In Calgary, Alberta, a unique city tour combines iconic motorcycles and jaunty sidecars to help visitors see the city in an entirely new way.
If there's one activity I long thought I'd never experience thanks to my deep-seated anti-adventurist tendencies, it's a motorcycle tour. However, when I embarked on a tour with Calgary’s Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures, I learned that the experience is about much more than the bike. It's a time-traveling adventure that immerses you in the charm of vintage Ural motorcycles.
Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures is a family owned and operated business that offers seasonal motorcycle sidecar tours between May and October. The company uses Urals almost exclusively, though there is one Triumph in the fleet. Ural, which was founded in Russia in 1941, originally built sidecar motorcycles to help the military in World War II but they also thrived in the post-war era, as people fell in love with how practical they were.
During my tour, I saw for myself just how practical (and fun!) these vehicles really are. Here’s what I loved about them.
1.) I felt like a World War II-era spy. I love historical war-era fiction, especially novels where the protagonist is an unassuming young woman who both sides like to underestimate. It seems that crafty nurses, code breakers, and spies were constantly finding covert ways to sneak behind enemy lines and a trip in a snazzy sidecar seems right up their alley. Of course, it’s not exactly inconspicuous but that’s precisely the point. You would never think a spy would choose such a splashy mode of transportation, would you? Exactly.
2.) We attracted a lot of attention. Let’s face it. Calgary is a city of BIG vehicles. Being in a little sidecar will definitely get you a number of curious – and dare I say envious – looks. Even among the crowds of the Calgary Stampede, we stood out and that was pretty cool.
3.) It’s an awesome way to beat the heat. I was in Calgary during some mighty warm July days. You wouldn’t want to be in a car without air conditioning, relying just on open windows. But in a sidecar, you’re constantly in a cool breeze and it feels wonderful to be outside, in the refreshing air, on a lovely summer day. (I imagine that it’s less pleasant in the rain but I bet with a disposable raincoat it wouldn’t be too bad.)
5.) You get a taste of Calgary’s diverse architecture. Unlike many cities, Calgary doesn’t have an architectural code. So long as a design meets the safety standards of the building code, your house can reflect any style or time period you might enjoy. You might see some Tudor-eque touches there, a bit of Brutalism there. It’s an interesting, eclectic mix.
6.) It’s more comfortable than you might think. As someone who has had more than one awkward moment getting in and out of a low-to-the-ground mode of transportation (kayaks, mostly), I was expecting the usual inelegant entry and exit. However, the sidecars were rather spacious, had ample room for my long legs and day bag, and while it’s not quite as simple as getting in and out of a car, it is definitely much easier (and graceful!) than I was expecting.
7.) It’s just FUN. For an anti-adventurist such as myself, I know perfectly well that I’ll never take a daredevil motorcycle ride. But I sure felt like I was on one when I was riding in the sidecar. Those who actually DO take epic motorcycle trips might find this tour to be a bit sedate but for folks like me, it was awesome!
A few considerations...
Yes, you’ll hear tour commentary from your guides through the radio system that’s built into your helmet. However, you’ll also hear commentary from everyone else (like when people say “how can I turn up the volume again?”) Plus, the sound isn’t exactly crystal clear, as the wind is buffering against the guide’s microphone as they’re talking. As such, this isn’t exactly a great choice if you like to hear extensive commentary like you would on a bus tour.
You’re at the mercy of traffic and therefore your group might get spread out a bit. As such, if the guide says that a certain attraction is on your right and you’re a block away, what they’re saying might not line up with what you’re seeing. I was in the lead car so I didn’t have this problem.
If a city highlights tour isn’t for you, the company also offers food tours, ghost tours, and nature-themed itineraries.
Overall, I loved my sidecar adventure - or anti-adventure, as the case may be! It was a fun, creative, relaxing way to gain perspective on the city and a little bit of motorcycle history too.
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