Long distance touring
By Alison Green
Alison’s trusty BMW R80G/S on tour.
I’ve been asked repeatedly just how I prepare and what I pack for long rides, but the making of lists and planning of routes and checking of the bike is only part of the picture. I have attempted to put into words just how I approach the preparations and the ride – not just what gets packed or checked or worn, but the total mindset that needs to be adopted for maximum enjoyment of motorcycle travel. Hopefully, there is something in this collection of ideas that will make your next trip smoother and more rewarding.
So you want to cross the continent on your bike… DO IT! But plan ahead and prepare! Embrace the freedom to ride all day, anywhere, and then cruise off into the sunset… but remember, sometimes there are detours!
This is not a how-to list for the long distance rider, but rather a philosophy for travelling smoothly that opens up a whole new world of enjoyment. Whether you ride alone, two-up, or in a small group of like-minded enthusiasts, you can boost the pleasure factor by adopting these few simple routines.
As thousands have discovered, there is a whole new world out there just waiting to be explored on two wheels, but riding day after day is not all sunshine and roses. Successful long distance travel takes planning, some practice, motivation, and a totally unexpected skill-set. Touring in comfort and safety is not simply a multiple of short Sunday-afternoon excursions: it is a whole different ball game and should be approached as such.
My definition of “Touring” does not include the one-day 800-mile filibuster to get to destination X in record time. Unless you are of the Iron-Butt fraternity, great distances covered in minimum times are not usually repeated day after day. That genre requires a totally different set of preparations (and deep pocketbooks)… fuel and tire costs alone would keep most of us working weekends just to break even!
So what is included in basic ride preparation for an extended tour? This assumes that you will be riding a capable and reliable motorcycle of at least 500CC displacement. Touring is certainly possible on smaller bikes, but can be less than ideal.
The bike should fit you! Sounds simplistic, but too many people don’t consider the overall fit/height/weight/style of their chosen mount. Know your bike: if you are not completely comfortable and at home on the bike, long days of riding will quickly becomes torture.
You should be physically fit and healthy. Staying alert while riding is demanding and the fresh air will lull you to drowsiness when you least expect it – healthy is good, and eating wisely while travelling is a must.
Know where you are going! Wandering may sound romantic but in real life it often creates more stress than it relieves. Plan your destination and route ahead of time – overnight stops (approximately), ultimate goals, diversions, visits… You can detour from your plan to your heart’s content – but have a plan. It gives focus to the trip and increases the anticipation and enjoyment of the entire ride.
Your gear should be quality motorcycle-specific apparel, and it must fit. Nothing is worse than pants that bind or gloves that pinch after an hour on the bike. Gear that is marginal is simply not good enough when the weather turns nasty – uncomfortable can quickly become a serious health and safety risk in cold/wet conditions. Helmets, boots, gloves, armoured jacket & pants and raingear are all essential. And don’t forget the earplugs – they are worth at least two hours of extra road-time every day just for keeping the wind-noise from exhausting your brain.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You will be in the saddle day after day and attempting to cover too many miles per day is a common blunder. If you are comfortable driving 800km (500Miles) during an average day in the car, plan on cutting that in half for motorcycle travel! 400km can be quite sufficient for a day on your bike. Try not to burn yourself out at the start by riding too far on the first day — you will regret it! Pacing one’s self is absolutely critical to successful touring and nothing is more counterproductive than attempting to cover too many miles. Remember,this is a holiday! If your route takes you along miles of superslab, then the distances covered might be much greater, but most touring riders attempt to avoid Interstates and 4-lane roads in any case!
Keep a timepiece visible at all times and develop the habit of keeping an eye on it! This may sound odd when one is out to relax and get away from it all, but knowing your riding interval time is one key to successful touring. Plan to stop every hour! It is far too easy to just keep going, and going, and going until the bike needs fuel, you are exhausted, your butt is numb and your bladder is screaming at you! Pull off the road at a safe location, get off the bike, stretch, walk around the bike, have a pee, smoke, snack whatever… do this faithfully every hour. It takes but 5 minutes and makes a world of difference to the success and comfort of your tour. Obviously if there is a known coffee stop 15 minutes further down the road continue for the extra few miles, but if no other diversion is immanent do not skip the hourly stretch break!
Decide how you will communicate with fellow riders and/or your passenger. If hand signals are understood and used by all, that will work just fine. If everyone uses voice activated helmet-mounted communicators, that can be even better. Just don’t neglect a pre-arranged and understood means of communicating. This is essential for the comfort and safety of everyone on the trip. It is doubly important if you are riding two-up! The rider had best be aware of the passenger’s needs or the entire vacation could be less than harmonious.
Don’t neglect your tummy. Many small meals and healthy snacks are better than infrequent big meals. If you have the Double-Whopper-Combo-with-XL-Shake for lunch, you will get sleepy shortly thereafter! Drowsiness is inevitable while your body is digesting a big, rich meal. This is not good if you are driving anything – especially a motorcycle. Also, keep well hydrated, and not just with coffee. Yes, it makes for more pit stops, but hey, you will be stopping every hour anyway… If you brag that you can go all day and not have to stop for a pee – then you are abusing your body and are probably dehydrated. Not good! It is not good for your body and especially not good for your level of alertness. Water is best, juice, tea, moderate coffee consumption – anything non alcoholic: but keep hydrated at all times.
Get off the road by 5:00pm. or earlier if possible. Your body is weary; the end-of-day commuters are inattentive; the deer are thinking about coming out for an evening feed; the sun is getting low enough to silhouette every bug on your windscreen; and you are probably getting hungry! Reasons enough for anyone… If you wish to add hours to the day, try to do so in the morning – get an early start and the entire day will be more enjoyable. A good meal, a leisurely evening and a good night’s sleep go a long way to ensuring a positive outlook and a pleasant ride the following day.
Cut yourself some slack. Try not to schedule your holiday time too tightly: then if everything goes sideways, there is no need to panic to meet deadlines or commitments. Bikes can break down, the weather can go seriously bad, detours happen, travel-flu might strike… any number of things can derail the best of plans – so leave some room in the schedule. On extended road trips I usually plan on not riding one day in five. This gives me time to relax, to do bike maintenance, laundry, find an internet café, buy groceries… the list goes on. This builds some slack into the plan from the start, and on long trips the respite from the road is vital to maintaining my energy and enthusiasm. I think my bike appreciates a day off too!
Two weeks or six months on the road – the philosophy stays the same. Be kind to your body and your bike. Stop often. Don’t rush for time or miles. Keep healthy. Enjoy.
Guaranteed good memories to follow…
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