have to worry about trail permits or trespassing signs or traffic cops or gridlock—I can just jump on the bike, and go. That’s the kind of place I want to live in, even if it is nicknamed the Drive-Through Province.
Check out all the pics that go with this story!