Snow and studs: The highs and lows of winter riding

CMG: Our Canadian readers know you best for your ride across Canada in the winter of 2014-2015, with Rachel, but that wasn’t your first winter adventure. Where did you get your start in winter riding?

Ed March: The Elephant Rally in Germany. That was my first ever motorcycle trip — I went to the world’s largest winter motorcycle rally just for a laugh to see what would happen.

CMG: Nothing like starting off easy?

EM: Right, and everyone was telling me I was going to die, and it wouldn’t be possible, and all of that normal guff. I thought, “Well, if about 7,000 other bikers are going to be camping at the same event, all having ridden there, then I’m fairly sure I’m not going to die, because they’d all be dead.”

CMG: What are the differences in riding in North America in the winter, vs. riding in Europe?

EM: The biggest difference when it came to Canada was that there were parts where you’ve only got one road in your entire country at that point. Which, although the law allows you to be there, you still get asshats that are like “No! Motorcycles are only for summer! That means you deserve to die!” Which is a bit of a problem. Whereas when you’re in Europe, you’ve got little back roads with bits of grass growing in the middle, so that’s a bit of a difference. The drivers in Europe are more friendly as well, when you’re on the highways. There’s usually a real sense of entitlement in Canada and the USA: “My truck’s big, therefore you don’t deserve to be here.” Other than that, the snow in Canada is very dry, whereas in Europe it’s often very wet.

CMG: Probably depending what temperature that you’re riding in?

EM: Yeah, because if you’re on the east coast, then it’s wet, but if you’re on the prairies, you wouldn’t really class it as snow, to be fair — it’s just a dust that blows across.

CMG: It seems Europeans embrace winter riding more than Canadians do, with the Elephant Rally being a prime example. Why is that?

EM: I don’t really know, because it really shouldn’t be that way around. I don’t know if it’s more of a novelty for us?

CMG: What are North Americans missing out on by not motorcycling in the winter?

EM: Experiencing the tough side of motorcycling, which can often give you great rewards. To me personally, I’d say my ride to the Elephant Rally is like running a marathon — it’s the motorcycling equivalent of doing it.

Also, I find that a lot of the people you talk to, they’re friendlier. On my second big winter trip, when I went to the Arctic Circle in winter, I was staying in campgrounds, which were closed. Early in the morning, normally someone who owns the campground would find me, and they’d be like “Bless you, but you’re still an idiot.” The same when we were going across Canada, the amount of times we had people coming up and saying “You’re an idiot! Do you know that?” We’d say yes, and they’d then pay for our meal. 

CMG: Were you surprised by that reaction?

EM: I was, to be honest. No part of me does winter motorcycling to get people’s pity. I do it because I want to. But we were surprised by the amount of times people would pay for our meal, but wouldn’t even tell us that they did it. They’d pay for it and then leave. And often they were people we hadn’t even talked to. 

CMG: What is harder — the mental aspect of winter riding, or the physical?

EM: The mental. Because the physical, you can stop and you can warm up, you can ride slower. You can do things. But the mental aspect of starting again when you know what is going to happen to you in the freezing cold, that is a very, very difficult thing to keep on top of and to actually put up with. You do need to be very resilient. Which is why I’m beyond impressed with how Rachel coped with going across, when her work colleagues were actually taking the piss out of her before she left for the trip, and they were saying, “You’re the person who complains when the office is just slightly cold, and you want the heating turned on maximum, and you’re riding across the country when it’s minus-30.”

CMG: What’s the worst situation you’ve gotten into during a winter ride?

EM: Me personally — none, because I’ve always got multiple safety nets. My sleeping bag is good enough that I can just lay on the snow; it’s got an extreme “death limit” of minus-84 C. The bike, I can always fix it, we’re always where people will drive in a couple of hours. I’ve always got gallons of fuel with me, so if the worst comes to worst, you just pour it in snow, set fire to it, and get warm from that.

CMG: I thought maybe you’d say it was your experience in Quebec?

EM: It wasn’t dangerous, that was just annoying. Ultimately, when you’re on your deathbed, in hopefully old age, thinking about the things you’ve done in your life, on the grand scheme of things, that Quebec thing is probably going to be a pretty good story.

CMG: When you rode across Canada, what was your favourite part?

Probably Newfoundland. That was a really cool place. It was the people mostly. It felt more like a homey place to live, where things were a bit more old-school, old-fashioned. People knew each other, and they would look out for each other a bit.

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