A last-minute route change puts the BMW S1000XR through its paces.
Story and Photos by Glenn Roberts
Our original plan was to head back to Ontario from New Brunswick through the northeastern states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, but after visiting friends north of Shediac at Grande-Digue on the Northumberland Strait during our last night in New Brunswick, we changed our minds.
My long-time friend Tom Henry and I were in a bit of a riding drought after Ontario’s monsoon summer of 2017. The record-setting rainfall besieged us with more rain days than non-rain days, and we decided with very little lead time to head out to New Brunswick and, more specifically, Adair’s Wilderness Lodge, located in the hills some 25 km southeast of Sussex, to attend the fourth annual running of the Fundy Adventure Rally. Based on the fact that Tom was riding his 2008 Harley-Davidson FLH and I was on the remarkable BMW S1000XR, we really had no intention of participating in the competition; we looked oddly out of place, since everywhere you looked around the lodge’s cabins and camping areas were dual-sport bikes of every make and size. The XR has an adventure-bike stance and an upright seating position, but that’s about where the adventure equation ends. In reality, it’s a comfortable, long-legged, mile-eating road bike.
It was a special year and a first for the rally, as it was the final qualifier for the BMW GS Challenge: the four winners of the qualifier would form Team Canada in the 2018 GS Trophy. But that’s another story for an upcoming issue.
Oh yeah, in addition to Tom jumping at the opportunity to go for a much-needed ride and a bonus of riding some of this Maritime province’s outstanding roads, his secondary reason for heading to New Brunswick was to have a full-on lobster dinner in the town of Alma on the eastern edge of Fundy National Park. Which he did – while others were on the rally riding in mud and rain, he was feasting on lobster. Tough life!
Change of Plans
Our ride route changed after spending the night at Atlanticade founders Dale and Donna’s on the Northumberland Strait. While we were enjoying the evening, listening to waves crash on the shore and straining to make out a few of the lights far across the strait on Prince Edward Island, they told of a recent ride they had around Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Having ridden all over the Maritimes, they both agreed that the Gaspé is more scenic overall than Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail. Since we were already on the eastern coast of the province and Tom had tried unsuccessfully to ride around the Gaspé a few years prior (non-stop fog and heavy rain forced him and his wife, Ann, to cut their losses and turn around leaving it for another time), we decided that this would be that “another time.”
I had been around the Gaspé in 2004, and while I don’t remember the minute details of the trip, I do remember beautiful roads along the shore, but some of the roads inland were in atrocious condition with large chunks of pavement missing on the corners. I was okay with the bad pavement if conditions hadn’t changed – the Beemer’s Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) would handle the broken pavement no problem – and the XR is a sport bike at heart that yearns for corners, though not necessarily combined with broken pavement.
Riding along Highway 11 beside the Restigouche River, we left New Brunswick crossing into Quebec and turning east onto Route 132 in Matapédia. This would mark the start of our counterclockwise ride around the Gaspé Peninsula.
I was expecting to see many fishing villages on the Gaspé coast, but one of the first towns we passed through appeared to be geared more toward tourism. Carleton-sur-mer, located between mountains and crops on the left and the Bay of Chaleur on the right, looked to be a pretty resort town that obviously catered to the tourist trade with plenty of accommodation.
Considering we logged more than 500 km, we made excellent time under bright blue skies and warm temperatures since we had left Dale and Donna’s house in Grande-Digue that morning. We stopped for the night at Camping Lina in Grande-Rivière, just 30 km before the town of Percé.
Hard Ground vs. Soft Bed?
The plan was to have a relaxing ride and camp for most of the trip, although said plan would be dependent on both the weather and, when we stopped riding for the night, whether we felt we needed a decent sleep or would just tough it out lying on the cold, hard ground. Every time we camped during this two-week outing, we were fortunate to be able to set up right beside water. On this trip, I was carrying a Redverz Atacama three-person tent with a garage section to keep our beloved bikes and gear out of the elements. The tent is overkill for two guys with minimal gear, and not once did we park a bike in the oversized storage section, but it’s the only tent I have that is complete, and it’s by far the easiest and quickest to set up. Also strapped to the back seat was a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. The clamshell-style panniers were stuffed with camera gear and a few clothes. In total, it amounted to a small load compared with the XR’s total payload of 444 kg.
Traffic had been surprisingly light this whole trip, and that went for Camping Lina, as well. We had the whole camping area to ourselves perched high above the ocean. It seemed this area had had its share of rain, too, as all of the supplied firewood was soaked, but with sheer determination, and a bit of time shaving slivers of wood and gathering dry grass, we eventually got a roaring fire going before night fell completely.
Icon of the Gaspé
No ride through the pretty little town of Percé on the far eastern end of the peninsula is complete without taking at least one photo of Percé Rock. This monolith is a natural limestone formation that measures 433 metres long and 90 metres wide, and the sheer cliffs rise 88 metres out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The famous hole near the end of the main body of rock itself creates one of the largest natural arches in the world. It sits less than a kilometre from the shoreline, and you can walk to it at low tide, but if you linger too long, it’s a long swim back to shore. I’d be very surprised if this icon of Quebec isn’t the most photographed part of the whole peninsula.
North of Percé, we made our way through the town of Gaspé and soon after, Forillon National Park. You can save a few minutes by bypassing the park on Rte 197 if you wish, but I recommend staying on Rte 132 to enter into Forillon Park and head around the park’s peninsula for a nice shoreline ride before meeting up with the bypass later on.
So far, the roads had been outstanding, with no broken pavement, and smooth for the most part. Forillon proved to be the exception. Some construction and a detour notwithstanding, there were also a few bad sections of road, but I hoped the construction crews would be looking after that shortly, since they were in the area.
The rough sections in the park were no match for the S1000XR’s suspension. It’s a very competent bike to begin with in all respects, but being equipped with the Dynamic ESA was an added bonus – it was as simple as thumbing a switch on the…