Long Distance Tips



More significant than the motorcycle is how you approach the ride.  It has always been my philosophy the journey is more important than the destination.  I look at the ride itself as the reason for going, not the destination.  In my opinion that approach makes a world of difference.  When I ride to California, or far into Canada, I'll use a hundred different roads.  I like to see things along the way, and meet people.  Back roads offer adventure, and something new each day.

My basic days are 400-500 miles.  Far enough to get me somewhere, but not drudgery.  I plan my tours with that in mind.  Don't fall into the too ambitious trap.  It is easy to look at a map in your study and link a series of 700 mile days, thinking it won't be difficult to pull off.  I can tell you those tours quickly become a grind.  I ride too many back roads to get that far anyway, my style of riding is just not conducive to that kind of mileage.  For sure, I've had a few long days on the interstate trying to get somewhere, but none of them were fun.    

I believe there is a difference in long distance riding, and touring.   The first is all about the miles, but in the later, the miles are only part of the equation.  When I leave out on a tour, I don't really care when I get there, and that separates me from riders who focus on the miles or the destination.  Yes, there might be a day or 2 in a long tour my focus is on getting there, usually the first day, and every once in while I just want to ride, but outside of that I don't ride with a sense urgency.

On a 21 day, cross country ride, I treat each day as a separate, tangible ride.  The purpose for the ride for that day is not to get me 500 miles further west, but to enjoy the road, the things I might come across or the people I might meet.  I want to take pictures and absorb my surroundings.  The goal of my West Coast Tour is not really getting to California, but enjoying at least 18 days of great riding!  It just so happens California is as far west as I can go.

Out on the road I'll stop whenever I feel like it.  I don't carry a camelback.  I seldom work up a thirst just riding a motorcycle, but if I do, I'm going to STOP, get off the bike, find a nice shade tree, and enjoy a Mountain Dew, not in that big a hurry I need to drink on the fly.  I hear some guys use a bladder bag so they don't have to get off the bike when the call comes, are you kidding ME??
I recommend getting off the bike at least every 2 hours or so.  I try to do that about every 100-150 miles.  If I see a good photo op, person to talk to, or interesting place, I'll take it.  It is my belief long stints in the saddle, are not healthy, if you're young might cause you problems later in life, if you're middle aged like ME, could cause immediate bad things, and if you're already having tribulations, that kind of riding is probably going to exacerbate things. 
The human body is about blood flow, the stiffness and soreness you feel on the bike, or when you get off for a break, or roll out of bed the next morning, is your body telling you it went too long without something good.  You know the stuff the body uses to flush out acid buildup, and bring oxygen rich cells to joints and muscles?  Its called blood!  Joints and limbs wither when they don't have it.  Riding constricts blood flow to a lot of places, so yes, I get off the bike whenever I feel the need, and sometimes even when I don't, because I know its good for me.

There is a reason you don't see any old truck drivers.  And the young ones?  How often have you seen a 40ish truck driver, old beyond his years, walking stiff or with a limp?  Heck, I've seen them barely able to get out of the cab.  The years of sitting on their butt, 12 hours a day, has taken its toll.  And they were sitting on a air cushioned seat with a back rest, and you're on a motorcycle seat!

I've ridden many, many miles the last 7 years, and so far I have no back, joint or muscles problems, despite my age of 52.  My motorcycles are bone stock, no custom seats, handlebars etc.  I ride not only for today, but for tomorrow, if you don't practice that you're asking for trouble, the check ALWAYS comes due.

After parking the bike at the end of day, and settling in, I suggest go out for a walk.  When I can I'll run a few miles, but that is not always possible, in the least I like to walk a mile to my evening meal.  This simple act opens the circulation that was shut down most of the day sitting on the bike.  This, joined with a couple of aspirin will reduce the soreness getting out bed the next day.

I give my body a break from the road every 5-6 days while on a long tour.  I just get away from it for a day.  I give it a chance to rest, and I refresh my mental state of being.  Even on the longest of tours, I don't ever recall dreading getting on the bike.  If you have days like that, you need to take a look at things.  I try to schedule my off days on a Saturday.  I'll use the down time to run, go to church, wash clothes, and enjoy where I'm at.  

A good cross country ride is 2 weeks.  For sure you can do it in 7 days, but more than a few of those days won't be any fun, only you can make the call if its worth it.

Before embarking on a 8,000 mile cross country ride, a good idea is to PREPARE.  A week long regional ride is a good way.  It will get you use to the miles, and offer a chance to test your equipment.   If your physical shape needs help, I suggest working on it.  Being in shape makes everything you do on a long ride easier.  Being light in the saddle with a good midsection ( you don't need 6 pack abs, a few sit ups will work) alleviates back problems, and improves your ability to handle the slight lean of most sport touring bikes.

I've found cycling to be a excellent way to prepare for a long ride.  The seat of a Trek, combined with the extreme lean of a road bike, makes any motorcycle feel comfortable.

Understand a long tour ebbs and flows.  Somedays are better than others, you might have feelings of homesickness, you WILL have days where every decision you make is the WRONG one, don't worry about it, just adapt and keep going.  Why they call it ADVENTURE!  I can promise, you won't have to make a single call sitting in front of a TV about what to do when caught in a storm high in the Colorado Mountains.  But think what you WILL miss by living the safe and secure way.  No glorious mountains vistas, desert sunsets, or curve leaning in the Blue Ridge.  Just you and the clicker, and when you see pictures on TV of beautiful places you can keep on saying to yourself, "man I'd like to ride there someday, but that's a long way!"  Or I don't have the _____ (fill in blank with time, money, permission etc)
I'm just saying do the best you can, in the situation you're in.   

On long tours I prefer riding solo.  Not that I'm anti social, just quirky.  I like the fact I'm the only one that has a say in the decisions I make.  Where to eat, what roads to ride, when to stop.  I've always been the loner type.  Yes, I enjoy people and the social interaction, but it usually wears on me kind of quickly.  I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but I believe the true freedom of the open road can only be experienced solo. 

Besides, I don't know why anyone would WANT to ride with ME?  I might stop to take a picture of something meaningless, or ride miles out of the way to check out some tacky tourist trap, or spend time talking to a few locals about the upcoming crop.  Riding with a group means compromises that I'd rather not make.  My tours are special to me, I plan them, and I want to execute them to my liking.  

On occasion I have been known to ride with a partner, but those individuals are going to be someone I know very well.  I get my social needs at the rally site, and mingling.  I'm more inclined to ride with a group if the ride is going to be a limited one.  Like rallies, or a day or two of a couple hundred miles.

 Why I ride Sport Touring Bikes

Let me begin by saying there is no right or wrong choice, what kind of motorcycle you choose is entirely up to to you, and whatever you choose should reflect your style, wants, and needs.

I'm not going to discuss the different type of bike genres, but instead focus on why I choose to ride sport touring bikes-what this section is ALL about, what I like, and why.  My choice of bikes doesn't make me more elite, or better, it just says who I am.

I ride sport touring bikes because they are fast, agile, and mostly comfortable.  They lean well in the mountains and canyons, have things like adjustable wind protection, FI, ABS, and hard bags.  They are not Gold Wing comfortable or Ninja fast, but not far off the mark.  Outfitted with smaller, slicker fairings, they shoulder away the rain and cold, and on the open highways make 115 mph seem like a reasonable speed.  Most are shaft drive, with large gas tanks to zap me across the vast expanses of the American West, not worrying about where the next gas station is.
Sport tourers have most of the amenities of a full touring bike (especially the BMW RT) but without all the weight and bulk, which depending on what you like or need, can be a good or a bad thing.

These versatile machines, are mostly limited production bikes of the various manufacturers.  Outside of BMW,  you probably won't walk in a dealer showroom and see one on the floor.  They cater to a unique brand of Long Rider.  Usually their owners ride a lot miles, in all kinds of weather and terrain.  They use them for cross country tours, and everyday commuting.  In the Iron Butt Rally sport tourers are the overwhelming choice for a reason, mainly because they do so many things well, at little or no cost in performance.
If you want more info about my bikes specifically, click over to this page.

{cke_protected}{C}%3C!%2D%2Dmsthemeseparator%2D%2D%3E Speeding Tickets

Let me start by saying if your ride enough miles on a modern sport touring bike, you'll eventually get a ticket.  All the wisdom and technology can't overcome simple bad luck.  One day you will be in the wrong place, wrong time.  Or you could be singled out on a busy Dallas freeway where the whole world is doing 80, but you're the guy reeled in.  Nothing you can do about it.  The following advice is not fully guaranteed to work, I'm not a expert, but I am knowledgeable.   I've ridden 300k miles the last 8 years, most of it above the speed limit, with only one paying ticket-Kansas 2003.  That works out to being pulled over about every 40k miles.

Checking my journals I've been pulled over 6 times, and 2x in Alabama (not on a tour, just riding) by state troopers for a total of 8 busts, and only one paying ticket out of all that.

Ironic the one paying ticket on a Kansas backroad, I was the least scofflaw-71 in a 65.

Despite riding through thousands and thousands of big and small cities never been stopped by a local cop.  All stops sans 2 (exceptions were deputy, and a park ranger) have been state troopers.

I've never been pulled over in Canada on rides, including a cross Canada sojourn on the YellowHead in 2004.  I rode 7 days in the UK without incident.

I don't use a radar detector, or CB. (more on that later)

Ok, so here are my general guidelines, that seem to work pretty well.

-Never be the fastest guy on the interstate.  Look for somebody to take the arrows, just don't let it be you.  Be patient, and eventually a big SUV is gonna jet by doing 90.  Give him some distance, and fall in.  I can't count how many times that has worked for me.  DON'T be the guy out in front doing 90.  A Long Rider passing cars moving along at 75 like they are sitting still is easy to spot, and draws attention.

-Be aware of what's going on.  Notice traffic coming at you on the interstate.  Does the #1 lane, on a long rural stretch have a line of cars for no good reason?  A good chance a cruiser is on the end of the line, or they just passed one in the bushes not long ago.  If brake lights tap on the vehicles ahead, likely a cruiser is coming at you, or hiding.  Those folks are not getting on and off brakes for nothing, heed the warning.  Notice truck traffic, do they suddenly slow after clipping along?

-On long rural back roads such as the Dakotas, the deserts or plains, it is really hard to do 55.  On roads such as these I stay 8 over whatever the posted limit is.  Any faster and you can't get slowed enough if you spot one coming at you.  This geography can help the Long Rider, because you can see far down the road.  This scenario is mostly likely to make you the victim of the cruiser coming at you.  I can spot the light bar, about a half mile away.  If he's playing fair, he has to have a solid visual contact to back up the radar.  He cant' tell how fast you are going from half mile away.  (but I'm sure some cheat).  I slow down and by the time he gets a definite visual I'm at the speed limit.  I've met hundreds of LEOs in this scenario and only the Kansas guy got me.  That was because he was hidden from me by a SUV.  I'm also fooled by cars with luggage racks, I slow till I check it out, better to play it safe till you know for sure.

I've never seen a cruiser hiding on such lonely roads running radar or laser.  They have better things to do then sit and watch 2 cars come by every 30 minutes.
-When you get stopped, just be honest, by not playing games and insulting his intelligence.  Be cooperative, and non threatening. I don't know why I get released so much.  In Mesa Verde National Park, I once passed a RV, double yellow, in a construction zone, 15 over the speed limit and got off scott free!  And got off Uncle Phil too!  Ok, she was female, and probably flustered by the accent and southern demeanor, but use whatever works I say.  It could be the gray hair, the professional look I have, (full face helmet, Aerostich, gloves) southern charm and accent.  My guess it is combination of all.  The only reasons I can figure I've been let go so much, and those instances were flagrant violations.

-If you get lit up, go to the side quick as you can.  If you get busted while both traveling opposite direction, he'll turn his light bar on before coming by.  He'll have to get turned around and get up to speed to catch you.  That could take a couple of miles, but if you make it easy, and save all that, it will help.  Same thing if you shoot by his hiding spot at 95. When you see his lights come on, just pull over soon as you can.  If he has to chase you down, come in behind, and see you're now doing 50 mph, you're not fooling anybody.  

-Be aware in states such as Va, Ohio. They are the most zealous when it comes to revenue.   On I-81 I just set the cruise on the RT at 70 mph and just accept it.  Speeding tickets there are very expensive, and no quarter is given.  Speed limits in New England and Illinois are 65 mph on the interstate!  And they are home to some of the most law abiding citizens I've ever come across, no rabbits.

-Do NOT speed in small town America!  When you enter one do 5 under.  Same for construction zones.

-Recognize there are times when you can't speed.  Just be good and live to ride another day.  Construction zones, lonely deserted towns with 4 top of the line cruisers parked in front of the police station, states such as Va or Ohio.   Note empty stretches of interstates with good geography for a cop to hide, and no available rabbit, when confronted with those things, just slow down.

Radar Detectors- I don't know.  I used one years ago in my car when the speed limit was 55, but now that it is 70 I can run 75 or 80 unmolested and that's all I need to do.  But the ST is different.  I just don't know how effective detectors are.  The cops have all the advantages. With instant off and on, all you're ever going to get is a short blip.  And if no one in front of you looks interesting enough to blip, guess what?  The warning is only going to serve you are about to get a ticket.  Laser is more and more in use, and there is no defense.  They hold all the cards under the current state of technology.  If you have a detector in the open you might get a ticket when you otherwise might not.  Same for a CB antenna.  If you get stopped and you have a antenna in the wind, you're getting a ticket, they will view your CB as your warning.

Plus you have to wire stuff in your helmet to get the audio warning, and you'll need a booster of some kind.  Just seems like a lot of trouble to me.  If you choose to hide the detector you'll lose the visual warning stuff and have to rely solely on the audio.  So my opinion just more trouble then it's worth.

Now, have I ever run triple digits on a lonely desert back road?  Yes, it is why I love riding out west so much.  But I am real careful about the where and when.

When I was working, I knew the state troopers assigned to my home county.  I worked accidents scenes with them, and shared information about the incidents for reports.  We were on the scene of a non fatality wreck, waiting for the wrecker, when I asked the trooper about the round cone thing on top of his car.  He told me it was the latest traffic radar system.  It can track vehicles 360 degrees, and automatically lock on the fastest in a group.  It would ignore size and position, and dial in on speed.  It was instant on, or could power in low mode, meaning you'd have to get pretty close before your detector fired off.  He demonstrated it for me while I sat in his car.  It was lethal.  It was then I decided the balance of power was in their court, and if I was to keep my license I was better off depending on my wits then technology.
I recently received this note from Greg, a LEO in Alabama.

"In your latest "Speeding Tickets" article, I just had to respond. I have been a police officer in Alabama for over 13 years and some of the comments you made are very true. One of them being if you are stopped, be honest and admit it. The other is if you are "Lit Up", quickly pull over to the side of the road. Sometimes, these are deciding factors between a warning or a citation. Now if someone is going 25-30 plus over the limit, forget it.  I can't remember the last time I wrote someone riding a motorcycle (other than a crotch rocket, but that's another story).

 Now, I would like to clear the air about a rumor about "revenue" from tickets. A lot of people assume the $130 ticket,etc goes to the city/county. Not true. My jurisdiction receives maybe $10-$20 out of that $130. The rest goes to the Alabama Victims Compensation Fund, district attorneys office (?),the State of Alabama,Etc,Etc. That $10-$20 goes into the general fund and not directly to Public Safety. In other words, we don't write tickets to rise revenue, only to enforce traffic laws ( I hate working fatalities and giving notices to the families). I can only speak for Alabama, not other states. Also some officers like to write more tickets than others. I know some officers who write over 600 tickets a year and some who only write 2 tickets a year."

In the end, the LEO are guys just like us trying to do a doing a job.