10 Tips For The Most Comfortable Long Distance Motorcycle Trip
What's the longest distance you've ever ridden on a motorcycle in one day? Have you ever considered logging a long distance run of say more than 1,000 miles in one day? Did you know there's a group that focuses on nothing but endurance/long-distance riding? Dubbed, the Iron Butt Association, the organization offers certificates of completion for different distances logged within a certain time frame. For example there's the BunBurner for those that knock out 1,500 miles within in 36 hours and the SaddleSore 5000 for those that laydown 5,000 mile in five days. For the real road warriors there's runs like the 50CC which is riding coast-to-coast in less than 50 hours, or the 100CCC where you ride from one coast to the other and then back to the starting coast in less than 100 hours. For those that seek to achieve the definitive mark of endurance motorcycle riding, there's the Ultimate Coast-to-Coast where the rider starts in Key West, Florida, and rides across North America to Dead Horse, Alaska, in under 30 days. Or you could just ride 100,000 miles in a year to become part of the 100K Club (which would require an average of 274 miles a day). On the other end of the spectrum the lowest mileage the group will offer a certificate for is the SaddleSore 1,000 - riding 1,000-miles in 24 hours - which is a great starting goal for those interested in getting into endurance riding.
Riding long distance on a motorcycle is a much different experience than driving a car. For one you're exposed to the elements which take a toll on your body, but can have a major effect on you mentally. Extreme heat, bone chilling cold, rain and high-speed winds can make a 100-mile stretch feel like a million miles both physically and mentally. But then, that's all part of the reason why we ride motorcycles, for the unique experience that only a motorcycle can provide.
Endurance riding isn't for everyone, and definitely isn't a challenge that should be taken lightly. It's not like you can just wake up one day and decide "Hey I think I'm gonna go ride my motorcycle 3,000 miles in three days." You could try and you might succeed, but the majority of people will either end up causing harm to themselves or others on the road, or not want to touch a motorcycle for a month after attempting such a ride. For most motorcycle enthusiasts, riding 1,000 miles in 24 hours or even 1,500 miles in 36 hours isn't too tough of a challenge, but if you've never ridden further than 400-500 miles in a day, then two consecutive days of 500 mile trips could really put you over the edge. If you decide you want to try a BunBurner 1,000 or SaddleSore you should build up your stamina and get your body accustomed to long miles in the saddle by knocking out several 400-500 mile days within a week. Then as you get more accustomed to sitting in the saddle for long periods of time you can up the mileage and before you know it you'll be ready to lockdown a BunBurner ride.
Here are 10 tips that can help make endurance riding a more pleasurable and manageable experience.
1. Know Your Long Distance Riding Limits
This is by far the most important tip; if you feel your eye lids start to get heavy, you're vision start to blur, or you feel dizzy, get off the road and rest immediately. There is absolutely no reason to risk your safety or the safety of others on the road when you start to get tired. Stepping away from the bike for a while and grabbing a few Zs can help you feel refreshed and most importantly you'll be alive to tackle another leg of your trip.
2. Cover Up
While you might throw on a beanie style helmet or a half helmet for a leisure ride to the local waffle stop or a putt around your favorite lake, when it comes to the long haul a full face helmet can really make a huge difference. For one, your head, eyes and face are completely protected from pelting rain, flying road debris, and most importantly bees on a bonsai mission for your orbitals. A full face motorcycle helmet will also keep your head warm in the cold, and protect your head and face from getting sunburned and wind-chapped.
If you're not accustomed to riding with a full face helmet, the first time you wear one you may find it uncomfortable or restricting, therefore it's not a very good idea to buy a brand new full face motorcycle helmet the day before your attempt a long distance ride. A proper fitting full face helmet should be snug on your head. After a couple uses the padding will soften up and you'll find it will be much more comfortable.
3. Reduce Noise
If you ride a Harley, you probably love the way your exhaust rumbles as you motor down the road. However, after a couple hundred miles that thundering exhaust can leave a ringing in your ears - and in extreme cases lead to tinnitus. Even if you don't ride a Harley or have a loud motorcycle exhaust there is wind noise that can affect your hearing once you get off the bike. Sure, a full face helmet will do a great job of protecting your ears from the wind but there's more you can do. Some simple foam ear plugs can do wonders for your hearing. Now, if your bike is equipped with a radio you're probably thinking, "if I wear a full face helmet and ear plugs I'll never be able to hear my tunes." Actually, you'll be able to hear your stereo more clearly with the ear plugs in, as they will block out all the wind turbulence.
For those that don't have a radio a set of ear buds connected to a portable musical deice is a great idea. Sure, we all love to be at one with our thoughts while riding down the highway, but with a little music in the background it can help keep you entertained, give you a boost of energy, and help those long stretches of desolate highway go by much easier. Plus with a set of earphones you get the best of both worlds - wind blockage and crisp clean music.
4. Fuel Up Regularly
If you own a late-model cruiser or touring motorcycle then more than likely your mileage range from gas stop to gas stop is probably anywhere from 150-220 miles. While you might be tempted to stretch out your gas stops as a far as possible to try and save time and possibly eliminate a gas stop, the last thing you want is to end up stranded on the side of the road because you ran out of fuel. Staging your stops at about 150 miles is a pretty good idea - if you're running at 65 MPH that equates to almost 2-1/2 hours of saddle time per leg. I often find it's easier to manage a long distance trip by breaking it into smaller chunks. So I wouldn't look at BunBurner as 1,000 miles but rather seven 150 miles trips - I just find mentally it's easier to think about knocking out 150 miles at a time rather than 1,000 total miles.
Use the gas stop to refuel yourself as well. Proper hydration is key to avoiding cramping and helping keep your mind clear. When it comes to food, don't load up on greasy burgers or energy sucking fast foods. Go for lighter fare and snack at each stop with healthier options like nuts, granola/trail mix, beef jerky, energy bars and fresh fruit. Even at the most run down gas station you can often find some kind of healthy snack options. Be sure not to overdo it on the food though because you don't want to get on the bike feeling sluggish or tired from overeating.
5. Take Stretch Breaks During Long Rides
Sitting in the same riding position for 2-1/2 hours can really do a number on your body. If you can shift your legs around to different positions it can help keep your feet from going numb, reduce cramping, and keep the blood circulating. If you motorcycle has floorboards, simply sliding your feet from the very back of the boards to the very front can offer mild relief. Installing an engine guard with some highway pegs is a pretty smart way to go as well. The highway pegs will allow you to kick your feet forward and stretch out your legs. If your bike doesn't have an engine guard don't fret as they are very easy to install and usually mounts to the motorcycle with only three or four bolts, some highway pegs can even be mounted to the downtubes of your motorcycle frame. Another option would be to install a mustache bar, which is a single piece of straight tubing that mounts vertically across the downtubes and provides a place to rest your feet.
One thing many people often overlook is the passenger pegs on their motorcycle. Folding down the passenger pegs and resting your feet on them will allow you to pull your legs way back and stretch out your knees and thigh muscles. For some people arranging themselves into this kind of riding position might feel worse than yoga, but if you can manage, it will give you yet another option for foot placement. And if you have a two-up seat you can even slide back into passenger section, rest your feet on the passenger pegs, and stretch your back as you lean forward and grip the handlebars.
6. Get a Larger Motorcycle Seat
If you find yourself getting hip pointers, hot spots or numbness in your backside you'll spend your entire ride in misery rather than enjoying yourself. A motorcycle seat with 6 inches of padding doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be comfortable. A thinner seat that has gel padding or high-quality dense foam can offer much more comfort than an overstuffed road couch with low grade cushioning. If you find that your current motorcycle seat just doesn't cut it for long trips, before spending hundreds of dollars on a new seat, a simple solution is to get yourself a seat pad. Most pads are made of gel and simply mount over the top of your stock seat and secure to the bike via adjustable straps. There are also other options like the AirHawk pad which has air chambers that evenly distribute your weight and allows you to adjust the air pressure to suit your needs. If your seat is old you could always refresh the stock foam with extra dense foam or cut out some of the stock foam and incorporate your own gel pad into the seat. When rebuilding your seat or shopping for a new seat a couple important things that will help with comfort are having a wider area at the rear section to help provide additional support and a deeper seat pocket which will also provide additional support and help eliminate hot spots around the backside of your backside.
7. Thank a Tank Bag
There are a lot things you'll want to keep readily available as you ride and stuffing your pockets to the gills can make for a very uncomfortable ride. A motorcycle tank bag is a must have for any long distance ride. With the ability to safely store everything from your keys, phone, lip balm, point and shoot camera, sunglasses, water, and spare change, a tank bag can come in really handy. Most tank bags are secured to the top of the tank with either a strap/quick release buckle system or heavy-duty magnets. The Cortech Super 2.0 18 Liter Magnetic Mount Tank Bag is pretty slick because nothing is left on the bike when you take it off. Not only can a tank bag carry all your small essentials, but you can quickly and easily take it all with you when you get to a gas stop or food stop, ensuring that all your stuff is safe with you. Tank bags that have a clear map pocket on top are very useful for reading your paper maps, hand written directions, over even using the GPS/maps on your cell phone. Another item that you can store in your tank bag is some candy. Tart candies are great for giving you a bit of a jolt when you feel like you are winding down.
8. Keep on Truckin'
If your route entails riding long stretches of interstate steer clear of big rigs. While many truckers are motorcycle riders themselves, many times they can't see you when you're directly behind them. Aside from potentially riding in a big rig drivers' blind spot you also need to be weary of flying debris such as tire tread. A two foot section of tread flying off a big rig tire at 65 MPH and heading for your bike can not only do some major damage but can cause you to lose control of your bike. And while it might seem like a good idea to use a big rig as a shield when riding in extremely windy situations, there have been many instances where a large gust of wind has overturned a truck and its trailer - and that's definitely not a scenario you want to be along side of. Your best bet is to get around and ahead of big rigs as quickly and safely as possible. If you can't get in front of them then fall back and slow your speed down so that you have plenty of time to react if something were to get squirrely with the truck or fly out from under the tires.
9. Power Up
Adding a power port to your motorcycle is a simple task that can be a real life saver down the road. You'll most likely have some kind of GPS device mounted to your handlebars to help you navigate your route (some long distance riders have multiple GPS units to provide real time traffic and weather as well as act as a backup in the event the first GPS unit fails) and having a place to easily plug in for power is a smart idea. A power outlet can be mounted to your handlebars and be used for everything from your GPS unit to charging your phone and providing electricity for your heated riding gear in cold weather.
10. Keep it Running
While it might seem obvious, making sure your bike is in good running order before your leave for a long motorcycle trip should be at the top of your priority list. That means inspecting everything, making sure all your bolts are tight, fluids are within their operating parameters and topped off, lighting is working properly, and your tires have plenty of tread and are in good shape. When it comes to your motorcycle tires if you have any doubts about them you should go ahead and get new tires, it's not worth risking your safety or having to deal with a bum tire when you're on the side of the road. Check the sidewalls and make sure there is no cracking and look for any foreign objects embedded into the tread. Be sure to pack a small tool kit and sort out which tools and sockets fit your bolts so that you can save space and weight by only carrying items you will need. It's also a smart idea to pack along a quart of engine oil and a spare headlight bulb so you'll have them on hand if you should you need them.