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Upsized Roads for An Upsized Bike—A Scooter Boy’s Diary

Curves for days. Photos: Mondo Lulu
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Upsized Roads for An Upsized Bike—A Scooter Boy’s Diary

Toronto scooter rider gets his hands on a big bike and heads straight for the twists & turns of Ontario's Highlands.



I’d been a happy camper, gallivanting here and there across the GTA, riding my 200cc Aprilia Scarabeo scooter since the pandemic started. 

On a small bike, you see so much more around you, and have no problems stopping often when the next bend gifts you new eye candy. It’s something you leave behind when you graduate to a larger machine, when the scenery blurs with your need for speed. This adjustment was a welcome return, with pastoral scenes of rolling hills, one-lane bridges, and waterfalls creeping into my social media streams. My partner Georgette, on her 300cc Vespa happily snapped these with me as our collection grew.

Life was perfect with secondary roads and a slower pace. Or so I thought.

THE CALL OF THE HIGHLANDS

It was late August when my inbox chimed. It was the Ride the Highlands folks inviting me to play on their twisty roads again, this time east in the Ottawa Valley.

I relished in the anticipation of riding farther afield, especially since my last Highlands Instameet was so memorable. While my little Aprilia was highway-capable, I was concerned with keeping up with the bigger litre-sized machines that my colleagues-on-2 were bringing to the game. My steed was suitably speedy, but I wasn’t looking forward to having the throttle wide-open the majority of the time.

I’VE GOT A SILVER MACHINE

Enter Yamaha Motor Canada, providing their Tracer 9 GT Sport-Tourer, with its 900cc triple more than capable of running with the Harleys and Hondas in the pack.

Picking up the bike on a Friday, I headed downtown and took a few night shots of my new ride in Toronto’s Canary District. I was glad I had a few days to get the feel of the Tracer, with its plethora of electronic enhancements, quick shifter, and active suspension. It was definitely the most space-age bike I’d ridden, though a tad too tall, forcing my 5’7” frame to tippy-toe at stops, the total opposite of sitting low on my scoot.

The Tracer 89 GT by night. Photo: Georgette Peters

Saturday, I got the chance to show off the bike to perplexed scooterists at the Durham Scooter Rally in Bowmanville—definitely the odd duck in a sea of Vespas and Lambrettas. During a great ice cream run to the Enniskillen General Store, I had the time to figure out the bike’s smart engine modes, taming the beast to fall in line with the smaller scoots. At the end of the day, one more sleep had me dreaming of new roads to explore.

SEE YA, TORONNA!

Early Sunday morning, blue skies met this intrepid bunch of motojournalists, photographers and influencers. The DVP North wasn’t a parking lot yet and the riding was easy across the 401/115/35 towards Peterborough. Predictably, late-September temps dropped as we left civilization, and by the time we stopped for lunch at the Swiss Bear Cafe in Apsley, I had to throw on the extra layer that I’d stashed in the Tracer’s sidebags.

YOU MEET THE NICEST PEOPLE…

While refueling with the tasty schnitzel I ordered, an older couple pulled up on a Harley with a classic Windjammer fairing. Turns that Jack and Laurene were actually a newer couple, having only met 5 years previously. At 88 and 83 years they've found in each other the perfect riding partner, with Laurene comfortably riding pillion on their adventures.

Another great roadside story, I’m only hoping to be just as active on two wheels once I get to their vintage.

HELLO, OTTAWA VALLEY!

We arrived at Sands on Golden Lake mid-afternoon. Accommodations were lake-resort spartan, having a charming Dirty Dancing vibe complete with beachfront balconies.

Relax mode was in order for the rest of the evening, complete with a beer tasting, courtesy of the Square Timber Brewing Company’s proprietor, the aptly-named Mark Bru. His beer is a local treat, only available at their brewery and in area LCBOs—I will definitely bring some home next time I’m in the Ottawa area.

After dinner and bonding time at the resort dining room, we congregated around a fire on the beach, then went to bed to make sure we were well-rested for day 1 of the big ride ahead.

DAY 1: CAVES AND CURVES

Bright and early the next day, we were greeted by sunny skies once more. We hopped on the bikes to take in some geological history at Bonnechere Caves and the picturesque river that carved them. Definitely a moto-friendly attraction, we had dedicated parking, complete with kickstand boards to keep the bikes upright in their gravel lot.

Leading our motley crew today was Lee Perkins, riding his BMW 1200GS. Lee is the Director of Public Works for Renfrew County, responsible for the upkeep of the roads we were about to ride. Aside from his passion for riding and friendly demeanour, his knowledge of the area gave me the confidence to follow his lead, however spirited.

And spirited it was!!! Every new road seemed better than the last, with so many that I had lost track—a nameless mix of challenging turns, big sweepers, beautiful scenery, and turning fall colours.

By the time we rolled into the Redneck Bistro in Calabogie, I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I didn’t feel hungry. One bite of their fish tacos changed that quickly, and the entire crew quickly devoured their lunches and geared up to tackle what’s next.

There’s nothing like carving new roads with seasoned riders. As a pack, we assuredly established a silky-smooth rhythm, turn-after-turn. Positioned behind Harley baggers, I marveled at how far these big bikes could actually lean, especially on Letterkenny Road.

It’s an old, paved logging trail that twisted around Highlands rocks as opposed to dynamiting through them. Guru Perkins explained that curves and dips like these are a reflection of their time and modern road design and techniques meant that newer asphalt is laid down straighter. As motorcyclists, we have our road-building forebears to thank for the Highlands’ many rollercoaster rides.

After another seemingly-endless sets of twists, we had a serene moment on Centennial Lake, with its namesake road wide and clean, with gentle(r) curves. After stopping to take in the scenery, it was smooth sailing to Denbigh, stretching our legs and treating ourselves to ice cream at Rosie’s Cafe and General Store. One last stop for gas, then home base for dinner. Spent but smiling, we opted for early bed over more campfire stories. We were stoked…

DAY 2: OLD PLACES REVISITED; NEW ROADS EMBRACED

We woke to overcast skies and low-flying clouds over Golden Lake. Lee had to go back to his day job maintaining these fantastic roads and we’d be missing him.

Morning coffee kicked in as we roared around Round Lake. With tight twists and turns bracketed by the changing colours, I had to remind myself to look where I was going, especially in a fierce downwards-then-upwards curve where the shimmering lake suddenly revealed itself. “This would be the perfect road for one of our scooter meanders”, I mused and stored the scene in my brain bucket list.

Back on 60, we sped towards Barry’s Bay to recaffeinate at the Madawaska Coffee Company. Siberia Road beckoned and we took it on, for a photo-op at the bridge by the Madawaska Kanu Centre. Next stop: the view at Kaminaskeg Lake Lookout reminded us why this area is called The Highlands as we looked down upon the blue of the lake.

In Combermere, I enjoyed a great burger on the patio at the cozy Heartwood Restaurant. Usually, food stops are a highlight of the trip, but I just couldn’t wait to revisit Crooked Slide Park, just down the highway.

My earliest memory of the area was from two decades ago, when I visited a girlfriend’s cottage somewhere North of Bloor. I didn’t even have a driver’s license then and all this nature was new to this city boy. Once there, the history geek in me was piqued by the tourist stops we made—the Polish settlement at Wilno, the Avro Arrow Replica in Barry’s Bay, and the log chute at Crooked Slide Park. I’d taken pictures then with my 3.2mp digital camera, but had since lost them in a hard drive crash—I needed to know if my memories actually matched the scene.

And they did!

I made sure to explore and shoot new memories, at least until the honking of our chase van told me that my time was fleeting. BeaverTails were calling via Old Barry’s Bay Road!

The very first BeaverTail was served in Killaloe in 1978. While these tastily-seasoned pieces of flattened dough are easily available all throughout Ontario, it’s only at this original location where you can get the Killaloe Sunrise flavour, with a drizzle of lemon juice on top. Having had our fix, we headed back to Golden Lake, a little road-worn, but happy. We were still buzzing at dinner, as we recounted our two amazing days in the Ottawa Valley.

HOMEWARD BOUND: THE SUBMARINE RACES

We went to sleep with one eye on the weather forecast. An extreme-weather warning announced that barrel-loads of rain were threatening to put a damper on our ride back to Toronto—no amount of finger-crossing and positive thoughts could change that. But heck, bikers don’t melt…

We decided to leave early but the rain was inevitable. By the time we got to our first gas stop, it was cats and dogs. Though miserable, it was comforting that our pack had ample experience riding in rain as we soldiered on. The Yamaha’s rain traction mode, heated grips and cruise control became invaluable as we battled the truck spray.

Wading into the Bancroft Tim Hortons, we quickly dripped a small lake under our seats as we warmed up with the biggest coffees. Taking turns to try and dry our gear with the washroom hand dryers, we set off a little over an hour later, still plenty moist. Back on the road, I settled into a more relaxed frame of mind, where mile-after-mile of wet road blended into each other.

At a second Timmies stop outside Peterborough, I decided to swap my soggy clothes under my rain gear for drier-though-stinkier wear from my laundry bag. As we neared the GTA, the rain let up a tad and freeway riding was a breeze in comparison. Thankfully, 401 traffic was light and I split from the rest of the pack and headed home, where I started snoring as soon as my head hit the pillow.

LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD

Though the ride home was not optimal, the memories made were as golden as the lake we stayed on. My only regret was that it wasn’t longer—I would have liked to really explore the places we discovered and had more of a chance to take it all in. Looking to the future, I would love to revisit these roads and go-to spots on the scoots. While pushing your limits with faster riding was exhilarating, I’m sure a more languid pace would be just as rewarding an experience.

As I finish this, I’m having the urge to call Georgette, pack up the scoots, and head back. Taking our time, of course.

I think that’s what 2022 has in store.

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