I do a lot of longer rides. When I lived farther south, I rarely did a ride of less than 200 miles. Typically, the 200 to 350 mile range was a standard ride. I also plan “360Bikers’ Big Rides” and each year we have new adventures of a few thousand miles. I’ve done several Iron Butt rides of the smaller variety. There are a lot of things to consider both in the planning and the riding stages of any of these rides.
The Bike – Perhaps the biggest mistake someone makes it riding the wrong motorcycle. There are a lot of factors here, starting with how long the distance will be and, like it or not, your age or tolerance for physically challenging yourself. For big rides (over 500 miles) you should really consider a touring bike. This would be like an Indian Roadmaster or Chieftain, a Harley Electra Glide series or Honda Gold Wing. There are many others, but the two key features here are comfort and storage. Electronics and range may also play in your choice.
Cruisers have also become more comfortable, but they sit on the edge of the mileage ranges. The “adventure” bike or dual-sport type bikes are also good, but you have to evaluate your distances carefully. I do recall an Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1,000 that we did in a charity I was involved with and the variety of bikes we had. Doing a distance ride on a sport bike (we had one) is a challenge even for the young. Smaller, harder bikes like a Harley Sportster are not a recommended bike for distance riding. Some bikes are just meant for local riding… but someone will do a long ride on these bikes.
Condition – It is incredibly important that the condition of your bike is great. That’s oil, tires, power train, lights and brakes to get you started. You have to consider how much fun it is to be stuck in an area with no cell phone coverage and a dead bike. Even with preparation and care, stuff can happen, but taking care of everything before you leave can seriously reduce the chances of problems. The longer the ride, the more you consider. For example, the 48-state ride I’m doing this summer had to include stops for oil changes twice and one for a new set of tires. A 14,000 mile ride, even with only a few hundred on a given day, takes a lot of careful planning for every element of your bike.
Special Stuff – Our bikes today come equipped with a lot of great features. Heated grips are becoming more common on motorcycles, but if you don’t have them we have heated gloves. Your seat is of the utmost for the comfort element. You can get gel pads, memory foam seats or even beads to sit on that make a full day of riding much more enjoyable. Tail bags are great if you don’t have extra storage like a trip pak on your bike. I actually have both. Saddle bags should be added if you don’t have them. A fellow distance rider bought soft bags that had huge reflector squares on the back that increased her visibility tremendously. Tank bags are great for things you may need to reach for quickly on the ride.
I’ve been part of recent discussions on back rests. Some people like them and some don’t. Those that do get picky about the back rest. I’ve had several on other bikes, but the one I have now is the best fit I’ve ever had. Another friend recently bought his first after having his bike for over 6 years. He can’t understand why he waited so long.
Other features you see on higher-end touring bikes include cruise control (a hand/wrist saving device), GPS systems, and heated seats. Electronic instrumentation panels may give you lots of information about your ride and your bike’s performance. The Ride Command on the Indian is the best system I’ve used for planning and leading ride. You can also buy throttle locks to compensate for no cruise control or mounted GPS systems like the Garmin Zumo or Tom Tom. There are lots of options including remote tire pressure components that monitor your tire pressure.
Plan – There are so many things that go into a plan, including planning on your plan having problems. I have used a GPS system for years and they keep getting better. The Indian system has me hooked for online planning and transferring the route to my bike via bluetooth from my phone app. I have used a lot of different systems. This has been my favorite. I can easily share GPX files with other riders by filtering the Indian files through Tyre, a free planning application for your computer.
The plan is great, but you have to account for those hidden and troublesome features that may appear after you plan for them. First is weather. It changes. It doesn’t care about anything. It can be dangerous. Be prepared to ride in rain with the appropriate gear from head to toe. Pull over if it gets unsafe. Construction sites will pop up unexpectedly. The longer the ride, the more likely this will occur. Know where you are stopping. You should plan your fuel stops based on the smallest bike in your group and always top off at a stop. Where are you sleeping? Plan your hotels and camping sites. Some riders like to make their plans the day of or day before a destination so they know they can make it. Others like to know there’s something available and reserved. Today’s technology makes last minute bookings easier, but it does nothing for you if there are no vacancies. Think it through and have contingency plans for everything in your plan.
Considerations – Other things to consider would include preparing yourself for the ride. If you don’t typically ride a long distance, start practicing! Have two kits with you. The first is a tool kit for basic repairs including flat tires. Have a first aid kit, preferably with some clotting material in case of a severe emergency. Extra fuel may be a good idea if your rides are taking you to very remote areas. NEVER PASS UP A GAS STATION in remote areas. Have water with you. Have some snacks to eat, preferably something that isn’t perishable. Test your emergency starting system. Some bikes today are switching to keyless ignition with a fob. If it breaks or your lose it there should be another way for you to get going. Usually there’s a code entry system in place. If you have a key, take an spare.
This is a very brief look at prepping for a distance ride, but it covers a lot of the important points. Sharing responsibilities with fellow riders can make it a better ride, too. Above all, be prepared for the unexpected. Be flexible. Stuff will happen and you just have to relax and adjust your plans. Ride safely!