- “Westward Ho!” came the message from BMW Motorrad Canada, signalling approval of a motorcycle trip from Toronto to Vancouver.
But this wouldn’t be my first cross-country tour and, throughout the trek, I couldn’t help but flashback on an earlier BMW ride, made a dozen years ago.
June 2004 - I turned the handlebars and rust-coloured water spilled from the tubes, an indicator that the bike hadn’t been ridden lately. That was the 2004 R1200CL, a bagged touring version of BMW’s eclectic stab at the cruiser market. And, indeed, I was to learn later that BMW was dropping it from the lineup . .
- The weapon of choice this time was a 2016 R1200RT, a motorcycle with considerably more segment staying power.
This iconic sport tourer and best-selling bike in the BMW stable blends the brand’s heritage-inspired, horizontally opposed twin-cylinder boxer engine with a full slate of modern technologies and design innovations.
Yes, the 2016 R1200RT’s 1170 cc boxer engine is the same size as the motor in the 2004 R1200CL from my first trip, but it has evolved in performance over the years with enhancements, improved fuel efficiency and about twice the power (125 hp, 92 lb/ft of torque compared to 61 hp, 72 lb/ft).
This RT is smaller and lighter than the CL that I rode twelve years ago and along with a sportier attitude and longer range fuel tank (25 litres vs 17.5 litres), it offers seating height options, standard touring panniers, a powered windshield and other touring ingredients - cruise control, heated grips and heated seats. Because, even in June, this is Canada and we would be battling the cold gusts north of Superior.
BMW Canada graciously added a 49-litre top box and the 2016 RT also mounted the latest rider-assist technologies including traction control ASC, keyless ride and central locking, tire pressure control, anti-theft system, Dynamic ESA that can be push-button set for Dynamic, Road or Rain suspension modes along with Solo Rider, Rider with Luggage and Dual Rider modes.
There’s no nav on the bike.
We would be using good ‘ol 2D paper map technology (and iPhones). The bike did include Bluetooth and audio options that you can easily do without but a Shift Assist Pro system, adopted from the S1000RR
, was a nice innovation, allowing DCT-like shifting without clutch use.
More about that later.
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June 2004 - My first trip would start with a funeral and end with a wedding. I left Toronto late, mourning a young man who had practically grown up in our family and found myself coincidentally riding behind a hearse on the 400. Shaking off that omen,
I made it to my Sudbury campsite, commiserating with Kahlua under the stars and trying to sleep despite noisy camp neighbours debating inanities with beer-fuelled conviction.
An early start the next morning, with a pause for extra engine revving near the neighbours’ now-quiet tent. Karma may be a bitch but even she needs a little occasional help . . .
- No room for tents, it’ll be B&Bs for us. And a cheerier start this time but, just as in flying, it’s not the trip that’s dangerous; it’s the departure and arrival.
Riders worry about wildlife crossing the road but I was more concerned about an even less intelligent species - urban distracted drivers jousting at either end of our trek.
We were fighting a headwind, a constant theme to this trip, but we shook the city and the R1200RT was pointing to the open road along a different route this time, via Tobermory and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry.
During my first trip, a red jerry can bungeed to the CL signalled adventurous intent. This time, there was a purple yoga matt netted to one of the RT’s panniers, indicating that my wife Mary was joining me for the ride.
“I’ll sit behind you for 5,000 kilometres,” she said, “but the yoga matt is coming along.”
The second day and we were on a roll, leaving the ferry at Manitoulin Island and making a seven hour dash past the Soo to Rock Island Lodge near Wawa for dinner and a show by Jay Aymar, a troubadour with road-weary eyes and poetic lyrics honed by one-night stands.
On to our next overnight at English River Inn, then back on the bike, flitting past lakes, through rock-cuts and down the seemingly endless tree-lined corridors of northern Ontario.
We saw bears and badgers, cows, yes, even camels (farm), along with deer and, unfortunately, a large female moose splayed across the highway by a big rig and bleeding out, a grim reminder of the dangers along the road.
Through Ontario, we pass Batman’s Trailer Park, Seldom Seen Road, the Yellow Brick Road and I keep an eye peeled for the road that goes into Nipigon . . .
June 2004 - Last minute decisions, always a bad idea on a bike. A spur-of-the-moment turn into Nipigon turns into disaster as I brake late, low-side and slide through the intersection, victim of left-over winter sand on the road. Some minor scrapes on the bike and me, more significant damage to my mood and confidence. Sure, the CL was a little top heavy with luggage in the boxes and camping gear tied to the pillion seat, but no excuses. I fumed until I got to the Terry Fox memorial at Thunder Bay where, after looking up at his statue, my anxieties are put into proper perspective. Just keep going . . .
- The R1200RT’s boxer heart beats unerringly as we motor along. The road to Nipigon was blocked by construction, so why tempt fate twice? We pass on by and later I pull into the Terry Fox memorial again, simply because it would seem almost disrespectful not to.
We carried on steadily northwest, slowed by road drilling and blasting but getting in the groove with a quick stretch every hour or so. The seats were fine but our butts are not used to long hauls so we added a little padding - sheepskins from Egli’s farm outside Dryden.
On past Kenora and finally, after our three day escape from Ontario, the Manitoba border drew nigh, the trees began to thin and we are beckoned on to the next chapter - Riding the Prairies.
Look out for future adventures with Part 2 of 3 “Riding the Prairies” & Part 3 of 3 “Riding the Rockies”.
BMW R1200RT 2016
1170 cc liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed twin-cylinder (125 hp, 92 lb/ft)
5.1L/100km (4,618 km trip, 235.2 litres)
Constant mesh six-speed gearbox with shaft drive final and Gear Shift Assist Pro
Front BMW Motorrad Telelever, central spring strut, 120 mm travel; Rear cast aluminum single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; 136 mm travel. Optional Dynamic ESA.
Front 120/70 ZR 17; Rear 180/55 ZR 17
ABS, Front twin disc, floating brake discs, diameter 320 mm, 4-piston fixed calipers; Rear single disc, diameter 276 mm, double-piston floating caliper
805/825 mm; optional high seat 830/850 mm; optional low seat 760/780 mm
Platinum Bronze Metallic
$21,250 plus platinum Bronze Metallic ($200), Comfort Pkg ($985), Touring Pkg ($1,680), Keyless Ride ($385), Gear Shift Assist Pro ($515), Top Case (Basic) ($1,206), Audio system ($1340). Freight & PDI extra.