Forget the famous Rocky Mountaineer. All you need is your helmet and gloves
The Continental Divide of the Americas begins in Alaska and continues all the way to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. Along the way it embraces Snow Dome, a mountain located on the boundaries of Jasper and Banff National Parks. Both it and Dome Glacier overlook the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, and the midpoint of our 10-day, 2700km ride over the most accessible, panoramic highways on our planet.
Over the preceding days we’d picked up a brace of Beemer GS 1200s in Vancouver, suffered a vision limiting downpour on the way to Whistler, enjoyed a fantastic climb through the Marble Range on the D’Arcy Road to historic Kamloops, relished one or two Red Truck Lagers and learnt the protocols for refuelling; without too much inconvenience to ourselves or other customers.
Our overnight at Tête Jaune Lodge on the banks of the Fraser River led to the discovery of a most acceptable Okanagan cabernet sauvignon which induced a bearable hangover to face the Yellowhead Highway headed for a breakfast of legendary Canadian maple-syrup covered pancakes in Jasper.
We’d also learnt that other road users – whether they be locals or fellow tourists – consistently displayed a courtesy to motorcyclists rarely experienced elsewhere; pulling over on to the wide shoulders allowing easy passing – even with double yellows. This made for a relaxed and cruisy view of the ever-changing panorama. And, in one case, a very close-up view of a stupid – or possibly suicidal – deer, which was sent skittling across the blacktop while both Beemer and rider stayed upright.
In Banff we were informed that the rain was very unseasonable, however that night it rained and again the next day; all day. Then, overnight, a snowfall of 75mm and, an hour after the sun was due, the temperature had climbed to –1°C. Time to ride yet another mountain pass to Radium Hot Springs and, after the fog lifted, behold even more amazing views past Columbia Lake into fertile Creston Valley. All along the eastern bank of vast Kootenay Lake the scenery changed yet again and, a 30-minute ferry ride later, we found digs in the historic mining town of Nelson.
Next day, on advice from a Ducati rider we met on the ferry, we rode north to Kaslos to experience Highway 31A across to New Denver. More views; but concentrating on the twisties was all I could manage. Our final night before returning to Vancouver was spent in Osoyoos, a town set beside a vast lake in a wide valley at the bottom of a five-kilometre 550m drop; with a corresponding climb the following morning; before yet another amazing ride up and over several mountain passes and a short cruise around Vancouver Harbour.
Over the past two decades I’ve been truly fortunate enough to manage several multi-day rides in southwest USA, eastern Europe, South America, North Africa and the Middle East, all of which were highly enjoyable. On all counts, the roads, the scenery, the food, the standard of accommodation and the friendliness of everyone we encountered, Canada – specifically British Columbia – came up trumps. It was bloody fantastic.
Unless you intend to stay a month or more on the other side of the Pacific you’ll never justify the return shipping charge for your own bike. And while bike rental is twice as expensive as a car, BC Cycle in Vancouver will put you on a BMW R 1200 GS, a Yamaha FJR1300, a Suzuki V-Strom or a Honda CB500 – depending on your preference and budget. Or, if you wish an ‘all American experience’ Eagle Rider will provide a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, an Indian Scout or a three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot. All you need is your Passport, your Australian rider’s licence and an eTA (electronic travel authorisation) which cost $7.50.
Given the popularity of motorcycling in BC there are numerous bike shops in Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Kamloops. However if you’re on a rental, one phone call or text should resolve any problem.
Wide choices, though it’s wise to book ahead during the late spring or summer months. We found Best Western PLUS a friendly, efficient and reliable default option in many locations throughout Canada.
Pre-payment at the pump is obligatory in this part of the world, so a credit/debit card is essential. 87, 89, 91 and 93 RON available everywhere and 95 RON is scarce. And 98? Buckley’s.
That’s easy. Pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Okay, perhaps not, but always a Cab Sav with dinner.
THINGS TO DO
Tourism is the principal activity across BC and there are cable cars, skytrains, gondolas, ski lifts and zip lines around every bend. Whitewater rafting operations abound and cycle hire is a popular activity – with and without battery power. The staff in the ubiquitous Visitor Information Centres are most helpful. And knowledgeable. There are cold lakes and hot springs. Access to gorges, canyons, chasms, caves and cascades is closely linked to the parkway system, so there’s never a lack of reasons to stretch your legs. Or take a sightseeing flight. The ghost town of Barkerville was the best I’ve seen and the Dreamcycle Museum on the Trans-Canada Highway at Sorrento is a must see; as is the Trev Deeley Exhibit in Vancouver.
Catch a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. Ride the length of Vancouver Island through the Petrified Forest to Port Hardy where another ferry departs for the 16-hour ‘inside passage’ cruise to Prince Rupert; at the western end of the Trans Canada Highway. National Geo’s Canadian Rockies map is a great start.
Words Peter Whitaker Photography Mark ‘Turbo’ Turner