As any voyager knows, the secret to truly experiencing any destination is by following the lead of its inhabitants. This was certainly the case for the eleven of us, each on our own dual-purpose motorcycles, as we followed Ride Manitoulin’s adventure ride expert, Steven Fox-Radulovich. Steven lives on Manitoulin and has been riding a motorcycle on it much longer than any of us—in fact, all his life. He knows his way around. One brief turn off the main road and he leads us onto an entirely different landscape that we’d never have discovered otherwise. The feeling of being up on the pegs of my BMW F700GS, weaving the bike over the packed dirt road accented by sand, mud puddles and gravel, all amidst canopied woods --simply thrilling! And when the dirt road ended, opening up to a clearing, the surface changed to the island’s core of blackened limestone. We rode across it to Lake Huron’s edge and let the water lap against our tires. At this point, our cameras all came out–not one of us intended on missing this chance to record an incredibly splendid scene. “Yes, this is riding Manitoulin!”
The Ride Manitoulin Rally came about three years ago and right from the get-go it’s been given the double thumbs up by thousands of its attending motorcycle enthusiasts. Manitoulin is the world’s largest freshwater island, situated where the Niagara Escarpment meets the Canadian Shield, resulting in a ride environment unlike any other—and a terrain that satisfies all forms of motorcycle riding. So, if Steven’s Adventure Ride is not your preference, take a ride to Bridal Falls. Enjoy the sweeping turns along the way and a cool dip under the falling water when you arrive. Maybe choose the ladies’ Art Gallery Tour (men welcome) or take a ride to Gore Bay for lunch at Buoy’s Eatery along the waterfront. Here, locally caught whitefish and famed freshly-made pizzas will more than satisfy… and certainly enhance the fit of your motorcycle pants! Be warned, appetites run wild here!
By the end of the event’s first day, Providence Bay’s usually empty football field has transformed into row upon row of motorcycles. It’s here, at the registration booth, that we first received our initial impressions of the event—a big, old-fashioned, “You’re part of the family!” welcome. It’s here that visiting riders meet folks like rider Lydia, a local school teacher, or Jenn, who had personally sewn each of the headbands found in the ladies’ ride goodie bags. Brian, from the Lion’s Club, and other personable volunteers from the community were also on-hand. And like these folks, at the heart of Ride Manitoulin lives a good cause: revenues generated are returned to the community and this year, will be given to the Manitoulin Family Resources Food Bank and CNIB Eye Van.
Alongside the usual biker rally activities—poker runs and games, this event steps it up to include rider training, which can help to improve everyone’s motorcycle riding experiences. As it happens, this is how my attendance as a motorcycle and motorsports instructor came about. With similar goals to the Adventure Ride, my workshops and particular exercises were designed to partner with Manitoulin’s ride environment, enhancing the overall ride experience. The workshop on push-steering and off-set steering, for example, was a direct response to the island’s fast-sweeping corners, blind hills and wood-lined, visibility-challenged turns. Advanced braking technique sessions were also prompted by the inevitable encounters that one is bound to have sooner or later with the island’s dense deer population. Manitoulin’s roads offer a superb environment to hone all of these rider skills, which can in turn be utilized to provide for greater ride enjoyment in the future.
When the Ride Manitoulin rally is over, the sail back to the mainland on the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry provides a final dash of spark to the island’s unique charms. Standing deck-side with the motorcycle safely fastened in the ferry’s cargo hull, I gaze affectionately towards the disappearing Manitoulin over the ferry’s stern. It’s then that I feel not only revived but above all, satisfied—having experienced a ride that you just won’t find anywhere else. A place I’ve fondly named, the motorcyclists’ wonderland!
Visit Northern Ontario Tourism for this article and a few more links/destinations.