Adventure bike heaven

Dawson City is located in Canada’s Yukon Territory at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. Once the capital of the Yukon and the booming epicentre of the Klondike Gold Rush with a population that reached 40,000, Dawson dwindled to almost a ghost town after the construction of the Alaska Highway followed a more southerly route through Whitehorse. Dawson is now a tourist destination with a population of just under 2,000.

With its dirt streets, wooden sidewalks and western façade historical buildings Dawson is Canada’s frontier town, attracting visitors from all corners of the world. Dawson is also strategically located on the North Klondike Highway just over 500km from Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway. Dawson is also near the southern end of the Dempster Highway and just under 1000km from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories on the Beaufort Sea, a part of the Arctic Ocean. Dawson is also just a short ferry ride across the Yukon River from the beginning of the Top of the World Highway which ends at Tetlin Junction, Alaska.

Although you will spot some Harley’s, a few trikes and even the odd Gold Wing, the roads fanning out from Dawson are the natural habitat of adventure bikes — BMW GSs, KTMs, Honda Africa Twins, Yamaha Super Ténérés — and they flock to Dawson in bunches.










A Day of Alpine Passes – by John Dring

This story originally appeared in the Humber Rider newsletter. Story and images courtesy of John Dring. (Thanks John…)

Village of Urnerboden
Village of Urnerboden

We had spent most of the previous day in Liechtenstein and then entered Switzerland heading East then South. The roads to start were good but not dramatic, the scenery however was spectacular. We picked up route 17 on the southern edge of Walensee and headed south. As the route headed further into the mountains it began to get a bit more interesting. Around about Linthal the road climbed quite steeply into the hanging valley (a geographical term) of Urnerboden. The road then leveled out and ran fairly straight up the valley.

It was getting late in the afternoon as we came to the tiny village of Urnerboden. The place looked very pretty and there was a small hotel so we decided to stay for the night. One of the things we had found in Switzerland was that hotels can be quite expensive especially in tourist areas. However small hotels in out of the way places were quite reasonable. And this was one of them.

The view from our room was spectacular, dinner was fabulous, and after dinner we took a stroll through the valley. And a beautiful evening it was, only the birds singing and the noise of the stream running down the valley, the smell of the wildflowers and the pine trees, very romantic.

In the morning after a really good breakfast we headed out and it wasn’t long before we hit the extreme windy bits. The first was Klausenpass a tight set of hairpins that wound up to the top of the pass (1948 metres) then a long loopy drop into the valley.

Klausenpass above Urnerboden
Klausenpass above Urnerboden

We picked up route 2 and headed south for about 25 km and turned right (east) on route 11. The road started off steeply then leveled out. After about 18 km the really tight and steep switchbacks began as the road climbed up to the top of Sustenpass (2244 m). The road is very tight with quite a few short tunnels and on many sections, no guardrail. If you come off the road here it’s a long way down. Traffic was extremely light only a few other vehicles on the road. We dropped down the valley and joined Route 6 and headed south again.

Sustenpass
Sustenpass

The traffic on Route 6 was a bit heavier than what we had seen so far but still not a major problem. After a fairly straight run the road goes over the Grimsalpass (2165 m) and drops into the village of Gletsch. There is a hotel right on the edge of the road so if you need a hot beverage take a break here. Riding over these passes can be a little cool, in many places there is still snow by the side of the road even in July. Beware, however, the place is a bit pricy. If you’re familiar with the movie Goldfinger you’ll recognize the hotel, so it’s a bit of a tourist trap.

Enroute to Grimsal Pass
Enroute to Grimsal Pass

At the bottom of the valley turn right and head east on Route 19 up the Furkapass (2431 m). Another steep climb and lots of switchbacks, the grade in some areas is 11%. This tends to slow down trucks and busses but they are relatively easy to pass and are usually quite accommodating. Soon you will hook up with Route 2 again.

Furkapass
Furkapass

At this point you’ve traveled about 200 Km, climbed 4 major passes and done over 1,000 turns. Not bad for a morning’s work. If you’ve packed a lunch there are many places to pull off on the side of the road and enjoy the view or you can stop in at any of the small villages. Most have a restaurant or café for a bite to eat.

At Route 2 you can head south towards Italy and you’ll end up going over St. Gotthard pass. There are two routes, a long sinuous road that winds over the mountain or through the mountain via a tunnel. I’d suggest over rather than through.

The alternative (which is what we did) is to head east over Oberalppass (2044 m). After the pass the road meanders through an alpine valley. After about 80 km of this you’ll come to route 13. Actually there are 2 route 13’s. One is a super slab (N13) and the other is a winding road that passes through many small villages. We took the small road and stopped in the pretty village of Zilis. Another small comfortable and clean Swiss hotel relatively inexpensive but with great food (and wine). The next day – St. Bernina Pass and Italy.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Stewart-Cassiar Highway, British Columbia

The Stewart-Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia leads a rider through some of that Canadian province’s most beautiful and rugged scenery accessible by a road-going motorcycle. If you have sprung for that adventure bike with the aluminum panniers and giant gas tank and are looking for somewhere to use it, this could be the place.

The highway — also known as Highway 37 in British Columbia — runs south from the Alaska Highway near Watson Lake, Yukon to the Yellowhead Highway between Terrace and The Hazeltons. It runs roughly parallel to and east of the border between British Columbia and the Alaska Panhandle. The highway gets its name from its primary purpose, which is providing land access to the towns of Stewart BC and Hyder Alaska.

The northern portion of the highway, north of the Stewart cutoff, is often gravel and seldom travelled. If you go off the road here or hit a deer you are in very real danger. If the bugs don’t get you, there are grizzly bears to contend with. I rode the highway alone and in retrospect it was not a very smart decision. I was very much aware of my isolation. I rode for an hour at one point without seeing another vehicle. The northern portion of the highway also takes you close to some amazing scenic sidetrips, including Telegraph Creek and the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River.

Facilities are very thin. The only place I could find to stay was a campground at Iskut near the halfway point. I got one of the last available cabins and hunkered down under the blankets trying to avoid the mosquitoes. The bike I was riding had a limited range and I had to use my gas can to get to the next filling station. It would be wise to carry food, water and camping gear.

I used the Stewart-Cassiar Highway as a way down from the Yukon to Prince George and then on to the Okanagan Valley, but it can form part of a circle tour using the Alaska Highway if you are renting a bike for a few days.

more info

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Grand River, Ontario

Grand River Paris
Grand River dam in Paris, Ontario

Finding the source of Ontario’s Grand River has been a hobby of mine for years. I think I came close once when I thought I had traced it to a farmer’s field near Dundalk. More likely, the river’s source is in a nearby marshy area.

If you know anything about the topography of southern Ontario, you will realize that the Grand River is a strange and winding anomaly. With its humble beginnings in the open highlands near Shelbourne, Ontario you might think that it would naturally flow north into nearby Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. It does not. Rather, the fledgling stream heads south, not east toward nearby Lake Simcoe. At this point it can be easily overlooked when you cross it on Highway 10 on your way to Owen Sound. The sign identifying it as the Grand River disappeared years ago and the name seems misplaced as it is barely a stream at this point.

The Grand River gathers strength as it heads south through Grand Valley toward Fergus. You would think that at this point it would begin to head toward Lake Ontario to the southeast, much like the nearby Credit River does. Instead, less than twenty kilometres from the Credit River near Orangeville, the Grand begins to turn away to the southwest and passes through the scenic Elora Gorge. The dams begin in mid-1800’s mill towns like Kitchener, Cambridge and Paris. Here the Grand begins to meander like a western prairie river in the open farmlands surrounding Brantford. It is also here that the river is big enough to form a water level route for a variety of highways, rail lines and trails.

Highway 54 begins just outside Cainsville on the east side of Brantford and follows the Grand River through Caledonia all the way to Cayuga. Here you are often passing through First Nations land and will run a gauntlet of “smoke shops” in Onandaga and Middleport. In Cayuga you will have to take a little jog east on Highway 3 before continuing south on Road 17 — the River Road — to Dunnville. Dunnville is the last dam along the Grand and the river is quite wide here, flanked by marshlands around Byng island.

From Dunnville, it is just a few kilometres before the Grand River finally empties into Lake Erie at Port Maitland near Rock Point Provincial Park.

Following the Grand River can form part of a loop south out of the Toronto area that passes back through Niagara, which Dunnville borders. The trip will take you through some of the most historic towns in the province and keep you away from major highways. Let me know if you find the river’s actual source…

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Wellandport, Ontario

Deep in the heart of Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula are some country roads that are real treasures. As is the case with non-mountainous areas, some of the best roads follow rivers.

Wellandport is a small village on the Welland River (sometimes referred to as the Chippawa Creek). The river winds its way from west to east down the centre of the peninsula and joins the Niagara River at Chippawa, just upstream of the falls.

Coming from the west on Highway 3, you would continue straight through at Canborough where the 3 dips south toward Dunnville. Continuing east on Canborough Road pass through Attercliffe and then veer off to the right (south) just past the Robinson Road. Here begins what is called Creek Road locally because it follows the Welland River/Chippawa Creek for a few kilometres. It is an entertaining, twisty bumpy paved road that leads east toward Wellandport running roughly parallel and to the south of Canborough Road. Watch out for turning vehicles at the entrance to the Chippawa Creek Conservation Area near the midway point.

Many years ago, I lived in the hamlet of St. Anns north of Wellandport and thought this was my own private road until one Sunday morning when I almost literally ran into the entire local Ducati Owners Club chapter going the other way at one of the two one-lane bridges along the route.

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Pine River Valley, Ontario

I was shown the road along the Pine River from Horning’s Mills, Ontario through Terra Nova many years ago by a friend that lived in Lisle just west of Base Borden.

The western end of the road in the hamlet of Horning’s Mills is just north of Shelburne, Ontario on the 124 (the old 24) on the way to Collingwood. The surface is rough in places and until a few years ago the final stretch to where the road ends at Airport Road was a brutal washboard and gravel mixture. It has since been paved.

The speed limit is the standard 80 kmph and drops down to 70 in a few places. This is one of the few places where a road follows the Pine River. A pleasant diversion, and if you are headed south anyway, you can take Airport Road for a ways and then double back west along the Hockley Valley Road to Orangeville.
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Cedar Key, Florida

I spent a few days in Cedar Key, Florida right after a visit to Bike Week in Daytona. The contrast between the noise and crowding of Daytona during Bike Week and the lazy pace in Cedar Key was striking (and very welcome).

Those who complain about the boring, straight roads in Florida need to stop trolling up and down the A1A and get out into the countryside, and I don’t mean going to tourist traps like Orlando. A day trip to Cedar Key will allow you to experience what I think of as the “real Florida”. Cedar Key is a sleepy town on the Gulf Coast three miles out from the mainland at the end of a dead-end road, just south of the coffee-brown waters of the Suwannee river where the coast starts to bend around to the Florida Panhandle.

You could get to Cedar Key easily enough by taking Highway 24 west out of Gainesville, a pleasant university town in the centre of Florida. A nicer route from Daytona is to head west from Holly Hill and cross the Ocala National Forest. This should be an eye-opener for those whose impressions of Florida are drawn solely from CSI Miami. The forest is a strange mixture of spruce, cypress and palms and roads through the area will eventually lead you through rolling horse country where wealthy Northerners winter their expensive pets.

If you veer far enough to the south past I75 to pass north through Crystal River, you will cross the aborted Cross Florida Barge Canal on Route 19/98. Turn west on the 24 at Otter Creek for the final leg into Cedar Key.

Take a close look around town and you’ll realize that a large part of it is built on stilts, this being hurricane country. The cedar trees that give the area its name look like giant bonsai trees — gnarled and stunted by the salt in the air. Try the local seafood delicacy: Mullett dip.

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Peoria TT, Peoria, Illinois

It could be argued that for race fans, any race is a good getaway. I know people that schedule their vacation time around a particular race that they travel to each year. The Peoria TT is one of those classic races that has been around for over half a century at the same location. Just as the Isle Of Man epitomizes the roots of road racing, the Peoria TT epitomizes American-style dirt track racing.

The Peoria TT is unique among races on the Grand National circuit in that the oval it is run on includes a high-speed jump and a right turn. The premier class races these days are run using 600cc singles equipped with a front brake. The race location is the grounds of the Peoria Motorcycle Club. The track is a natural terrain affair nestled in a wooded valley with a small stream running through it. The track features two bridges over the stream. The surrounding valley sides form a natural amphitheatre, with the 10,000 or so spectators either sitting or standing in the grass. The track’s lack of grandstands has led to the race being dropped from the Grand National circuit a couple of times over the years, but the club has soldiered on and refused to destroy the downhome charm of the race by ripping up the landscape to build stands.

Peoria — a city of around 120,000 and home of Caterpillar, Inc. — is in the centre of Illinois, south-west of Chicago and north of Springfield. Getting there for the TT involves riding for hours through cornfields in the blazing August heat. If you are approaching from the east, I would strongly recommend a route such as 24 that gives the congested Gary-East Chicago area at the southern tip of Lake Michigan a wide berth.

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Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group, Paris, Ontario National Rally

vintage_show

I have been attending the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group (CVMG) National Rally — held faithfully every Father’s Day weekend — for quite a few years, starting when the event was still at the Welland County Motorcycle Club. When the organizers — the CVMG is devoted to preserving and restoring old motorcycles — moved the venue to Paris, Ontario I resisted at first but gradually grew to love the scenic location and the beautiful ride to get there. I loved it so much that I ended up moving to Paris, Ontario in 2008, partly because it has become a haven for lovers of classic motorcycles.

The rally includes all the usual motorcycle rally events — camping, dinners, flea markets, rides and prizes. I have always enjoyed the bike judging, which normally takes place at the conclusion of the rally as some of the more distant attendees are packing up to leave. You’ll find bikes of all shapes and sizes from every decade of the last century lined up for judging. The judging usually takes place Sunday morning, but check so you won’t miss it.

If you are a single brand devotee or have only been exposed to one side of riding, the event can be a real eye-opener. If you are from outside the area, the rally location is within striking distance of Buffalo, Toronto and Niagara Falls and could form part of a larger getaway.

more info…

Canadian Motorcycle Training Services Inc.

cmts

I first met Clinton Smout almost twenty years ago when I was working as a motorcycle instructor at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. I had the pleasure of working with Clinton a few years later when we were both motorcycle instructors at Humber College in Toronto.

Clinton has been running his dirt-riding school for kids of all ages at the Horseshoe Resort just outside Barrie, Ontario for a few years now. It offers kids and adults a great introduction to off-road motorcycling in a safe, fun environment. Besides the traditional family getaways, you can also arrange corporate group sessions and even spend some time soaking at the spa after.

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