Ride Report: I-76, I-71, and U.S. 30, Youngstown, OH to Beaverdam, OH


Ride Date: March 28, 2017

For the past two years when I lived in Delaware, Ohio, I would take my touring bike out on a test ride from Delaware to a Speedway gas station near the indirect interchanges between I-75 and U.S. Route 30. The ride was exactly 200 miles round trip, which was just under one tank of gas on my FJR1300. Even though I moved to Youngstown, Ohio last year, I decided I would keep the tradition going, even though the ride is twice as long. If clearing the old, Stabil-containing gas out of the tank with a one-tank trip is good, two tanks is twice as good, right?

In any event, I got a late start but headed out from Youngstown around 930am. The ride took me up I-680, to I-80 until it changes to I-76 at the Ohio Turnpike interchange. I continued on I-76 through Akron, where I-76 overlaps with I-77 for a short bit, onto I-76’s western terminus at I-71. I got on I-71 at Exit 209, and got off at Exit 176 onto the U.S. Route 30 highway. I stayed on U.S. 30 until its interchange with the Lincoln Highway (old Route 30), which provides indirect access to I-75. There is a Speedway gas station just west of U.S. 30’s trumpet-style interchange ramp, but east of the I-75 alignment. After getting gas, buying a snack, and chatting with a another rider, I got back on U.S. 30, this time eastbound. The very unusual ramp from old U.S. 30 to U.S. 30 eastbound, which loops in the median of the freeway, can be a lot of fun for the peg-scrappers out there. I essentially repeated my route on the way back to Youngstown, except I decided to use the I-277 bypass around downtown Akron to I-77 North, which took me back to I-76 East. I was feeling a bit tired early into the ride back, and stopped at an Arby’s in Bucyrus for a quick snack. Nothing like a corned beef slider detour. I got home around 515pm.

Overall, and despite the rough winter, all road surfaces were in good condition. During my previous rides on U.S. 30 between Upper Sandusky and the I-75 interchange, only portions of the eastbound lanes had been paved with an odd asphalt. Now both sides of the divided highway have received the asphalt treatment. The asphalt is very ridable, it just has an usual texture about it. It feels both slightly slick and abrasive at the same time.

The route is very rural and does not offer a lot of scenic viewing opportunities, unless empty farm fields are your thing. However, I enjoy this route because it is four-lane, divided highway (with intersections, however) and is not heavily traveled. It is very effective as a toll-free thoroughfare between Canton, Ohio and Chicago/Gary. The route is also very effective as a test route. It allows a rider to maintain a normal highway pace (65-75mph) with little traffic and ample shoulder space in case something does go wrong and roadside repairs are needed.

My FJR1300 performed very well with no mechanical issues on its first extended use of the 2017 riding season. This was despite a heavy crosswind that is typical of wide-open freeways that run through flat, un-forrested terrain. After a successful test ride I can now have confidence that, barring unforeseen problems, the motorcycle is prepared for what will be a very busy 2017 riding reason.

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #3, Part III (Comfort con’t)


Navigation: While getting lost and exploring are often cited as some of the more fun things motorcycle touring riders do, you do not want to get too lost. There are several options available, some more technically complex than others. However, no matter which navigation solution you choose, I highly recommend purchasing a good atlas every five years or so. Phone and GPS systems have batteries that die, and some phones may not have true GPS recievers built into them. Those phones use the surveyed location of cell phone towers to triangulate location. This becomes a problem when there are two or fewer cell towers within your phone’s range. An atlas, on the other hand, needs no batteries or cell towers. It just a set of hands and eyeballs, and a landmark of some sort to function.

For some riders (like the author), GPS navigation on a motorcycle takes something away from the touring experience. GPS solutions, which l discuss below, can become pricey as well as easily vulnerable to the elements. When I first started touring, electronic navigation solutions were extremely expensive, and smartphones were in their infancy. Since I used Interstate highways for most of my trips, I would memorize the exit numbers that I needed to get off at for stops. I obtain the exit numbers by using Google Maps during my trip planning (which will be discussed in Point #10). If a trip takes me off of Interstate highways I look for landmarks along the way, like businesses or prominent intersections, to keep myself on route. I also attempt to stick to numbered highways (e.g. US 15, OH 7) as much as I can. The signage for numbered routes is usually very good, so it is easy to keep track of both where you are and where you need to turn or stop.

For riders who prefer an electronic navigation solution, several options are available. The first option is using a smartphone. Some of the advantages of using your existing smartphone are cost and updated maps. If you have already purchased a smartphone it most likely comes with a mapping application pre-installed. Additionally, other mapping applications are available for free or for a fee in either the Apple App Store or Google Play store. Additionally, smartphone mapping applications usually download mapping data on an as-needed basis. While mapping apps can eat up a fair bit of mobile data, they also ensure that riders have up-to-date map data. Another advantage can be your smartphone’s Bluetooth connectivity. If you own a Sena or other Bluetooth hands-free device for your helmet, those devices can be used to listen to a smartphone’s spoken directions.

However, relying on a smartphone mapping application can have several downsides. First, if your mapping application relies on downloading data as needed, it is useless if a rider is in a remote or mountainous area that does not have data coverage. Some smartphone mapping apps do allow users to pre-download map data. However, those data files can be very large and take up a large portion of your phone’s available storage. Second, having your phone mounted to your motorcycle (more on that below) can be a problem in the event of a crash. A smartphone is more likely to be damaged or destroyed when it is mounted to the motorcycle rather than kept inside a pocket in your jacket or pants. There is also the risk that the rider could be physically separated from their motorcycle (and hence their phone) during a crash, and be too physically injured to move closer to their motorcycle to call for help. Smartphones mounted to the motorcycle are also inherently exposed to the elements. Weatherproof and weather-resistant cases are available for many smartphone models. However, those cases can be expensive and bulky.

Another electronic navigation option is using an inexpensive car GPS unit. These units feature pre-downloaded maps and allow riders to keep their phone on their person. Some of the more fully-featured car GPS units have Bluetooth connectivity to link with a motorcycle hands-free device. While most car GPS units are not weatherproof, cases are available for some GPS models that keep the units relatively well-protected from the elements. One of the downsides of using one of these units is their construction. The units were originally designed for use in a climate controlled automotive environment and are more susceptible to damage from vibration, moisture, and the like. Car GPS units also will not auto-update and need to be manually connected to the internet in order to receive map updates.

The highest quality but most expensive electronic navigation solution is a motorcycle-specific GPS. These units are designed to be hard-wired into your motorcycle’s electrical system, are weatherproof, and often include motorcycle-specific features. These units are usually very expensive however. At the time of this writing, the least expensive motorcycle-only GPS units on Amazon.com are $359.95 (TomTom RIDER model) and $399.99 (Garmin Zumo 395LM). If you become a serious touring rider, units like those may be worth the money. However, if you are just starting out in touring, it is probably not worth dropping that kind of money on a GPS unit. You could do a couple long weekends in familiar settings for the price of one of those units. These units also share the same downside as their automotive counterparts, in that they do not auto-update their maps.

Whatever type of electronic navigation device you may choose, there is still the issue of mounting the unit to the motorcycle. There is a plethora of mounting options available for both smartphones and GPS units. Many mounting solutions attach to either the electrical pods, steering stem nut, or handlebars. Many mounting methods utilize RAM-style mounts. These ball-in-socket mounts allow the navigation unit to be rotated to many different angles. Consult resources like Twisted Throttle (http://www.twistedthrottle.com) to find which solutions are available for your motorcycle.

2017 MotoGP Season Preview


Introduction 

Usually when I am writing a MotoGP season preview, I am talking about two or three riders who are expected to dominate the championship, and everyone else is about a mile behind the leaders. Usually I am writing about how MotoGP’s reliance of laboratory bikes makes for less exciting racing than World Superbike. Usually, I am writing about the “aliens” of MotoGP (Lorenzo, Marquez, Pedrosa, and Rossi) returning for another year of domination at the front. However, 2016 was anything but the usual in MotoGP. 2016 may be the year we look back at as the year MotoGP was redefined. 2016 could also end up being an aberration that those of us fortunate enough to enjoy it will look back on fondly. In either case, MotoGP’s anything-but-ordinary 2016 season gave its fans something more gripping that even World Superbike has delivered in years past. It rejuvenated a series that had become too lopsided. In 2015, the defining moment of the MotoGP season was not a ballsy pass or the emergence of a new rising star. Rather it was a poor-quality soap opera-like drama show, where the immaturity of one star and another star’s short fuse resulted in the championship being decided by the stewards. The 2014 season was a year of Marquez domination, with Marquez’s championship-winning debut season in 2013 being the series’ last re-defining season.

Despite Marquez’s enormous impact on MotoGP, from his aggressive riding and elbow dragging to his soured relationship with Rossi, 2016 was a far more important season to MotoGP’s future than 2013 every could be. Yes, Marquez is an immensely talented rider who may one day be arguably the greatest grand prix motorcycle racer of all time. However, domination is not the underpinning of commercial success in motorsports: close competition is. 2016 was the godsend MotoGP knew it needed but, despite its best efforts, had failed to produce artificially.

2016 was witness to something far more important to top-level professional motorsports than greatness: hope. In years past, only a select few riders, teams, and manufacturers won races. While Marquez picked up his third top-class title in 2016, it was far from a dominating season. From the start of the 2007 season to the end of the 2015 season, five riders (Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, and Stoner) won all but four grands prix. Ben Spies was the last “other” winner (Assen, 2011). Other than Casey Stoner’s wins for Ducati from 2007 to 2010, the only non-Honda or Yamaha-mounted riders to win races were Loris Capirossi (Ducati, Japan, 2007), and Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki, Le Mans [wet race], 2007).

In 2016, nine different riders (Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and Iannone) won grands prix for six different teams (Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki factory teams, LCR Honda, and MarcVDS Honda) representing four different manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Ducati). Crutchlow won two grands prix. It may be no coincidence that the greater parity in on-track success suddenly appeared when MotoGP transitioned to spec electronic control units (ECUs) for 2016. In any event, the 2016 MotoGP season was more than something different from past seasons. It has given the teams who used to be seconds behind the two big teams the hope that they can be at the front too. 2016 was more than just an aberration: it is blood in the water. In 2017, we should expect to see a rejuvenated paddock that will attack the championship with a ferocity that we have not seen in previous years.

 

Series Changes

The only major rules change for the 2017 MotoGP season concerns “winglets.” While we usually think of wings and downforce in the context of auto racing, MotoGP teams have gradually been integrating winglets into their bodywork designs. Ducati was one of the first to use the noticeable winglets to help prevent wheelieing in the early 2010s. Last season, winglets took on some extreme iterations, notably the factory Ducati and Yamaha squads.

This year’s schedule remains essentially unchanged. Brno (Czech Republic) and the Red Bull Ring (Austria) have swapped their order on the schedule. Otherwise, MotoGP will visit all of the same tracks they visited in 2016. Unlike previous seasons when the U.S. enjoyed hosting as many as three grands prix, the only U.S. race will be at Circuit of the Americas in April. The 2017 MotoGP calendar can be viewed here: http://www.motogp.com/en/calendar/

 

Teams 

Repsol Honda Team

Bike: Honda RC213V

Riders: Marc Marquez(#93) / Dani Pedrosa (#26)

This team needs no introduction. Marquez is now a three-time and reigning MotoGP world champion, having won his first championship in his rookie season and has won three of the last four MotoGP crowns. The elbow dragger had two strong tests at Valencia and Jerez, but ended up 10th fastest at the last test in Qatar. Marquez went on the record saying he feels better going into 2017 than he did going into 2016. As always, with the engineering prowess of Honda and his sheer talent, Marquez will be a definite threat to repeat as world champion in 2017.

Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa is also well-known to Americans, though for less-than-memorable reasons. Pedrosa is entering his eleventh season with the factory Honda squad. His rookie season miscue where he took out eventual championship-winner and then-teammate Nicky Hayden at Estoril seems like a distant memory now. In his first eight seasons with Repsol Honda, Pedrosa has finished second or third in the riders’ championship seven times. However, since 2014, Pedrosa has finished no higher than fourth in the championship. Honda appears to be holding onto Pedrosa as its reliable #2 rider. Pedrosa has scored at least one win every season in MotoGP, the team’s Spanish petroleum sponsor Repsol would probably like to see the team feature two Spanish riders whenever possible. Pedrosa will likely be near the front again, but his consistent slide in performance makes one wonder how many more seasons Pedrosa will be able to hang onto one of the most coveted rides in the MotoGP paddock.

Honda was the most outspoken team on the issue of electronics the last several seasons. They were reported as being ready to quit the sport on more than one occasion if they were not allowed to use their own electronic rider aide package. Well, for Honda, that came to fruition last season, and they are still in the paddock. Honda did still take second in the constructors’ championship in 2016, 28 points behind Yamaha.

 

Moviestar Yamaha MotoGP

Bike: Yamaha YZR-M1

Riders:  Vinales (#25) / Rossi (#46)

The 2016 constructors’ champion is entering 2017 with more steam than they probably expected at the end of 2016. Most would have likely thought having to replace Jorge Lorenzo, who won three world championships in his nine years riding for the team, would be a tall order. While the 37 year-old Valentino Rossi actually led the team in points in 2016, Lorenzo’s past success and pace on the Yamaha were thought to be nearly impossible to replace. Then along came Maverick Vinales. Vinales, who is a former Moto3 world champion and the 2015 MotoGP Rookie of the Year, has showed immediate pace on the factory Yamaha machine. Vinales was the fastest overall rider in all three winter tests and won a race on the factory Suzuki last season. Look for Vinales to be at the front all season long in 2017. It remains to see how well Vinales will handle the pressure of a one of MotoGP’s most coveted rides. However, his past championship success in Moto3, success in his one season in Moto2 and young age (22) means we likely have not even seen Vinales’ full potential yet.

While Vinales may be one of MotoGP’s stars of the future, Vinales’ teammate remains the unequivocal face of MotoGP. Valentino Rossi, despite being the elder statesman of the MotoGP grid, is coming off a very strong season in 2016. The Doctor has shown that age does not feed on speed nor consistency. Rossi has finished the last three MotoGP seasons second in the riders’ championship, and likely had a legitimate shot at the 2015 title before his incident with Marquez at the Malaysian Grand Prix. However, off-season testing was not kind to Rossi. The Doctor was in the middle of the pack for most of the off-season testing sessions. Rossi finished the Valencia test seventh-fastest, Jerez fifth-fastest, and Qatar eleventh-fastest. At the Qatar test, Rossi was almost one second off of teammate Vinales’ pace. The Doctor has had a career of success by adjustment. But like an old clutch cable, could Rossi be coming to the end of range of adjustment? Rossi will likely still be at the front this season, but may not be there consistently for the early part of the season. It may be a matter of how quickly the Doctor’s team can master the new M1, as well as how much pace some of the other factory teams like Ducati have picked up over the offseason.

 

Ducati Team

Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP17

Riders: Jorge Lorenzo (#99) / Andrea Dovizioso (#04)

But for Maverick Vinales’ unexpected pace at Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati would likely be taking all of the MotoGP headlines. After nine years and three world championships with the factory Yamaha squad, Lorenzo is attempting to do what Rossi failed to do during the 2011 and 2012 seasons: Win on a Ducati. The Ducati team is in much better shape now that it was during Rossi’s short tenure, as it is coming off of its highest team points total since 2008 and won races for the first time since the Stoner era in 2010. Testing started slow for Lorenzo in Valencia, as the Ducati is a very different bike from the Yamaha. Lorenzo finished eighth-fastest in Valencia, ninth-fastest in Jerez, and fourth-fastest in Qatar. Lorenzo’s raw talent may allow him to be a consistent threat for podiums, but there is likely to be a bit of a learning curve on the Duc.

Lorenzo will team with returning Ducati rider Andrea “Dovi” Dovizioso. Dovi scored one of Ducati’s two wins in 2016, and got his first career MotoGP win all the way back in 2009 during his short tenure as a factory Honda rider. Dovi has shown consistent pace on the Honda, satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, and Ducati, relative to each machine’s potential. As the rider who had input into the development into the GP17, Dovi will be a threat for wins at tracks that suit the Ducati (Austria, Sepang), and will be a barometer that Lorenzo’s ability to adapt to the Italian machine will be measured by.

 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Bike: Aprilia RS-GP

Riders: Alex Espargaro (#41) / Sam Lowes (#22)

Aprilia’s return to MotoGP as a full participant has been a bit dismal. The Gresini-Aprilia pairing has scored only 111 points over their two seasons together, and are already on their fifth and sixth different riders. Despite Gresini’s past success in several classes of grand prix racing, and Aprilia’s success in World Superbike, the RS-GP has failed to live up to the hype so far. For 2017, the RS-GPs will be piloted by riders Sam Lowes and Aleix Espargaro. Lowes is the 2013 World Supersport champion who has had some success in his three Moto2 seasons. Lowes scored two wins last season in Moto2, and finished fifth in that championship before being promoted to Gresini’s top-class squad. Espargaro is coming off of a disappointing season with the factory Suzuki team. He was comprehensively outperformed by them-teammate Maverick Vinales, finishing the season with 93 points compared to Vinales’ 202. In preseason testing, Espargaro was often mid-pack, while Lowes found himself near the bottom of the time sheets. While incremental improvements in performance are possible in 2017, preseason testing seems to indicate Aprilia have not taken the steps they needed to in the off-season to become a real threat in MotoGP.

 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bike: KTM RC16

Riders: Bradley Smith (#38) / Pol Espargaro (#44)

KTM is entering its very first season in MotoGP. Despite its success in the lower classes of grand prix racing and in the off-road competition, first seasons in top-class grand prix racing are usually disappointing. It appears KTM may be following that trend. KTM have opted to use a trellis steel frame for their machines. The remainder of MotoGP teams use aluminum perimeter frames. Ducati was the last team to use the steel trellis design before it moved over to carbon fiber in the late 2000s. It remains to be seen whether KTM has something in mind that Ducati did not, or whether this may be a short stint in MotoGP for KTM.

One thing KTM did very well was put quality talent on their machines. The team signed both Tech 3 riders from last season (Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro). Smith is known for being among the most intelligent riders in the MotoGP paddock, and Espargaro is coming off a relatively strong season where he was the second-highest finishing non-factory rider behind Crutchlow. KTM’s performance in winter testing reflected their rookie status, with all test riders consistently finishing near the bottom of the time sheets. Though not much is to be expected from the Austrian squad, this will be a pivotal year for the team. How they respond to what they learn this year may well dictate the mark’s future fortunes in MotoGP.

 

Team Suzuki Ecstar

Bike: Suzuki GSX-RR

Riders: Andrea Iannone (#29) / Alex Rins (#42)

The relatively young factory Suzuki squad is coming off an unexpectedly positive 2016 season. While the team’s fastest rider (Maverick Vinales) has moved on to the Yamaha factory effort, the team scored its first win since 2007 and had its most successful season since it ended its two-year hiatus from grand prix racing in 2014. The team signed two new riders for 2017. Andrea Iannone moves over to Suzuki from the factory Ducati outfit after a successful yet forgettable 2016 season. Iannone’s success in achieving Ducati’s first win since 2010 at the Red Bull Ring last season was overshadowed by his submarine move on then-teammate Andrea Dovizioso in the closing stages of the Argentine Grand Prix, erasing a sure double-podium for Ducati. Iannone will be teamed with MotoGP rookie Alex Rins. Rins was the runner-up in the 2013 Moto3 championship, and has finished second or third in the last three Moto2 championships. Rins and Iannone were very close in the last two preseason tests. Look for Suzuki to continue to build on its success last season with its recent experience, past success in grand prix racing, and young talent. While wins may be a stretch for the team without the tremendously fast Vinales behind the bars, Suzuki will likely see at least one of their riders consistently in the top five. Podiums are possible depending on what happens with the frontrunners.

 

LCR Honda

Bike: Honda RC213V

Riders: Cal Crutchlow (#35)

2016 was a year of completely unexpected success for Crutchlow and LCR Honda. Crutchlow, who is the 2007 World Supersport champion and is entering his seventh season in MotoGP, has been known as a rider who has immense talent who does not always have the machinery underneath him to allow his full potential to be shown. While Crutchlow only moved up one place in the riders’ world championship between 2015 and 2016, last season saw Crutchlow take a pair of wins. For LCR, it was the team’s first two wins in its eleven year tenure in grand prix motorcycle racing’s top class. For 2017, Crutchlow returns to the team, and will again be paired with a factory-supported Honda RC213V. In preseason testing, Crutchlow showed consistent pace, but was still a little bit behind the frontrunners. He finished inside of the top 10, but outside of the top five, in all three preseason tests. While it may be difficult for Crutchlow to repeat his 2016 success, look for Crutchlow to challenge for podiums occasionally in 2017.

 

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Bike: Yamaha YZR-M1

Riders: Johann Zarco (#5) / Jonas Folger (#94)

Yamaha’s French-based satellite team gets a complete makeover with its 2017 rider line-up. With both of its 2016 riders moving over to the new KTM factory team, Tech 3 secured the services of two-time and reigning Moto2 world champion Johann Zarco and Moto2 stand-out Jonas Folger for the 2017 season. Despite being bitter rivals in Moto2 for the last several seasons, they will share the Tech 3 garage and contest the 2017 top-class championship aboard year-old Yamaha YZF-M1s. Look for both riders to be mid-pack most of the season while they learn the ropes in MotoGP, much like both riders were in preseason testing. The two may reignite their fierce rivalry this season or in 2018 if and when it becomes clear that Rossi may hang up the leathers at the Yamaha factory team.

 

Other Teams 

The teams below are privateer or satellite teams who are not expected to be major contributors to the 2017 championship. The lone major participant in the 2016 championship from this group was Jack Miller. Miller grabbed a very unexpected win in mixed conditions at Assen last season. Miller was a standout in Moto3 before being promoted directly to the MotoGP class. Miller’s teammate Rabat, the 2014  Moto2 world champion, has yet to demonstrate his talent in the MotoGP class. Both riders will return to the team for 2017 aboard satellite Honda machinery. The three Ducati satellite teams will campaign several different iterations of past and present MotoGP chassis. The only rider to get current-year equipment is Danilo Petrucci, who has shown glimpses of speed, mostly in mixed or wet conditions. Petrucci’s teammate Redding, the 2013 Moto2 runner-up, has yet to show that same pace in the MotoGP class. He has slipped over the past couple of seasons, falling from 12th to 13th to 15th in the riders’ championship over his three seasons in MotoGP. Barring something unforeseen, none of the remaining riders are expected to make even occasional challenges for top fives or podiums in 2017.

 

EG 0,0 MarcVDS Racing

Bike: Honda RC213V

Riders: Jack Miller (#43) /  Tito Rabat (#53)

 

Octo Pramac Racing

Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP17 / Ducati Desmosedici GP16

Riders: Danilo Petrucci (#9) / Scott Redding (#45)

 

Reale Avintina Racing

Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP16 / Ducati Desmosedici GP15

Riders: Hector Barbera (#8) / Loris Baz (#76)

 

Pull&Bear Aspar Team

Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP15 / Ducati Desmosedici GP16

Riders: Karel Abraham (#17) / Alvaro Bautista (#19)

 

 

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #3, Part II (Comfort con’t)


Wind protection: If a rider is used to only riding around town on sunny days or on urban interstates where tall buildings knock the wind down a bit, ten hours on the open road can feel like ten rounds with Evander Holyfield. However, how much additional wind protection is needed depends on each rider. Some touring riders (I know several of this type) swear by getting all of the wind off of them that they can. They would tell you to buy the biggest windshield you can afford and that’s the only way you will enjoy long days on the freeway.

I would respectfully disagree with them. Sure, I now have a FJR1300 that has a good-sized, electronically-adjustable windshield. Having the tall windshield is a godsend in cold or wet conditions. It pushes some of the rain and wind up over your head, and you can ride in (relative) tranquility. Larger windshields are also great when you are on a busy two-lane highway or a portion of a freeway that is under construction and traffic has been moved over to one side. When those convoys of semi-trucks blow by you, having a windshield can help deflect the blow from their disturbed air. I learned that when I rode to Salt Lake City and part of I-80 through Wyoming was under reconstruction. All traffic was moved to one side of the freeway. Between the strong cross-winds and the convoys of trucks coming the other way, I took a real beating on my flyscreen-equipped Suzuki Bandit 1200.

However, large windshields also have some downsides. For one, if the windshield is tall enough that the rider cannot see over it, it can become a hazard. Unlike cars, motorcycle windshields (at least all the ones I have seen) do not come equipped with windshield washers and wipers. Even if a rider wants or likes a large windshield, it is better to be able to see over the top of the windshield if it becomes foggy or bugged up. Large windshields are also disadvantage in hot weather. While a large windshield may keep the cold air off of the rider in cooler temperatures, it also keeps the moving air from cooling the rider off in warm temperatures.

I figured that last part out the first summer I had my FJR1300. The full fairing and large windscreen (even in the lowest position) were a huge change from my Bandit 1200. That summer, I took a multi-day trip from Columbus where I lived at the time to Allentown, Pennsylvania to see old friends. On the ride back, the air temperature was probably somewhere in the upper 80s. Despite doing 75mph on the wide-open Pennsylvania Turnpike, I could not get enough air over me to cool down. I survived the ride, but had not thought when I bought the bike about how much of a change the full fairing would be in hot weather.

Before I bought my FJR, I toured on my  aforementioned 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200. That bike originally came with a bikini upper fairing. For a time I had taken the fairing off and had installed a traditional round headlight with a small flyscreen. I discovered that generally as long as I could take the wind off of my chest I could easily make it through 8-10 hours in the saddle. Even through a lot of sport touring riders like to ride with their windshield fully up, I still lower the windshield whenever I can. Without the wind blowing over me, I do not feel like I am on a motorcycle the same way I did on my previous bikes.

Ultimately, each rider has to find what amount of wind protection works for them. This is another area where test riding is so important. During the test ride, note how much wind you would want taken off of your and in which areas. If you just want to get your chest (which acts like a big wind catcher) out of the wind, go for something small. If you really feel beat up by the wind, try something bigger. In terms of moving the wind off of you, the amount that the wind will be elevated over the top of a windshield depends in part on the windshield’s angle. On my FJR, when I put the windshield fully up, the top of the windshield is probably at about the bottom of my helmet. The air comes off the windshield at the very top of my helmet. If I duck my head down a little bit, then wind is completely off of me.

If you opt for a taller windshield, be aware of “buffeting.” This occurs when wind coming off of a windshield causes a big disturbance in the air in front of the rider’s helmet. This can get very annoying for riders, especially during long riders. A lot of handlebar-mounted windshields have some degree of adjustability, so buffeting may be something you can dial out that way. Do a couple short test rides to get the wind where you want it to be before doing one of the longer test rides.

The smallest version of a windshield is usually called a flyscreen. These little screens are made for both cruisers and naked street bikes, and basically keep the bugs off of the back side of your bike’s gauge pods or handlebars. Personally, I recommend all riders at least consider adding a flyscreen. They will make bug-cleaning duty much easier, and also give a rider a place to mount an E-Z Pass or other electronic tolling tag. Those little tags save riders a lot of time at toll plazas, and usually come with some sort of discount. Even though I am an Ohio resident now, I still have my E-Z Pass account through New York State where I grew up. I get 50% off of most New York State tolls when I ride my motorcycle on the Thruway. In Pennsylvania, any vehicle equipped with an E-Z Pass saves 25% or more on cash tolls. For touring riding, it is much easier to be billed for tolls than to waste time digging through your pockets or tank bag at a toll booth.

After flyscreens, windshields begin to come in all shapes and sizes. For touring bikes or sportbikes that have fairings and built-in windshields, one nice option is a flip-up windshield. These shields are a direct fit for your current windshield, and have a top that becomes very vertical to push the air even further over you. I have not used one yet but have gotten favorable reviews from riders who use them. If you own a cruiser, standard, or dual-purpose motorcycle, windshields usually either attach to your handlebars or your headlight mounting assembly. Smaller screens like flyscreens or small windshields will mount to the bolts on either side of your headlight. These models can only really be tilted forward or backward. Larger windshields usually mount to the handlebars between the handlebar clamp and the electrical pods. Instead of researching the windshields themselves, research customer reviews of windshields with your particular motorcycle and see what other riders with your model bike have said about them.

 

Warmth: A lot of riders may think they do not need to think about warmth if they do not plan to tour in the early spring or late fall. When touring, climate conditions can change very, very quickly. Just because it is 75-degrees and sunny when you leave Daytona Bike Week in mid-March does not mean it will stay that way while you make your way north through the Great Smoky Mountains.

I learned this lesson on my trip to Salt Lake City. On the way out weather mostly favorable. I saw some snow in fields in Wyoming while I was on my way out, but the temperatures were probably in the high 40s or low 50s. My first day riding home I rode up out of the valley Salt Lake City is located in and immediately ran into a damp cold. It was very humid, and temperatures were probably in the high 30s. I was so cold and stiff when I got off the bike for the first fuel stop 100 miles into the ride. Like I said, weather can change very dramatically over the course of a day’s ride.

While only a select few heavy touring bikes are equipped with a true heating system (although some ST1300, FJR1300, and Kawasaki Concours 14 owners would disagree with that), there is now an electronic gizmo to keep practically every part of the body warm.  However, there are some less expensive ways of staying warm when the tour turns cold.

One non-electronic accessory that can really help is a set of handguards. These are usually made of plastic and attach to the handlebars on either side of the grips. I have not experimented with them yet, but riders I know who have them give them rave reviews. I will probably be adding a set to my FJR1300 during the next off-season.

As discussed in the section above, another way to stay warmer is adding a windshield. While a windshield will not add heat to the rider’s situation, taking some of the cold wind off of the rider at highway speeds can be a godsend. However, also as discussed above, big windshields are not for everyone and have the opposite effect in warm weather. I will cover clothing that can help with keeping you warm in Point #10.

A very common heated riding accessory is heated grips. These grips feature wiring that runs through them that connect to your motorcycle’s electrical system. Many modern touring motorcycles offer heated grips as standard equipment, and a set can be added to a motorcycle for as little as $75 or less. Installation is moderately difficult depending on the motorcycle. Like when installing traditional motorcycle grips, it is important to thoroughly clean the handlebars of residue from the old grips before installing new grips. Some heated grips come with more levels of adjustability than others and vary in terms of how hot they get. BMW grips only offer two settings, but are renown for how hot they become even on the lowest setting.

A less common heated accessory is a heated seat. Some motorcycles like Gold Wings come with heated seats from the factory. Heating elements can also be added to aftermarket seats such as Russell’s and Sargents. While there are benefits to having a heated seat, it can be quite an expensive proposition and is usually part of an expensive seat upgrade. If you are new to touring riding, I would be hesitant to invest in a heated seat. If you live in a colder climate or want to tour in colder climates and are in the process of getting a high-end custom seat built for your motorcycle, it may be worthwhile. However, for a new touring rider, it would likely be more beneficial to invest the money you would spend in a heated seat on a couple summer weekend road trips.

Modern heated accessories do not draw the same amount of power as older systems, and can more easily be run alongside other accessories. However, whenever adding an electrical accessory, be it heated grips/gear, a GPS (covered in the next section), or something else, it is important to keep in mind the load such accessories are placing on a motorcycle’s electrical system. Some touring-oriented motorcycles come equipped with powerful alternators to power lots of electronic farkles. However, even those systems have limits. Electrical system information is widely available over the Internet for most motorcycle models. Look up your particular motorcycle and see how many amps the alternator puts out, as well as how many amps the motorcycle’s native electrical systems draws when operating.

Personally, I just changed the heated grips on the FJR1300 because of some problems I was having with the aftermarket set that came on my bike. The old set was obviously a cheap product, and felt much more like plastic than rubber. When I tried to ride with my rain gloves on, the throttle would start rotating closed despite my grip on it. I have not ridden with the new Tourmaster grips I purchased yet. However, they are installed and worked fine when I tested them. The grips are much more rubbery and have a much more defined texture to them. I will write a full review once I have gotten some miles on them. While my experience is more the exception than the rule, be sure to look at customer reviews for the products you are looking to purchase.

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #3, Part I (Comfort)


Photo description: My OEM FJR1300 front seat is on the left, and my custom-built Sargent Cycle Products front seat is on the right. Note the differences in seat width and shape.

 

#3: Comfort, Comfort, Comfort!: As mentioned above, things that are annoying on a casual two hour ride easily become absolutely unbearable after 8-10 hours or more. After doing the test ride procedure described in Point #2, a rider should have a good idea of what areas of the motorcycle may not be to his or her liking. Here are some of the common areas that long-distance riders look to maximize comfort:

Seat: This is probably the first area most riders look to make a change when they start riding long distance. Many stock seats work fine for an hour or two. After that, many riders start to develop some posterior pain that steadily grows from a nuisance to downright agony.

One of the mistakes some riders make is immediately dropping hundreds of dollars on a brand-new seat, when some seat accessories could have provided them with adequate comfort at a fraction of the price. One example of seat accessories is a sheepskin seat pad. Alaskan sheepskin is used in medical applications to prevent bedsores, so it is a natural fit for having your rear in contact with your seat for long periods of time. Another seat accessory is an air pad (like an Airhawk), which is inflated with air and helps promote blood flow and overall comfort. Yet another accessory is a beaded seat pad. These function pretty much the same way as the air pads, but use a set of wood beads to promote airflow and circulation. They may not look comfortable, but the author has met more than one long distance rider who given the beads a rave reviews. All of these options can be found for around $150 or less. A rider could go through two or more of the options before they have spent the equivalent of a brand-new seat.

For riders who have tried the seat accessories but find they need something more, there are plenty of options out there. Brands such as Saddlemen, Mustang, Corbin, Russell and Sargent are well-recognized within the motorcycling community. One thing that seems counterintuitive to many riders is the hardness of aftermarket motorcycle seats. When most of us think about comfort, we think about sinking into a plush couch or chair. In motorcycle riding, a plush seat does not hold up nearly as well. This is in part due to the relatively small area of a motorcycle seat. Most stock motorcycle seats become uncomfortable because the foam is relatively plush and bottoms out. That is why that soft seat that feels comfy when you first sit on it, but then begins feeling like a church pew after a couple hours. The longer a rider sits on the weak foam, the more their weight begins resting on the hard seat pan.

Testing seats from different manufacturers is often impossible, and purchasing an aftermarket seat is usually an expensive proposition. After doing the series of test rides on the stock seat, a rider should have an idea of what they would like in a new seat. Corbin seats are known for being very stiff, and tend to be preferred by heavier riders. More basic aftermarket seats are usually between $250-$400 for just the front seat. Russell Day-Long seats are known as the cream of the crop, but tend to be very, very pricey. Read some reviews on the different seat manufacturers and see which one seems to fit what you are looking for. Sargent Cycle Products, who re-did my Bandit 1200 seat and built a new seat for my FJR, has a great article about seat comfort, technology, and shape. It can be found here: http://www.sargentcycle.com/Custom-Seat-Services/Road-To-Comfort/.

Handlebars: Adjusting handlebars is just as much as safety issue as it is a comfort issue. Riders need to be confident in their ability to steer their motorcycle in an emergency. However, comfort can also become a factor in safety. For example, modern sportbikes tend to place a good portion of a rider’s weight on their wrists. If a rider has been riding his/her sportbike for several hours and is suffering with sore wrists, that can negatively affect their ability to quickly input direction changes to the motorcycle in an emergency. Overall, a rider needs to adjust their handlebars to where they feel they have both maximum control, as well as maximum comfort.

Most motorcycles are equipped with either 7/8-inch or 1-inch handlebars that can be replaced relatively easily. Handlebars vary based on their width, rise (the height of the ends of the bars compared to the center) and pullback (how much the bars are swept back toward the rider). Each rider has their own personal preferences for handlebars. Some riders like bars that are tall with a lot of pullback so they can sit very upright. Some riders like flatter bars that make them lean forward and distribute some of their weight off their rears and onto their wrists. Whatever your preference, make sure you can still turn the front wheel lock-to-lock without the bars hitting the gas tank or any other part of the motorcycle.

Another issue with changing the bar position is controls cables and wiring. If the bars are raised or swept back too much from their original position, items like brake lines and the wiring for electrical pods may not be long enough to accommodate the new bars. Having to buy custom brake lines or extend wiring can be expensive, or cumbersome, or both. Take a look at how much slack there is in your bikes cables, hoses, and wiring before selecting a new set of bars.

Another option is handlebar riser kits. These usually consist of a set of metal inserts that raise the level of the handlebar clamps. They are usually relatively inexpensive and easier to install since they reuse the stock handlebars. However, the same issues with hoses and wiring apply to riser kits. The good news is that most of the kits will come with new brakes lines or other cables/lines that are needed. The bad news is you may need to drain and replace your front brake fluid whether it is due for a change or not. Also, riser kits only change the height of the bars. While the angle of some motorcycle steering stems may allow the bars to come back toward the rider some, the width and pullback of the stock bars remain unchanged. Just keep that in mind when considering a riser kit.

Another important point to keep in mind is that changes as little as one inch can make a big difference, for better or worse. One of my buddies (let’s call him John Bolt) bought a 2013 Yamaha Bolt a couple years ago. Coming off of a 1986 Yamaha Virago 700, John found the relatively flat bars of the Bolt very different from the mini apehangers his Virago 700 had come with. John ended up getting new bars from Yamaha that had an additional inch of pullback. John called me before he bought them, skeptical that they would make a big enough difference. I assured him they would make a bigger difference than he was thinking they would. John bought them and ended up finding one inch was all the difference he needed to be comfortable.

Personally, I changed the bars on my Bandit 1200 several times. When I first bought the bike, a previous owner had put a handlebar riser kit on it. While the bars did not seem overly tall, the pullback on the bars forced me to hold the grips at a weird angle that hurt my wrists. As I wrote about earlier, I took the riser kit off when I replaced my front brake lines with braided steel lines. The angle of the grips was much improved. However, I felt like I was putting a little too much weight on my wrists than I wanted to. What I ended up doing was reinstalling the riser kit, but replaced the handlebars with a lower, wider bar. The brake lines had very little slack in them, but they were not under tension and worked fine. The wider bars made initiating turn-in a little easier, and was also a little more relaxing on long rides. Even though it took a couple tries, I eventually got to the point where the bars were properly set up for me.

A good technique to use, after you get the seat squared away, is to sit on the bike, but not reach for the bars. Rather, sit on the bike the way you want to sit on it. Then reach out and see where you would like the bars to be. This will give you a rough idea of how much of a change in width, rise, and pullback you are looking for. Then you can start shopping for bars that work for you. Another technique is to look at the handlebars that are available, then sit on your bike and move your hands to roughly where each set of available bars would put them.

Another thing to keep in mind are your electrical pods on both sides of most motorcycle’s handlebars. Usually the turn signals switch, high/low beam switch, and horn are on the left, and the start button and kill switch are on the right. Some bars also have reservoirs attached to them for the front brakes or clutch. Many of these pods have tabs that go into pre-drilled holes in the stock handlebars to keep the pods from rotating. DO NOT just cut off the tabs in the pods. They are there for a reason. Instead, when you take the pods off of the old handlebars, measure the distance from the end of the bar to the hole. Then place the new bars in a vise, measure that same distance (or some variation, if you want to move the pods on the new bars), and drill the holes. Sometimes it is easier to drill a pilot hole before drilling the full bore. Make sure you are drilling into what will be the top of the bars when they are mounted in the motorcycle. Fluid reservoirs do not respond well to being rotated backward or forward.

For riders wanting to tour on a motorcycle with clip-on handlebars, things get a little more expensive. While a few motorcycles with clip-ons may have the bars elevated, most clip-ons set the bars below the top triple clamp. This can put a lot of a rider’s weight on their wrists. While moving the rider’s weight forward may help with handling on a race track, it is not ideal for a long day’s ride. The primary option for raising the bars is a completely new set of clip-ons (like Woodcraft’s elevated clip-ons or Helibars). Like with traditional handlebars, be cognizant of brake line, cable and electrical line lengths when installing clip-on risers. Some kits can raise the bars as much as three inches, making even the sportiest sport bike capable of long distance duty.

Some sport-touring models, like the author’s FJR1300, the Triumph Sprint ST, and the Kawasaki Concours 14 have the handlebars on pylons bolted to the top triple clamp. Riser kits are available for this type of handlebar setup. Additionally, some models offer several positions that the pylons can be adjusted to. However, few options are available for changing the pullback or width of the bars to the same degree as normal handlebars.

Footpegs/Floorboards: Options for relocating footpegs or floorboards tend to be a little more limited due to their connections with the shift lever and rear brake pedal. Footpegs or floorboards should only be adjusted after getting the seat and handlebar situations squared away. The author is 6’2, and his legs felt a little cramped when he first got his FJR. The author replaced the seat with an aftermarket Sargent seat, which raised the seat height. That little increase in seat height fixed my leg cramping problem.

If after getting the seat and handlebars squared away the footpeg or floorboard position is still a problem, aftermarket solutions are available. For floorboards, many different aftermarket floorboards are available, although many appear to reflect changes in style rather than functionality. Floorboards vary in both size and position (in terms of how far they are from the rider). Motorcycles equipped with footpegs have more options. Some aftermarket footpegs are available that allow the rider to change the position of the foot pegs without relocating the control pedals. There are also kits available for many motorcycles that relocate both the footpegs and their associated controls. The co-host on the Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show (Roy Dyckman) used a relocation kit to move the footpegs and controls on this BMW R1200R down and forward. It was a real shock to me when I test rode his bike and had a peg hit pavement when I was turning slowly at an intersection. Kits vary widely by each motorcycle model, so search for what aftermarket solutions are available for your particular motorcycle.

Another option to consider is highway pegs. These are a secondary set of footpegs that are usually located forward of the motorcycle’s standard footpegs. The idea is that they give the rider a second leg position that allows them to stretch their legs during a ride. Many BMW R-bike owners install highway peg kits on the R-motor’s valve covers. Many cruiser riders who do not have forward controls install highway pegs on their crash bars. One disadvantage of highway pegs is that they take the rider’s feet away from the foot controls in an emergency. The time it takes to move your feet from the highway pegs to the footpegs and actuate the rear brake or transmission can be 1-2 seconds. At 70mph on the freeway, a lot of ground is covered in that timeframe.

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #1 (Choosing a Touring Bike)


#1: You do NOT need a BIG bike: Fear not ye Ninja 500 or Harley Street 500 owner: You too can enjoy long distance riding. A lot of touring riders will tell you that you need a “big” bike to really enjoy touring. Bigger motorcycles, cruiser or street, do have certain advantages. Their added weight can make going over bumps or bridge joists less unpleasant. Their higher torque output can make passing traffic a lot easier. Some larger touring bikes, like the author’s Yamaha FJR1300, also have large fuel tanks for fewer fuel stops or longer forays into the wilderness.

However, smaller motorcycles are just as capable of doing long-distance as their larger brethren. They also have some advantages. Lots of riders tour on 650cc twins, like the Suzuki SV650 and Kawasaki Versys 650. Smaller bikes’ better fuel economy means lower overall trip costs, and their lightweight can be a godsend in urban traffic or traffic jams. Their lightweight advantage is amplified in the growing adventure-touring market. A lighter single or twin-cylinder motorcycle, like a Kawasaki KLR650, a BMW F800GS, or even the new Kawasaki Versys 300 will do a lot better on dirt roads than a much heavier BMW S1000X or a Honda VFR1200X. Heck, my editor at the Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show toured on Ninja 250s for years.

In reality, as long as your motorcycle is at least 250cc, it is usually the best bike to start touring on. Long-distance riding has many challenges, and it is better to face them with the devil you know than the devil you do not know. In reality, how a motorcycle is set-up is far more important to making long-distance riding enjoyable than the motorcycle itself. The next several points will outline the process by which a rider can go about figuring out what touring set-up will work best for him or her.

 

#2: Do a test ride: I cannot stress this point enough. A motorcycle cannot be properly set up for long distance riding until the rider has figured out what needs to change. By taking your bike out for several structured long rides, a rider can figure out where the biggest issues are. Not doing a test ride can cause one of two kinds of problems. Some riders may not make enough modifications to their bike. Little things that are marginally uncomfortable after an hour or two of riding easily become unbearable after eight or ten hours of riding. The other problem can be a new long distance rider wasting money on lots of touring farkles that do not actually work for them.

Some motorcycles are better set up from the factory for touring than others. The author’s Yamaha FJR1300 already had good-sized hard luggage, a relatively comfortable riding position, plenty of wind protection, and heated grips. However, the author has still made a series of modifications over the past several years to get the bike better set up for him. The FJR’s seat has been changed, the heated grips were replaced with a different brand that offers better grip, the cam chain tensioner was replaced with a manual type, and mirrors have been swapped for wider ones. The author also did his first long-distance ride on a Honda Nighthawk 750, which is about as bare bones of a motorcycle as any manufacturer has made in the last 25 years. A good touring bike is any bike that is properly set up for you.

I personally made the mistake of not test riding several times. While I lived to tell about those experiences, a simple test ride would have shown me I had a problem well before I had hit the open road. My first such experience occurred on my first motorcycle trip back in 2008. I had decided I did not want to spend a lot of money on luggage (which will be discussed in Point #4), so I bought a small sissybar bag, a Joe Rocket magnetic tank bag, a set of small Dowco saddlebags, and a motorcycle backpack for the trip. The tank bag worked out very well and was one I used for the next eight years. I still have it as a backup in case something happens to my current tank bag. The saddlebags also worked out well, and were a set I held onto for several years. The problem was the backpack. When I bought the backpack, I never considered either how long I would be riding, nor the weight of what I planned on cramming into it. I ended up stuffing the backpack full, and it was heavy enough that it started hurting my back. The weight also kept wanting to pull me backward and away from the handlebars. Had I simply done a test ride before I left, I would have figured out that I needed to move some items to another piece of luggage and off of my back.

As it turned out, I had not fully learned my lesson with motorcycles and backpacks. The next summer, I did my three-day tour to get ready for my trip to Utah. In a sense, the tour was really a three-day test ride, so I did not do things completely wrong. However, what I learned on the trip was that I still had a lot to learn about touring. Since I had had problems with the backpack, I decided to add a tail bag to the saddlebag set. That way I could move my laptop and other heavy items off of my back and onto the passenger seat. However, again, I did not do a test ride. As I began my ride, I discovered that the backpack was actually sitting on top of the tail bag, and kept on sliding around as I rode. By the time I figured out it was a real problem, I was already well into my first day. I got to enjoy the unpleasantness for another two days on the road.

The next year when I decided to do my ride to Utah, I sold the backpack and bought a Givi 45-liter top case. I kept the tail bag, and when I left for Utah, tried putting the tail bag back on the passenger seat. Once again, I did not do a test ride. What I had not planned on was the position of the top case pushing the tail bag forward a couple inches. Also, a week or two before I left, I had the tires on the bike changed (more on that in Point #8), and decided to replace the front brake lines too. When I went to install the lines, I came to the realization that the handlebar riser kit the bike came with made the bars too tall for the length of the brake lines. So I had to take the riser kit off and ride with the bars being an inch lower. Lowering the bars made the riding position very different but actually worked out okay. As soon as I sat on the bike for the first time with both the tail bag and top case on at the same time (which was 7am the morning I was leaving as the bike was warming up), I felt the tail bag pushing me forward in the seat. 4,500 miles later, I really regretted not having done a test ride. I had spent $325 on a custom seat the winter before, and I could barely use it because the tail bag was pushing me too far forward in the seat.

Two years ago Speedy Dan and I began planning our trip to Austin. I told Speedy it would be a good idea to test ride the ST1300 he would be borrowing for the trip. I was concerned that stock seat would not be comfortable enough for Speedy for consecutive nine-hour days. Speedy ended up only taking the ST1300 out for a couple short rides. Over the course of the trip, the seat actually worked out for Speedy. However, Speedy Dan struggled with a buffeting problem. Speedy Dan finally used the electronically-adjustable windscreen the last 200 miles of the trip and found that it solved the problem. Speedy could have enjoyed 3,500 miles of no buffeting instead of 3,300 miles of riding with a buffeting issue.

A good way to go about test riding is to use several rides, each one longer than the one before. The first ride should be equivalent to one tank of fuel for your bike. It will give a rider an idea of what issues may come up if he or she is not making any planned stops between fuel stops. The second ride should between the distance of the first ride and the amount of ground the rider wants to cover in a typical day. Usually, this would be about half or two-thirds of a typical day-long touring ride. The third ride should be the full distance a rider wants to cover in a day.

As you progress through each ride, write down what seems to be working well, as well as what is not working so well. Be sure to note how much worse each problem area becomes as the rides get progressively longer. Do not worry about how to fix the problems you discover yet. Just make sure you have a thorough understanding of what is causing the problem. For example, your rear end may be getting sore as the rides get longer. While the seat is usually one of the first things long distance riders change, it is not always the seat’s fault. Could it be the way you are sitting on the seat? Or might you need to change which portion of the seat you are sitting on throughout the day? Additionally, if it is the seat’s fault, there are lots of ways of addressing seat problems. Some of those solutions are covered in the next section.

It is best to not stray too far from home during these test rides in case it becomes really unbearable. One good method is riding to a certain point, then turning around and heading home. Another method is getting on a city’s outer loop freeway (if one is nearby) and just riding it a couple laps or more until the desired distance has been covered.

Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long Distance Motorcycle Riding


As we approach the start of the riding season, some of my fellow riders may be considering taking their first long-distance motorcycle ride this year. The transition from being a casual rider to a touring rider can seem daunting. For others, it may seem a little too simple. As someone who has 100,000 miles of road riding experience over the last 10 years, I can assure you the truth in somewhere in between. There is a lot to think about. What happens if you break down? Will your bike be comfortable for six, eight, or even ten hours on the road? How expensive is it to set your bike up for touring? Alas, my fellow riders, the answer to those questions and more can be found in this series of articles.

I decided to write these articles because of several past experiences, both my own and others’. As I was getting into long-distance riding, I did not have any friends where were avid long-distance riders, and very few who rode at all. While the Internet was obviously around, I really did not have a good frame of reference to even know what questions to ask or what to search for. I learned by trial-and-error, which is NOT the best way to learn about motorcycle touring. To a degree, there is always a certain amount of trial-and-error. Each rider needs to find what works best for them. However, there are good and not-so-good ways of going about figuring out what works. You do not want to be half way into a cross-country trip and figure out something isn’t working the way you had planned. Trust me on that one.

Last year I did my first non-solo tour with a friend of mine (let’s call him Speedy Dan). Speedy had never ridden for longer than two hours before taking a 3,500-mile trip to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for MotoGP. As Speedy Dan and I made our way down and back to Austin, Texas, I saw Speedy struggle with a few of the same things I had struggled with when I first got into motorcycle touring. Speedy has sworn off long-distance riding (for now, I’ll get him back on the open road sooner than later) However, I have more friends who are looking to get into long-distance riding after seeing how much of a blast I have with it every year. In order to make their first experiences with motorcycle touring, as well as you the reader’s, less haphazard, I decided it was time to turn my experience into sharable knowledge.

Let me give you a snapshot of my evolution into a long-distance motorcycle rider. I did my first overnight ride in 2008, a year after I got into motorcycle riding. I used my 1997 Honda Nighthawk 750 to ride from Rochester, New York to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, Ohio for the AMA Superbike weekend. I took the motorcycle to the shop the week before to get it checked out, bought a small sissybar bag, a small set of saddlebags, a tank bag, and a backpack (with a rain cover). My first back-to-back days of touring was in 2009. I knew I wanted to ride to Salt Lake City in 2010, so I used a three-day trip on my 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200 to see how well I would do riding 7-8 hours per day for several days in a row. By that time, I had sold the sissybar bag (the Bandit did not have a sissybar), had bought a Dowco saddlebags/tailbag set. I rode from Buffalo, New York to Harrisonburg, Virginia, then to Dayton, Ohio, and then back to Buffalo. In 2010, I finally had a chance to take that trip to Salt Lake City. It took me four days to ride each way. By that time I had sold the backpack and bought a Givi E45 top case.

In my description above, I made several very good choices, and several not-so-good ones. While my misjudgments did not dampen my enthusiasm or curtail my interest in long-distance riding, they certainly made the learning process far less enjoyable than it could have been. In the articles to follow, I will highlight which decisions worked out as planned and which did not as I cover what I consider the most essential advice for new touring riders. I will cover bikes, luggage, gear, accessories, and best practices for avoiding common touring snafus, as well as point out where some trial-and-error is just part of the game. If you, the reader, have questions that fall outside of the scope of these articles, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to welcome new touring riders to the fold and help them get the most enjoyment they can out of their first long distance adventure.