From Touring to Long Distance Touring. If motorcycle touring along nearby highways has whetted your appetite to ride that ribbon of pavement from Atlantic to Pacific, it might be time to prepare for the next step. That next step would be from touring to long distance touring.
Is It Time?
Once you have mastered the basics of highway riding in What Should I Know About Highway Riding?", you should be ready to look at preparations for the long haul.
In A Word, Endurance
Serious long distance touring is sometimes called endurance riding by the hard core riders. That one word sums up the challenges you have to be ready to meet and overcome for the next step. Endurance has been defined as, the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity in some dictionaries, and that is what you and your motorcycle need to be ready to deal with.
After I returned from a week long ride that included a couple of 900 plus mile days last fall, my boss (who rides a top-of-the-line luxury touring bike) said, I can not imagine riding a motorcycle 900 miles in a single day! Now this is a guy who can still dunk a basketball and runs many miles every day, but was pretty well worn out after his first 300 mile ride from Atlanta. In other words, you have to be in shape. There are a large number of riders who are paying the price of poor physical conditioning through spinal surgery and massage therapy, so do prepare.
Along with the mental exercise of staying alert for hour upon hour, there is a physical toll for every mile your odometer registers. Upper body strength and hand to eye coordination need to be foremost on your conditioning list. Dealing with constantly changing crosswinds, pavement conditions, and unexpected road hazards calls for conditioning above the level of internet surfing. How do you know if you are in shape? I usually see if I can quickly walk up a couple flights of stairs while carrying on a conversation. If I can do that than I feel I am ready to begin physical training.
My own physical training consists of riding a stationary exercise bike and about 15 minutes of lifting ten pound bar bells a couple times a week in the off season. This pretty much what most doctors will tell you is what you should be doing anyway. As the riding season opens I ride the motorcycle in increasing distances of 50 100 miles each ride. Living near the beautiful mountain roads of southeastern America makes that training a real pleasure!
Knowing that this might scare some folks, I do have to pass on that I know an 80 year old grandmother who rode over 100,000 motorcycle miles last year. She has also been a high level finisher in the famed Iron Butt Rally (see more about the Iron Butt Rally at http://www.ironbutt.com). If she can do it, I can do it.
Real estate agents say, Location, location, location. Long distance motorcycle riders say, Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Most all modern bikes are designed to run for thousands of miles between major maintenance and tens of thousands miles in their reliable lifetime. I know a fellow who once rode a 125 cc commuter bike over 11,000 miles in eleven days, while only replacing the light in the speedometer. And then, I once had to replace a failed fuel line connection (that I should have replaced during the bikes last service) before I had even reached the end of my own driveway last year. So get out your owners manual, perform every single scheduled maintenance task, and consider enlisting your nearest dealer to perform a complete major service inspection. If you do use a dealer, let them know the kinds of mileage and riding you are planning so that they can take that extra close look at everything. Consider checking out the essay Surprises are a lot more fun to deal with in your own driveway!" as a starting point.
Touring motorcycles are designed to be ridden in most all reasonable conditions. This is where your earlier miles on nearby highways will come in handy. You might not need any modifications to your current mount, or maybe you do. Some typical modifications found on long distance motorcycles include:
- Addition of a windshield, or a larger windshield than the one that came with the motorcycle, to reduce the strain on your upper body from pulling against the wind.
- An aftermarket seat that better supports your tailbone or provides more cushioning or airflow.
- A tank bag can act like the proverbial womans purse for easy access to necessities.
- A tank or riding suit map pocket that lets you read your map while on the road.
- Heated handgrips come in very handy during a cold rain.
- An electrical accessory outlet will allow you to power anything from GPS units, through cell phones, to iPods for mental comfort.
Your motorcycle is the human interface device for long distance riding; make sure it is the right hardware for your endurance system.
Before you ride out on your perfect mile-eater, take a close look at your riding gear. I have encountered blistering heat, fog, driving rain, hail, high winds, and even snow during a single days ride. A riding suit that is not up to any and all of those conditions will soon turn an enjoyable experience into your worst nightmare. By the same token, good gear will provide you the fodder for yarns that will amaze even your significant other. Super heroes are not always born, sometimes they are built.
How do you know if your gear is adequate? The best way is to use and develop your gear requirements over all those conditioning rides you have taken. Again, surprises are a lot more fun to deal with in your own driveway than 300 miles away from home, in the rain.
Long distance motorcycle riding is one of the last frontiers. As I have said many times before, there comes a time while traversing long distances on a motorcycle when you are in the zone. This is when you mentally and emotionally become an integral part of the environment. Every thought and movement is working harmoniously toward the goal of moving farther down the road. There is a feeling of confidence, relaxed concentration, accomplishment, and connection with the motorcycle and the environment that is unequaled in all but piloting an aircraft. This is the payoff that makes it all worthwhile. Competing only against yourself, and winning, can return an unparalleled sense of fulfillment. I know of very few accomplishments that can compare to the feeling one gets pulling into the garage at the end of a 1000 mile day. Are you ready?