Motorcycle Route: Trans-Canada, Northern Ontario, Ottawa to Winnipeg

These are my notes and diary for a motorcycle road trip, Ottawa-Winnipeg, July 1999, totaling about 6000 Km of riding spread over 8 days.

Intro

My summer trip has been in planning and preparation for months. Having grown up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but now living in Ottawa, Ontario, we have family in both locations and have traveled between them many times. I’ve driven the route many times (and love the highway) but not recently and not on a bike. After much convincing, my family has flown to Winnipeg using my frequent flyer points, and I’m following on the bike. They will get more visiting time in Winnipeg, while I spend more time in transit.

Preparation

I spent the long Ottawa winter dreaming about and preparing for this trip. Carrying the right equipment, minimum stuff, fitting it all in the bike, being prepared for what might reasonably go wrong. . . those things are all part of the excitement. Planning, making lists, ordering special parts, and so on, helped make the months of snow-covered ground and absent bike pass a little more quickly.

Research

For a snowbound rider slowly going crazy with cabin fever, there are many good and entertaining sources of long-distance riding and touring advice on the Internet.

The premium source of wisdom has to be the Iron Butt Association. Their web site is a fountain of knowledge about distance riding and of travelogues from riders who have gone much farther than I will and in a fraction of the time. If I did nothing else to prepare, I’m glad I studied and memorized their 28 Long Distance Riding Tips — required reading before any tour. Also on this site is the complete, if rather extreme, major tool list, by Ron Major; a useful reminder to ensure you can’t possibly have forgotten a tool.Finally, a few questions posted to the GPZ-1100 Mailing List brought loads of useful advice from fellow riders about equipment and, especially, comfort on a long trip.

Bike

The bike for this trip is a 1995 Kawasaki GPZ-1100. Only 10,000 Km on the clock, and it has not been ridden on a long trip yet. Many reports from the GPZ List rallies have my expectations high, though. It’s powerful and stable and, by most reports, not too uncomfortable.

I’ve been doing one-modification-per-winter for the last couple of years, and the bike is now equipped with a number of accessories that I think will be of great value.

Two E-360 panniers (and a magnetic tank bag) hold everything I expect to need on the trip and upon arrival. An E-460 top bag comes along for extra room, containing things I want to be able to access more easily (like jacket and walking shoes). Givis are waterproof, remove easily, and (as I will find out) are very sturdy. Loading the panniers so the weight is equally distributed and yet things are still accessible in a sensible way has taken some work.
The overwhelming response to requests for advice on the GPZ List was to have some kind of throttle lock, and I’ve had the Throttlemeister for a while already. My hands should tire equally, rather than my right going first.
This winter’s project was Gen-Mar risers (and the longer front brake line they required). I’m hoping this will help to find a more comfortable riding position — I’ve been finding the slight crouch a little severe for my body (& age).
GPS
I’ve already fallen in love with a small GPS unit, and it accompanies me on most trips. (It’s no longer handlebar mounted because of the Gen-Mars — it’s now on the cowling to the left of the dash, just barely tucked behind the wind shadow of the screen.) Because of last year’s trip out West (by car) it is already pre-loaded with most of the small towns, rest stops, etc., between here and the West coast.

One of the decisions I wrestled with for a long time was whether, and how, to carry spare fuel. I know there are some long stretches between gas stations in Northern Ontario. Not farther than my range, but meaning I can’t afford to miss a stop. Also I know I have a bad habit of postponing fuel stops if I can’t be bothered or if I don’t like the looks of a well-placed gas station.

An elegant solution eventually presents itself. One day I found a 1-gallon gas Jerry Can in a local hardware store that is shaped differently than the normal ones — it’s low and squat, square with a big footprint. It looks like it would sit very stable, and that it would fit just about perfectly in an old tail-pack I have. So, I have a spare gallon of fuel with me, in a tail pack on the rear seat. It seems very sturdy, and I’m comfortable with the safety of the Jerry can. I know that if I crash I’ll have the extra fuel to worry about but it seems a minor additional risk. Frankly, a crash that would break a Jerry can held in this location would likely kill me anyway.

Packing List

Over the winter I’ve combined the wisdom of the Iron Butters, list advice, other sites, and my own experience, to generate a packing list that would not fit in my truck, then trimmed, compromised, imagined what might happen, and so on, to arrive at a list of things I think it makes sense to take along. My packing list will get revised each trip as things get used or unused; I offer it here in case it can help anyone else remember something they’ll need.

Riding Out

As I start my first page of notes, it’s Thursday night. The Givis and tank bag have been repacked for the third time, and I’m convinced everything is organised and set. Tank is full, oil and other fluids are fresh and full, chain is lubed, tire pressures are perfect, riding suit is clean, …

My general plan for the ride starting tomorrow is to leave as early as I comfortably can each day, but not so early that I’m riding sleepy. Ride a couple of hours before a breakfast stop, as I love being out in the very early hours of the morning when the air is cool and slightly foggy, and I don’t like those precious hours to pass while I’m sitting in some restaurant over eggs. My route will be simplicity itself. Go West on the Trans-Canada Highway until I reach Winnipeg. This is provincial highway number 17 in Ontario — about 2000 Km of it — and highway #1 once I get to Manitoba.

I’ll follow the Iron Butt advice of separating rest and gas stops. Stop about once an hour. Gas one hour, bathroom the next, meal the next, and so on. I know from experience that it will be hard to make myself stop every hour, and that if I don’t I will quickly be in pain and miserable. I plan to ride till about 4:00 or 5:00 each day, rather than setting a distance objective. That means I’m looking for a cheap motel while there are still lots of vacancies — they tend to suddenly all get full about 6:00 PM. And it leaves me a pleasant evening to relax. I’ve toyed with the idea of riding into the evenings, but I’m concerned about deer & moose; won’t get a room unless I reserve, and that sets both limits and expectations to distance; and I’m in no hurry to get anywhere.

Being in no hurry (and even if I was) I expect to spend most of my time around 100-110 KpH on the open highways. Slow for this bike but, in my experience, slightly faster than average for the cars around. Generally considered an acceptable speed (on the indicated 90 KpH highways) by the provincial police, especially when combined with a habit I formed some time ago: push it slightly on the highways, but strictly adhere to the speed limits in the small towns that pass by.

The service manual calls for chain lubrication every 600 Km. I’ll do it every 500 — it’s easier to keep track of on the odometer and leaves a margin of error for inconvenient times. I haven’t had to add oil to the bike yet (other than the complete changes), but am bringing spare. Also I will be in Winnipeg when the 15,000 scheduled event hits, and will do (or buy) a service check there.

I try to start off good habits with an early bed time. But it’s hard to get to sleep, dreaming of the road.

Ottawa; Mattawa; North Bay; Sudbury; Thessalon. 716 Km, amazing coincidences.
Sault Ste. Marie; Wawa; White River; Terrace Bay; Nippigon. Mountains and wilderness, failing memories, mist, and a big goose.
Thunder bay; air hoses; embarrassment; Dryden; Kenora; Manitoba; GoldWings; twisty backroads; and arrival.
Cruisers and bare heads; pan-am games. Day trip around Manitoba: dragonflies, deserts, and heat.
Side trip through Fort Frances; hot day on empty highways.
A short trip through my favourite hills; photos and fellow riders; roadkill, and an early stop in the mist.
Heavy fog & low visibility; more fellow riders; good-bye to the Lake, hello to the River. Hot asphalt.
A short morning ride along the Ottawa River ends a great trip.

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