Then and there to the Niagara Falls on a Pan America

PAR Zabel Bourbeau Posted on

*This article was published in Vol. 51 No. 7 of Cycle Canada digital magazine.

Let me tell you right away, that was not an easy ride, covering 1,600 km in 48 hours in rainy, windy conditions, and going through dense traffic around Toronto.

Normally, I prefer taking my time to fully live the adventure and enjoy nice country roads. But I decided to squeeze that express ride into my tight schedule, and at the end it turned into a fine trip with great discoveries. I took Highway 401 both ways because I wanted to have more time to explore the Niagara Peninsula’s back roads. So I left Montréal on a Thursday at noon aboard Harley-Davidson’s Pan America Special dual-sport machine.

Some context: on Wednesday, June 16, the Quebec and Ontario governments decided to reopen their borders. So after a few months of closure because of COVID, I guess my brain was emotionally drawn westward. I picked up the big machine and left home the next day. I had ridden the Pan Am earlier this year, so I thought that would be a nice opportunity to test its comfort on a long ride with lots of kilometres to cover.

The first 650 km are not worth commenting on except for the fact that I had to pay a visit to the first On Route I saw to celebrate my arrival in Ontario. Of course, while there, I also filled up the Pan Am and took a little break. Then, I was back on the road to Toronto. There are few vehicles on the road, mostly trucks with all kinds of merchandise. Cruising speed is high, way above the speed limit! As I am approaching Toronto, traffic gets very dense. It’s hot, people drive “cowboy style” and I am afraid of getting punched in the back when traffic comes to a complete stop. A friend of mine (stopped in her car because of a traffic jam on the fast lane of a highway) was hit at 100 km/h by a driver who was texting while driving. Her car was destroyed. Since then, I can’t help but think that if this happened to me, I would not survive. But I am trying to push that thought out of my mind.

I want to go further tonight because I would like to wake up in the Niagara Peninsula on Friday morning. So I keep riding and finally I reach the Super 8 in Grimsby. The forecast calls for rain for tomorrow. A lot of rain. On Friday morning, a friend of mine who lives in Hamilton joins me at the Tim Hortons on his Victory Vision. We enjoy coffee and then put on our rain gear (riding wrapped in rain gear is one of the things I hate most in life, but sometimes you just have to do it).

Chris, being a “local,” knows the region’s less travelled paths, so he was a fine guide for the area’s back roads. Less than 4 km away from the north shore of the Peninsula, you can go up a rocky cliff and ride the Ridge Road to enjoy a unique panoramic view of the region. To get there, we took the Woolverton Road, which was way steeper than expected. That’s why it’s often so cool to have a guide that helps us discover hidden treasures.

Of course, it’s rainy and foggy. The only thing we can do is hope things will get better this afternoon. We keep riding on the ridge and then go down through Saint Catharines heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake. This region is well known for its vineyards and orchards, and the rain makes the flowers smell even more vibrant and dazzling. I love that. I also love Niagara-on-the-Lake; it’s a very chic city with impressive architecture and surroundings. From there, we take the Niagara Parkway towards Niagara Falls. This is a tourist trap. It’s worth seeing if you’ve never been, but be prepared to pay! Nothing is free here, and everything is more expensive than it should be. Before booking a hotel, check if there are extra charges to be added. We’re not talking about a tax here, but about a fee charged by hotels, restaurants, etc. You should even make sure that the parking is included. I once made a reservation at the Super 8 and they asked for an extra $10 to leave my car in the very parking of the hotel! They also asked me to pay for breakfast though it’s usually included in the room price.

That being said, we did stop a few minutes to take pictures of the falls. And then back on the Niagara Parkway heading to Port Dover. The thing is that I absolutely want to see the palm trees! Yes! Real palm trees alongside Lake Erie! We first stop at Fort Erie for fish and chips and to gas up and then, miracle, the rain stops and we can take our rain gear off. Small patches of blue appear in the sky as we keep riding. Too bad there is no road alongside the shore of Lake Erie, except for a few small sections. But time is running out and I do want to see my palm trees. So we take Highway 3 to reach Port Dover. Wow! It’s like being in Key West by the seaside, but we are in Ontario! You can stop by the cool Beach House bar and restaurant to have lunch and a drink under palm trees.

It’s getting late now. I wanted to go through Toronto tonight to avoid tomorrow’s traffic, but I don’t think that will be possible. I am beginning to feel tired since we rode through a lot of wind and rain today. So Chris guides us back to Hamilton where we say goodbye. I then continue on my own alongside the shore of Lake Ontario. The road through Burlington and Oakville is nice with its fine parks and beautiful houses. There are no services (gas stations, lodging, restaurants, etc.) on this section of road. The speed limit is low, everything is calm and peaceful. So I continue to Mississauga where I spend the night. The next day, I wake up very early and go through Toronto easily.

On my way back home, since I saved time going through Toronto, I decide to do a detour to Prince Edward County to have a look at Sandbanks Provincial Park. I warmly recommend this ride. If you only go through the park, it’s free. Just don’t stop too long because you will have to pay parking fees. What a great region! It’s all worth visiting. You will see vegetable farms, vineyards, and nice boutiques. The roads are beautiful and the villages are welcoming. I particularly liked Wellington. I left Prince Edward County through the breathtaking Quinte Skyway Bridge.

So that was my quick jaunt in Ontario. I was back home early afternoon Saturday.

Harley-Davidson’s Pan America Special is quite a pleasant motorcycle to ride on twisty roads. It is as nimble as other machines in this category. That’s a very versatile bike, I like it a lot. For long rides on the highway, though, it offers limited comfort because there is only one way to position your legs. For long-term comfort, nothing beats a custom or touring bike.

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