Photo of Steve Paul's bike on the side of the road in Nevada

Freedom road

Being me — no permission needed
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by Steve Paul (District 36 Peterborough), as told to Martin Zibauer

“Every Sunday and every Wednesday in the riding season, I ride my motorcycle with a small group of guys. We take back roads from Peterborough, maybe 400 to 500 kilometres, up to Algonquin Park or Muskoka, or towards Renfrew or down to Prince Edward County.

“I enjoy the sense of freedom I get on my bike. You have to be really in tune with the road and what you’re doing, and your problems just disappear — a happiness/contentment/peace of mind takes their place. It’s a great way to enjoy a nice day, and you always have the option of stopping somewhere, getting off the bike, and relaxing.

“In 2014, I rode alone across Canada and the U.S., stopping at as many capital cities as possible. I got to 62 of 65: Iqaluit and Honolulu aren’t reachable by motorcycle, and the highway to Juneau was blocked by a landslide. I visited each of the capital buildings, as a kind of touchstone. Some were nice to look at and others I wouldn’t give a nickel for. But it was very interesting to see the differences in all the capital cities.

“I’m retired, and I’m no longer married. So I have no constraints, except for my three kids. Travelling alone means I can do what I want, if and how I want. It’s very selfish, in a positive sense. On the other hand, when you stop, get a campsite and have dinner, you are by yourself. You can’t rehash the trip with anyone else.

“I also take riding trips with other people, but it’s essential to choose someone you’re compatible with — I’m doing 12 days through Quebec this summer with a friend. We enjoy each other’s company.

“On bike trips, you meet a lot of people, which I like. When I was in the States, the people I actually talked to most were policemen and security guards — the government buildings were like airports, with metal detectors and heavy security. They wanted to know who I was, why I was there and whether I was carrying a gun. With that question, I always pointed to the maple leaf on my jacket and explained that we don’t carry weapons. I really tried to get U.S. security and police to understand the difference between Canada and the U.S.A.

“You have to be really in tune with the road and what you’re doing, and your problems just disappear.ˮ — Steve Paul

“But even in my riding gear, I wasn’t seen as a threat. My white hair gives me an easier time.

“That trip took 80 days, and I covered 42,000 kilometres. The longest day was 16 hours’ riding and just shy of 1,200 kilometres, from Whitehorse to Hazelton, B.C. It would have been shorter, except I came up against a hunting lodge I couldn’t afford to stay in and grizzly sightings that convinced me not to camp outdoors.

“My 2015 trip through Europe was shorter — only 70 days — and about half the distance. I visited 17 countries, and you can’t drive 10 kilometres in Europe without coming across something of interest. One day in France, on a secondary road, I saw an interesting spire off to my left. So I turned around and went back to find the road in. I came across an empty, derelict old chapel — much bigger than a chapel, really more a cathedral. It was a 13th-century ruin, called L’Abbaye-Nouvelle.

Photo of the Roman aqueduct, Segovia, Spain
On the road, left: Roman aqueduct, Segovia, Spain; town square, Rothenburg, Germany.

“That was the day I was heading from the Loire Valley towards Lourdes and Spain. I stopped for the night in a little village. On the hotel restaurant’s menu, I saw duck, which I had not eaten in forever. Even though it was a bit more expensive than I like, I sat down, ordered my meal and a half-litre of wine. The meal was absolutely exquisite, and it was just luck that I happened to ride into that little community and stop at that little hotel.

“You can’t get lost on a bike; there’s always another road to try. The only time you get lost is if you’re trying to stick to a route you’ve planned too carefully. I always know I’m going from A to B and the general direction I’m heading. I just don’t know which road I’ll take to get there.”

Getting started

When Steve started riding a motorcycle, 60 years ago, getting a motorcycle licence required only a short written test, and no road test whatsoever. “I learned on the road, by riding and talking to other riders. But that’s not how anyone should learn now,” he says.

Photo of Susten Pass, Switzerland
On the road, left: Susten Pass, Switzerland; Château de Chambord, Chambord, France.

United States & Canada

Graphic of North America

He started with a small 90cc Honda — as much as he could afford as a 17-year-old — but within about three years he’d upsized to a 160cc and then 750cc. “My mom was a little worried,” he says. “She had been a nurse and was certainly aware of the risk of injury. And, at that time, we didn’t even wear helmets, but I’ve always been a careful, two-wheels-on-the-asphalt kind of rider.”

You can learn to ride a motorcycle at any age, Steve believes, “as long as you’ve got your health, your vision and you can remain aware on the road.”

Photo of Steve Paul and and his grandson
Paul with his grandson Sawyer – a future biker?

Here’s how Steve recommends you start:

  • Get a good helmet, riding boots that cover your ankles, riding gloves and a riding jacket. Pants don’t have to be leather; strong nylon mesh will also protect you.
  • Don’t get a powerful bike that’s way more than you can handle. Get a used motorcycle that you can lift if it falls on you. And if you fall, that’s part of learning.
  • Know what you and your bike can do. “I don’t ride off-road because my bike’s not built for it,” Steve says, “and I’m not built for it.”
  • Take classes, which are available through colleges and private companies. And keep learning no matter what your experience level. A couple of years back, Steve took a riding course, “just to have someone review my skills. I wanted to correct any bad habits I had picked up.”
  • YouTube videos can offer good tips. Steve recommends the channel MCrider. “Kevin, the host, stresses that if you’ve got the skill and the strategy — in other words, you know what to do under the circumstances — you can ride with a fair degree of safety. I agree.”
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