FJR1300 Comparison: 2003 model vs. 2008 model


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Introduction

For those in the market for a used sport touring motorcycle, I could not recommend the Yamaha FJR1300 enough. It is a great bike for long-distance riding that is still enjoyable on twisty roads and is generally bulletproof reliable.

I have owned both a first-generation FJR1300 (2003-2005), and currently own a second-generation model (2006-2012). I am writing this post to help sport touring shoppers who may be trying to choose between a first-generation and second-generation FJR1300.

The FJR1300 first arrived in the United States for the 2003 model year. The first generation ran from 2003 (2001 in other parts of the world) to 2005. In 2006, the bike was given some significant updates, though many parts of the bike remained unchanged.

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The first FJR1300 I owned was a 2003 that I bought in January 2015. The FJR was only available in silver that year. It is easy to tell the 2003 models apart from all other FJRs, as it was the only model year to feature the “stalk” turn signals.

I logged over 30,000 miles of experience with the 2003 model from the start of riding season in 2015 to April 2017. I took the bike on two multi-day tours in the time I had it. The first was in April 2016 when I rode from Columbus, Ohio, to Austin, Texas for the MotoGP race. In July 2016 I took the bike on a six-day tour that included stops at the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, Tenn., the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, the former Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga., and the Tail of the Dragon/Cherohala Skyway. Sadly, the bike was totaled when I was rear-ended at a stoplight in April 2017.

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My bought my current FJR1300, and black 2008 model, in December 2017. I had purchased a 2009 Ninja 500 to get me through the remainder of the 2017 riding season but knew I wanted to back to a true sport touring machine.

I was strongly considering giving a BMW a try but I got a deal on the 2008 FJR1300 that I could not refuse. I only have a few thousand miles on it so far, but now have enough experience with it to make an informed comparison between the two bikes.

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With regard to accessories and modifications, both of the FJRs I owned came equipped with the factory top case (not standard equipment on an FJR). The 2003 model had been outfitted by a previous owner with aftermarket heated grips (which I later replaced).

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The 2008 model was not equipped with heated grips at the time of purchase. I changed out the heated grips on the 2003 model for BikeMaster heated grips (big improvement) and added a voltmeter. I plan on making the same modifications to the 2008 model in the near future.

Similarities

Engine 

The most noticeable unchanged characteristic between the two models is the engine. The liquid-cooled, four-cylinder, 1298cc mill churns out excellent power and torque on both models.

Tire size 

The 2003 and 2008 models are equipped with a 120/70ZR17 front tire and a 180/55ZR17 rear tire. The standard sport bike/sport touring tire sizes make it easier to shop for replacement tires.

One thing that did change with the 2008 model is the recommended tire pressure. On the 2003 model, 33 psi is recommended in the front tire, and 36 psi in the rear tire. For the 2008 model, 39 psi is recommended in the front tire and 42 psi in the rear tire. This was probably in response to the cupping issue that plagues the big sport touring motorcycles like the FJR, Honda ST1300 and Kawasaki Concours 14.

Drivetrain

Both models are equipped with low-maintenance shaft drive. I have not experienced any shaft-jacking with either model. The final drive assembly on both models is relatively easy to remove for U-joint maintenance and spline lubrication.

Luggage

The luggage remains unchanged in terms of construction and dimensions between the two models. The orientation of the top case’s handle and latch are annoying, as is the fact that half of the storage capacity of the top case is in the top of the case. It makes it very easy for things to fall out if the top case is tightly packed.

The saddlebag interiors are somewhat oddly shaped but provide ample room for storing clothes, tools, and the like. The saddlebags are not large enough to fit a full face helmet, though the locking mechanism and ease of mounting/dismounting make up for it.

All three of the cases have excellent water tightness. I have never experienced a problem with rain or condensation getting into any of the cases in nearly 35,000 miles of riding.

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Differences

Transmission gearing 

The first distinction I noticed while riding the 2008 model was when I got on the freeway. The gearing on the 2008 model is a lot taller. On my 2003 model, I was at 4,000 rpm when riding at 70 mph in fifth gear. On the 2008 model, 70 mph is around 3,500 rpm.

While the lower RPM sacrifices some throttle response when trying to quickly accelerate to pass freeway traffic, it helps a bit with fuel economy. The 2008 model’s main tank is slightly smaller than the 2003 (an extra 0.2 gallons was reassigned to the reserve tank), yet the 2008 model gets the same fuel range as the 2003 model.

Instrument changes 

Other than the revised bodywork, the next most obvious visual change to the bike is the instrument cluster. Like the 2003 model, the 2008 model sports an analog speedometer and tachometer. The analog gauges appear to have been enlarged, through the numerals on the gauges appear to be smaller and somewhat harder to read.

The 2008 model’s digital display contains the same gauges as the 2003, plus a gear indicator and ambient air temperature. The appearance of the fuel and water temperature gauge was changed for the 2008 model but remains easy to read.

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Windscreen

My 2003 model was equipped with a stock windscreen. In the fully raised position, the 2003 model’s screen would push the air to the crown of my helmet. The 2008 model is equipped with a much taller windscreen than the 2003. Despite the larger dimensions, the air is not pushed much further over the crown of my helmet.

One of my biggest disappointments in the 2008 model is the flimsy construction of the windscreen. On the 2003 model the screen did not wobble or move with the wind. The 2008 model’s taller windscreen moves and shakes a fair amount. The movement is more pronounced near the top of the screen. The movement is annoying and distracting and may have had a hand is causing my E-Z Pass to fall off the windscreen during a ride.

Handlebars

The 2003 and 2008 models both feature adjustable handlebars. On the 2003 model, the handlebar “towers” (for lack of a better descriptor) could be mounted in one of two positions and made for a very upright riding position. On the 2008 model, the bar adjustment system is very different and allows the bar towers to be mounted in three different position. The bars on the 2008 seem lower, flatter and more wide-set than the 2003 model. I have not tried adjusting the bars on either model, so I cannot comment on that aspect of the bars.

Fairing pocket 

One of the most convenient new features on the 2008 model is the fairing pocket. The 2003 model had room for a fairing pocket, but instead left a void beneath the work within the upper left fairing. The pocket on the 2008 model is not huge, but large enough to fit a small smartphone or some charging attachments.

The pocket is also equipped with a 12-volt accessory outlet for charging electronics. The outlet only works when the key is turned to the “ON” position, so there’s no leaving a phone or power bank to charge off of the battery while away from the bike.

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ABS 

The 2008 model is equipped with ABS whereas my 2003 model was not. I have not had the ABS kick in yet, so I cannot comment on its functionality.

I had replaced the stock lines on my 2003 with stainless steel lines, which made a huge difference in terms of braking performance. I am planning on replacing the 2008 model’s brakes lines with stainless steel lines as well and will write a follow-up post about it.

OEM Seat 

The first generation FJRs had a different seat design to the 2006-present models. The shape of the stock seat on the 2003 model was wider than the OEM seat on any of my previous motorcycles but still became uncomfortable after an hour or two. The way the top of the 2003 stock seat tapered in toward the bike would cut off circulation to my rear end and legs. I replaced the 2003’s seat with a Sargent seat in 2016, which was a big improvement.

The 2008 model’s stock seat is much more comfortable that the 2003 models and appears to be a little wider. It feels like I have plenty of room to move around the seat and can ride almost three hours before it becomes uncomfortable. I may replace the OEM seat with another Sargent model next year but am happy to keep the OEM seat for the 2018 riding season.

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Heat management/radiator 

One of the biggest problems with the 2003 model was engine heat management. The bike would generate a lot of heat inside the lower fairing, which would could easily be felt by a rider’s legs in hotter conditions. Without purpose-built riding pants the heat would become unbearable.

The 2008 model seems to have largely solved the problem. I have ridden the 2008 model in 90-degree heat and did not experience any problems with feeling excessive heat escaping from the lower fairing.

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The 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans: Closing in on the end of an era 


Per my annual tradition, I stayed up and watched all 24 hours of the 86th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans June 16-17. The historic race was first run on public roads in and around Le Mans, France in 1923. Within the context of more recent Le Mans history, the on-track action on Saturday and Sunday was rather dull.  

Toyota, who was the only returning factory-backed LMP1 team, was never challenged for the lead of the race. The GTE Pro class gave viewers some great battles between popular brands like Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, and Corvette. However, Toyota’s long-sought victory by a margin of 12 laps over the nearest non-Toyota prototype highlighted the absence of the major factories and rivalries that has pulled me into the sport.  

The world feed commentators did their best to play up Toyota’s important role in endurance racing. Nothing the announcers said was untrue, and Toyota does deserve commendation for their role in preserving the rivalry that had sustained the event’s energy and popularity until now.  

Despite the lack of the charisma and charm that had come to characterize the event in recent years, I found myself enjoying it on a deeper level. I started watching Le Mans and sports car racing in general in the late 2000s. At that time Peugeot had just entered the sport to challenge perennial contenders Audi. Over the next several years I watched Audi and Peugeot battle at Le Mans and in the United States at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans. When Peugeot bowed out Toyota and later Porsche kept the intense and intellectual rivalry alive.  

The impending shift in Europe away from petrol- or diesel-fueled cars, a major diesel emissions scandal at Audi parent company Volkswagen and the high cost of running a Le Mans prototype program have caused Audi and Porsche to leave Le Mans competition. For 2018 another manufacturer did not step up to take their place. This left Toyota as the sole LMP1 Hybrid entry. 

Even with the lack of competition at the front, the new prototype rules being rolled out for the 2020 to 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans means cars like Toyota’s TS050 are in their twilight years. To rectify the problems with high operating costs and attract more manufacturers back to Le Mans, the new formula calls for more production-based prototypes. 

So, while the racing fan in me was disappointed with the lack of competition for the overall win, the historian in me soaked up the experience of watching this type of car compete at Le Mans for the penultimate time. I applaud the move to a more cost-conscious and road car-oriented formula. That move, however, also means that 2018 and 2019 are the last years we will see cars at the current level of performance. Lap times has started to fall to pre-1990 levels, before the chicanes were added along the Mulsanne Straight.  

I realized this was a time to soak up what was left of the Le Mans I had known since I became a fan. So, I made the most of it and in the end found myself enjoying Toyota’s bid to become the first Japanese manufacturer to win at Le Mans since Mazda did so in 1991. It was simply too bad that Toyota has to claim the win without any real competition. 

In the end, I am not all that sad to see the LMP category go by the wayside. Le Mans has made itself about high return on investment for manufacturers. In the face of apprehension from manufacturers to commit large sums of money to running an LMP program, the technological “distance” between an LMP car and a production road car, and changing technology, Le Mans must adapt to survive and to continue serving its high-ROI mission. In order to remain relevant, Le Mans must evolve.  

One of the most underpromoted parts of 2018 event was the Dempsey-Proton team’s win in the GTE Am Class. Well-known actor and team owner Patrick Dempsey was prominently featured in the TV broadcast. However, that was preaching to the choir.  

In order to grow interest in sports car racing, especially in the United States, there needed to be better access to the visual feed outside of the Velocity Channel broadcast. Even if it is was just video clips on social media. I did not see anything coming across the major news outlets about Dempsey’s team’s strong performance at the event. Releasing a press release post-event is too late. 

The ACO needed to do more to draw fans of Dempsey in during the event easily and quickly. It doesn’t matter if those Dempsey fans are just tuning in to see Dempsey’s team. What matters is that they would want to tune in and would have a reason to learn about the sport and get into the sport. 

There were two changes for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans that I was not a big fan of. One was the removal of the yellow headlight covers for the GT cars. The covers had made it a lot easier as a television viewer to distinguish between prototype and GT cars. Hopefully the ACO brings them back next season. 

I was also not a fan of the new rule that allowed teams to change tires and refuel the car at the same time. Even if modern refueling technology has made the rule redundant, it was one of the things that made Le Mans different from other forms of auto racing. I’d rather see the ACO allow two tire changers and reinstate the refueling rule. Because of how long refueling takes, there did not seem to be the urgency with tire changing that there used to be.  

The new rule for 2018 that forced the GTE Pro cars to come in after a set number of laps was just plain dumb. This is endurance racing. May the best strategy win. The ACO effectively removed the element of strategy and forced the race to be about each car’s pace. Along with the balance of performance changes made before the race, the GTE Pro class racing was close but felt artificial. Cars like the Ferrari 488 that could have potentially used strategy to make up for lack of outright pace were relegated, and the Porsche vs. Ford GT battle showed there is something very unbalanced about the current BOP rules. 

2009 Kawasaki Ninja 500 Review


Introduction

My short time with my Ninja 500 began with near tragedy. I was rear-ended on my previous street motorcycle in April 2017. I was very fortunate to have walked away from such a severe impact, though I did break my collarbone in the crash. While I was waiting for my collarbone to heal (and was down to one, track only motorcycle) I had time to consider which motorcycle I wanted to buy next.

I knew in the long-term I wanted to go back to a dedicated sport-touring bike. My deceased 2003 Yamaha FJR1300 had given me a taste of the comforts of touring on a true touring bike. I had found that I greatly enjoyed its touring-oriented features like shaft drive, hard saddlebags, and wind protection.

However, my budget and healing collarbone made buying another heavy, dedicated touring bike not feasible before peak riding season was over. Determined to not miss any more riding time than I needed to, I started looking for smaller, budget-conscious motorcycles I could afford that would also work for long-distance riding.

I decided to view my misfortune as an opportunity to try something different. I had been riding 1200cc or larger motorcycles since 2009. I decided it was worth taking a step down in displacement for the first time in my riding career.

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The Ninja 500 was one of the bikes on my list from the start, along with a Suzuki GS500, Kawasaki Ninja 250, Suzuki SV650, or Kawasaki 650. After 10 years of riding four-cylinder motorcycles, I definitely wanted to give a twin a try. I wasn’t interested in finding something that had lots of creature comforts. All I was looking for was something that could be used for long-distance riding by adding soft luggage.

After a couple weeks, I found the all-black 2009 Kawasaki Ninja 500 that I would settle on. The old owner had bought it new off the showroom floor and said she hadn’t had time to ride it much. Other than a crack on the right side of the upper fairing from a tip-over, the bike was in cosmetically good shape.

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The bike’s motor was also relatively fresh with just under 10,000 miles on the odometer. Because the bike hadn’t been run much, it had some trouble idling smoothly but seemed to run okay when the throttle was applied. After getting the bike home, I pulled the carbs out and gave them a thorough cleaning. I also did a valve adjustment that was overdue and re-synched the carbs when I re-installed them. I also changed the oil, oil filter, air filter, brake pads, and coolant, and installed stainless steel brake lines on the front and rear. I also adjusted the choke and throttle cables and changed the brake fluid for both braking systems.

After doing the above preventative maintenance, I rode the Ninja for about 4,000 miles from July (when I was medically cleared to ride again) to the end of September. I traded the bike for another FJR in December 2017.

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Engine/transmission

The engine power and performance were my biggest concerns when I bought my Ninja 500. While I was buying the bike in part to try a smaller displacement motorcycle, the Ninja 500’s engine was a lot smaller than what I was used to. At 498cc, the Ninja 500 is the second-smallest displacement motorcycle I have owned, and the smallest since 2007. My first motorcycle was a 1982 Honda CB450T, and that bike’s mill did not churn out a lot of power. Since May 2009, I had not ridden a motorcycle smaller than 1157cc.

I have to say the engine power and performance were one of the bike’s strong points. The motor was certainly not an FJR mill where I could pass interstate traffic with a slight twist of the wrist. However, I found the power just fine for all types of riding. My Ninja 500 would show 6,000 rpm in sixth gear at 75 mph, which was less than 2,000 rpm more than my 2003 FJR would do in top gear. Engine vibration was minimal and throttle response was excellent. I did have to get used to shifting a lot more with the smaller motor, as the engine did not put out the kind of torque I was used to. The additional shifting actually made riding a more involved experience did not detract from the bike’s fun factor at all.

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Suspension/steering

The Ninja 500 comes with non-adjustable front forks and a single rear shock with pre-load adjustability. The front and rear suspension settings were a tad on the plush side. The bike absorbed bumps in the road smoothly with little headshake

The bike’s biggest drawback was its handling. I couldn’t determine whether the problem was the front suspension, bike geometry, or the ancient Bridgestone Exedra tires that came with the bike.

One of the things I was really looking forward to with a smaller bike was quicker turn-in and better flickability. Instead, I had little-to-no confidence on the front tire and found myself taking corners I was familiar with even slower than I did on my old 600-pound FJR1300. I wish I had had more time on the bike and had been able to change the tires out for Bridgestone BT45s or Pirelli Sport Demons. However, without more seat time and different shoes, I have to report the handling was sub-par and disappointing.

Another problem with the bike was is susceptibility to crosswinds. The bike would become noticeably unstable when passing tractor-trailers or when there was a strong crosswind. I could not tell whether this was due to the bike’s weight (relative to my previous motorcycles) or a geometry issue. Either way, I found myself having to fight to keep the bike in line in heavy wind conditons.

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Brakes

The brakes were another weak point of the bike’s overall performance. Despite weighting in at nearly the same dry weight as the Suzuki SV650, the Ninja 500 only has one front brake. Before I even rode the bike, I sensed that the single brake may not provide enough power in emergency stopping situations. I replaced the front and rear brake lines with stainless lines from Galfer.

While the stainless steel lines had the positive, consistent feel that I was used to from the Spiegler Brake Lines-equipped FJR1300, the overall stopping power was not enough for me. In emergency situations the front brake did not stop me as quickly as I was used to. Nor did the combination of front and rear brake provide the stopping power I was looking for.

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Comfort

The bike’s ergonomics were good for a medium-sized sport bike. The clip-on handlebars were mounted to risers that produced a slight forward lean from my 6’2 frame. I did not experience an abnormal discomfort in my wrists. My legs were a bit cramped with the bike’s sport-oriented pegs. I eventually adjusted to them though and found the pegs to be acceptable in the end. Wind protection was acceptable from the small windscreen, and I did not experience any ill effects from wind buffeting.

One aspect of the bike I could not adjust to was the seat. It was awful. I could only ride the bike for about an hour and a half for the first fuel stint, and then only 45-minutes to an hour after that. Had I kept the bike as a back-up touring bike that would have been the first upgrade I would have made.

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Long-distance riding

Comfort issues aside, the bike performed much better as a touring bike than I had thought it would. The 4.2-gallon fuel tank and the 55-60 MPG fuel economy allowed the bike to tour 180-200 miles before hitting reserve.

I was able to mount soft luggage to the bike with ease, and the extra weight of the loaded luggage did not noticeably change the bike’s handling.

The chain drive requires regular chain maintenance. The little space between the bottom of the swingarm and the chain made chain lubrication somewhat difficult. The bike comes with a centerstand as standard equipment, making chain lubrication much easier on a long trip.

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Ease of maintenance

Overall the bike was relatively easy to maintain. The single front disc makes accessing the front wheel’s valve stem easy. The centerstand makes is also a big help to performing maintenance.

The bike’s turn-and-locknut valve adjusters are not real difficult to get to. The only annoyance is having to remove two coolant tubes in order to remove the valve cover. Removing the tank is relatively easy, as is removing the front fairing. The rear bodywork is moderately simple to remove as well.

The oil drain plug, oil filter, coolant drain screw, radiator cap and coolant reservoir are relatively easy to access. The air filter is an older foam design that needs to be coated with air filter oil before being installed.

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Conclusion

Overall, the mid-sized Ninja is a great budget-conscious bike. I would have liked to have kept it as a back-up bike and outfitted it with a better seat and better tires. Unfortunately, my budget and available garage space did not afford me the luxury of having more than two bikes at a time. Even with its several weaknesses, I was very impressed overall by the Ninja 500.

It is an ideal bike for new riders, re-entry riders, urban riders, or a rider who is looking to give long-distance riding a try on a budget. The bike’s bulletproof engine, strong engine performance, ease of maintenance, and ergonomics make it an ideal bike for a young person who wants to take up the motorcycling lifestyle.

While the Ninja 500 is an older design that was phased out of production in the late 2000s, many Ninja 500s are available in the used bike marketplace. New riders or budget-conscious motorcycling enthusiasts looking for an affordable, high-value bike would be well-served by the 500’s ease of maintenance, low maintenance costs, and adaptability.

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Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long-Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #15 (Travel in the Light)(Last Point)


For many touring riders, motorcycle touring is something they do on vacation. It is a time to relax. No emails or faxes pouring in, office insanity, or alarm clocks. While motorcycle touring is a great way to get away from work, the alarm clock is worth keeping around. While some prefer traveling long distances in a car at night, touring by motorcycle in the daylight is best for several reasons. 

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The first and most obvious reason is safety. Motorcycle riders are much more vulnerable to road-related risks like wildlife, distracted drivers, and the like than cagers. While some touring riders have their motorcycles outfitted with eight sets of driving lights, the sun provides a rider the best possible visibility. 

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This holds true for any weather condition as the worst visibility levels occur when riding through fog or rain at night. Moreover, riding at night puts more stress on the eyes, as most motorcycle headlights are not as bright as their four-wheeled counterparts. This can lead to eye fatigue setting in more quickly. 

Another benefit of riding during the day is visibility when not riding. If a rider needs to make a roadside repair or find something in his or her luggage, it is much easier to do during the day.  

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Leaving early also helps a rider ride in the light even if unforeseen circumstances occur. For example, if a rider hits a three-hour lightning storm around lunch time, the rider will have to wait until the storm has cleared to get moving again. If the rider had left at 7:00 a.m. and ridden until noon, he/she may only have 3-4 hours of riding left. With the long days during most riding months, the rider will still be riding in the light for the remainder of their trip. Now let’s say the rider had left at 9:30 a.m. after a hearty sit-down breakfast and a few phone calls and did not stop for lunch until 2:00 p.m. After a three-hour delay, the rider is not moving again until 5:00 p.m., and not getting in until probably 9:00 p.m. Even in mid-summer, it is starting to get dark at 9:00 p.m. almost everywhere.   

Try to leave as early as you reasonably can when on a trip. I usually shower and re-pack at night when on trips. I then get up at 6:00 a.m. and try to be checked out of my hotel, fed, and on the road by 6:30 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. at the absolute latest.

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This article concludes this series on long-distance motorcycle riding. I hope my readers have gleaned the information they need to make their first tour an enjoyable and successful one. I happy to answer readers’ questions if they have any.

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long-Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #14 (Stop Frequently, and for Fun)


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As was discussed to a lesser extent in Point #12 (Trip Planning), touring is often not just about the destination. Sometimes time restrictions, limited PTO, and the like force a rider to focus only on the destination. When I was doing my first cross-country ride (Buffalo, N.Y. to Salt Lake City, Utah) I had very limited time for sightseeing due to time constraints.

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However, I have found multi-destination tours are by far the most fun. There were a lot of things on my Utah trip that I got to see, but not experience, like the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument or the Iowa 80. As new touring riders build up their riding stamina, they can plan longer stops and do more sightseeing.

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When time constraints are present, a rider can try to do his or her sightseeing on one leg of the trip. For example, a rider could focus on getting to the trip’s furthest point quickly, then take an extra day or two riding back to experience what their route has to offer. Keep in mind that touring often involves going a long way from home to areas of the country you may not see again for a long time. Make the most of that time and experience everything you can while there.

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Meeting new people and experiencing new regions and local cultures becomes very enlightening and even useful. If you work in an industry that requires making business connections across the country, sharing your experience in a contact’s home region can be very meaningful and powerful. Your bike also helps you meet new people on the road. I have lost count of how many people will just walk up to me at a rest area or in a restaurant parking lot and just want to chat about bikes and riding.

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I am currently working on a database of tourism attractions for long-distance riders to use. Whenever I cross a state border on an interstate, I look for the “welcome centers” that are usually full of tourism brochures. I have built up a healthy collection of them and am in the process of turning them into a searchable database. Hopefully I will have a prototype finished before the end of 2018.

Until then, here is a list of tourism-related activities that a wide range of riders may enjoy:

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Museums/Landmarks: History is everywhere, and therefore so are museums. Most any place on earth has some sort of story to tell, and many of those places have a museum to tell it. Museums that are not tied so tightly to their locality may be of interest as well. For example, there are several notable motorcycle museums across the county. These include the AMA Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio, the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, N.C., the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, N.Y., and the Barber Museum in Leeds, Ala.

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Museums can also be found in nearly every corner of the country. For example, in tiny Hammondsport, N.Y. we find the Glenn Curtiss Museum. Such an iconic name in American aviation and motorcycling history’s namesake museum is not found in a huge metropolis like New York City, but rather in a small Finger Lakes village.

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A related category of touring stops is a landmark. While many landmarks are accompanied by a museum, not all are. Riding to New York City from points north or west? Make time to stop and see the curvaceous NY Route 97 at Hawk’s Nest that is featured as the backdrop in so many motorcycle ads or posters. Another fun landmark is the Four Corners Monument, which is the only place in the United States where four states border each other. Visitors can lay on the middle of monument to be in four states at one time.

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Festivals/Events: Almost every region has at least one annual celebration of some kind. Look for events that are of keen interest to you. For food connoisseurs, the grape festival in Naples, N.Y. or the bacon festivals held in several parts of the country may be worth a stop. Motorcycle road rallies also make ideal stops. These can include Americade in Lake George, N.Y., Laconia Bike Week in Laconia, N.H., AMA Vintage Motorcycles Days in Lexington, Ohio, Daytona Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla., and and Johnstown, Pa.’s Thunder in the Valley Rally.

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Another good event stop can be motorcycle races. Never been to a flat track race? Check the AMA’s calendar and see if there is a flat track race along your route. These events usually occur at night, so find a nearby hotel, check in, then head over to the track to check out something new and exciting. Is a Grand National Cross Country race sounds more like a marathon than a motorcycle race? Ride up to the Snow Shoe ski resort in the Pocahontas Mountains, West Virginia and watch the dirt fly in ways you’ve never seen before.

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Activities: Never tried ziplining? How about sandboarding? Look for the opportunity to engage in new activities along your chosen route. Heading down to the Tail of the Dragon? Try stopping in the Gatlinburg area (preferably off of peak tourist season, the valley gets really, really crowded) and give ziplining a go. If you’re planning to cruise down the east coast, don’t miss a stop at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in North Carolina’s Outer Banks and try your hand at sandboarding.

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National/State Parks: One of my favorite things about motorcycle touring is getting to see the diversity of scenic setting we are blessed with in the United States. If you’re riding across southern Utah, do make time to take the loop road through Natural Bridges National Monument. You will be glad you did. Similarly, if you riding to the Tail of the Dragon, take some time and drive northeast and see the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long-Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #13 (Go with a Group)


One of the smartest things a new touring rider can do is go on their first tour with one or more experienced touring riders. This is not a topic I have a lot of experience with. I have only done one non-solo tour, and I was the more experienced rider in the pairing. However, if you have friends or family who are already long-distance riding enthusiasts, use their experience to your advantage.

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Among the benefits of doing one of your first tours with a group are:

Experienced perspective: Doing a group tour will give you insight into how other touring riders perceive long-distance riding, how they handle certain situations, and whether something you are experiencing is a normal part of touring or not.

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Pace setting: Allowing an experienced rider to lead the tour would allow a new touring rider to learn what touring pace they are comfortable with. Some touring riders really like to put the hammer down on the road, but take long breaks at each stop. Some touring riders are the exact opposite. By going with an experienced group, a new touring rider would be able to observe several different individuals’ pace, and find what pace is right for them.

Regional familiarity: An experienced touring rider may have knowledge of the area you are going touring in. This can make trip planning a lot easier, as the experienced rider can help find interesting things to see along the way and help you better plan the tour.

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Pooling tools: If a group is staying together for an entire tour, each rider does not need to bring their full tool set. Instead, the riders can divide tools among the group, giving everyone lighter luggage.

Safety: In the event some goes wrong and someone in the group crashes, breaks down, and/or is injured, the other riders can help out. Another rider can call for help or give the injured rider and ride to safety. It is also easier for motorists to see a group of motorcycles stopped on the side of the road rather than the narrow profile of only a single bike.

 

New touring riders also may have a hard time knowing when and how badly fatigue may start setting in. An experienced touring rider can look for signs of fatigue in a new rider on the road and at stops. This can be a literal lifesaver for a new long-distance rider.

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Before embarking on a group tour, it is important to know the norms of group riding. To review the AMA’s rules for group road rides, visit: www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Riding/Road-Riding-And-Touring.

 

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long-Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #12 (Start Short)


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Chances are a majority of people who read this article are researching long-distance riding in anticipation of a long-desired, cross-country trip. Some may have a week-long, coast-to-coast tour in mind. Others may dream of riding up and down one of the coasts or venturing to scenic places or motorcycle rallies afar.

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Whatever the case may be, you may want to start with something a little shorter than a week-long or month-long tour. A common piece of advice experienced riders give new riders is, “Your first bike should not be your dream bike.” The same goes with touring. It would be wise to make your first tour something relatively short. You do not want your dream trip to turn into a uncomfortable, expensive, or even dangerous learning experience. 

This is not to say one should start too short. The best thing to do is take a weekend or a long weekend and try to stay within a reasonable ride to home (say, 3-4 hours). Also, do not try to push on mileage. Aim for 400-500 miles per day by Interstate, and less by back roads.  

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Not sure where to go? Use county and state tourism websites to find a few things of interest not too far from home. Museums, some national parks, landmarks, and events make great destinations. For example, if a rider lived in Columbus, Ohio, they could do two loop routes on two consecutive days to get a feel for touring. Day one would take him or her from Columbus to Pittsburgh, Penn. to see Point State Park and visit the park’s museum. Our rider could then head up the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes to Warren, Ohio’s National Packard Museum. After seeing the antique cars and other artifacts, our rider could then head back to Columbus for the night.  

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The next day our rider would head southwest on I-71 to Louisville to visit the iconic Louisville Slugger Museum. After a couple hours seeing timber artifacts, our rider would ride north to Speedway, Ind. to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s museum. The last leg of the trip would take our rider home to Columbus via I-70. A sample trip map can be found here. 

In short, there is no need to make your first tour epic. Your first tour is more of a classroom than a vacation, and you will be surprised just how much you will learn about yourself as a rider, as well as your bike. In looking around for local places to tour, you may also surprise yourself with how much there is to see in your home region.

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