8 Ways Being a Motorcyclist in Canada is Different

Lists -


8 Ways Being a Motorcyclist in Canada is Different

In spite of longer winters, Canadians riders are die-hards. We’ll truck our bikes down to California and Tennessee just to get a little extra riding in during the off-season. Some of us ride until the snow flies, and then a few more miles after that, just for good measure. Read on to learn more about riding north of the 49th Parallel.

#1 We don’t have anything (quite) like California
The epicenter of many of the best things about riding is far, far south of the border for most Canadians. Provinces with the most engaging roads (such as Ontario, British Columbia) are also the least likely to tolerate our exploiting them for sporting purposes. And forget lane-splitting, that guy on Vancouver Island helped ruin it for everyone a couple of years ago.

#2 Overall, Lower Speed Limits
The fastest that you’re allowed to drive on Canadian expressways (freeways) is 110 km/h (68.35 mph). Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador have a maximum of only 100km/h. There has been pressure to join the rest of the developed world, as these speeds have been the same since the 1970’s oil crisis, but no changes have been made yet.

#3 Tiered Insurance
Depending on your age, driving history, marital status, the displacement and style of your bike, insurance can vary heavily. Sport bike riders can expect their fully-faired steeds to land them on the blacklist, paying exorbitant fees because of the risk associated with their preferred type of bike. The same goes for most bikes over 1000cc, regardless of their horsepower output. For example, I pay less for insurance on my Street Triple R than my friend with the same displacement Daytona 675.

#4 Bad Roads
In colder climates, freezing and thawing water on the roads quickly turns city streets into something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Many of us are turning toward the plushness of touring cruisers, adventure tour and dual sport bikes as primary or secondary mounts, as the plush suspension gives our kidneys and backs a break while crews patch or pave in the summer. Frost heaves add an extra level of difficulty during highway travel, too.

#5 Two Seasons
Most provinces have the same joke: we have two seasons, winter and road work.  Touring in Canada usually means hitting some kind of road construction. Relieving your pride and joy of tar and crud is just another part of the come-down from a good tour. Smart folks step away from the pressure washer, and buy a bottle of Castrol Super-Clean and a few brushes for cleaning.

#6 Mandatory Helmet Laws on a National Scale
We’ve been doing this since the 1960’s and we have had fewer motorcycle deaths because of it. Regulations for Canadian helmets follow the same standard as American DOT standard. British Columbia finally outlawed skid lids, the shortest of “shorty” style helmets in 2012.

#7 Limited access to cheaper goods from the U.S.
How are we ever going to compete? Since companies like Revzilla can’t ship all of their products across the border, some good folks in Quebec and British Columbia found a not-so-niche market in reasonable prices and shipping. Hopefully the rest of the industry chooses to catch up.

#8 Our Wilderness
We have the rough stuff in droves. Our country is bigger than the U.S., and our population is less than California’s. That means there are some real untouched gems out here. Are you living on the East Coast and have an itch for something remote? I’d tell you to head for Newfoundland and Labrador, if you’ve got the grit. Riding an ADV bike or Dual Sport in British Columbia? Welcome to heaven, logging and mining roads are everywhere.

For all the cross-border riders out there, what other differences have you have noticed?

  • ThinkingInImages

    Looks and sounds great to me.

  • Stephen Shuman

    I’ll put some knobbies on the zx6 and we’ll be good to go.

  • Larry

    I’d amend #7 and point out that most Canadians live within 50 miles of the US border and order a lot of their stuff from Revzilla et al and have them shipped to UPS boxes for a small fee. It saves money but the downside is a lot of local retailers have gone belly up in the last few years…for a variety of reasons, but it can be a drag not having as many good local shops as you see in the US.

    Also…there’s nothing quite as sweet as getting your bike out of a storage after a long Canadian winter…but we make do until then.

    • Guzzi

      Know how you feel, one of the annual highlights for us Norwegian bikers is when we bring our pride and joy out of winter hibernation

      • FricknSasquatch

        amen to that

  • di0genes
    • stever

      that is the nardwuar of motorcycle

  • minnjohn.advrider

    Other than access to “goods from the U.S.,” we in Minnesota share most of these items with Canada. As in Canada, snowmobiles are the solution for a moto-fix in the winter. A few even ride year round, avoiding ice and road salt, either of which will destroy your bike, one way or another.

  • Jason 1199

    All true! I’ll add that drivers in BC have never heard of “keep left except to pass” which is infuriating

    • KeithB

      Same on the 401 around Toronto.
      Mind you, the 100km/Hr speed limit is just a suggestion.

      • appliance5000

        Never saw anyone going faster – it can be endless and slow.

        • osme

          Typical flow of traffic on the 400-series highways in Ontario is 120km/h. You won’t get pulled over either, unless you’re not being safe or you’re on your own and the cop is bored. Just get clear of Toronto’s traffic.

    • Bob

      Don’t forget about the lovely automatic impound legislation in BC. This, coupled with artificially low speed limits and terse enforcement, means that many BC bikers spend their hard earned bucks riding/eating/spending in WA and OR.

      I’m sure many of you have seen this video:


      • Jason 1199

        I’ve never seen that. It’s both accurate and frustrating all at the same time. Time for Canada to join the 21st century already :-/

    • Tom

      It seems to me that the *only* thing they’ve heard of is keep left except to pass.

  • KeithB

    The price of gas.
    The Americans think the world will end with the $5/gal gas price.
    Been paying that for some time up here and all seems well. ;-)
    It is frustrating that I have to pay 30% more for Honda parts from Japan. They can’t use the US/CDN $ difference to explain it anymore and the parts don’t necessarily come through the US.
    Turns out, the manufacturers simply decided to charge our suppliers more.

  • karlInSanDiego

    Here’s another: Canadians produced the Can-Am and before that popularized the snowmobile, to give Mother Nature the bird. We saw dozens of Spyders on a recent trip to Quebec in late fall, and no two wheeled motorcycles.

    • Jacob D

      Popularised? You mean invented it (well, the patent was originally Canadian, at least). Those Spyders are much more popular in Quebec as they are made by BRP which is a Quebec company.

      • MontrealGuy

        They are popular because they do not require a motorcycle permit just a regular driving license and a 7 hours course … Something the Quebec’s government did to help BRP sales … but it doesn’t allow to leave the province as it isn’t recognize in other legislations ! Most others provincs and U.S states will require a valid motorcycle permit. It is very popular with boomers who want to go back to riding but didn’t renew their permits and now there’s a mandatory course costing over 700$ (plus exams at the end, both theory and on-road) to obtain it. So it’s an fast, easy and somewhat cheap way to get back on a bike (or something similar ;-) .

  • Kevin Daly

    Just over a year ago I did a motorcycle tour of the PNW. My friends I went from San Jose, CA to Whistler, BC and back going through the east side of BC and PNW. I will say the roads we road through Northern CA, Oregon and Washington were way better than what we rode in BC. But even when we were in BC there were many times we rode well over the speed limit in many areas as they were so remote with little or no traffic.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    Reading RideApart has signifcantly increased my urge to move to California. I live in Chicago and #1 through #5 equally applies to pretty much all northern states’ residents.

    • Piglet2010

      Ya hoser, eh?

    • Chris Cope

      I lived in California for several years; it’s not all it;s cracked up to be. Along with all those great roads are a whole lot of people who don’t know how to use them. The last time California had a single day in which someone was not killed in a traffic incident was 13 years ago (September 2000). On average, some sort of traffic incident occurs in California every 59 seconds.

    • kirby123

      Need I ask you, @RamesesThe2nd:disqus , how you could possibly miss the posted signs at land crossings telling you that Canadian signs are in metric and *not* American? >.>

  • Daniel

    #4 I would have to say 90% of my riding is done in Vermont or New York because of the horrible roads up here in the Montreal Quebec area.Besides a good majority of drivers up here are aggressive and have no common road courtesy or manners.Love the north east US states for the generally motorcycle friendly people.

    #5 as far as winter riding is concerned…in Quebec all vehicles are forbidden on public roads from Dec 15 to March 15 because of a mandatory winter tire law.Winter tires must display a snowflake emblem/pictogram.Regardless of how warm it is or how clear the roads are in between those dates you will get fined.Since no such tires exist or are readily available for bikes no one rides. They should at least allow spiked tires that ice racers use…but noooo. I myself ride as long as it’s +5c(41F) if I have to commute or run an errand but mostly will pleasure ride at +10c(50F).

  • Kerry Swartz

    Besides banning skid lids last year, BC introduced a number of other changes that included one where you must be seated in your bike at all times – no standing on the pegs. From I’ve been told by BCCOM and several Vancouver PD officers is that lane splitting is now allowed.

    • Piglet2010

      Even temporarily standing when going over railroad tracks and bridge deck expansion joints?

      • LS650

        You can read the law for yourself here:

        I think the wording is somewhat ambivalent, and I can’t see you getting ticketed if you are standing on the pegs for a few seconds… but then again, some cops are not very reasonable.

      • Kerry Swartz

        I believe the “real” intent of the law was to ensure someone seated could reach the pegs (i.e. no small kids) but as it is written lots of dual sport guys got upset because it meant they couldn’t ride rough roads, trails, etc. standing up. The law I believe was meant to dissuade stunting, etc. I can;t see you getting a ticket for rising up in the saddle over rough surfaces but go for a great distance in front of a cop and you’re inviting trouble.

        • Piglet2010

          Maybe they will ticket riders for standing while motionless at a traffic signal or stop sign?

          Bring back Wacky Bennett!

  • markbvt

    Biggest differences in Canada (specifically Quebec, Newfoundland/Labrador, and the Maritimes) as compared to the US:
    - Gas is a lot more expensive, but on the other hand, nonethanol gas is much more commonly available
    - People tend to be friendlier
    - Canadian road construction agencies love to pile lots of loose gravel on places the pavement is torn up
    - You shouldn’t assume people speak English
    - Metric system — no, that 100 sign doesn’t mean you can go 100mph

    By the way, forget about California. You want impressive twisties, go to West Virginia, western Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia. You can ride amazing roads every day for a week and never cover the same one twice. Not quite sure why Californians seem to be so impressed with 21 corners in 2.4 miles on their version of the Snake… Rt 421 (also called the Snake) in NC and TN has 489 corners in 33 miles, ranging from tight, technical hairpins to longer sweepers, with lots of elevation changes and very little traffic.

    And Canada has the Cabot Trail, which is a pretty outstanding road in its own right.

    • Ben Mcghie

      Rt 421 WHAT. I need to go visit that road!

    • Joe Bielski

      “People tend to be friendlier”???
      Man, here in Toronto, you smile at someone and they think you’re the devil :S

      • CanadianBiker

        I think he meant in the real Canada, not Toronto, Centre Of The Universe ™.

    • CruisingTroll

      California is impressive because you can ride year round in 90% of the moderate to heavily populated areas. While you can ride year round in much of the Mojave Desert, it’s not especially pleasant to do so during the day in July…. In a similar fashion, riding in the Sierras can be quite limited during Dec-March.

      Nonetheless, where most of the people live, riding weather is 95%+ of the year. Add in the substantial availability of products we desire, and a wide variety and abundance of riding opportunities from single track to two lane rural mountain roads to urban freeway dancing. In California you can go from cruising along the ocean coast to mountain sweepers to triple digit runs down deserted desert roads all in the same day, even the same morning. And you can do all of this usually without having to clean masses of bugs off your faceshield.

      California does have some downsides, of course, just like every other place. That said, if I were to hit the lottery tomorrow and retire, with motorcycling being my overriding passion, California would be the #1 contender for relocation. Now, riding isn’t an overriding passion for me, so Cali wouldn’t be my lottery retirement home base. I would spend a lot of time there though…

    • ColinTheShots

      “forget about California”?
      You think California’s only good road is Mulholland when it’s the 3rd largest state with the largest population in the country? hahahahahaha
      I’m sure every state has good roads for riding somewhere (maybe not Kansas), but you’re completely ignoring the immensity and diversity of California’s geography. Regardless of its superiority in the twisties department and weather (if you’d done a little research), California is by far the best state to be a motorcyclist because of lane splitting alone (not that its illegality in your state has anything to do with you).
      Also, you left out the best road in that Appalachian area: Tail of the Dragon with 318 bends in 11 miles. Then again, the most corners makes the best road not.

      • markbvt

        Welcome to the party, seven months late. :)

        I never said Mulholland was the only road, it’s just the one Californians always seem to talk about. I’ve been trying for years to figure out why when, as you point out, there’s a whole lot of territory to cover that’s bound to have some better examples.

        And have you actually been to the Tail of the Dragon and the area surrounding it? The Dragon is by no means the best road. It’s just a lot of tight corners with very little variety. It’s what you’d get if you told a ten-year-old to design you a fun motorcycle road. There are much better roads in the region that have lots of elevation change, big sweepers, scenic views, AND tight twisties — and less traffic and fewer cops to boot. Just because the Dragon’s the most famous doesn’t make it the best.

  • Piglet2010

    #7 – Is this due to law, or the US based mail order companies not being allowed to sell certain brands outside the US per their contracts with the manufacturers/distributors?

    • osme

      Distributor contracts. Most things aren’t affected though.

  • Mugget

    110km/h is a low speed limit? Same as Australia…

    What is the highway limit in the United States??

    • LS650

      I saw a guy posting yesterday that in Texas, there are some stretches of highway with posted limits of 85 mph – about 135 kph.
      That’s unusually high, but in many places 75 mph (120 mph) is common for highways.

      • CruisingTroll

        There are stretches in Montana, Texas, and now Utah with speed limits of 80 or higher. Over 100 miles of Interstate 15 in Utah has an 80mph speed limit, I think much of I-70 does as well. Not sure about I-80.

  • John McHan

    You left out WEATHER. I am from Georgia and a few years ago decided to ride my trusty Bandit 1200 up to see a friend in northern Alberta. The weather was hot and clear until I got to Winnipeg. I got up the next morning to head across Manitoba. At first I thought my bike was out of fuel or acting up only to find that the wind was blowing so hard that it was intermittingly slowing and releasing me. I ended up driving across two Provinces leaned to the right just to go straight.
    I stayed in Alberta for a week with temps in the 70s. The morning I got ready to leave it was in the mid-30s. This was in August. Apparently Canada has only two climate zone…..this sucks! and “you should have been here yesterday!”

    • FricknSasquatch

      just had a 40 degree swing in one day this week up in Northern Ontario went from -51 to -6 CELSIUS in 24 hours, went from frostbite in 5mins to t-shirt weather lol

  • Jacob D

    The thing with speed limits in Canada is that practically everyone already drives about 10km/h over the posted limits and can get away with it. So if the government were to up the speed limits to match those in other parts of the world it’s likely the speed people actually drive would increase as well. So Canadian speed limits stay lower to keep people from going even faster than they already do. Except Quebec where the speed limits are merely a suggestion at the best of times.

    By the way, as someone from Nova Scotia I have to say we have some engaging roads out east too (the Cabot Trail, for instance), however our speeding fines are quite hefty… upwards of $300 for 16-30km/h over the limit…

    • Jason Evariste Cormier

      Dear Jacob:

      “however our speeding fines are quite hefty… upwards of $300 for 16-30km/h over the limit…”





      - The Residents of Quebec and Ontario

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/JakeManD Jacob D

        hahaha I actually laughed out loud reading that :) thanks for your Upper Canadian sympathy….

        If you’re ever down east for a bike trip and need someone else to ride with though, get a hold of me :)

  • Ben Mcghie

    Living in Vancouver, BC, these are all the reasons my next bike will be a KTM 690 Enduro R.

  • Joe Bielski

    We say “eh” a lot? :P