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Ecotourism and Adventure Bikes

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Ecotourism and Adventure Bikes

Backcountry in Algoma • Credit: Martin Lortz

Does gravel-eating go with tree hugging and sustainable practices?

How could ecotourism and ADV riding possibly get along? Better than you'd think.



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Ecotourism and adventure motorcycle touring appear as an unlikely combination. Media and bloggers tend towards presenting the nihilo gravel-eating, death-gripping, tank-slapping adrenaline fuelled riders, supporting the general perception of motorcycle riders as being either noisy cruisers parked outside a Timmies or a bar, or dirt riders tearing up motocross tracks or ripping through the bush causing mayhem. Many adventure riders simply enjoy taking the road less travelled to beautiful places that can’t be reached otherwise.

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Adventure touring motorcycles with their ability to go far and offering a broad range of capabilities for travel on and off the road can bring you to some exceptional places without disrupting the natural environment. Northern Ontario offers a variety of thriving ecosystems and interesting traditional Indigenous cultures (First Nations) in places that few on two wheels or a four-wheeled cage would even consider going to. It’s a matter of slowing down, getting off that saddle and taking the time to experience the land and people around you. 

eco tour album coverEcotourism is becoming more and more popular worldwide. There are a few definitions as to what ecotourism is, but essentially it goes beyond sound environmental practices. The International Ecotourism Society defines Ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education"

I was once challenged as to how I can reconcile promoting motorcycle touring while being a lover of the pristine environment such as Manitoulin Island. I threw down and let rip a rapid fire B.S.-fuelled barrage of uranium depleted factoids: “You drove a car here right? I use far less fuel, my carbon foot print is lower”;  “My motorcycle is far quieter, reducing noise pollution”; “There is far less steel in my bike than in your car,  which by the way in the manufacturing process, for every kg of steel produced, 1000 litres of water is contaminated blah blah blah……”

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Being an environmentally responsible ADV rider, essentially means don’t go off the existing roads and trails and potentially ruin the habitat. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has guidelines regarding water crossings, it's for ATVs but can apply to any off-roading. One of the points says that if you have to cross water, stick to an existing route. The roads and trails are already there, we can take advantage of them.

Sometimes it’s best to err on the side of caution. For my orca of a bike, the 1200GSA, and your average big bore riders this is a no brainer.  Ending up on some sand dunes or swamp or avoiding them is more a matter of practicality anyway.

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Eco adventure tourism does not have to be a brand-driven cliché defined by industry considerations of public image and profit. Dagmar, a professional chill-meister, and laid back naturalist, demonstrates her own version of a very relaxed form of ecotourism. A combination of geology, ornithology, and yoga – corpse pose. 

The DIY ADV ECOtour

eco alvar 1With a little bit of local knowledge you can find some pretty stunning places. Manitoulin Island boasts some of the rarest ecosystems and biodiversity in Ontario, hands down. In fact the Alvar pictured here only exists on Manitoulin Island and the Baltics. Within a five minute ride from here, you can experience a number of different terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that are no less than stunning. 

 

Cultural Tourism

This is from a government database, few if any First Nations communities refer to themselves as “Indian Reserves” anymore, much less the number.

There are over 140 First Nation communities in Ontario. I believe that First Nation communities are one of the great untapped resources for Adventure Touring. Many FN communities are rural and remote, accessible by dirt road, perfect for the adventure rider. Some of these communities are not on the frontier, they ARE the frontier of Northern Ontario, many only accessible by plane or winter ice road.  

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I found a way to combine adventure riding and local cultures! I took this photo during an interpretive tour I did with author Liz Jansen. Liz is a great proponent for learning about the people and places she visits and writes about. Taking in cultural events is a great way to get a taste of First Nations culture. In the summer there is always a Pow Wow somewhere. The Great Spirit Circle Trail offers a range of experiences from wilderness eco-adventure tours and educational interpretive tours. 

Riders have asked me before about riding and exploring First Nation communities. It’s not a problem, however again, be aware that some places are traditional family areas.

Bad Ecotourist, Bad!

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This is bad Ecotourism and dumb. I was trying to feed wolves out of my hand. Soon after this photo was taken I had one of those occasional flashes of common sense and thought, this is a wolf! Indeed feeding animals is dangerous as it can habituate them to humans and human food. They are not necessarily starving but will realize quickly that humans can mean an easy meal…one way or another.  

10 Eco Adventure Riding Tips 

This is more common sense than anything else.

  • Stay on existing roads and trails.
  • If you have to do a water crossing, make sure it’s on a previously existing track.
  • Don’t leave your trash behind…do I actually have to say that?
  • Be respectful of local cultures. When in doubt ask, people are more than happy to talk. Learning “hello” and “thank you” can go a long way.
  • If taking a biobreak, stay a good distance from a water source. 
  • Respect and stay off posted, private or protected lands.
  • Buy local. Instead of buying tourist knick knacks, seek out the artisans and crafts people and purchase directly from them.
  • Respect local customs, when in doubt, ask. 
  • Slow down, the world becomes larger and opens up to you, and you reduce your carbon footprint.

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”In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. 

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” 

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

I believe that sustainability and eco practices begin by simply going to special places and experiencing the natural beauty of creation. It’s difficult to get that experience ripping down a logging road at 120kmh. It’s not difficult, it just takes a little effort to slow down and become aware and respectful of where you are and the people you meet.  

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