Riding Harleys Through Canada: An Invitation I Couldn't Refuse
I recently traveled to Canada to ride some of the 2009 Harley-Davidson lineup along with one of H-D’s partners, Best Western Hotels. The three day ride was designed with dual intentions –to show off the bikes, and introduce H-D’s Ride Planner and Best Western’s “Biker-Friendly” policy. They didn’t have to ask me twice – riding in Canada has always been a goal of mine, difficult to achieve from my home base in Southern California.
Planning, Harley Style
Some of us are planners. Some of us fly by the seat of our pants. When it comes to a motorcycle road trip, the planning is part of the fun. It builds anticipation, and makes the trip last longer – planning is part of the trip.
Harley-Davidson’s Ride Planner is a free web-based tool designed to help riders get the most out of their trips, and out of their Harley-Davidson Owners Group (HOG) membership in the process. A simple interface allows you to input destinations and waypoints, and to print out directions or export as a “.gpx” file for use with a GPS unit.
There are a few Harley twists. On a navigation bar along the top of the map screen, you can click on “Roads,” and the map will highlight great motorcycle roads along your route. Click on “Dealers,” and get info on the H-D dealers along the way. “Events” brings up upcoming rides and dealer-sanctioned events. “Fuel” highlights only Shell gas stations – kind of a lame feature, honestly – especially on routes where the Shell dealers are few and far between, like LA to San Francisco. Most riders can’t afford to be fuel brand loyal while on a road trip – when you’re riding a Sportster with a 100 mile range, any gas is good gas when that low fuel light shines.
Then there’s the “Hotels” button, which brings up the Best Western Hotels along your route, which happens to be the world’s largest hotel chain, with over 4,000 properties in 80 countries. Click on a Best Western icon on the map, and you’re transported to a page with information on the hotel, and a reservations form with a Harley riders’ discount applied to the room rates.
In case you didn’t know, Best Western is the world’s largest hotel chain, with over 4,000 properties in 80 countries. The company is arranged like a cooperative, rather than a pure franchise. Even though the hotels themselves are individually owned and operated, a central management company sets standards for hospitality and amenities for each property, and provides some accountability for each venue. Inspectors are sent out to each property on a regular basis, and hotels that don’t meet the minimum standards can be stripped of their Best Western stripes.
The good news for traveling motorcyclists is that part of the standard for Best Western hotels is that they are “Biker Friendly.” Beyond the Harley rider discount, each Best Western Hotel has pledged to have a bike washing area available on site, including a hose, bucket and drying towels. Still a work-in-progress, it’s not entirely standardized from property to property yet – but it’s great to find a hotel chain that not only welcomes bikers, but does something tangible to accommodate them and their bikes.
We started out in Orangeville, Ontario, a small town just Southwest of Toronto. Day One took us to Quinte Isle, Ontario, mostly following smaller routes and staying off of the federal highways. We stopped off at Bernie Gray Kayaking, and took a brief lesson and kayak tour of the Bay of Quinte. As the only member of our group with any kayaking experience, I of course managed to be the only person to capsize his kayak and taste the polluted waters of Lake Ontario. Yum. A short (wet) ride later, and we stopped for the night at the Best Western Belleville.
Day Two took us out of Ontario and into the province of Quebec. Passing through the college town of Kingston and skirting the border of Ottawa, we dropped into the metropolis of Montreal from the West. A great dinner at a local microbrewery introduced me to the French Canadian specialty poutine, a supercharged version of fries with gravy that fuels the nightlife in Montreal. I’ll take that over Lake Ontario water any day. A night at the Best Western Europa-Downtown, a pleasantly idiosyncratic hotel in the heart of the city, and it was North to Quebec City.
Day Three was our shortest day of riding, and by far the best motorcycling roads of the route. Pleasantly twisty country roads through quaint villages, small towns and farmland on an unseasonably warm and clear day will be forever etched in my memory as one of my great days on a bike. I had to keep pinching myself – you’re actually riding a Harley-Davidson through Canada! We rode into Quebec City, and parked our bikes for the last time at the Best Western Hotel L'Aristocrate near the airport. After a quick wash and costume change, we took public transportation into the amazing city of Quebec, which is in the midst of a year-long celebration of its 400th anniversary. From Belleville to Quebec, it felt like we had traveled a lot further than 600 miles – it felt like a trip through fantasy and time.