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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