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New motorcyclist guide and bikes to look for under $6k

Just getting started with motorcycling? This best beginner bike guide will offer a plain language guide that is free from motorcycle techo-speak. First we'll look at things you should consider when purchasing your first bike, covering some of the basics, and what to look for. Then we'll move on to a basic discussion of the styles of motorcycles and finally some of the bikes you might want to be riding this summer!

One of the first factors that is going to affect your decision about what bike to buy is your budget. How much do you have to spend?

BUDGET

We’re going to limit the bikes we look at to those that are priced below $6,000. When determining your budget don’t forget to account for riding gear! At a minimum you’re going to need a DOT/Snell approved helmet, a jacket, gloves, and proper footwear with some ankle protection. Many people also ride with protective pants too which certainly isn’t a bad idea. If you end up buying a new bike at a dealership they’ll typically give you a discount and may even work the amount into your financing. Some manufacturers even have promotions that they include some of the necessary safety gear with the purchase.


DOT and Snell are safety standards for motorcycle helmets and in Canada you’ll need at least a DOT approved helmet. Snell helmets go through some more rigorous testing and the helmet manufacturers must submit helmets for testing. Snell standards meet or exceed DOT standards. If you’re interested in exploring the topic of helmets further you may want to check out our helmet article.

Can't decide what color helmet to get and think black may be best... Well, maybe not. You should ride a motorcycle like you're invisible to others on the road. Many accidents involving a vehicle and a motorcyclist are because the driver of the vehicle "didn't see" the motorcyclist. Making yourself highly visible is important - a concept referred to as 'conspicuity.' Some say that brightly colored helmets stand out more to drivers. Yellow and white are supposedly among the best.

Try on lots of helmets before you buy and make sure you do a roll off test. A roll off test is basically when you put the helmet on your head, strap yourself in and try to pull it off from the back by rolling it forward. Failing this test means is doesn't fit. Helmets should be quite snug! They're no good if they don't stay on your head. It may take trying several different brands and sizes to find the right fit.
Full face helmets are generally recommended as the safest type of helmet because they also protect your jaw in the event of a crash.

Lots of people sell jackets and other gear so keep an eye on classified ads - you can pick up some good deals. Online motorcycle forums in your area are an excellent place to look for used gear and motorcycles. Check out our Regional Resources page for popular forums in your area. A new DOT approved helmet can be fairly inexpensive to purchase so you may want your own new helmet as you never really know how helmet is treated. That being said, people often sell perfectly good helmets because they want something to match their new bike, or their tastes may have changed. Just because a helmet costs more doesn't mean it protects better. Mid-range helmets are a good place to look as they'll have the right blend of safety, comfort, features, and quietness on the road. Quietness is an an important factor to consider especially if you'll be on the highway because over the long term you can suffer hearing damage (just pick up a few cheap pairs of ear plugs to protect yourself from this).

Don’t forget about taking a rider training course! You can learn on their motorcycles and drivers test is typically included in the cost. A very popular training course in Canada is the "Gearing Up" program offered by the Canada Safety Council. Some dealerships offer discounts for those who’ve passed the test and insurance companies too. Not only will it help teach you to ride safely, it’ll often pay for itself in discounts you’ll receive.

NEW vs USED

Are you handy? Is your budget really tight? These factors may influence your decision about whether you want to get a new bike or a used bike. There are certainly some advantages to buying a new bike; you know what you’re getting and it’s going to be under warranty. Most motorcycle manufacturers offer a 12 month, unlimited mileage warranty. Buell is an exception in this price range and offer a standard 2 yr warranty. Extended warranties can usually be purchased if you want. Many bikes need to have their “first” service done at the 1,000 km mark and it’s typically not covered under warranty. Expect this to set you back a couple hundred dollars give or take.

Provided you find a well maintained one, used bikes may have an advantage in terms of affordability. There’s always somebody selling a motorcycle or trading up to something newer/bigger/faster. When buying used you forgo the big depreciation hit once you take it off the lot. Bikes tend to depreciate heavily in the first few years then prices stabilize and depreciation rates slow. Another advantage of buying used is that people often buy costly custom parts for their motorcycles that you can get for a fraction of the new cost. Getting them used is the way to go.

It is a “let the buyer beware” situation and you don’t always know what you’re getting with a used bike. It may be wise to get a used bike that you’re serious about checked out by a mechanic before laying down your cash. Because of our strict insurance regulations many people conducting a private sale will be very hesitant to let you take their bike for a test ride. In a lot of provinces test riders will be covered under the owners insurance or may not be covered at all. Insurance companies typically suggest owners not allow test rides.

Old or rare bikes can seem like good deals but finding and buying parts can sometimes be tricky, not to mention expensive! Rare motorcycles or brands that are not very popular may be more difficult to get service on too. Is there a dealer locally who will be able to service your bike?

Lot’s of people suggest buying used because they say you’ll definitely drop the bike and scratch it up a bit when just starting out. The idea is that you won’t mind those character flaws on a used bike as much as a new one and they won’t cost you as much in terms of resale. I don’t totally buy into the “you’ll definitely drop your bike” suggestions.

Yes, the likelihood of dropping the bike or having an accident is greater when you're learning but I bought my first bike new and I never dropped it. Be contentious and take the proper training and you'll reduce your likelihood of accidents. Riding a motorcycle requires a lot more mental alertness than driving a car – if you’re on a bike you need to be thinking about what you’re doing. That’s part of the attraction of it!

WHAT STYLE?

There are several different styles of motorcycles. The list is long but the basic types can be described as standard, cruiser, sport bike, touring, dual-sport, and off-road. Touring bikes are typically designed with intermediate and experienced riders in mind and are a little more costly. Off-road bikes are designed for strictly off pavement use so we’ll knock those two off the range of bikes we’ll be looking at.

Standard – The foot pegs and shifter are located either below the waist, slightly forward, or slightly rearward in a "natural" stance that creates a very comfortable, ergonomic upright seating position. Handlebars are upright and designed not to put pressure on the wrists or tailbone. Some bikes in this category will have little or no fairings (plastic covers) covering the bodywork of the bike. Fairings help cover up the bike mechanicals and also may provide some protection from the wind and other elements. They're also terribly expensive to replace if you scratch them up.

Cruiser - Foot pegs and shifter are either set forward of the body like so your legs can stretch out. It creates a comfortable, laid back seating position. These bikes generally have very little in the way of wind protection aside from a windscreen in some cases.

Sportbike – The foot pegs and shifter are located rearward from the waist. The rider is in an aggressive riding stance that creates a very streamlined, aerodynamic profile. Handlebars are low and put you in a tucked, aerodynamic position. This riding position can put pressure on the wrists, and can be uncomfortable for long rides.

Dual Sport – The foot pegs and shifter are located below the waist in a "natural" style which creates a very comfortable, ergonomic upright seating position. Handlebars are upright and wide to allow easier slow speed turning and to not put pressure on the wrists. This style has a basic look, exposed engine, long seat, light weight, minimal plastic, higher seat height, long suspensions, and usually no fairing.

WHAT SIZE?

By size we’re referring to a few factors; one being the seat height, the other being the size of the engine. New riders or those who are a little shorter in the leg will want to pay particular attention to the seat height of a motorcycle. Look for something that you’ll comfortably be able to put both feet flatly on the ground when sitting on the bike. Dual sports will tend to have higher seat heights of the different styles.

Check local laws concerning licences. Often licencing is tiered and you may be limited to riding a bike under 550 cc if you take the test on a bike that size or all motorcycles if you test on larger engine motorcycle. Ask the company running the training course you're taking, you are taking one right!, if they offer the rental of larger motorcycles to take your test on if that's something you're interested in.

Engine sizes of motorcycles are normally expressed in cubic centimeters. It’s the volume of gas inside the cylinder(s). The bigger the cc displacement the larger the bike’s engine is generally. As a new rider you should focus your attention on the smaller displacement bikes.

Beginner bikes with engine sizes from 125 cc bike to say a 500 cc bike will offer smooth easy to handle power. Bigger engines are heavier and can be much more powerful, making them difficult to learn on. The power-to-weight ratio of many sport bikes gives them the performance of luxury sports cars costing hundreds of thousands of dollars; incredibly dangerous in the hands of a beginner! Unlike a 600 cc or 1000 cc sportbike that can exceed posted limits on most roads in only first or second gear you'lll get to use all of the gears on your smaller displacement bike. Working though the gears is part of the joy of riding a motorcycle. It'll make you a better rider if you choose to get a bigger bike in the future.

These smaller displacement bikes offer a much more forgiving power output. If you crack the throttle a little too hard or let out the clutch a little too fast you won't end up on your back on the pavement wondering where your bike went!

The amount of power an engine produces isn’t only based on its cc’s. A smaller engine with the ability to cycle faster (higher revolutions per minute) can produce more power than a larger engine that moves slower. Speed is also affected by the gearing of the motorcycle too. Some bikes will have a 5 speed transmission and others a six speed transmission. So despite what you may have heard… bigger is not always better!

A 125 cc bike will be suitable for many beginner riders and very capable for city use, secondary roads, and occasional highway jaunts - though you'll likely want to keep it relatively short. Highway speed will be at about the high limit of the 125 cc class. A 250 cc bike will be capable for all roads and will have a little more punch at highway speedsl. A 500 cc bike will be best able to handle longer highway rides. You should have no trouble moving at the speed limits on any Canadian road on a 500 cc. If you’ll eventually want to ride with a friend a 500 cc bike will provide the power you’ll need. If you're large in terms of height or weight the larger end of the scale may suit you best.

On the smaller bikes in the 125-250 range you’ll need to plan your highway passes well in advance and they will require some down-shifting to keep the engine in a usable power range. You’ll need to plan ahead. The dual-sport bikes typically have lower maximum RPM's than you'd have on the sportbike class bikes so you'll need something a little larger than a 125 cc dual-sport if you want to spend some time on the highway.

Another benefit of the smaller engines is that they're typically 'very' fuel efficient. Fuel economy over 40 and substantially more is not uncommon in this category. This makes them popular with commuters, people wanting to reduce their fuel consumption, and people who are getting a little fed up with the rising costs of gas. Switching to commuting in a big SUV to a small displacement bike may well pay for itself in a a few short seasons.

If you'll be spending a lot of time on the highway at high speeds you may want to look for a 500 cc bike or maybe even a mildly tuned 600-650. These bikes will be more difficult to handle initially but if you drive within your ability and you're smooth with your throttle control it's worth considering. A 600 cc sportbike does not fall into the category of beginner bike! These bikes are real powerhouses and require a lot of throttle control. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble really quickly on this type of bike. The Internet is full of stories of people cutting their lives short starting out on bikes designed for experienced riders. Big cruiser category bikes are not for beginners either. Recently I read a tragic story about a man who purchased his first motorcycle (a big powerful cruiser) who died as a result of crash before even leaving the parking lot of the dealership.

A word on riding with passengers - it’s generally not advisable to ride with a passenger right way. It’s best to wait until you get some riding time and experience. Many suggest that after a year of riding you’ll be better equipped to carry a passenger.

There are some 650's on the market that would be suitable for a confident and mature new rider to start on as well. A 650 may be a little more challenging to learn because they are heavier and may have quite a bit more power. Because of that extra power you might be more likely to keep the bike longer as your skills grow and are better able to take advantage of the additional performance offered. Most 600 cc and up bikes cost more than $6000 new though so don't fall into the guidelines of our review. Some models to look for would be the Kawasaki Ninja 650R or Versys, Suzuki GSX650F, most cruisers in the 600-650 range would also be okay.

The engine displacement size may also play a role in the amount you’ll pay for insurance too. Generally the larger and more powerful the engine, the more you’re going to pay. Insurance costs can vary widely so be sure to check with your insurance company 'before' buying something.

No discussion about engines would be complete without a short mention of engine type. Bikes generally have from one to six cylinders. One and two cylinder bikes will be most common in the sub $6k price point.

The two cylinder bikes will likely have the two cylinders in a v-shaped configuration, commonly referred to as a v-twin. V-twin engines are very common on cruiser style bikes. Another common twin engine is a parallel cylinder design. Most bikes in this category have a single cylinder.

HOW DOES IT FEEL?

You never really know if you're going to feel comfortable on a bike until you sit on it. Go to the dealerships and see if you can spend a bit of time sitting on them to get a feel for how it fits you. People come in all shapes and sizes and what's comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another. Sit on a few bikes so you can feel the difference. If the bike has a 'center stand' ask if it can be put on it so you can sit on the bike in an upright position that will be more like what you'll experience on the road.

Can your feet touch the ground flat footed? Is there pressure on your wrists? Is your neck in a strain position? Are your legs in a comfortable position? Is the seat comfortable? These are all things you won't know unless you sit on the bike. Some dealerships may let you test drive a bike, provided you have your licence already of course. It's been my experience that most don't allow test drives though so spend some time sitting on the bike and checking out print or online reviews of the bikes you're interested in.


* A center stand is simply a stand that supports the motorcycle in an upright position that's located under the motorcycle frame. They're very useful for performing maintenance and even when you're filling your tank with gas! The bike isn't slanted over to one side.

Okay, that hits most of the critical points of what to look for and think about when choosing a bike. Now for the fun! What will my $6k get me? Broken down by category here’s a brief summary of what’s available for 2008. We're not offering a definitive guide here - just an overview and some links to get you started.


CRUISER
:

Honda CMX250C – MSRP $4,999

234 cc, air-cooled four-stroke twin
Five-speed
150 kg (331 lb) including required fluids and full tank of gas - ready to ride
Fuel Capacity: 9.8 litres
Color: Graphite Black
18.5 hp at 8,250 rpm
14 ft/lbs. torque at 4,500 rpm

A user-friendly combination of light weight and comfortable size has made the CMX250C Rebel an enduring favourite among riders looking for an easy-to-handle cruiser. The good stuff begins with a high-output twin-cylinder engine that runs more smoothly than a single, yet is thrifty on gas and easy to maintain. A front disc brake brings you to a halt quickly, and that's when you'll notice how easy it is to put your feet flat on the ground, thanks to a low seat height. This is a bike that instills confidence on every ride

Yamaha V-Star 250 – MSRP $4,899

Air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve, 60° V-twin, 249 cc engine.
Low 27” seat height
Maximum Torque 2.1 kg-m (15.2 ft-lb) @ 6,000 rpm
5-speed transmission,
Wet Weight 147 kg (323.4 lb)
Fuel Capacity 9.5 litres (2.1 Imp. gal.)
21 hp at 8,000 rpm
15.2 ft/lbs. torque at 6,000 rpm

With an authentic V-twin engine, the Virago will give you the grunt and growl that you don't often find in the lightweight class. It's also got a low 27” seat height for added confidence, perfect for novice riders. It's a nimble, confidence-inspiring cruiser with heavyweight styling and lightweight packaging.

Suzuki Marauder 250 - MSRP $4,699

249 cc, four-stroke, single cylinder, SOHC, 2-valve engine
5-speed transmission,
Dry Weight: 302lbs
14.0 L (3.1 imp gal) fuel tank
Fuel Tank Capacity 14.0 L (3.1 imp gal)
Colour Black, Gray
20 hp at 8,000 rpm
15.3 ft/lbs. torque at 6,000 rpm

The engine features a wide power band, good acceleration and high fuel efficiency, combined with the simplicity of a single cylinder engine.

Hyosung Aquila 250 - MSRP $4,295 (2 yr warranty)

249 cc, four-stroke, oil/air-cooled, DOHC, 8 VALVES, V-twin
Seat height 695 mm (27")
Dry weight: 155 kg
Fuel capacity: 14 litres
5 Speed
26.8 hp (at 9,200 rpm) and 15.7 ft/lbs. torque (at 7,300 rpm)

Hyosung was founded in South Korea in 1978 and started out making motorcycle parts for Suzuki and their own motorcycles in 1987. This bike is a true v-twin that produces class leading horsepower. It'll hit a top speed of about 130 km/hr.

STANDARD:

Buell Blast - MSRP $5,049


492 cc air cooled
Seat Height: Standard (4) 27.5 in. 699 mm Low Profile 25.5 in. 648 mm
Fuel Capacity 2.80 gal. 10.6 L
Torque 30 ft. lbs. @ 3200 RPM
Horsepower 34 HP @ 6500 RPM
Fuel Economy: Urban 69 MPG 3.4 L/100 km, Highway 73 MPG 3.2 L/100 km
5 speed transmission, Kevlar belt (no chain)
Dry Weight 360 lbs. 163 kg
Warranty 24 months
Colors: Arctic White, Midnight Black

Single-cylinder engine, there’s plenty of low- to mid-range torque for everyday ridability. The Buell Motorcycle Company was started by ex-Harley Davidson engineer Eric Buell and became a wholly owned subsidiary by 1998. So technically this is the least expensive Harley you can buy.

Hyosung GT250 - MSRP $4,595 (2 yr warranty)

249 cc, Four-stroke, oil/air cooled, DOHC, 8 VALVES, 75-degree V-twin
Seat height: 780 mm (31")
Dry weight: 155 kg
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Colors: Blue, Black, Red

A capable bike from a manufacturer you may not be as familiar with. It packs a lot of big bike features into a small, inexpensive package

Another bike that’s a common new-rider bike is the Suzuki GS500. It’s a twin cylinder, air-cooled (no radiator) bike and comes either without a fairing or a fairing. The faired version comes in at an MSRP of $6,799 while the naked version is $6,499. These figures put it above our $6k top price but if you can find a used one it’s well worth the look. The bike has been around for a long time and has a solid reputation for reliability and being beginner friendly.

SPORTBIKE:

Kawasaki Ninja 250R - MSRP $4,249

249 cc, 4-stroke Parallel Twin, DOHC, 8 valves
6-speed, return with positive neutral finder
Maximum Power 31 PS @ 11,000 rpm
Maximum Torque 22 N-m @ 9,500 rpm
Colors: Lime Green, Ebony, Passion Red
Seat Height 775 mm
Dry Weight 152 kg
Fuel Capacity 18 litres
Colors: Lime Green, KTM Ebony (black), KMT Passion Red

All new for 2008 this Ninja is cheaper than the 2007 ZZR250 which was $6,299; a savings of $2,050. The previous 250 was already very successful so this one should be even more so. With rising costs for gasoline this economical and sporty looking bike should bring in some new riders to the dealerships. It looks a lot like its much more expensive bigger brothers in the ZX line.

Honda CBR125R - MSRP $3499

124.7 cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder, four-stroke
Chain-driven SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
Six-speed
Seat height: 776 mm (30.5 inches)
Weight: 127.3 kg (280.6 lb) including required fluids and full tank of gas - ready to ride
Fuel capacity: 10 litres
Colors: Fireblade Red, Nighthawk Black, Hurricane White

Features big bike exotic styling - from the sleek fairing with twin cat's-eye headlights to the race-style cast wheels. The narrow tires are the only thing that hint that it's a smaller displacement machine. The CBR125R is a great first bike offering a light and compact package.

Hyosung GT250R - MSRP $5,195 (2 yr warranty)

249 cc, Four-stroke, oil/air cooled, DOHC, 8 VALVES, 75-degree V-twin
Seat height: 780 mm (31")
Dry weight: 168 kg
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Approximately 28 hp
Colors: Red, Black, 3 two tone variations (2-tone adds $200 to MSRP).

The faired version of the Hyosung GT250. This is a value packed machine. It's not cutting edge technology but it's not cutting edge expensive either. You'll have to be a little more cautious of speeding tickets on this one. It apparently tops out at 170 km/hr if given enough room.

Another bike that’s a common new-rider bike is the Kawasaki Ninja 500R. It’s a twin cylinder, liquid cooled (has a radiator) bike and comes with a fairing. These figures put it above our $6k top price but if you can find a used one it’s well worth the look. The bike has been around for a long time and has a solid reputation for reliability and being beginner friendly.

DUAL PURPOSE (Street and Trail): We'll say up front that dual-sports are pretty versatile machines. They're great for getting around town, cruising around at the cottage, etc. They're capable of hitting the highway but you certainly won't want to spend too much time there. Highway speeds will push the limits of these machines. The 250's would be a bit more able to keep pace. Swapping out sprockets may help give you a bit more top end but you'll sacrifice some low end grunt as a compromise. Do a bit more research on the particular model you're interested in if you'll want to spend time on the highway.

Yamaha XT250 - MSRP $5,499

249 cc, Air-cooled, SOHC 2-valve, single
5-speed
Fuel capacity: 9.8 litres (2.2 imp. gallons)
Colors: White
Wet Weight (ready to ride): 131kg (288.2 lb)

Notes: The all new XT250 is designed for ultimate versatility at an inexpensive price. A new 4-stroke engine revs out predictable power, while a wide-ratio 5-speed transmission and class-leading low seat height gives you both performance and ease of use. The XT250's 4-stroke engine puts out strong, predictable torque across the entire RPM range for great on- and off-road fun. This would make a great bike for getting around the city, trips to the cottage, and maybe a short highway ride too.

Yamaha TW200 - MSRP $4,799

196 cc, 4-stroke, air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve, single
5-speed
Seat height: 790mm (31.1")
Fuel capacity: 7 litres (1.5 imp. gallons)
Wet weight: 126kg (277.2 lb)
Colors: Purplish white

Notes: 4-stroke single delivers torquey low- and mid-range power perfectly suited to off-road exploring. quiet. It comes with a washable, foam air filter which helps reduce maintenance costs. Wide, 130/80-18 front and 180/80-14 rear tires deliver extra traction and rider comfort over a wide range of terrain, and also help make the TW200 the most distinct-looking dual purpose machine in the industry. You can't mistake the TW200 for any other bike on the roads with its super wide tires. This is a particularly good bike for beginners and gets fantastic fuel economy.

Suzuki DR200SE - MSRP $4,699.00

Four stroke, single cylinder, 199 cc, air-cooled engine,
5-speed
Fuel capacity: 13.0 L (2.8 imp gal)
Dry weight: 113 kg (249 lbs)
Seat height: 810 mm (31.9 in)
Color: Black, Blue

Notes: Engine produces strong, low-rpm torque perfect for the entry level rider to effortlessly zip you around town or forest trails. Nice light weight package. It can drive at highway speed but you won't want to spend too much time there. You're going to get plenty of miles from home when you put a few bucks in the tank of this one; its 199 cc engine sips miserly amounts of fuel.

Kawasaki KLX250S - MSRP $5,799

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single cylinder, 249 cc engine.
Seat height: 885 mm
Dry Weight: 119 kg
Fuel capacity 7 litres

Notes: Most bikes in this category get amazing fuel economy, and the KLX250S is no exception. 70+ MPG would not be uncommon. It's a great bike straight from the factory but many people seem to like making some adjustments to get a few easy extra horsepower out of this one. Emissions standards have it running lean (a little too much air and too little fuel). You might want to look at a new exhaust and what's referred to as a jet kit (which will add a little more fuel to the mix).

Honda CRF230L - MSRP $5,499

223 cc single-cylinder air-cooled four-stroke engine
SOHC, two-valve
Six-speed with manual clutch
Seat height: 810 mm (31.9 inches)
121 kg (267 lb) including required fluids and full tank of gas - ready to ride
Fuel capacity: 8.7 litres
Color: Red

Notes: Dependable engine offers plenty of user-friendly power and lots of torque spread over a wide rpm-range. As with the other dual-sports it's not the best tool for highway excursions. Top speed for the CRF230L is right around the highway speed limit.


Tales from the Bikes of Lighthouse Hunters - Part II - Going Off Half Cocked



Mike Buehler is a two wheel fan from Portugal Cove, Newfoundland. He's been riding motorcycles for 15 years and pedally bikes for many many more. He earns a living as an Industrial Rope Access Technician and can currently be found hanging off of wind turbines in Pennsylvania. If you can find him at home he's usually riding something fun.


Written by: Mike Buehler
Editing: Dan McAfee
Photo's by: Mike Buehler unless otherwise noted









Tales From the Bikes of Lighthouse Hunters - Part II - Going Off Half Cocked

This past year I endured a riding season with far less bike time than I wanted. My lack of riding time was largely due to a busy job schedule that kept me far from home for much of the year. I even had to pass up a 10 day trip to Labrador that a buddy and I had planned for months!

When I got a call from work in late October saying that I’d be heading to Nova Scotia for another job at the end of the week, I knew I wouldn’t get much more riding in if I didn’t plan something, and quick! The time to make a break was now, so I lifted my spirits and got on with the planning. I had been a little down, due to the lack of riding, and almost as if to rub salt in the wound, a speeding ticket on Thanksgiving the week before. Up to 6 points now!



So it’s Tuesday and I was scheduled to fly on the weekend, what to do? My time constraints were many, between having to take some time to care for my mom's animals while she was away, and making sure I was home in time to pack and catch a flight, all the while dodging the less than ideal weather we'd been having.

The week before, my friend Geoff posted an invitation to make a run to Tides Cove Point down on the Burin Peninsula, about 350 km from St. John's but  it might be less from my house? Which got me thinking that I hadn’t really been lighthouse hunting since May and he'd probably given up on anyone still playing the lighthouse photo game and thought he’d walk away with the trophy.  Not if I could help it!

So I started hatching another ‘hare’ run plan to balance Geoff’s ‘tortoise’ approach all season. I wondered how many lighthouses I could photograph? If I rode down the Burin Peninsula I could grab Tides Cove Point, St. Lawrence Head, the same 3 lighthouses that Geoff and Bill visited on the west side of the peninsula and just maybe I'd get lucky and Burin Island would be visible from shore? From there I'd boot up to Bay L'Argent, catch the southern coast boat over to Poole's Cove and grab Belleoram and English Harbour West while hoping to see St. Jaques Island too. Twillingate maybe? A long run home but doable if all of the cards were in my favour.



Okay, a possible schedule emerged: spend Tuesday night at my girl’s house, Wednesday night after a class, head out to my house in New Melbourne to prep my gear and get the bike out of the basement. Thursday ride down the Burin Peninsula, do the loop around the bottom and camp somewhere by Bay L'Argent, near St. Benards to catch the ferry on Friday morning. Friday I’d grab the Connaigre Peninsula lighthouses and if I wasn't flying out until Sunday I could ride way north 325 km to Twillingate too, then settle in for a long 450 km ride home on Saturday. Could be fun? My fingers were crossed…

Foiled! I had to stay home to make sure the dog was covered for her morning walk on Thursday, timing it for the pet sitter to take her out at 3:30 pm, not to mention I was booked on a plane on Saturday - not Sunday. I rolled out of the driveway at mom’s house near St. John’s at 10:12 am Thursday – destination: New Melbourne, almost two hours away. Curses! Ok, leave Portugal Cove and hit highway one, the Trans Canada, and boot it 55 km or so to the new highway 75; take the 75 as far as Victoria and switch to the 74 which takes you across the peninsula and on to the 80, then take the 80 up the coast 30 km past Heart's Content to my house in New Melbourne. That equates to an hour and 50 minutes riding time at 8 kilometers over the limit. Sigh…

Getting my bike out of the basement by myself proved to be a treat! There’s a short ramp, to one tall step up the inside, to one step down and four steps up the outside which is tricky enough that I had to run it out under power using some (what I thought were spoiled and solid) bags of concrete powder as makeshift steps inside. I did manage to extricate the bike from its resting place after a short and painful struggle that sent concrete powder flying. A bit of concrete powder cleanup and wincing through the pain of a charley horse, just above my right knee, and I'd be ready. The charley horse was from the footpeg hitting me on a rollback during one failed attempt. But of course I still needed to look after a few more details around the house… after the usual delays, chats, and packing I was finally good to roll out at 3:30 pm.  Hmmm...Can I still pull this off with such a late start?



I detest the Department of Motor Vehicle point system, and having to let my speedometer and fear of speeding tickets dictate my pace rather than the road! I was determined to have fun despite my lack of pace. On the road down highway 80 all the way back to the Trans Canada, west as far as Goobies to catch 210 south towards Marystown. After riding very close to the speed limit the whole way I rolled into the town of Burin at late dusk, around 7 pm.

I took a brief spin around town with my eyes open for Little Burin Island, but with no luck, I rode on to Fox Cove and then out the Tides Cove Road to capture my first lighthouse of the trip.  All the while, I was hoping to see a spot where I could pitch my tent in relative privacy and comfort. In the dark, I arrived at the first lighthouse and spent a little time searching for a piece of flat ground. I settled on a spot with just enough level grass beside the helicopter pad. I was a little sheltered from the wind and below the ever present revolving light. Yay!



I checked my phone for coverage, still a few bars, and with that small blessing I made the appropriate "I'm safe and sound" calls before settling in to pitch my tent and make some dinner & coffee.

Rats!  Here's where I realize most of the things I'd forgotten in my rush to get on the road: all of my eating utensils, my can opener, my book, of course my toothbrush and toothpaste, and my headlamp - it was still in my work bag, but I did remember to grab my raingear. I’m an idiot!  I promptly came to the conclusion that I’d run off 'half cocked'. Fortunately I did remember a knife so I ‘made’ supper of cheese and salami and lamented not having a book.

With nothing else to read I looked over my map, checked some distances and came to the conclusion that I'd probably need to be rolling by 6 am to have any hope of making the boat at 9:15 in the morning. With that I set my watch alarms for 5:30 am, 5:45 am, and 6 am to be able to check daylight. Bedtime 9:30 pm, sleep was mostly good, I still didn't need to zip up my sleeping bag, but every time I tossed & turned and tried to stretch my legs my charley horse woke me up a little more. Perfect!

I woke up to predawn light and surprise at the time being 7:15 am. Oops, I guess I was tired? Obviously I wasn't going to get any useable photos any earlier so I might as well take my time and just change my plans. Now I can make a day of riding the Burin Peninsula and forget the boat. Relax, I have plenty of time to enjoy coffee now...



Not long after I took that shot the lighthouse keeper rolled up to unlock the gate below me and start his day; I said hi and he invited me in for a visit to which I replied that I would be happy to and would be there right after I packed up.

Lighthouse keeper, Barry Hollet, drank a cup of coffee with me and gave a great history lesson about the lighthouses around the Burin Peninsula and where I could see the ones on islands from land. I left him with the news that one of my riding buddies might show up later in the day and a request not to give him (Geoff) any extra lighthouse information unless he specifically asked. Sorry Geoff, that was low of me, but I needed all the breaks I could get, ha ha ha, sneaky bugger!



The road back into the town of Burin is fun and scenic with lots of small roads through tiny coves that bring you back to an earlier time when it was hard to eke out a living, but probably a lot less complicated than today in many ways. Then it was back onto the main road route 220 towards Little Burin, St. Lawrence Head, then on around the bottom of the peninsula.



Now the lighthouse hunt was on in earnest! I had my first one in the bag and more to come:

My map showed a secondary road between Lawn and Lord's Cove right off of the main road that I was already on; it was nearer the water and proved to be a scenic and pleasurable ride on my dual sport. Most street bikes would not be suitable for riding on this section due to the poor condition of the road. It was full of very loose dirt/gravel and plenty of large eroded rain ruts.



Barry, the friendly lighthouse keeper, had another surprise for me, which was the scoop on Allan's Island lighthouse that I knew nothing about.



There are a number of lighthouses that are not identified on the lighthouse link Geoff had posted on our web forum. Another good resource is the government of Canada, Fisheries and Ocean's website (see end of story for link) where you can access the current Newfoundland and Labrador list of navigational signals and lights. There is usually a brief description that will tell you what kind of structure it is. Be forewarned that you will need a decent map to go along with it and will still have a tricky time figuring out what’s worth riding to for the photo value, unless of course you just want to ride.

I met Peter, the Allan’s Island lighthouse keeper, halfway out the road on his way to lunch. I was sorry I didn't get to look around inside his freshly painted premises.



Barry told me where I could see Little Burin Island light and Green Island light from the road. I rode out as far as I could along a small spit of land and took a shot with the optical and digital zooms maxed out on my camera. The lighthouse was barely visible in the photo, but it still counted for a point in our game.



Miquelon and its sister island St. Pierre are not well known, but they are very interesting in that they do not belong to Newfoundland, or for that matter, Canada, they belong to France. If you go there don’t forget your passport; it is a trip that is well worth the short passenger ferry ride just to experience the French culture and cuisine, and so close to home. Better check ahead to see if they allow bikes on the ferry from Fortune though.

I rode through an ATV path along the shore to see if I could get a better shot of Green Island with St. Pierre in the background. I was pleasantly surprised at how my cheap Korean Shinko tires performed in all the rocky/wet/muddy/grassy terrain and how well the trusty KTM 640 Adventure performed off road even with my bags loaded with gear.



It’s another 10 kilometer dirt road ride out to Fortune Head where I stopped for a quick chat with Gordon Price, the lighthouse keeper there; all the time amazed that there were lighthouse keepers still manning their posts out here.



Grand Bank lighthouse is the easiest lighthouse to get to anywhere that I can think of: it sits on the end of the town wharf.



I was't surprised to find that nobody sells premium gas in Grand Bank so I pulled up to a pump at the local gas station and took off my bags, the seat, and then a side cover to get at the little wire I needed to unplug to change the fuel map for low octane. Sigh. You’d think they’d make it a little easier on a bike designed for riding far off the beaten path wouldn’t you? The little wire above my finger is the one in question.



Garnish lighthouse is nothing special to look at and apparently was built by the community more for scenic rather than safety value. In our game it still counts because you can climb up in there if you wanted to (at least I think those are the rules?).



It was 3:30 pm and time to head home. My little lighthouse run was far more successful than I expected when I got up that morning - 8 lighthouses! I had no regrets about the change of plans. I think the boat route would be a nice one to take to Harbour Breton for the ‘Come Home Year’ celebrations scheduled for late July 2008 (I’ve been told I’m going and that it’s going to be quite the party!).

Sunset over a fishing boat near Heart's Delight on route 80 and still close to an hour from my house.



Not long after I took this shot I was in pretty much in full darkness near Heart's Desire when my low fuel light came on after just 344 km – at least 50 less than usual! When I reached down to switch over to reserve I found to my horror that I'd forgotten to switch it back in Grand Bank! Anxiously, I tucked down behind the fairing and thought nice thoughts all the way into the gas station in Heart's Content, whew!

Recharged and not feeling too awfully cold I enjoyed the last 30 km to New Melbourne. I arrived at 7:30 pm and the temperature was 0º C and I happily put the bike back in the basement with much less effort than it took to get it out.




It only took a 1/2 hour to drain down the pipes in my house so they wouldn’t freeze, unpack the bike and hit the road to St. John's. Six minutes shy of 36 hours after leaving mom’s house in Portugal Cove I rolled back down the same driveway at 10:06 pm with 366 km on my car odometer. Of course I forgot to look at the odometer at home but it showed 900 km in Heart's Content for a round trip of  930 km on my bike and a total of about 1300 km of driving in a day and a half. Yes, I stayed very close to the speed limit for just about all of it.

My final task was to get on a computer and see if Geoff had also made the run to Tides Cove Point? Then of course I had to post my own ride report to throw out the new tally.

In May I rode 3,500 km when I made the first bid to beat my fellow members in the start of the lighthouse photo trophy game. In the 5 months following May I only managed to put on another 3,500 km total and Geoff took a substantial lead against all comers. This little jaunt gave me 8 more points and tied me for the lead, our tie and the tie for second place made the decision to continue the fun next season a no brainer!

Here is a link of interest associated to the lighthouse adventure:

- Lighthouse Friends  website
- Canada Fisheries and Ocean's website.

Want to check out Part I of this article? Here's the link to Part I - Into the Light.



Tales from the Bikes of Lighthouse Hunters - Part I - Into the Light


Geoff Smith is a motorcycle enthusiast hailing from St. John's, Newfoundland. With 30 years of motorcycle experience he's ridden most of the roads in Newfoundland and a lot of the off-road trails as well. And, in a stroke of luck for us, he always brings a camera too!

Written by: Geoff Smith
Editing: Dan McAfee
Photo's by: Geoff Smith unless otherwise noted

Tales From the Bikes of Lighthouse Hunters - Part I - Into the Light

I am always drawn to riding destinations that offer a mix of history, scenic views, interesting structures or buildings, and include an element of challenge to reach. Early in the 2007 riding season, I suggested to a group of my adventure riding buddies that it might be a lot of fun to all take part in a friendly competition of sorts.

My idea was based around the premise that the historic lighthouses of Newfoundland & Labrador, are perfect destinations for bikers who share my idea of what a great adventure ride must include. The plan was to see who could shoot the most photos of their bikes with Newfoundland or Labrador lighthouses, during 2007. Each participant would score one point for each ‘lighthouse trophy photo’, and the winner would be crowned at the end of the year. We posted the idea on our local NL adventure riding web forum (ridetherock.com), and many riders immediately began posting their photos within our photo contest thread.

I must admit that I became very addicted to planning rides around the island, based on the locations of lighthouses that I wanted to visit and photograph. Some I would travel to on my Suzuki DL650 V-Strom and others on my Suzuki DRZ400S. Pretty soon there was some very heated competition among our ranks, with clusters of riders all holding similar numbers of points in our game.

My good friend Mike Buehler became my ‘arch enemy’ in the game. Mike and I pulled out to the front of the pack early in the riding season, and continued to have close scores throughout the year. Sometimes Mike and I would ride to lighthouse locations together, to gain a point each.

I think we’d both admit that we had the most fun when we’d visit our web forum, only to find out the other guy had once again moved ahead in the points, without our knowledge. The combination of the friendly competitive nature of the game, and the joy of exploring remote areas of our province’s coastal regions, was an intoxicating combination for a couple of guys who are basically just forty-something kids at heart. I don’t think I’d ever laughed so hard, as the time I rode to a remote lighthouse on the Burin Peninsula, known as ‘Tides Cove Point’. The lighthouse keeper’s first words to me were “Another one of you guys?!...That’s two in one day.” Further discussions with the friendly lighthouse keeper, revealed that Mike had visited the very same location the night before, pitched a tent, and had coffee with the lighthouse keeper that same morning.

Another reason why I like the idea of capturing images of Newfoundland and Labrador lighthouses is that they are a dying breed, so to speak. New, more efficient, and less expensive technologies are replacing the historic navigational structures which once stood proudly all along the coastal regions of the world. Our region is no exception, with many of our lighthouses replaced by small but powerful navigational lights, mounted upon steel skeletal towers. In some cases the older structures have fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect, and in other cases the points of land where they were originally erected have been eroded away by the pounding seas around them.

The Cape Race lighthouse is the tallest on the Island of Newfoundland; it sits on the most south-easterly point in the province. Standing 29 metres tall (96ft.), it uses one of the three largest hyperradiant fresnel lens arrays every made.

The lens was crafted by the Chance Brothers of Birmingham, England, in the late 1800s, and rotates floating in a bath of liquid mercury.

To get to the Cape Race lighthouse a rider is required to navigate a rough 20 km dirt road, accessible from the community of Portugal Cove South, from Route 10 on the Avalon Peninsula. This same dirt road will take you past one of the most prolific and ancient fossil discoveries in the world, at a location along the coast known as ‘Mistaken Point’.

Mistaken Point is so named because of the navigational hazard it poses to sea going vessels at the often-foggy southeastern tip of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. It’s also an ecological reserve where you can see examples of the oldest complex life forms found anywhere on Earth. An entire story could be written on this site alone but I’ll save the additional research for you and give you a link at the end of the story.

Cape Pine lighthouse

The Cape Pine lighthouse is the most southerly lighthouse on the Island of Newfoundland. The winds are so strong in this area, that the lighthouse and adjoining buildings have been designated as unfit for human habitation. The Cape Pine lighthouse can be reached from Route 10, then from a very rough dirt road that branches off the main dirt road, leading to the community of St. Shotts.

The Cape Spear lighthouse is the most easterly in all of North America. The tides and undertow currents are so powerful in this area that several unlucky people are washed off the rocks and drown in the surrounding waters each year, despite the many posted warning signs. Best not to let your curiosity get the better of you when you visit.


The Cape Spear lighthouse can be reached from Route 11. Access is via paved roads all the way to the Cape Spear Park area. The older, now defunct, lighthouse still stands on the hill behind its more modern cousin.

The Bull Head lighthouse is one of the more inaccessible lighthouses on the East Coast. You would be wise not to try to ride up the trail to this location, unless you have knobby tires, a lightweight dual sport, or an off road motorcycle, and a fair amount of technical off road riding experience. The trail leading to the Bull Head lighthouse can be reached from the community of Bay Bulls, which lies along Route 10.

The Ferryland Head lighthouse is near the “Colony of Avalon” archaeological site (one of the earliest European colonies in North America), and requires the rider to navigate a fairly technical trail. There is a dirt parking lot about halfway along the trail, where most four wheel traffic must stop to avoid the steep climb up a very narrow section of the trail. This section drops off steeply toward the ocean below on both sides. Leaving your bike at the parking lot may be wise, unless you have respectable rocky trail riding skills.

There is a unique dining experience available once you reach the Ferryland Head lighthouse. A fine dining ‘picnic’ is served to patrons on blankets, among the grasses and wildflowers which surround the lighthouse. A very unique and enjoyable dining experience awaits those who book a ‘blanket’. The Ferryland Head lighthouse can be reached from Route 10.

Cape Bonavista lighthouse is one of the most easily accessed on the tour so far, and has the added benefit of requiring you to ride through one of the most scenic regions of the province to get there.

A replica of Cabot’s ship ‘The Matthew’, now sits docked in nearby Bonavista Harbour. This beautiful square-rigged vessel made a commemorative journey from Bristol England to the town of Bonavista, in 1997. Cape Bonavista lighthouse can be reached by taking Route 230 to Route 235 and continuing all the way to its end.

By the end of 2007, twenty people had participated in our lighthouse trophy photo game. Mike and I ended up tied for first place, with 30 lighthouse trophy photos each to our credit. Coincidentally, the second place finishers (Doug and Jamie) were also locked in a dead-heat tie, with 14 points each.

We had riders participate who had traveled to Newfoundland from as far away as Toronto Ontario and the state of Indiana. In light of the fact that the first and second place finishers ended up locked in a tie, we decided not to announce a winner in 2007. We decided we would instead extend the game for at least another year. This seemed to be a good idea also, based on how much fun we all had with the game during the year. Why put an end to a good thing?

I fully expect to revisit the pleasure of logging on to my local online adventure riding web forum during 2008, only to find many more posted photos of my arch enemy (Mike) and his trusty bright orange KTM 640 Adventure, as he poses in front of more remote lighthouses with a satisfied Cheshire grin on his face. I will accept that dropped gauntlet as a challenge to hop on my V-Strom and seek out as many more lighthouses as I can find, with my camera close at hand.

For a more detailed look at the history of the lighthouses of Newfoundland & Labrador, the specific details of the structures, and directions to find the many dozens of lighthouses strung all along the rugged coastline of our region, I recommend this online educational resource. It was invaluable to me as I researched and investigated the lighthouses of my home province.

Some links of interest associated to the lighthouse adventure:

- Cape Race Hyper-Radiant Fresnel Lens info can be found here.
- Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve information can be found here.
- The Colony of Avalon website can be found here.
-
Newfoundland & Labrador Adventure Rider
- Ride the Rock website.

Be sure to catch next week's follow up first person account from Geoff's key competitor Mike Buehler!