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Trail Tours - Offroading in the Ganaraska Forest

Trail Tours Adventures
- Offroading in the Ganaraska Forest


I'm in Ontario, it's vacation, and I'm up at 6 am. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing at all actually - The early starts is so that I make sure I find my way to Trail Tours; an off-road motorcycle school on the edge of the 11,000 acre Ganaraska forest. This off-road haven is just 20 minutes outside of Peterborough and approximately an hour from where I'm staying in Scarborough. Given my notoriously terrible sense of direction I want to give myself plenty of extra time. There's also the unknown of traffic seeing that's it's Friday and still a workday for most.

7 am - time to hit the road on my borrowed 09 Harley Davidson Fat Bob and get to the highway. Once I hit the road I'm pleased to discover that most of the traffic is coming in the opposite direction and I'm able to motor along at a steady pace. It's also very easy to get to the highway and I don't get lost. Bonus!

Just to skip the chase a little I'll say that Trail Tours is an off-road motorcycle and ATV school - with prices starting at $225 dollars you'll get outfitted in protective gear, get a dirt bike (or ATV), some training, and a have a guide and sweep rider for about 4 hours. That my friends is a great deal! Consider the expense of equipping yourself up for an off-road experience and do the math. It's a heck of a bargain.

The weather's been reasonably good the past few days but warm, and with the heat seems to also come the ever-present threat of thunderstorms and showers. We'd had some rain on Thursday which unbeknownst to me at this point would make for ideal conditions for my day in the woods on Friday - plenty of traction and no dust. Before I arrive at Trail Tours I stop at a gas station to check my directions - I'm a bit early anyway. I spot a nice KTM loaded on a trailer and take a seat on the curb close by. I figure that chances are good that its owner may be going to the same place as me. Turns out I was right - as I started up a conversation with Pat Steed and he's not only going to Trail Tours, he's going to be a sweep rider for the group I end up riding with that day. On top of it he's says that Trail Tours is very close to where we are now, and that I can just follow him in. This day is starting out on a good note for sure!

I ride up the dirt road and we come out in a small clearing at the edge of the forest overlooking a big field with a dirt track. There's some some truck trailers and a portable which serve as the on-site base of operations for Trail Tours. There's also a whole lot of dirt bikes and four wheelers. I can feel the adrenaline start surging with excitement. Oh, yes - this is going to be fun!

After parking the bike I start looking around and checking out the dirt bikes. I chat with Allan, who's been working with Trail Tours for the past 12 years, since he was 14 years old in fact. I also get a chance to talk to the owner, Steve WeyKamp. He's expecting a new addition to the family so, on this day he won't be riding with us, but I enjoy talking with him and he's obviously a great guy who's enthusiastic about what he does.

There's a small group today but I'm told that there's typically anywhere between 20 and 50 riders on a given day. A significant percentage of people who come to Trail Tours are first time riders. Corporate team-building groups are pretty common at Trail Tours too. Most of the people in our group have some road experience on a motorcycle but a minimal amount of dirt bike experience. Trail Tours have the terrain and machinery to accommodate ALL skill levels; from novice to expert.

Time to get the party started!

Everybody gets suited up in the supplied gear; boots, knee protectors, chest and elbow protectors, jersey, goggles, and gloves. There's a discussion of skill level; and whether you've ridden a motorcycle before too. This helps the instructors to group riders with those of a similar skill level.

Steve starts the day off by talking about what's in store for the day, giving the obligatory disclaimers, and a little promotion and thanks to all their sponsors. They're manufacturer supported and get new bikes regularly. The bike I end up on is a Honda CFR 230F. It's a nice air-cooled, single cylinder, 4-stroke mount that's both reliable and just the right size for navigating the trails of the Ganaraska. Sign in starts at 9 am, while the riding starts at 9 am and ends at 3 pm. That's plenty - believe me - it's enough time that you feel that you've gotten your money's worth but not so much that you've ridden beyond the point of extreme fatigue. If you're fatigued, that's when you'll start to make a lot of mistakes. You'll be sleeping fine after a day at Trail Tours. There's a break at noon for lunch (which is typically catered but we end up having some subs and sodas from a nearby sub shop). There's potable water available at the base camp too and you can grab a drink there or fill up a hydration system for the trails.

We start the day of riding off by gathering in field where they've got a circular track set up. An instructor tells us about proper stance on the bike for the various types of terrain we'll encounter. Standing up on the pegs is a typical position that helps you go over rough ground with ease. Through slippery corners, sit down and put your inside leg towards the front of the bike to get your weight forward. We also talk about small objects on the trail like logs, roots, and off-camber terrain and how to deal with them. The instructor watches us as we ride around the track and offers some each of us some personalized tips and advice.

We progress from that to riding, one-by-one, over a small log. We're given tips on throttle control, gearing, and looking ahead. Once we seem to have the basics under control and the instructors are confident - it's off to the woods. There's still some instruction to happen yet though, we practice our straight line braking. First with just the back brake, then with the front brake only, then with the front and rear combined. Stops are long and skids plentiful when using just the back. With the front it's easy to have the front wheel slide out but distances are reduced. Braking with the front and rear combined result in the quickest and most stable stops.

Once we've all given that a shot a few times it's time to practice whoops! Whoops are a series of bumps that are a lot like stationary and rounded waves. That doesn't sound overly fun inducing, but you'll have to believe me - it is definitely a good time! On a high-end and powerful bike such as the KTM the lead instructor was riding you kind of float over the whoops a bit. On our smaller bikes, which have less power and less suspension travel, the bike drops into the whoops a little more. We're told it's best to keep the throttle even throughout the whoop. It does sound like you're getting on the gas a bit harder when the suspension is uncompressed but it's not the case really. Standing is definitely the way to go if you want to have any speed.

Now that we've done a few loops of whoops it's time for the really fun stuff - it's time to be unleashed in the forest! One more quick lesson though - we're told that we'll cross many junctions while riding and it's each person's responsibility to take a quick look back at each junction to see if they can see the person riding behind them; if not, they're to stop at the junction so that the group stays together. If each person does this it saves the lead rider from having to stop the group, double back, and try to find the rest of the group. With hundreds of interconnected trails it can be difficult and time consuming so best to heed the significance of this advice. You'll spend more time riding the trail and less time sitting on it waiting if you do.

On to the good stuff:

The grin on my face is permanently ingrained at this point. I thought the good times had perhaps plateaued, that was before I experienced my first sandy berm. I now know that there are few things as enjoyable as hitting a sandy berm - inside foot extended forward (cranking on the throttle to induce plenty of wheel-spin) and sliding through a corner. I actually let out several "Yeahhhhh's" during these blissful maneuvers. Probably the most fun I've ever had on a motorcycle. I know that I'll return to Trail Tours now that my brain has triggered the endorphin rush that sandy berms provide. I must experience it again!

The Ganaraska forest is huge and the trails are ever-changing - a beaver had blocked our path with his new home at one point during the ride, but these guys know their way around the forest so well it's no issue; they just find another way around. It's shared terrain too and we come across a few other riders, and even a couple people on horseback. The fact that the trails are shared makes it important to pay attention and keep your eyes up, particularly when approaching corners or blind crests. We're told to try to stick to the right hand side of trails and be aware of other users. Good advice.

We ride on some 'easier' terrain in the morning. But after lunch we get into some more difficult and speedy terrain. There's plenty of challenges. There's sandy sections, puddles, mud holes, uphills, downhills, twists and turns, rocks, wide trails, and tough single track that you can just fit your handlebars between the trees. There's no pressure to ride above your limits but if you're quick you'll probably gravitate towards the front. There's no passing and riding is single file but each person gets a chance to take the lead should they want to give it a try.

Another really fun point in the day was a hill climb. Along the route we've taken we come across a relatively steep and sandy hill and we line up and take a shot at getting to the top. It's a bit tougher than it seems and the bike kicks up a huge rooster tail of sand in its wake. The bike floats around in the loose sand. If you look to the sides of the trail, chances are you'll end up there and have to turn around and ride back down for another attempt. Much to my disappointment I didn't make it my first try. I up-shifted near the top of the hill and lost a little momentum, then the front wheel caught a bit of sand and I climbed the bank at the side of the hill and set the bike down gently on its side. Darn! Mere feet from the summit! My next few attempts were successful though. Triumph! It was a really great feeling to get to the top. I experimented with starting in second at the base of the hill and the differences between standing and sitting.

Everybody took a few shots at the hill and most were able to get at least one successful run. It was a little more challenging on the 150cc bikes for sure. Those guys seemed to have a harder time with it.

After a bit more riding around it was starting to become clear that some of us were getting a little tired but we were on our way back to the base camp at this point so we just had to keep our wits about us for a little bit longer. Bikes were dropped and some minor spills occurred but nobody in our group got injured and all the equipment came home in working order too.

When we arrived back at base camp we lined up to be hosed down with the pressure washer. Bikes first - then us! Well, our muddy boots at least. We got the rest of our gear off and returned it to the Trail Tours folks. They take the gear and clean it up on site or send the equipment home for a more thorough cleaning. After it's all cleaned up the gear is put back for the next group of excited adventurers who'd arrive bright and early the next day. We share a few stories about the day and everybody seems to have had a great time and perhaps a little tired from an intense day of riding.

I'll be back!

Without a doubt, my day at Trail Tours was one of the most enjoyable days I've had on a motorcycle. I had a smile on my face from the moment I pulled into the parking lot to the time I left. The instructors were professional and informative, the equipment was well maintained and skill level appropriate, and the terrain is fantastic! Trail Tours and the Ganaraska forest is a short drive for millions of people. They're surely undiscovered gems for most - seriously, what are you waiting for?

Get yourself to Trail Tours - Pronto!

Check out the Trail Tours website HERE.

Here's a slideshow with all the pictures we took. Special thanks to Pat Steed who took the photo's of me. Pat and his wife own and operate Pat's Dual Sport Retreat.





Test Ride - 2009 BMW K1300S

Test Ride - 2009 BMW K1300S
Putting the ‘Sport’ in Sport-Touring
By Dustin A. Woods, Photos courtesy of BMW Motorad

Dustin Woods is an automotive and motorcycle journalist and a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Based in Toronto where residents experience two distinct and equally frustrating seasons; winter and construction, Woods is happiest when the city fades away from view in the mirrors of a two-wheeled machine.

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While every motorcycle deserves to be treated with maturity and respect, certain motorcycles simply demand more than others. Even before you have a chance to swing a leg over the brand spankin’ new BMW K1300S, it commands your utmost attention. Much like its closest competitors Suzuki GSX-R 1300 Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZX14, one’s mindset before straddling BMW’s new steed can mean the difference between overwhelming gratification and immediate incarceration. After getting a quick once-over of the updated features of the bike from BMW Motorad’s Robert Dexter, he assured me that the bike can be intimidating but doesn’t take long to warm up to. “It may seem like too much bike now, but after 30 minutes, you’ll want to buy one yourself.” He was right. He was also spot on when he warned me about Ontario’s new ‘Street Racing’ legislation stating, “It doesn’t take much more than a flick of the wrist to break the law on this one.”

Sure enough, not two hours after picking the bike up, I was standing on the side of Highway 10 north of Shelbourne with Ontario’s finest writing me up a ticket with more decimal places than I had deposited into my bank account last month. While the friendly officer was empathetic to my situation, citing that such a bike would be nearly impossible not to speed on, “The law is the law.” He then thanked me for being a law abiding citizen by pulling over as soon as the cherries started flashing. He put it best by saying, “If you had attempted to make a run for it, I wouldn’t have been able to catch you,” as he gave the bike an envious up and down.

With a ticket in my pocket and my tail between my legs, I continued up to Sauble Beach for the weekend - this time with my eyes dropping down to the speedometer much more often than before. Unlike many bikes where you feel as though you are riding faster than you actually are, the K1300S effortlessly sucks in asphalt in stride without any indication that you may be breaking the law.

The combination of excellent wind buffeting, Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), and a powerplant that feels as commanding, smooth and linear as an airliner means that the K1300S is better suited to the Autobahn than the strictly regulated roads of Ontario. Luckily the ESA system (available for $850) can be adjusted to ‘Comfort’ mode to accommodate our sorely neglected road surfaces. The available ‘Sport’ mode is a welcome addition, useful for more spirited riding or trackday shenanigans.

The optional Gear Shift Assistant (GSA) (a $350 option) only adds to the provocation of speed as rifling through all six gears can be made without letting off the throttle, or even engaging the clutch for that matter. I was initially apprehensive about trying out the system as the idea of a clutchless shift gone wrong made me cringe like a visit to the dentist, but the system immediately demonstrated itself to be smooth and competent. The system is particularly useful (and entertaining) when getting up to speed to merge onto the highway.

Shortly after my run in with smoky, dark ominous clouds began to approach and the sky opened up with a vengeance. It was then that I experienced the comfortable touring aspects of the bike. Even with the endless power and performance of the K1300S, it never felt erratic or out of control. In fact, I could easily spend a full day flogging it on the track or riding two up on a long weekend road trip because it is simply that versatile.

On several occasions over the course of my eventful cottage excursion where hard braking was needed, the ABS demonstrated itself to be shockingly good. While I likely wouldn’t have the cajones to test the Anti-Spin Control (ASC) on dry pavement, it actually came in handy while negotiating rain soaked streets. The K1300S comes with many great options as standard equipment such as the aforementioned ABS and dual mode grip warmers. It may be June but after a run in with Mother Nature and with the sun beginning to set, the warm grips made the closing minutes of my ride considerably more comfortable and safe by keeping my wet hands warm and dexterous.

After my week was up with the updated 2009 Hayabusa last summer, I drove straight to my masseuse to remove the knots in my shoulders and kink in my neck. As much as I enjoyed riding the bright orange ‘Busa, it wasn’t exactly comfortable for my six-foot-one frame for extended periods. Quite the opposite was true with the BMW as the first thing I wanted to do after getting off the bike at the end of a trip, was get right back on it and keep riding. Not only is the K1300S more versatile than the Hayabusa, but it is also lighter and more powerful. Tipping the scales at 254 kg, the big K is now both the lightest and most powerful heavyweight contenders in its class. The downside of that is that it isn’t exactly a fuel miser - not that anyone in the market to buy one would actually be dissuaded by this realization.

While there was no shortage of moxie in the previous K1200, there were a number of complaints regarding inconsistent throttle response which was later attributed to poor fuel mapping. No such power robbing gremlins reared their ugly heads during my experience over the course of nearly 1,000kms on the new 1300.

Displacement has also been upped from 1157cc to 1293cc, which was accomplished by adding a 1mm overbore and 5.3mm increase in stroke. Power has therefore increased seven horsepower, bringing output to 175 hp and 103 ft-lbs of torque. Throttle response has therefore been improved and with the glitches removed, the K1300S is a force to be reckoned with.

Another welcome update to the K series was the discontinuation of BMW’s traditional three switch turn signals in favour of the more user-friendly left-thumb-only configuration. While many Bimmer purists may cringe, I find the new switches to be a God send compared to the previous system.

Boasting standard features like ABS and optional innovations like Gear Shift Assist, Anti-Spin Control and Electronic Suspension Adjustment at an MSRP of only $16,650, the K1300S is competitive entry in a ferocious market. If you happen to be looking for a big bore sport-touring steed, this means you now have one more dealership worth visiting in your search.