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New Trends in Motorcycling – Automatics!

It’s time for a major change in motorcycling.  

Really?  How many times have you heard that one. It’s interesting – over the years, motorcycles have experienced some amazing technological advances – ABS, Traction Control, Ride-by-Wire, Active Suspensions…even specialized protective gear. All of these technologies are aimed at providing extra safety for our riding pleasure. They’re all good.

Ridley Auto-Glide

But what technologies and inventions have you seen that make biking easier? Well, you might say, today’s advanced bikes are better balanced than yesteryear’s – and you’d be right. But I really mean ‘easier’.

- Easier to learn to ride, easier to ride, easier to cruise.
- Easier for novices and aged drivers alike.
- Easier for those who have never used a clutch.
- Easier for those who’ve never been exposed to the bare-bones riding elements, as we have.

Ergonomically? With changes in hand controls, brakes, electronic ride controls? Nothing.  
Oh, wait a minute!  Everything!!

Some manufacturers have made shiftless bikes – automatic or shift-free bikes using CVT transmissions. Great news!

And how have Canadians fared in this area?  Horribly. 

I wonder why. To start with, Canadians are getting older… here are some facts: 1 in 5 Canadians are now aged 65+, and by 2013, that will be 1 in 4*1. In fact, back in 2012, 21 per cent of Canadians were over the age of 60. By 2030, that proportion is projected to rise to about 28.5 per cent, and by 2050, 31 per cent — nearly a third of all Canadians*2. When these seniors want to continue motorcycling (with arthritis), it’s only a matter of time until their hands and feet find shifting tougher and tougher. Here’s another example, having nothing to do with age - You want to ride with your friend or spouse or mistress (good for you!), but he or she doesn’t want to learn how to use a clutch. Do you just give up, or get your friend or partner a scooter?

Well, you’ve seen my articles on next-gen scooters and how great they are, that’s one way to go.  But, some bikers only want motorcycles – and who can blame them for all they offer?  So, if you chose motorcycles, you now have 2 choices - ‘automatic’ (gas) motorcycles, or electric ones.

Automatic motorcycles aren’t new. Honda had introduced them some years ago, but because the bike was expensive and improperly weighted, it wasn’t a runaway success.  Either was the Aprilia Mana, or the Ridley Auto-Glide.  That’s too bad, as that early lack of success ruined the path for Honda’s revolutionary CTX-700N DCT model in Canada. Automatic motorcycles look, handle, and are as powerful as the motorcycles we’ve been used to. But when it comes to shifting, they use a CVT-like transmission, allowing the rider to concentrate on other biking essentials, such as balance, monitoring traffic and road conditions. Only upon very close inspection would anyone realize your motorcycle is shift-less.

Aprilia 850 Mana

Honda’s CTX-700N DCT

So, what choices do you have if you want an ‘automatic’ motorcycle in Canada?  Well, this is where the short-sightedness of various manufacturers has let us down.  It’s not news that Canada poses an issue to vehicle manufacturers – because of our unique vehicle regulations and inordinate taxes, we often get the dregs of their vehicles.  For instance, I had a MazdaSpeed 3 (great car!) and I didn’t get anywhere close to the interior goodies that Americans got - for a far higher price. The same principle applies to motorcycles. So, that’s one reason why we don’t get the same varied bike selection as our fellow Americans. The other reason is Canadian marketers – far fewer vehicles are sold in Canada, so analytically obsessed marketers must be sure those sales will occur. As a result, while American Honda dealers are seeing resurgence in DCT automatic motorcycle sales, we don’t even get the choice of being able to buy one. You can always buy one in the U.S. (this is OK with Transport Canada’s rulings), but you’d need to check with Honda Canada if you can transfer warranty. Regardless, you’ll pay a fortune in extra taxes & transportation.

Back to Honda – they’re way ahead of the crowd with the CTX-700N DCT. The ½ Honda Fit power-plant’s low-slung’s centre of gravity makes riding and balancing this bike easy, especially for beginners. All controls are within easy reach and quite ergonomic – sit on one and you’ll know what I mean. Its suspension is competent; its street manners are near-perfect. By no stretch of the imagination is this a street rocket, but it’s not meant to be. Pricing is within just about every biker’s reach. This is a thoroughly modern bike line, so kudos goes out to Honda for their foresight. But… we Canadians don’t get to celebrate. And Honda wonders why the standard (ie shift) models in Canada are selling fine, but not wildly! Honda – you came so close – but no cigar for your Canadian market managers.
Suzuki used to have an automatic model, the 1982 model 450, but discontinued that a long time ago, and Honda had a 2-speed model also – they were way too early for the world to embrace them.  The other well-known Japanese manufacturers (Kawasaki, Yamaha) have shown little interest in getting to this market area, but if they watch the world markets, they should.  


Zero S

Now, onto electric bikes. Yup, you’re going to pay a premium for ‘going green’, but you have a few choices – Brammo or Zero. These belong more to the crotch-rockets than cruiser type, but they can still do the job.  Watch out for any range-anxiety long-distance trips, but for cruising around your neighborhoods, they’re quick, effortlessly powerful, and…wait for it… ridiculously quiet. In a way, they’re safer than any other type of bike, as you can literally hear all the traffic around you.  The problem is – they can’t hear you. So, now you have a dilemma, in deciding if you want a Harley-type noise-maker rattling your brain, or a quiet-as-a-green-forest glider that those 4-wheeler drivers can’t hear. The unfortunate part of this decision is that you’re not looking at any high-volume motorcycle manufacturer, nor are you looking at any firm with head offices in Canada – so getting parts will probably be lengthier and pricier than normal. But, they’re electric, clean, reliable, and … so cool!  These 2-wheeled versions of Teslas will attract any crowd – they may be the ultimate ‘pick-up’ bikes!
Again, Canadians lose out, unless you find that the ‘electrics’ are becoming more prevalent and well-supported closer to home.  When was the last time you saw one on the streets?

Regardless of your choice, every motorcycle maker should be trying to increase their market breadth and reach, and realizing world demographics and aging and those growing wants and needs, going automatic is the fastest way. Hopefully, they’re listening, for both their financial rewards, and our biking enjoyment into our golden years. In Canada.

*1: Canada GDP Growth, Standard Of Living Could Take A 20 Per Cent Hit From Aging, Says BoC; Posted: 04/ 4/2012 6:01 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 8:42 am

*2: CBC - How Well Is Canada Dealing With Its Aging Population?  October 1, 2013

Enjoying the Roads of the Kootenays

My partner Toby and I are lucky enough to live in Canada, and more specifically the outskirts of Calgary amongst undeniably beautiful scenery and landscapes. In my honest opinion, there is no better way to enjoy all that the area, has to offer than on a motorcycle (or sat on the back of one in my case on this particular occasion!).

We regularly get out for rides and usually opt to ride together on one bike rather than taking the two of them out. We both find that the views and the company can be best enjoyed this way. During one long-weekend a month of so back, we opted to head over to the Kootenay Region of British Colombia. I had been to the area once before as a youngster and remembered being struck by the idyllic scenery. Ergo, we decided that it was the ideal spot for a ride, so we packed lightly and hit the road. It was a long trip from Calgary, which we broke up with a night in a B&B and we rocked up at our chosen campsite late afternoon.

Day One

We woke up in our tent at the Toad Rock Motorcycle Campground. A friend had suggested this place to us, and it turned out to be a stellar recommendation. The route that Toby had planned out for us the first day would take us from the campsite, nearby Balfour, across the lake to Kootenay Bay, down to Nelson and then we’d complete the circuit by heading back north to Nelson. This route is approximately 215km and would take us between 3-4 hours riding at a comfortable speed with no stops.

 Day one: Toad Rock Campground

We had excellent weather for the first day, clear skies and a warm breeze. It was just eight miles down the road to the ferry port and we were on our way across the lake by 10am. It was a smooth and comfortable trip across and with the sun on our faces and the mountains to look at; it couldn’t have been any more enjoyable.  We landed at Kootenay Bay and drove off to truly get our road trip under way.

Kootenay Lake

The Kootenays or the Kootenay to Region takes its name from the presence of the Kootenay River. The Lake is part of the river and has become a popular tourist destination, particularly during the warmer summer months. The ferry crossing that connects Balfour and Kootenay Bay runs all year round and is completely toll free. It’s a useful way to quickly and conveniently (45 minutes) access the other side of the lake and is a great way to relax with the wind in your hair.

Kootenay Lake

The lake is long and narrow and being situated between the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges, ensures that the views are never anything less than spectacular.  As well as the scenery, the lake offers numerous species of fish including rainbow trout, yellow perch and kokanee salmon. Many people come to this spot to charter a boat and head out on the lake to see what they can catch.

Creston and back to base via the beach!

We took Highway 3A along the shores of the lake, all the way down to Creston. The roads are in good condition and there are plenty of twists with places to stop and snap a few shots. We stopped briefly in the valley of Creston and sampled a glass of Kokanee Beer and bite to eat. The beer has been brewed here since 1959 and wasn’t half bad at all. From here it was back up north through Trail and Castlegar to Nelson. Between Nelson and Balfour we came across Kokanee Creek Provincial Park and decided to make another stop. Here we found a number of stunning beaches, some business than others. It seemed like a very fun and enjoyable spot to come back to with children. We found a good looking restaurant nearby and then retreated back to base at Toad Rock.


Toad Rock

Toad Rock Motorcycle Campsite is located almost exactly between Balfour and Ainsworth on Highway 31. It takes around half an hour to get to the city of Nelson from the campsite and just a few minutes to reach the ferry port at Balfour for the crossing to Kootenay Bay. It is a cheerful and affordable campsite with plenty of space and lots of opportunities to meet fellow bikers. Its location on the lake couldn’t be more ideal. There is easy access to a number of popular and world-class bike routes, as well as small and charming heritage towns, swimming spots and restaurants.

In general, Toby tends to be more in favour of the camping than I am, but at this particular campsite I too enjoyed the atmosphere and the setting. There is plenty of space so you can set up somewhere quiet and out of the way but also a lovely little covered area, which has been aptly named the social pavilion. Here, I and enjoyed a game of pool or two with the owner, whilst Toby got chatting about the days ride amongst other things. The toilet facilities were as well as can be expected at a campsite in the middle of nowhere. Besides, anything that the campsite lacked was made up for immeasurably by the mountain backdrop and wild scenery. The hospitality of the owners, Grant and Marty, made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Day Two

Tony and I both woke up slightly achy from a combination of riding and camping but eager to set off once again for more of the breathtaking sights of the Kootenays so we gear up and get ready to for that. This time we would give the ferry ride a miss with a route that required us heading straight up north to the quirky and charming village of Kaslo. From here we would continue on to New Denver, before completing the circuit by returning once again to Nelson. This route was almost the exact same distance as the previous day at roughly 216km. Again 3 or 4 hours would have been perfectly manageable, but where’s the fun in rushing?

The road to Kaslo

We travelled north on Highway 31 and it wasn’t long at all before we reached Ainsworth Hot springs. Ainsworth is a small and historic village with a tiny population of just 10 people. We only passed through on this visit, but we may well be back for a dip in one of the naturally hot water springs and to visit the Cody Caves.

On we went to the wonderful and beautiful village of Kaslo. This place is well known for its natural splendour and quaintness, and has a population of just over 1000. For us it was the ideal time of year to visit, with just the right about of people to create a good atmosphere, without the hustle and bustle of too many tourists. During our time here we were informed of the summer jazz festival, which sounds like a lot of fun and we may well return for.

Village of Kaslo

Kaslo to Nelson via Slocan Lake

From Kaslo we headed across to New Denver in order to see what Lake Slocan had to offer. We weren’t disappointed. The views again are outstanding and there is so much wildlife to look out for as well as taking in the scenery. Over the two days we saw numerous impressive birds including bald headed eagles and osprey. Deer were abundant on the ground and we caught sight of a black bear, although couldn’t get the camera out in time! From here it was back south to Nelson and the familiar road back to base.

All in all it was one of our more memorable bike trips and we will certainly return to the Kootenay Region in the not too distant future.

Do it in a day and alternative routes

For those people wanting to do as much as possible in just one day, there are a number of options for incredible routes. Creston to Kaslo and then possibly on to New Denver at Slocan Lake would give you the chance to make the ferry crossing and also see a good portion of the Lake Kootenay. Another choice would be to again start at Creston but then head to Nelson after the crossing. This will allow you to experience some of the areas best roads. Of course, there are numerous routes and options to take. The longer you have here the better because there are loads to see and plenty to do, so enjoy the incredible settings and make the most of your time here!

About the Author:

Dewayne Jasper has been riding for over 6 years and currently rides a Kawasaki Ninja ZX6R; you can also follow him on twitter and know about his riding.

Dewayne endorses buying motorcycle equipment at