Here in Ontario, we’re in another Covid lockdown, our third of the past year. Most of Canada has been locked down at some time because of the virus, and it’s not over yet.
Which raises the question for motorcyclists: Can we ride our bikes? After all, we’re supposed to stay at home for all but essential reasons. Is it essential to ride our bikes?
Ask the question on social media and you’ll get a quick response. “Try and stop me!” “Free men don’t ask permission.” “This is Canada, not communist China.”
Wade through those responses, most of which focus on our right to freedom under the Canadian Charter, and the majority of motorcyclists will claim they’re riding for the betterment of their mental health. If you’re stopped, they say, tell the cops you’re on your way to buy groceries.
Nobody’s actually asked the police themselves, though, so I did. I put the question first to an OPP officer in his cruiser outside the Cobourg detachment: Can I go for a ride on my motorcycle just for pleasure during this lockdown?
“I say yes,” said the cop. “If you’re just riding, just cruising, that’s good. That’s no harm to anybody, and it’s some mental stress relief. It’s when people stop and gather that we get concerned.”
Good to know, but this was nothing official, and I’ve heard a couple of uncorroborated stories about police pulling over motorcyclists during previous lockdowns. Ontario’s Order in Council under this month’s Emergency Management and Civilian Protection Act lists all the reasons you’re allowed to leave your home, and riding your motorcycle for pleasure is not one of them.
We’re permitted to go to a store for groceries, of course, and there’s nothing that says it must be the closest to your house. We’re also permitted to go outside for exercise. If we have no good reason to be outside and away from home, then whether we’re spreading Covid or not, perhaps we’re breaking the provincial law.
Any motorcyclist will tell you, however, that riding a bike is a stress reliever and, even more important for the intent of the law, it does not spread viruses. If I’m sick with Covid-19 and I get on my motorcycle and ride to the next town, I will not transmit the virus unless I stop and talk to somebody in close quarters, without wearing a mask. There’s no danger in breathing a contagious virus into the wind at 80 km/h, and even when I stop for gas, I can’t give it to you if you stay at a distance.
This is all common sense, but it won’t help if a police officer pulls you over for speeding and is inclined to press an $880 charge for violating the lockdown. Could this actually happen?
I called the Ontario Provincial Police and spoke with Bill Dickson, the acting manager of media relations for the OPP. He used to ride a BMW as a younger (unmarried) man, and he understood the predicament completely.
“There is absolutely nothing in the rules that says you can’t ride your motorcycle (during the lockdown)”, he said.
“While everyone is urged, strongly, to abide by the stay-at-home order and only travel for essential purposes, there is nothing that says one cannot hop on a bike and go for a tour. That being said, we encourage anyone who does decide to do that to follow all the recommendations of health officials for where you’re stopping and where you’re travelling.”
He said police have already discussed the legality of ATV riders on trails, and in the wintertime, snowmobilers who would get together at the end of a ride for something hot to drink. It’s the gatherings that are a concern, when riders meet up at the coffee shop or at somebody’s home for a BBQ.
“We have people stop for coffee, and then you’re into a large gathering and more people than admissible under the regulations right now. But if one or two people are out on their motorcycles for a little ride around their neighbourhood, or even beyond their neighbourhood, is that illegal? Absolutely not.”
I asked if I could take a longer ride. If I was 400 kilometres from home and pulled over for failing to signal a turn properly, could the officer also charge me for not staying at home?
“It can help people’s mental state to just get out of the house,” said Dickson. “If somebody wants to go out and ride their motorcycle – and travel outside the home for non-essential purposes is strongly discouraged, I have to say that – but we understand. They will not be stopped arbitrarily to ask, ‘why are you out? Where are you going?’
“Does riding a motorcycle on a roadway provide exercise? Well, I think that could be argued, as a motorcycle enthusiast myself. But people have to judge accordingly.”
And for the nay-sayers, those who say that if a motorcyclist crashes and is taken to hospital, that an ICU bed will be unavailable to a Covid patient?
“I remember hearing those arguments,” said Dickson. “Is that a possibility? Yes, but the same applies to somebody driving their car. The majority of motorcycle riders are safe, law-abiding citizens who aren’t out there driving in a manner that’s going to land them in hospital. Anything’s possible. You can fall down the stairs in your house and end up in hospital.”
So that’s good enough for me. These days, riding smart also means taking care of yourself and others when your bike is parked, but if you’re prepared to do that, then get out there and enjoy our wonderful country. It’s riding season – make the most of it.