SOME IS GOOD, BUT MORE IS BETTER! After two years motorcycle riding primarily around Toronto, I wanted more. Luckily, friends of mine – all women over 40 – were planning a nine-day trip from Ottawa to The Inn at Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island in August 2015. It was exactly was I was looking for, so I joined them!
Before talking about my first long trip, I should talk about trading my first motorcycle. A friend once said “the best bike is three bikes” – I agree! My Harley was great. Unfortunately though, I found the riding position less than ideal for city riding. Of riding in Toronto I often say: either car drivers don’t see you and they cut you off or they see you and they cut you off – either way, you’re getting cut-off. You’ve got to be prepared for and be able to react to anything.
When you’re riding a cruiser, your body is tilted a bit back and the front wheel is well out front. It’s hard to be a nimble rider in that position. So, in spring of 2014, I bought a brand new Triumph Bonneville T-100 – a cafe racer styled bike! The Bonneville was a few ccs less than the Harley (865 cc versus 883 cc). Since I purchased it from a dealer, I could not test ride it. And, unlike when I bought my Harley, this time I actually knew how to ride a motorbike.
A cafe racer puts the rider in a much more nimble position (forward and closer to the front wheel), than a cruiser. The Bonneville improved my ability to react quickly to rapid traffic changes (i.e. getting cut-off). Believe me: if I had it my way I’d have kept my Harley, bought the Triumph, and would also have a tourer for long trips. However, since I’m not independently wealthy, I can only have one bike at a time…
The Triumph Bonneville is a classic! So many times people would stop me and tell me they used to have a Bonneville (“back in the day”). I really enjoyed riding it – for the first six weeks… In May of 2014, I went to a BMW Ladies’ Demo Day coordinated by author and women’s biking advocate Liz Jenzen. There, I made the mistake of test riding what would turnout to be my “dream bike”. I’ll tell you more about my “dream bike” in future blogs. Suffice it to say, I don’t recommend falling in love with a bike that’s not the new one you just bought.
GEAR, GEAR, GEAR
For a gearhead like me, the second best thing about riding a bike is the gear – the best thing, of course, is riding. When you ride a Harley there’s more Harley-Davidson gear than you can imagine! There are Harley stores everywhere – even in cruise ports on Caribbean islands. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Triumph gear. There’s a decent amount of gear but it only can be purchased at select stores and it’s really expensive. Since Triumph is a UK motorcycle manufacturer, some of the best Triumph gear has to be purchased from the UK. Most of my gear was purchased in the USA (although I bought a leather jacket once when I was in London, UK). In the above pic of my bike, I have almost $1000 of after-market gear (saddlebags, upgraded seat, luggage rack, etc.) and that’s before I started gearing-up for my first long trip. BTW – when you get into riding, Kijiji can be your best friend. Over the years, I’ve bought and sold two bikes (Vespa and Harley) as well as tons of motorcycle gear (helmets, jackets, luggage etc.) on Kijiji.
Going to PEI was a wonderful excuse to buy more gear for me (as a rider) and for my bike. Whether purchased with my trip in mind or prior to that, the gear that I’d strongly recommend for any long trip is:
- full-face/modular helmet
- highway grade “armoured” pants and jacket
- riding boots
- seat pad
- windshield (mine was detachable)
- any hi-viz gear you can find
FULL-FACE/MODULAR HELMET – It’s critical to have proper gear to reduce the extent of your injuries in the event of a crash. A full face helmet not only provides full cradling of the head, but also it reduces the impact (literally) of riding into an insect when travelling at high speeds. Bugs may seem harmless, but when you’re travelling 100 km/h and you hit one flying towards you the impact could cause an accident if you’re not wearing a visor. Now, I’ve seen true “bikers” riding on the highway with just a “beanie helmet”, sunglasses and a bandana (usually sporting a skull theme) covering their mouths; I don’t know how they do it. Maybe the bugs try to avoid them out of fear like the rest of us do – who knows?! I’d just say, don’t take chances. I have a women-specific Schuberth C3 Pro modular helmet. A modular helmet is essentially a full-face helmet that flips-up for ease of donning or removal.
ARMOURED OUTERWEAR – Again, it’s critical to have proper gear to reduce the extent of your injuries in the event of a crash. For me, pants with armour at the knee and padding at the hips are essential for highway riding. It’s also important to wear a jacket with armour at the elbows and the back at the very least. I had a two-piece Triumph women-specific suit that I used on this trip. It had a number of strategically placed zip-vents (jacket and pants) and was waterproof too.
RIDING BOOTS – I won’t repeat the same opening sentence but you just have to be crash- conscious when you shop for all gear, including boots. I once made the mistake of cheaping-out on motorcycle footwear and I’ll be paying the price for that for as long as I live (I’ll explain more in a few weeks). I had Triumph-branded women’s touring boots which I used on this trip. Whatever boots you choose, make sure they’re reinforced at the ankle and that they provide protection for at least half-way up your shin (the higher the better). A stiff sole also helps when you’re spending hours on your bike – it can take the pressure of the pedals off your feet.
SEAT PAD – For any long trip you need some sort of cushioning for the seat. Standard bike seats are fine for commuting and running errands. However, you need more cushioning to spend hours per day for many days in a row on your bike. I bought an AirHawk inflatable seat pad – it’s considered one of the best cushioning systems there is. Honestly, I could do commercials for my AirHawk myself! Others swear by their sheepskin pads. It doesn’t matter what you use, just use something.
LUGGAGE – All of my luggage is nylon and I love it! I have SW-Motech Blaze saddlebags. They’re light. They expand as needed. There are waterproof bags within each bag (for long trips). They are low/no maintenance. I purchased my saddlebags, the luggage rack and the “trunk” seen in the above pics off of a fellow rider via Kijiji. I got a good deal on great gear! For the trip, I also added a CorTech tail bag. It was also nylon and expanded as needed. At the time of this trip, I also had a plastic top case; it’s long gone now.
HI-VIZ (High Visibility) GEAR – I once read an article on motorcycle outerwear where the author posed a critical question, “do you want to be cool or do you want to be seen?” I can’t honestly say what my answer would have been if asked when I was a teenager; however, now my answer is a no-brainer. As you can see in the pic above, my beautiful two-piece Triumph touring suit was all black – with some reflective piping. So, days before I headed out to PEI, I purchased a hi-viz backpack. You’ll see in the above pic of my geared-up bike alone, even my tail bag has a hi-viz rain cover.
PACKING FOR A MOTORBIKE ROAD TRIP
I’m not going to lie; I didn’t pack all the right stuff for my first long bike trip. Now to my defence, packing for a long bike trip can be tough, particularly if your destination has a slightly different climate than you have. In our case, Prince Edward Island can be foggy and cool in the summer which is not really the case in Toronto. So, I needed to pack warmer clothing for our destination, I also needed cooler clothing for most of the trip there and back. Plus, I also had to pack lightly since everything I needed for 10 days (clothing, footwear, etc.) had to fit on my bike. I had my riding boots for while on the bike but I also needed sandals for PEI’s beaches and casual footwear for when we we’re off our bikes.
In addition to whatever clothing and gear you think you need, you should also carry chain oil (if your bike has a chain) and motor oil. You also need to pack a tire pressure gauge (to check you tires daily) and a tool bag if you have one. One other critical thing to pack is snacks!
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND HO! (August 7-16, 2015)
Finally, the day to begin the trip arrived! The trip started for the rest of the group on August 8th, but it started on August 7th for me as I had to get to Ottawa to start with everyone else. I stayed with two other riders that night. Then, the morning of the 8th, the three of us rode to the home of a fourth rider and headed in the direction of Montreal to meet the fifth and final rider. To make things interesting, we took the ferry from Hudson to Oka and met the fifth rider in Oka. That way, we avoided Montreal traffic entirely.
Now, if you look-up Ottawa to Bay Fortune, PE on-line, you’ll see that it’s a 14.5 hour trip. So, one could easily hop in a car at 6:00AM and arrive at PEI before 10:00PM – even accounting for the time zone difference. Here’s the thing: riding a bike is significantly different than driving in a car. You really should stop every 100 kms or so just to stay sharp; there is absolutely no forgiveness for micro-sleeps as there may be when you’re driving a car. Dozing while riding can be a fatal error (as can be when driving a car too). We each had our own favourite pick-me-ups – mine was (and still is) Red Bull. The other thing is that you really don’t want to be riding at night. In addition to the obvious safety concerns, the onslaught of bugs when riding at night with your one, highly attractive (to them) light, can be overwhelming (and nasty!).
The first night we stayed in Riviere-du-Loup, QC. We arrived well before dark. The second day we rode from Riviere-du-Loup to Moncton, NB. I got the bright idea to take the Plaster Rock by-pass as a short cut and I convinced the others to go that way. Hmmmm… So, I’ve driven between Halifax (where I used to live) and Toronto (where my family lived) many times. I’ve taken the Plaster Rock by-pass a number of times – in a car… Turns out, it’s not so great on a motorbike. The highway is somewhat of a logging road (funny, I didn’t really notice that when driving). So, it was in terrible shape to be riding a bike. Now, while the road was getting fixed in some areas, that just made it more unsafe on a bike. Not to worry, there were ample signs like the one below advising us of the motorcycle-specific safety concerns.
Thankfully, we survived the Plaster Rock by-pass, without incident. We even stopped and took the below group pic to commemorate the experience. Needless to say, from then on my credibility as a navigator/tour guide was shot!
The morning of August 10th, we left Moncton, NB and headed to Prince Edward Island.
CROSSING THE CONFEDERATION BRIDGE
There are only two ways to get onto PEI, by ferry from Nova Scotia and via the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick. Fun fact: regardless of the method you choose, it’s free for all travellers to get onto the island – you only pay when you leave. And, since it’s cheaper to cross by bridge than by ferry, savvy tourists will take the ferry to PEI and the Bridge when returning from PEI. Travellers in a hurry will always opt for the bridge as it’s faster in every way. Since we were coming from New Brunswick, and we were on a schedule, we saw the Bridge as our only sensible option. Once I got on the Bridge, I would have given anything to ride the extra hours to take the ferry over instead- I’ll explain why in a moment.
The Confederation Bridge is an amazing feat of engineering spanning almost 13 kms from Cape Jourimain, NB to Borden-Carlton, PE. It crosses the Northumberland Strait and is in somewhat of a wind tunnel. It’s not uncommon for the Bridge to be closed to high-sided vehicles and motorcycles. The threshold for closure is winds of 70 km/hr with gusts of 85 km/hr. To be honest, I have NO idea why the bridge wasn’t closed the day we crossed – perhaps the wind was 69 km/hr with gusts of 84 kms/hr? All I can tell you is that I honestly have never been as scared, in my life, as I was riding across Confederation Bridge that day.
It’s hard to do the crossing justice, but I’ll try. The bridge is just a two-lane bridge with only a yellow line separating the two directions. We got in our usual, staggered, group-riding formation and began to cross. The first few hundred metres were absolutely fine. Then, before we hit the 1km mark, sheer wind gusts began to hit us from the east, blowing our bikes in the direction of on-coming traffic. If that wasn’t bad enough (and it was bad!), any time a large vehicle passed us going the opposite direction, the wind force it created blew us back towards what would send us over the bridge. I knew the Bridge is 13 kms but I swear, it felt like we rode 130 kms to get across that day. When, after what felt like hours later, we finally got to PEI, we discussed with sincerity the prospect of returning to Ontario via the ferry to Nova Scotia – the cost differential and the folly of riding east to actually go west were completely irrelevant.
THE INN AT BAY FORTUNE
I can take NO credit at all, but the awesome women I travelled with had selected the Inn at Bay Fortune, operated by renowned Canadian chef, Michael Smith, as our home base for the four days we were in PEI. What a fantastic choice! The food was incredible and the location was amazing!
August 11th, the day after we arrived, was pretty much a “down day”. We explored things right around the Inn where we were staying and then took an afternoon trip to a local beach. A really interesting thing happened when I went with another group member to get ice cream at the beach. There were a couple of teenaged guys getting ice cream ahead of us. At one point, one of the young men turned to me and asked “weren’t you at the hotel in Riviere-du-Loup?” He said he’d remembered us arriving at the hotel and at the restaurant. Kinda amazing, right? A teenaged guy remembering a middle-aged woman?! I’d love to say it was my striking beauty; however, I believe the rarity of seeing a Black woman on a motorcycle was enough to actually make an impression on a teenaged guy!
On August 12th, we rode the one-hour from Bay Fortune to Charlottetown and spent most of the day there – sightseeing, shopping and eating. Charlottetown is a great, history-filled city! Again, as five women riding-in on motorcycles, we definitely caught the attention of locals.
No trip to PEI is complete without paying homage to Anne of Green Gables at the Green Gables National Historic Site. So, on August 13th, our group took the better part of a day to ride the 1.5 hours to Cavendish, tour the Green Gables House, hike a bit around the Green Gables site, check out what Cavendish had to offer (predictably, almost everything was Green Gables themed) and then return to Bay Fortune for our Lobster Dinner. I hadn’t been in the Green Gables site since I was four years old – needless to say, the set-up had changed a bit since then.
We left PEI the morning of August 14th. Despite our harrowing trip over the Confederation Bridge, we decided to take it going back home, after all. Well, what a difference no wind makes! The day we crossed back over the bridge was very calm. I was even able to look-up numerous times and enjoy the view (the only view I saw crossing over to PEI was my life flashing before my eyes)!
We saw a few interesting sights on our way back home. But, as was the case on our way to PEI, at some stops, WE (five women on bikes) were the sight to be seen!
On the second day of our return, we parted ways in the late afternoon, just outside of Quebec City. The parents of one of our group invited us to stay over. Since I was going to Toronto and everyone else was going either to Montreal or Ottawa, I headed-out on my own instead of staying with the group. I stayed in Cornwall the night of August 15th and returned to Toronto – safe and sound – the afternoon of August 16th. It was actually good to have the experience of riding those final 800kms by myself. I now know I can do a trip that distance by myself, if necessary.
Next time, I’ll tell you about my next long trip where I travelled with essentially the same group of gals to the Tail of the Dragon, which straddles Tennessee and North Carolina. And, as has become customary, there’s a new bike to talk about too!
11 thoughts on “First Big Motorcycle Trip: From Toronto to Prince Edward Island”
Inn at Bay Fortune is THE best!
Sounds like a fantastic trip! Riding in a group is a lot of fun. Enough “me time” on the bike, and people to share the journey!
Yes Judi – it strikes a great balance!
That first crossing of the Confederation Bridge was probably the most terrifying experience of my life… definitely the most scared I’ve felt on a motorbike. Yet it was also the most memorable, and the return trip was incredibly beautiful. Next time I think I’ll take the ferry though 🙂
I’m with you Kate – ferry it is!
ooh, I’ve got trips like this going on in my head, thanks for the inspo. What do you use for wayfinding?
So glad to hear you found the the trip interesting. I must confess, someone else in our group was on navigation. That said, things are pretty straight forward. If you decide to go, I can check-in with my group mate to refresh my memory on were we stayed. I’m from the Maritimes (Nova Scotia) so I’m pretty biased re: the natural beauty there!
Wow! Awesome trip….minus the bridge experience. 😱 Sounded very scary.
Amen to taking a pass on the Confederation Bridge! Thanks for reading! CM
Oh my! What an adventure! I enjoyed this example of how to step out of one’s comfort zone to embrace all the thrills awaiting each and every one of us in life.
I’m so proud of you Kathy, especially because I’ve known you since birth and have witnessed how you’ve consistently refused to be pressured into accepting the stereotypical role assigned to African People in this society.
Well done! You’re an awesome example for all of us.
Hi Lynn – how awesome to hear from you! Thanks so much for taking the time to check-out my blog. More importantly, thank you for your very kind and generous words. I’ve had the benefit of great role models, like you, throughout my life. So great seeing you with my Mom in 2018 – I hope our paths cross again soon. Stay Blessed, Catherine