Category Archives: Long Distance Riding

Long Distance Riding – Packing for the Trip

Over the years I’ve gradually reduced the amount of stuff that I pack when I go for a long ride.  The first couple of years, I packed lots of stuff that I never used.  I found that the extra stuff I brought with me just added weight and made it more difficult to find the stuff that I really needed.  So, I now pack less and just stop at the local WalMart to buy whatever I need along the way.

I don’t put a lot of thought into what clothes I pack.  I just grab enough clothes for about a week and throw them into a bag. I bring a variety of clothes to account for the various extremes in weather including both hot and cold weather.  One thing you definitely want to bring is an extra pair of shoes so that you have a dry pair after a long run through heavy rain.

The riding gear you choose to bring with you needs to account for variations in weather.  If you’re going to be out on the road for any length of time, it’s going to rain so a good rain suit is essential.  Riding hundreds of miles in the rain is no fun, especially if your gear isn’t up to the task and you end up getting cold and wet.

Put any liquids such as toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen, etc. into a plastic zip-lock bag.  That way, if there’s a leak, it’s contained within the bag and won’t get all over everything.  I learned this the hard way when a bottle of sunscreen cracked and got all over everything.

If your luggage isn’t waterproof, pack everything in plastic garbage bags to keep your stuff dry. You really don’t want to have to dry out all of you clothes after a long day of riding in the rain.  I also bring some extra plastic garbage bags to put dirty clothes in.

A heated jacket liner is great to have because it doesn’t take up much space and eliminates the need to bring other bulky cold weather gear.  I’ve ridden in some pretty nasty weather with my heated jacket liner and, along with rain gear, has proven itself to be one of the most important pieces of gear I have.

If you’re like me, you’re going to want to bring along a bunch of electronic devices.  Make sure you have all of the necessary chargers and cords.  Of course, any electronics need to be kept dry so make sure you pack them in waterproof containers or bags.

A few extra bungee cords or straps are nice to have and don’t take up much room.  Somehow, it seems like I always end up coming home with more stuff than I left with and need to strap extra junk to the bike.

You should bring along some basic tools and repair items just in case you have a problem on the road.  You should be able to fit all of this stuff in a small bag.  I would suggest the following:

  • – Assortment of wrenches, pliers, torx, allen wrenches
  • – An assortment of zip ties
  • – A roll of electrical tape, a few spare fuses and a small roll of wire
  • – Tire plugs and small 12v air compressor
  • – Pocket knife or other cutting tool

These are just some general thoughts and suggestions.  In the end, what you pack will depend on how far you’re going, weather conditions, and how much room you have for stuff.   One thing I cannot stress enough is to ensure that everything is packed in waterproof bags – it will rain if you are planning on any kind of extended trip.

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Long Distance Riding – Bike Preparation

Before embarking on a long ride, you should do some basic bike preparation.  Once you start off on your epic journey, you want make sure that your ride will be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Take a few long day rides in different weather conditions and note anything that you find annoying or uncomfortable.  Two day weekend rides can help to identify any weaknesses so that you can fix them before starting out on a long ride.  Small annoyances can become quite problematic when you spend multiple days on the road.

Depending on the bike you have, you may be able to tweak things like the position of footpegs or handlebars to make them more comfortable.  You might also discover that the seat that is fine for an hour or two becomes uncomfortable during longer rides.

When you spend a week or more out on the road, foul weather is inevitable.  Anything you can do to minimize the effects of poor weather will pay huge dividends in the long run.  Is your windscreen the right height to block wind and rain?   Are you able to adjust the windscreen to allow cool air to pass by when it gets hot outside?  Is your riding gear and luggage truly waterproof?  Anything you can do to address these issues before embarking will make your ride more tolerable when the weather turns bad.

Storage is important when travelling so you should do a test fit of the luggage and/or gear that you plan on taking with you so that you know how you’re going to attach everything to the bike.  If you think you’re going to be gathering souvenirs during your trip, have some extra space available.

Make sure that all of your gear can be mounted securely and isn’t going to shift around.  Any straps that flap around in the wind will scuff paint so make sure to trim them to the proper length.  Keep it simple and make it easy to attach and detach because after riding 10-12 hours you want to be able to quickly and easily unpack each night and then repack the next morning.

Finally, you’re going to want to do all of the routine maintenance before leaving.  Here are a few obvious things that you want to do or at least check before embarking on your long ride:

  • Fluid change (oil, transmission, rear differential, etc.)
  • Tires
  • Brakes
  • Chain/sprockets
  • Lights and turn signals
  • Check/replace coolant
  • Check overall condition, check critical fasteners, clean radiator fins, etc.

Fluid changes are relatively easy and inexpensive so there’s no reason not to do this before leaving.  There’s no harm in changing them even if you haven’t reached the normal service interval.

Tires are a bit trickier.  They’re expensive and may not be worn out when it’s time to start your trip.  You need to decide whether or not it’s worth spending money on a new set of tires now, or plan to change them while out on the road.  It’s certainly easier to change tires at home than it is to try to find a place with the right tires for your bike when you’re out on the road.

You might also want to consider fitting a different tire than you normally use.  If you generally use a sticky sport oriented tire, you may want to consider a sport touring tire that will provide higher mileage to extend the distance you can travel on a set of tires.

In addition to the unknown cost of replacing tires in some unknown city, it also takes time.  You’ll probably need about half a day to make the arrangements and get your tires changed which is time you won’t be riding.  For me, it’s not worth the hassle I did this once and the time lost getting a tire changed wasn’t worth saving a few dollars.

In closing, you want to do everything you can to make your ride comfortable and enjoyable before you commit to weeks on the road.    A bit of preparation ensures that you will be able to enjoy a nice comfortable ride without interruption.

Long Distance Riding – Choosing a Bike

Choosing the right bike for a long distance ride is going to be a very personal thing.  What’s important will depend on the type of riding that you’ll be doing.  If you remember back to the introductory post that I did, you’ll remember that I limit my travel to paved roads leading me towards certain types of bikes.  

Some of the features you want to look for when choosing a bike are:

  • Ergonomics (seat, bars, foot pegs)
  • Weather protection
  • Waterproof storage
  • Fuel range
  • Cruise control

Ergonomics

When you’re going to be on a motorcycle for 10-12 hours a day over the course of many days, one of the most important things is comfort.  It’s easy to get tired and can actually become dangerous if you’re feeling beat-up and sore from riding.  I’ve ridden two different Harley Davidson Electra Glides and my BMW K1600GTL from NY to CA and found that for me, the Harley’s were more comfortable.   There were times on the BMW where I was miserable for long periods of time due to shoulder/back pain.  It was not a pleasant experience.

Anything you can do to increase comfort will pay off big-time.  The right seat eases pressure on your backside, an adjustable backrest can be a great addition to a seat, highway pegs will allow you to stretch your legs, and handlebars that are right for you can ease shoulder pain.  These are some of the basic elements that can help to avoid a painful ride.

Weather Protection

When you go for a long ride, you can count on hitting some bad weather.  Bad weather can be rain, cold, heat, or wind.  None of these is pleasant without proper weather protection and quality riding gear.

For rain and cold, a windshield, lower fairings, heated grips, and heated seat are all great at minimizing the effects of bad weather.  If you’re cold and wet, riding can become dangerous so anything you can do to avoid this unpleasantness helps you to continue down the road rather than constantly needing to stop to warm up.  Good waterproof gear or a quality rain suit is necessary when riding in rain and can be surprisingly helpful in the cold too.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, riding in hot desert conditions is actually more comfortable with a mesh jacket that provides good airflow while keeping perspiration in and the hot sun off of your bare skin.  Combined with a good under layer made with one of the many cooling fabrics available (such as Under Armor), you can stay surprisingly comfortable as long as you keep moving and air flowing.

When riding in just a t-shirt in the dry desert air, your sweat evaporates immediately and provides absolutely no cooling effect.  Painful sunburn is also a constant threat if your skin is not covered.  Sunscreen can help, but it’s better to avoid the hot sun altogether.  Additionally, a t-shirt provides absolutely no crash protection.

Wind protection is quite important when travelling at 75 mph on interstate highways for obvious reasons.  It’s nice not to constantly be fighting the wind.

Waterproof Storage

You don’t just need storage, you need waterproof storage.  After riding for hours in heavy rain, you really want to have dry clothes to put on.  Even with the best rain gear, if you ride in the rain for long enough, water always seems to find it’s way into places that you don’t want it to be.

Hard luggage that is designed for the bike is probably the best solution to waterproof storage.  Both my Harley’s and my BMW have hard side bags and top case and I’ve never had a problem with water getting into them.  On the other hand, even with raincovers, some of the soft luggage I’ve used has become damp inside after riding for hours in the rain.

Fuel Range

For many parts of the US, fuel range isn’t much of an issue – you may just need to stop more often.  However, when you get out into some of the more remote areas of the American West, it’s not uncommon to travel 100 miles or more between gas stations, even on Interstate Highways.

I would have to say that the absolute minimum fuel range if you’re planning a trip out West is 150 miles.   I’ve seen distances of 160+ miles between gas stations through parts of Nevada.

With higher speed limits and heavy headwinds, your fuel mileage may be significantly lower that what you’re used to.  A good stiff headwind could lower your fuel mileage by 10 mpg or more which can reduce your range by 50 or more miles.

With my BMW, I typically average around 40-42 mpg when I’m at home with 55-65 mph speed limits.  When I travel in areas with 75 mph speed limits, mileage drops to the mid 30’s and if you add a stiff headwind, I’ve seen as low as 28 mpg at times.   With the 7 gallon tank, total range varies from 280 miles down to only 190 miles when riding fast into a headwind.  My Harley’s were about the same but with a smaller capacity tank, my 2006 Harley’s theoretical maximum range with a 5 gallon tank could be as low as 140 miles.

Keep fuel range in mind when planning routes and don’t underestimate the effect of heavy wind on fuel mileage.  When riding in the American West, it’s a good idea to stop and top off your tank at every gas station.

Cruise Control

I guess some people would consider cruise control a luxury that you could do without.  However, the ability to let go of the handlebar and relax your right hand and arm make it easier to ride for hours at a time without your hand getting stiff.

Choosing a Bike

There are many different bikes that you can choose to ride with the obvious choices being the large touring bikes such as Gold Wings, Electra Glides, and various BMW models.  The downside of these bikes are their weight.  These are big heavy bikes, some of them are over 900 lbs.  For ultimate long distance comfort, it’s hard to beat one of the big touring bikes.

Sport Touring bikes such as the Yamaha FJR and Kawasaki Concours are another obvious class of motorcycle that have most/all of the features that you need.  They are reasonably comfortable and have the added benefit of being lighter and providing better performance and handling than the big touring bikes when the roads get twisty.

Of course, you may already have a bike that you like and just need to add a few things in order to make it comfortable for long hauls.  Either way, comfort, weather protection, waterproof storage, and the ability to move around are elements that will make your journey more enjoyable.

I’ve contemplated taking my Street Triple on a long trip – probably not all the way to California but maybe 1,000 – 1,500 miles from home.  I would adjust my daily distances down to 300-400 miles a day and stop more frequently.

In the end, any bike will do, but a more comfortable bike will make your journey that much more enjoyable.

Long Distance Riding – Introduction

It’s winter and here in Upstate NY.  That means that  riding is limited to just a few days from December – February so I thought I would use this break from riding to share some of my thoughts and experiences related to long distance riding.  I’ve ridden from NY to CA six times now on three different bikes and have traveled through most of the lower 48 states on a motorcycle.   While that may not make me an expert, I have learned a lot over the years.

I guess that a good place to start is with a definition of what a long distance ride is.  For me, this means a week or more and at least a few thousand miles.  I don’t consider a 300 mile ride to be “long distance” – that’s just a nice Saturday ride.  I say this because the level of planning and preparation for a 3 day weekend getaway is far less than what it takes to go away for a week or more.

Next, I think it’s important to discuss riding style.  Where and how you ride will define what preparations you need to make.  My cross country trips are limited to paved roads. Trips last from 2 to 3 weeks and cover 7,000 to 9,000 miles.  I ride alone, stay in hotels and eat at diners/restaurants.  If you spend time riding off-road and primarily camp out, your preparations will be quite different than mine.

I ride alone for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it’s hard to find other people who are willing or able to take time off of work for 3 weeks.  I’m fortunate to have a job that provides a generous amount of paid vacation time.  The second reason I don’t mind riding alone is because it gives me the freedom to go wherever I want to go and stop whenever I want to stop without any consideration for what a riding companion wants to do.

I stay in motels because after riding 500+ miles I want to be able to take a shower and sit back and relax in a room with heat and/or air-conditioning.  Riding hours through 100 degree desert or cold rain makes you appreciate a climate controlled room with a real bed and is something I consider necessary to get rested-up and ready for the next day.

I don’t do a whole lot of pre-planning as far as routes are concerned.  Instead, I just start going in a general direction and then adjust my route as I go along.  I’ve never made a reservation at hotel ahead of time because I when I leave in the morning, I really don’t know where I’ll be stopping for the night.

When I ride, I don’t spend a lot of time stopped and just ride right through places stopping only for gas and maybe to take a few photos.  This approach allows me to see a lot of places in the limited amount of time that I have but it also means that I don’t always see things in a lot of detail.  I guess you could say that I tend to favor quantity over quality.

The distance I travel is based more on time than distance and typically ranges from 10-12 hrs a day.   Depending on the roads I choose, the weather, and how I feel, I usually end up traveling 400-800 miles a day.

So, there you have it – my long distance riding style.