I know I bitch a fair bit about how boring the roads can be around Southern Ontario. The bulk of the tarmac is laid out in a grid because farmers hate plowing around things so a big chunk of the province is one big grid. However once you get up on the Escarpment things get a little bit more interesting, add to that the fact that a good number of the side roads are gravel based and some of those are not really maintained and it can lead to some decent gravel and dirt road fun.
I’d seen some interesting dirt roads off to the side of me on the last V-Strom Owner’s Club run up to Lion’s Head on the Bruce Peninsula. Once I got home, I called up my SPOT track and looked for references to them on Google Maps. Once I’d figured out what I thought was a viable route, I plugged it in as a series of waypoints into my GPS and figured I’d give it a go on the following Saturday.
right now just because of how my day to day life thing is working out getting any riding in has been a struggle, so to have pretty much a whole day in is a real luxury and an opportunity I don’t want to waste. I contacted my friend Mark and asked if he wanted to go and so Saturday morning, we met up at my place and headed out. Mark is on the same year of Strom as I am, an 04, except his is blue while mine is silver. He bought his with a few farkles attached, crash bars and skid plate and while he’s got the racks for saddle bags, he was running without. As you can see in the above picture, I’ve kitted my bike out for long distance off road. The tanks are empty right now as they add 45 lbs to the back of the bike and if you you don’t need to top up on a given ride, it’s just as well to lose the extra weight. I’m also running a skid plate and crash bars and I’ve got Pivot Pegs in place of the stock pegs because they make riding off road a lot easier on your feet.
As Mark has less experience off road than me, I gave him a quick rundown on what we could expect on the roads I planned to hit and some basic stuff about where to put your knees on the tank. It’s a bit tough to impart on a bigger bike like the Strom. I cut my teeth on much lighter dirt and enduro bikes with much lower centers of gravity. The Strom is top heavy just by the design of her gas tank alone. However, my plan was really just to ride some decent gravel roads and not get too hairy with stuff and for the most part we succeeded.
So like any ride in Ontario, you have to ride for an hour on regular roads and highways to get to the good stuff. The target for the start was River Road thru Horning Mills with our first encounter with #15 Sideroad and then north on Prince of Wales Road, which was decently variant in its altitude and twistyness as well as being a well maintained gravel road. A good stretch to get a feel for the surface. There was enough hard surface on the road to get up on the pegs and go. And while the Strom doesn’t do so well on really loose and rough stuff, it’ll eat up gravel no problem. We rode all the way up to the Mulmur Nottawasaga Townline Road and then cut across to 4th and headed south again. Somewhere in there we hit a section that wasn’t maintained and for the first time since I’ve been in Ontario we were on a true dirt road which the bike handled well and the Shinko 705’s didn’t do so badly either, which in hindsight means I probably just should have stuck with my regular rubber for my Translab trip. It probably would have made some of my bridge crossings a little less scary.
We worked our way south on dirt and gravel to the back of Mono Cliffs Provincial park. There’d been a minor, “Oh shit!” moment about twenty minutes earlier when I found us on a small hill covered in fairly loose large rock gravel. I usually tackle this kind of stuff in first gear with my hands off the brake and just ride down them letting the wheels turn and the engine retard my forward speed. I realized this wasn’t working when I started going faster without adding throttle. Plus I could feel the front end washing out and when I applied some rear brake the back wheel would break loose as well. After I fought the bike to a stop, we crept down the hill until we could get better purchase at the bottom.
I had planned to cut down 4th Line E and then cut across #15 Sideroad and then either cut across to Airport Road or go back up 5th Line E. This is the one section of my track I’ll be reworking. You could do it on a lighter bike but on a Strom, it’s pretty unworkable as where #15 sideroad meets up with the base of 5 Line East is all unmaintained road and its a 30% grade on loose sand, gravel and loos rock with what looks like a pretty wicked hook to the left at it’s base. Mark to his credit said, “I’m game if you are.” I actually parked the bike, got off and walked down the track a bit. I didn’t like how it felt under my boots, I wasn’t going to risk the two of us going down it. So as much as I appreciated my friend’s confidence. It was a no go. So then the thought was we’d head up 5 Line E as it rose up out of the turn we were parked on and going up is always a bit easier than going down. However it was a ruse ase when you got to the top of the hump, the track dropped away at that same 30% slope and if anything looked even sketchier than the other track. We had a quick confab, turned the bikes around and headed back to better gravel.
Twenty years ago I’d have given either track a go. Maybe I’m growing up.
The rest of the ride went pretty well. We continued to explore the gravel roads around the Hockley Valley and had a nice if not confused lunch at the Hockley Valley General Store before meandering our way back to my place.
It was a nice ride and a good one to share with a friend.