Why is it there are those who will ride thousands of miles on a motorcycle for no other reason than to ride? Face it; a car is more comfortable, especially during those times of inclement weather. The casual ride is easy to understand; a 50 to 200 mile ride in a day is not at all uncommon and makes for a fun day, but what about those thousand mile days? Not sure that question can be answered. Why do people run marathons? If good health were the reason then the desired state could be achieved without the grueling 26 mile run or the preparatory training that comes before. Why do people climb mountains knowing there are those who went before that never returned? Is it for a sense of adventure or an attempt to fill a void somewhere deep inside?
Each person who attempted to answer these questions may very well give an answer; surely each would be different dependent on the person. However, I believe each would admit (maybe not verbally) that their given answer failed to adequately clarify the real reason. One thing we would all agree on; the destination is not the objective.
So, with an acknowledgement that the ultimate question cannot be answered, let’s talk about what we do to prepare our bike and ourselves for these long distance rides.
Obviously (at least to me) the first thing that comes to my mind is motorcycle maintenance. A major service (oil change at a minimum) prior to departure should be at the top of the list. Plus, depending on the length of the ride, a service may be required during your trip; plan accordingly. Tires are the only thing between you and serious road rash. If you have 10,000 miles on your ride and your trip is 10,000 miles then I would recommend changing your tires prior to departure or have a plan in place to replace your tires during the trip. Oddly enough, tires, being the most significant safety feature on your ride, are the items most ignored by riders. Incorrect tire pressure can and will increase wear and cause a pre-mature failure. Correct tire pressure extends the life of your tire, increases fuel efficiently and adds comfort to the ride; incorrect tire pressure has the opposite effect. To reduce the possibility of a flat tire some will apply a tire sealant. Some swear by a sealant and others shy away from such things. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you hang your hat the thing here to remember is tire maintenance is your friend. Belt (or chain) and sprocket serviceability should be checked. Today’s belts last significantly longer than the chain and sprocket, but that does not mean they do not wear out and need replacing at regular intervals. If you are unsure how to perform maintenance on your ride then rely on your dealer’s service department. You don’t need to tell them you are not capable of doing it yourself, tell them you are too busy with all those meetings with Donald Trump, tell them anything; trust me, they will not question your reasons.
Baggage on your ride should be mounted as low as possible with heedful attention to balance. I suspect there is such a thing as too many bungee cords, but ensure you secure your luggage in such a fashion so as to prevent slippage. Securing the cords to your ride should not interfere with the normal function of your ride. Every ride has a maximum weight allowed which includes the weight of the rider. I am not privy to load limits on every ride, but for mine it is roughly 500 pounds which includes oils, fuel and extra items I’ve added. Fuel weights a little over 6 pounds and oil roughly 2 pounds per quart. So, with fuel and oil alone I lose 52 pounds. Add your weight to those items you always carry; leather jacket, chaps, helmet, camera, tool bag, 1st aid bag, water (2.2 lbs per liter), etc and that weight limit gets smaller and smaller. Of course you would never take your bike to its maximum weight limit. I said all that to say this; pack light.
When packing take only those items you need. Make a list of what you think you need to include clothing, tools, sleeping gear, etc. After you create the list you should estimate the weight and then check your list and mentally verify if the item is something you NEED. The more long trips you take the better you will understand what is needed and what can be left behind. On this list you will of course have clothing articles. Pick multi-function items. A jacket that will keep the rain off as well as provide protection from the other elements is your best option. You will not want to have a jacket specific to wet weather and a jacket specific to cold or high wind. Pick a set of clothing that can be layered allowing you to remove items as the day gets warmer. Likewise, adding a layer will keep hypothermia at arm’s length. A quick story here that applies – some years back my wife and I decided to climb Pikes Peak. Of course the plan called for us to carry everything we needed. So, I made a list of what I thought we needed and went over the list again and again. Each time I went over the list I reduced the items as I saw fit. Long story short; we climbed Pikes Peak and upon our return I realized there were a number of items I never took out of the pack. Obviously, we did not “need” these items. So, you might feel like you need it, but should the need arise what would result if you did not have it. Would you fail, or would you be just fine without it. Take that little story for what it’s worth… or not.
Depending on the type of trip you are taking be mindful of the items you may pick up along the way. If this trip is strictly a ride for the benefit of an iron butt then chances of you stopping for souvenirs is slim to none. If this is a vacation ride then have a plan to manage souvenirs. Most merchants will ship your purchase for you. If this is offered I highly recommend you use it. If you ship it then you will never have to pack and unpack over the period of your trip. Certainly, if you come to a point where you need a tool you can bet the tool you need is buried under all those souvenirs.
Hypothermia sets in when the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees; which is not difficult to do if riding in temperatures of 50 degrees or less. If you are riding and you get a bit of a chill then hypothermia can easily be the next step. Your physical health can play a significant part in allowing hypothermia to set in and it can also play a part in keeping hypothermia away. Meaning, eat right, dress right and drink right. By drink I am referring to water and juices; alcohol will not only speed hypothermia it will hide the symptoms.
Dehydration is a silent enemy that WILL sneak up on you and interrupt your day. As you ride you are obviously “face into the wind” which will dry your skin quickly. Your body will kick into high gear and try to keep your skin at an optimal level and try to replenish what the wind has taken away which starts a quick cycle. If you do not hydrate (drink lots of water) the wind will untimely win. It is said that an average person needs .5 to 1 full liter of water for every 125 to 150 miles. Now, we all know none of us drink that much water as we are tooling down the road, so ensure you drink water at each stop. If your objective is to ride a great distance in a minimal amount of time then a camelback may need to be added to your list of things to take and use. Drinking lots of water the day before also helps. Sadly, the more you drink the more often you will feel a need to pullover; that’s just the way it is. Always carry twice as much water as you think you will need. If you are going to break down be sure you will break down on the hottest day, far from anywhere. The water will come in handy.
The positioning and comfort of your body plays a very significant role in an ability to ride great distances. The comfort of your seat, the tilt of your handlebars and even the surface of your grips play a role. We have all been on a long ride and our hands start to go numb. This happens because of the wrists (especially the right wrist) stays in a locked position for extended times. Many bikes come with cruise control which will virtually eliminate this problem. Other bikes do not come with cruise, but there are several options available ranging from inexpensive to very expensive that will provide this needed comfort; which you choose I will leave to the thickness of your wallet. Use your cruise control if available to let your hands and arms rest a bit. The higher your handlebars are the more prone you will be to suffer from not only your hands going numb but your arms as well. We all have our own thoughts on this, what looks good vs. what is functional; it’s sometimes a tradeoff. Again, which you choose is your prerogative; just be mindful of the results. I found that raising my bars just one inch made all the difference on the long hauls.
If you are riding alone you should be aware you are not alone. This fact is both advantageous and risky. It is advantageous when you need assistance. Ensure you have phone numbers for emergency services that may be needed for injury or mechanical failures. Nothing is more stressing than to be stuck on the side of that road less traveled and realize you are the only one travelling that road. A cell phone and a GPS to pinpoint your location will mean the difference between an hour or two or a day or two. On the other side of the equation; we want to believe that people are honest and willing to help. Yea, right… there are some out there who live for the day when they can take advantage of someone who is in a difficult spot. Others will not wait for you to be in a difficult spot before they jump in, they will put you in a difficult spot and take advantage with the skill and finesse of a hungry tiger. Act as if everyone you meet is kind and generous but have a plan ready for action to take them out of the equation if needed.
If you ride long distances you are going to run into critters—it’s a given. If this bothers you then don’t even pull out of the driveway. Remain vigilant and ready to act knowing there may be times when your actions will mean nothing—you’re going down and there is nothing you can do about it.
The long distance ride is a test of your mental and physical abilities; a test put to both you and your ride. Being prepared is the key but maintaining a positive and clear mental attitude is paramount; preparation starts long before you straddle your ride. If your intent is to ride a great distance in a short amount of time and you do not prepare your ride and yourself (both physically and mentally) then I would submit you have failed before you ever climbed on the bike. Failure will result in anything from busted pride to death. Take this endeavor seriously, prepare for it, plan for it, know your limitations and remain within those boundaries. If you do these simple things then you will succeed, do them not and you may fail.