Gaspe’s Legendary Loop

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
December 13 2017

A last-minute route change puts the BMW S1000XR through its paces.

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

The Grande Vallee in QuebecOur 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?

Camping by the Grande RiviereThe 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

View of Percé Rock in QuebecNo 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 left-hand switchgear to change the suspension settings front and back to easily handle the rough sections in comfort. Let the Fun Begin It was the section of Rte 132 after Forillon that really set the stage for an amazing day of riding. Even for the middle of August, the traffic had been almost non-existent since we’d gotten on 132, and I mentioned to Tom that we really hadn’t really seen any cops. Apparently I spoke too soon, as we then hit a stretch of road that was much more heavily enforced.

Once we got past Forillon, the road started heading inland and then back out to the water and another village. This continued for a couple of hours or so along the whole northern stretch of the Gaspé – all the way to Saint-Anne-des-Monts. It was in these inland stretches that the road became a ribbon of lefts and rights – some quite sharp – with countless elevation changes, and this is where the Beemer was in its glory. Whether it was suspension-, brake- or engine-related, the XR never failed to generate a smile. It is, after all, a full-on supersport motorcycle under that pseudoadventure-bike clothing and tall suspension. Heavy on the Sport BMW has further refined the practical adventure-sport-touring genre with the XR. Rolling on 17-inch wheels front and back offers a great number of tire choices on the market, and my demo came shod with Bridgestone Battlax sport-touring rubber – an ideal tire for all kinds of roads. Add to that an insanely powerful engine that is shared with its S1000RR superbike brother.

This 999 cc inline-four pumps out a whopping 165 hp and 84 ft-lb of torque, making this road rocket more than ready and willing to take on twisty ribbons of tarmac or arrow-straight freeway for days, providing the fuel tank continues to get topped up, of course. I averaged 5.95 L/100 km over a two-week period of all kinds of riding, resulting in a range of approximately 335 km from the 20 L tank. My best economy was 5.2 L/100 km – all highway – for a range of about 385 km. I understand that the previous versions of the XR had an annoying handlebar vibration, but I must say, BMW has addressed the problem. I felt a very slight buzz around 4,500 rpm, but really it was nothing – almost unperceivable, unless you concentrated on feeling for it. With 165 ponies at hand, I couldn’t help attacking the twisties like a drag race between corners, and that means being able to scrub speed off as swiftly as it accelerated. Slowing the XR down efficiently and quickly are a pair of four-piston Brembo calipers squeezing 320 mm floating discs up front, and a single-piston caliper and 220 mm disc out back. The S1000XR comes very well equipped for life on the road as a corner- carving touring machine with such amenities as ABS, automatic stability control, Rain and Road ride modes and heated grips, but it’s the installed options on my demo that really make the XR easy to live with.

The installed Touring and Dynamic packages add ESA, traction control, gearshift assist pro that allows up and down clutchless shifts, Dynamic and Dymanic Pro ride modes, cruise control and ABS pro, along with luggage racks and brackets, and centre stand. Accelerate, Brake, Lean and Repeat Just as you realize how much fun the inland stretches of road are, it lets you down gently as the trees open up and you emerge again to the coastline and another picture-postcard village – predominantly white-siding-clad houses and quite often a side street leading down to the fishing wharf. The breeze from the ocean cools the skin and the smell of salt air permeates the nostrils. Once outside the village, you are sent back into the trees for another round of “accelerate, brake, lean and repeat.” If time had permitted, and the skies looked a bit friendlier, I would have gladly done this stretch of road over again. Heeding weather reports, Tom and I decided to motel it in Saint-Anne-des-Monts, and by late evening we were glad we did. As we sat outside our room enjoying a beverage, the wind picked up enough to toss the chairs in front of other rooms across the parking lot, and with the rapidly dropping temperature came heavy rain. We learned the next day that Montreal had been hit very hard by severe winds and New Hampshire had experienced at least one twister. We were thankful that we had avoided the northeastern states, or we would have probably been in the middle of that fierce New Hampshire weather.

The charm and beauty of Rte 132 and the Gaspé continued to just west of Rimouski, where the road gets bigger and faster – it was time to lift the XR’s windscreen to the higher level and make tracks for home. When the monotony of the Trans-Canada got too much, we would veer off to slower routes to add variety, but nothing after Rimouski could even closely compared to the visuals and the excitement of the Gaspé. Did Dale and Donna steer us right by pointing us along the Gaspé and saying it’s better than the Cabot Trail? The Cabot Trail has mountains and dramatic views, steep drop-offs into immense valleys and spectacular shoreline and ocean vistas that go on forever, but those scenes are mainly the north end of the Trail, as the southern section crosses the island inland. Most of Rte 132 around the Gaspé Peninsula, meanwhile, runs alongside the shoreline and through numerous quaint, colourful fishing villages that never seem to end, making the whole ride entertaining and enjoyable. In my opinion, both are exceptional, and both I’d like to return to, but with more time to repeat the sections that deserve another round. And there are a couple of roads that cut through the Gaspé Peninsula that are calling my name.

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