Thinking of making a great weekend ride in Canada sometime this year? You’ve come to the right place. Our Favourite Roads series this season will give our recommendations for a two-day ride in every province that any motorcyclist will relish.
Most recently, Zac told you about his favourite loop in southern New Brunswick. Today, it’s Jeff’s turn to let you into a secret about the roads through Manitoulin Island and Muskoka, north of Toronto in Ontario.
There is no shortage in Canada of gorgeous coastal highways, breathtaking mountain passes and thrilling, forested country roads, but all of those places simply serve to remind me how depressingly bland most of the riding roads are in Southern Ontario.
Here, we endure badly pot-holed, multilane highways, choked with congestion that traverse a mostly developed landscape featuring precious few curves and even fewer elevation changes. Add to that Ontario’s horribly oppressive traffic laws (don’t get me started on the asinine carpool lane rules) and one could easily presume motorcyclists in the Greater Toronto Area are as merry as Gulag toilers.
Legend has it, the Ontario Highlands have plenty of great riding opportunities around Algonquin Park and toward Ottawa. CMG’s own Editor ‘Arris documented some great ones a few years back on an MV Agusta (https://canadamotoguide.com/2015/11/04/the-ultimate-ontario-tour/ ), but I’ve not yet explored enough of them to weigh in.
The best Ontario ride I’ve experienced happened last summer as the chosen route for the new Kawi Z900 and Yamaha FZ-09 comparison test (https://canadamotoguide.com/2017/08/20/2017-kawasaki-z900-vs-2017-yamaha-fz-09/) .
Situated at the bottom of an inlet at the southern end of Georgian Bay, Owen Sound is as good a starting point as any to head up the Bruce Peninsula. Rather than follow the convoy of motorhomes along Highway 6, we chose Grey County Road 1 for its relaxed pace, minimal traffic and good views as it winds along Colpoy’s Bay and into Wiarton.
Beyond groundhog Willy’s hometown and beneath a sudden downpour, we elected to jump back on Highway 6 as the quickest route. It’s a pretty straight and flat, hour-long rip to get to Tobermory from there, but for those not in a rush to catch the Chi-Cheemaun ferry as we were, there are interesting off-shoots to see either the Huron coast (like a great sandy beach near Old Woman’s River) or the Georgian Bay side (the Cabot Head Lighthouse is a cool photo spot).
Tobermory offers a few interesting opportunities for lunch, but we chose instead to shed some of the damp riding gear and dry out a bit in the return of the sunshine, figuring the two-hour ferry ride would afford plenty of time to sit and have a meal. Advance reservations are a smart move for the ferry, and travellers on two wheels are given the primo spots at the bow of the ferry, meaning they’re first off at the other side. And, if like me, you forget proper tie-down straps, there are ancient strips of jute available to help secure your beloved to the deck. [And your bike? – Ed.]
Highway 6 picks up again on Manitoulin once the ferry reaches South Baymouth and it’s not a bad ride up to the town of Little Current at the northern edge of the island. But deviating west, we travelled about half the length of the island, stopping instead at Gore Bay for dinner at the popular harbour-side Buoy’s Eatery and Takeout.
Manitoulin’s terrain isn’t all that interesting unless you’re into fields and new-growth forests, but its appeal to riders is its open spaces and lack of population density. With the right bike – say a BMW GS, Triumph Tiger or Africa Twin – a rider could simply wander and explore without maps or GPS, knowing that sooner or later whatever road or trail they’re on, they’ll end up at one of the few villages or just the coast, to regain their bearings.
There’s an underlying sense of adventure that comes from exploring a lightly-inhabited place like Manitoulin that complements the freedom of motorcycling well. And when the riding’s done, the island features two great breweries – Split Rail Brewing and Manitoulin Brewing – to help make the most of the great sunsets while reflecting on the day in the saddle.
The next morning, we enjoyed some delicious baked goods and coffee at Loco Beanz before heading north once more, leaving Manitoulin at Little Current across a simple swing bridge, and undermining the amount of time, effort and money it took to get to the island via ferry the day before.
Nevertheless, that was the sort of day that riders daydream about during those miserable Canadian winters. Perfect temperatures, lots of sunshine, and light mid-week traffic heightened our appreciation of the changing terrain. Highway 6 winds over islands and around lakes, north to Whitefish Falls and beyond, and the Canadian Shield raises rocky walls beside many stretches of this highway, and giving cause for interesting elevation changes. In all, it was only a 50-kilometre stretch to Espanola before joining the busier Trans-Canada Highway, but it was one of those occasions – and locations – that reinforced the sheer joy of riding, no matter what the machine. By the time we stopped for lunch in Sudbury, we were still all smiles beneath our visors.
The Trans-Canada is busy with tourist traffic as it stretches south from Sudbury into the Muskoka area. It’s a divided freeway here, too, but it still carves through some beautiful woodland countryside, and a wholly more tolerable experience than the mega-highways only a couple hours south.
As a lover of nimble, sporting machines, this route featured a limited number of the secluded, serpentine roads that normally make up the majority of my bike trip destinations. Up until this point, we were on a route intended for touring, and one that could be properly enjoyed on a comfy cruiser or touring machine, rather than flogging a high-winding supersport around corners as quickly as nerves and talent would allow.
That said, with bikes as capable as the FZ-09 and Z900, we’d have been remiss to not whip them into a bit of a frenzy, which is why we veered east at Parry Sound and took Ontario Route 518 toward Burk’s Falls. For nearly 70 kilometres, the two-lane blacktop ebbs and flows through the woodlands, past a handful of cottages and very little traffic. Google suggests the trip should take an hour, but it took us much less than that, and by the end, our hearts were pounding. So, we rode it back again.
Riders with more time than we had are encouraged to follow the bottom of Georgian Bay toward Midland and Collingwood before turning south again toward home. The remainder of our journey required a ride back down toward Toronto along the well-travelled Highway 11 through Muskoka.
Road trips are motivated by many things, and the best ones put the emphasis on the journey over the destination. This trip was exactly that by escaping the drudgery of riding around Toronto with what was really only a short hop north of the urban sprawl. Sure, there are more exhilarating and more scenic rides that we’ve done, but this trip is recommended for its relaxed pace and the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the simple, freeing love of the ride.