I’m 36, have about 120,000 miles of on-road motorcycle riding experience and have come to the realization that I have a problem.
Not with riding: that’s never a problem. What’s wrong with a long day in the saddle while seeing new places and learning more about American history?
My problem is with how I have been touring. I began believing that because I’m old hat at planning and executing motorcycle tours I don’t need to spend as much time preparing for one. I’d let myself begin to believe that long-distance riding is quantity over quality. I’ve done this so many times that I don’t cherish it the way I used to. I still feel joy, excitement and contentment every time I throw a leg over Jadzia, my trusty 2008 Yamaha FJR1300. But as I’ve tried to pack more and more into my tours the last four years or so, the return on the time and energy spent on the tour has declined.
At the end of each tour, it’s begun to feel more like I completed a task rather than concluded a most excellent two-wheeled adventure. The passion to tour is alive and well, but the way I’ve been executing it has dulled it some. Yet, even as recently as last night, I found myself trying to engineer ways to to pack just a little more into several trips I am planning for 2020.
“Maybe I could leave a night early, you know?” I said to myself. “Then I’ll just push like hell in the morning to make it to the event in time.”
As I was sitting here in a waiting room while my flu-infected girlfriend sees her doctor, I thought about the trips I am in the process of planning. Then my mind drifted back to my first couple motorcycle tours. Some things are still the same. I still plan trips right down to the fuel stops to make sure I don’t run out of gas and have few or no options for fuel. I still compare several hotel brands to make sure I’m getting the best deal I can for each stop.
But some things have changed that have jaded the touring and tour planning experience. During those first tours, I planned 6-7 hour days, giving me plenty of time to stop and see things along the way. Packing lists were strictly followed. Test rides were done with packed luggage to make sure there were no balance or weight distribution problems. Logs were kept to track how far ahead or behind schedule I was running. Notes were made at each stop so I could reference them for planning future tours. I stopped when I felt I needed to, and each stop was often my first time at each place. I had time to conversations with other riders or others who would walk up and ask how I could bear wearing full riding gear in the middle of summer.
More recently, trips have been planned more haphazardly, and I’ve broken one of the rules of touring I’ve written about (not packing the night before a trip) all too often. I try to plan 9-10 hours in the saddle each day, and having to make an unplanned stop becomes a choice between risking my safety in the present to not have to ride after sunset or feeling the stress mount as I continually check the time and watch myself fall further behind schedule. Those conversations still take place, but are often much more abbreviated and rushed. I’m in too much of a hurry to enjoy tracking my progress and learning more about my own touring habits.
As my touring has become more and more destination-focused, I’ve lost sight of the journey. In the rush to see things further away or not have to take as much paid time off for a given trip, I’ve sacrificed the experience of riding simply to make it to as many destinations as I can. I’ve turned the relaxation of recreational riding into a race against Father Time. And what I need to do now is look myself in the mirror and realize I’m trying to compete against something that is undefeated.
So, this year, I’m going to do things different. I’m going to go back to the roots of my touring and make sure I don’t forget to plan a journey that more of an adventure and less of a chore. I’m going to find some new places to ride to that aren’t as far away, and I’m going to plan trips so that being stopped by heavy rain, lightning or other acts of god are simply an unplanned break as opposed to a nerve-rattling setback in maintaining a frantic pace.
Will I stick to what I’m saying I’ll do different? I guess we’ll find out at the end of 2020.
While rallies have a lot of offer sport-touring riders, there are some great motorcycle competition events throughout the nation that are worth making a stop on a tour.
Like my previous article on rallies, the list below is made up of events I have personally attended and recommend.
MotoAmerica (Road Atlanta, VIRginia International Raceway, Road America, Pittsburgh International Race Complex, New Jersey Motorsports Park, Barber Motorsports Park)
The United States’ professional motorcycle road racing championship holds several rounds east of the Mississippi River each year. For full disclosure, this is the series I cut my teeth in motorcycle journalism with, so I am a little biased toward it.
That said, the events are fun and family friendly and the on-track competition is often intense in all competition classes. Making the trip to the round at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., also gives one an opportunity to visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (more on that to come).
Springfield Mile (Springfield, Ill: American Flat Track)
If you’ve never been to a flat track motorcycle race, you’re missing out. Along with speedway racing, flat track is one of the most fan-friendly racing programs out there. And one of the most historic venues to see your first flat track race at is the Springfield Mile.
The one-mile clay oval is located at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. The American Flat Track series typically holds two races on the mile each year. The track has been the scene of national flat track racing since at least the 1940s and was once the sole contest to determine the AMA Grand National Champion.
The track is egg-shaped than other mile-long tracks, with shorter straightaways and longer, more gradual turns. It is billed as the fastest one-mile oval in the world.
While Springfield is one of the most iconic places to watch flat track racing, the Lima Half Mile offers an even better fan experience. The race takes place each year on the pea gravel half-mile oval at the Allen County Fairgrounds near Lima, Ohio.
The pea gravel surface offers faster motorcycle speeds than clay and the shorter track offers better sight lines for spectators. Racers take a lot of different lines around the track, which makes for exciting, bar-banging racing.
What impressed me the most about the 2019 event was the mix of motorcyclists who attended. Every kind of motorcycle and rider could be seen in the steady stream of riders exiting the fairgrounds after the race.
Ricky Carmichael Amateur Supercross (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
I attended the Ricky Carmichael Amateur Supercross for the first time in 2019, and learned what the term, “full send” means. This amateur motocross event takes place during Daytona Bike Week at Daytona International Speedway for two days after the AMA Supercross race each year. The track is modified from the Supercross layout to be raceable for riders of all ages and skill levels.
What really struck me at the event was the stark contrast between riders of different talent levels. In motocross, riders are given a rating from A to C, with A being the fastest, most talented amateur riders. It was amazing to watch riders in the 450 C class gingerly negotiate steep jumps while some of the very talented riders on 65cc or 85cc bikes would attack those jumps, go flying through the air and nail the landing every time.
You won’t get into an event at Daytona International Speedway for much less than the tickets to the amateur Supercross, and you’ll get all the show you could ask for.
Monster Energy Cup (Las Vegas, Nev.: AMA Supercross Exhibition)
When this annual AMA Supercross exhibition race takes place in Las Vegas each fall, it’s the best show in town. While it’s not a points-paying round of the AMA Supercross Series, the series’ biggest stars and some of the best amateur motocross racers in the nation take to the track for this fall classic.
It was first held in 2011 and takes place at Sam Boyd Stadium, which also hosts a round of the AMA Supercross series. The event is operated by AMA Supercross promoter Feld Entertainment.
The event format is also different than a traditional Supercross event. The pro riders compete in three motos with a $1 million prize available to a rider who wins all three races.
Any new sport touring rider should know that there are plenty of top-notch motorcycle-related gatherings each year to fill up one’s calendar.
There is hardly a weekend that goes by during the spring, summer and fall that there isn’t at least one rally or race to attend or landmark or museum to visit that is within a day’s ride from most anywhere in the United States.
I went to write this series of articles as an email to a new sport touring rider about rallies, races and places he should check out. Then I realized it may be worth placing such a list somewhere that all new sport touring riders could find it.
This list is restricted to events I have attended or visited at least once. The following articles in this series will cover races, landmarks and other points of interest.
Geographically speaking, the list reflects my residence and upbringing in the northeastern and mid-western United States.
AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days (Lexington, Ohio)
I call this one “the Woodstock of motorcycle events,” because it’s such a friendly and care-free atmosphere. A fundraiser for the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the event takes place once a year (usually in July) at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. It includes North America’s largest motorcycle swap meet (read: motorcycle flea market), along with bike shows, lots of different types of motorcycle racing and seminars.
Of all the events I describe in this article, this is the one that packs the biggest punch. Tickets are very reasonably priced and you can ride your motorcycle around the facility. The event attracts a wide range of motorcyclists and is very family friendly.
2019 was my first year attending Daytona Bike Week and I was very impressed with the experience. The event claims to attract about half a million riders to the Daytona Beach, Fla., region, and is held annually in early March. While the majority of attendees appeared to be cruiser riders, you’ll see and meet riders on every kind of road-going motorcycle imaginable.
At night during Daytona Bike Week, riders gather along Main Street . The crowding of so many motorcycling enthusiasts along the Main Street strip delivers an electric vibe to the beach-side town, and there’s plenty of food and live music along the strip to keep everyone entertained all night.
In addition to the party on Main, there’s the midway at Daytona International Speedway that features plenty of vendors and demo rides, not to mention lots of racing taking place throughout the region (more on that in the next article). The weather can be brutal in parts of the country during early March, but if you can make it to Daytona Beach, it’s more than worth the trip.
Nestled in a picturesque little lakeside village in Upstate New York, Americade has been attracting motorcyclists to its scenic, history-rich region since 1983. It began as the east-coast rendition of the Aspencade touring bike (read: Goldwing) rally, and claims to attract 100,000-200,000 attendees.
The event location in the Adirondack Mountains means lots of opportunities for riding scenic, twisty roads, and there are lots of test ride opportunities, seminars, vendors and live music within the Village of Lake George. For history buffs, there’s the replica Fort William Henry (site of the events in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans) that is worth a visit.
Oh, and there’s plenty of motorcycle parking. You’ll have a chance to meet riders on every type of motorcycle you can imagine in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.
This annual road riding event takes place in the heart of one of the best riding areas in the nation. Based out of the Best Western hotel in Marietta, Ohio, the now week-long event offers attendees the freedom to ride alone or in groups during the day and enjoy great company each morning and evening. Attendees are just a short ride away from some of Ohio’s best roads, including State Routes 26, 555 and 800.
The door prizes tend to be pretty good too. Those attending also can ride up to the MotoAmerica racing event at Pittsburgh International Race Complex for a day.
The event is associated with the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association.
Each year, several International Motorcycle Shows events take place across the nation. The exhibition-style shows feature displays of the current or upcoming model year’s machines for several motorcycle manufacturers, as well as vendors, seminars and product demonstrations. Some shows also feature vintage motorcycle displays, test rides of electric motorcycles and more.
I have attended their show in Cleveland every year since at least 2011. While the show has gotten smaller the past few years, it’s still well-attended and allows enthusiasts to get their fix of motorcycling during the cold winter months in Northeast Ohio.
In a word, this show is “overwhelming.” It’s one of the biggest (if not the biggest) motorcycle expo in the United States each year. The show often features 500 or more exhibitors and covers every kind of motorcycle and part or accessory one could ask for. The first two days of the show (typically Thursday and Friday) are reserved for media and dealers to check out the latest and greatest motorcycle models and products. The remainder of the show (typically Saturday and Sunday) is open to the general public.
The location of the show has changed several times in recent years. For 2019, it takes place at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
This is probably the most exquisite motorcycle-related event I have attended. It’s not tuxedos and ballroom dresses, but the year I attended it (2016) features a sophisticated ambiance that jived with the complexity, beauty and authenticity of the wide range of custom motorcycles on display. The event is normally held the same weekend as the FIM MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas at nearby Circuit of the Americas, which helps bring diversity, culture and many different perspectives to the atmosphere of the show. It’s a motorcycle show that reflects the values and vibrance of its host city.
Joshua Giannini’s first long-distance motorcycle ride
As the baby boomers, who lived through the “golden age” of motorcycling, begin graying out, the motorcycling community needs more riders like Josh Giannini.
A young man, and relatively new motorcyclist from King of Prussia, Pa., Giannini recently completed his first long-distance motorcycle trip.
Riding a small-displacement machine about 3,000 miles through sun, wind, rain and snow, Giannini never wavered in his determination to complete his journey, and in doing so found a life-long passion for two-wheeled exploration.
It is a passion that only those of us who ride to explore can understand, and it is something our entire community needs to do a better job growing if our lifestyle is to be carried on by future generations.
An interview over burritos
I met Josh while I was having lunch on the patio at the Chipotle restaurant across International Speedway Blvd. from Daytona International Speedway during 2019 Daytona Bike Week. I was pounding out a story for work when I noticed Josh parking his Honda CBR300R. There are lots of small-displacement motorcycles running around Daytona Beach during Bike Week, but not many have soft saddlebags attached to them.
I was intrigued by the prospect that someone had toured their way to Daytona Beach on a single-cylinder, 300cc sport bike, but figured he wouldn’t have ridden in from too far away. I asked him about where he’d started riding from, and when he said, “Philadelphia,” my interest was piqued.
After allowing him to eat his lunch in peace while I finished what I was working on, I asked Josh if he could talk more about his trip on the record. Obviously, he obliged.
Love at first ride
Giannini said he began riding motorcycles in August 2018 and credits a close friend of his for getting him into riding.
“I knew I was searching for something in my life,” he said. “One of my friends learned to ride from his uncle and got a 2017 Yamaha R3. He got super passionate about it and taught me how to ride.”
Giannini said from the first time he swung a leg over his friend’s machine he knew motorcycling was what he had been looking for. He described the experience as, “love at first ride.”
Unlike most riders who gradually build up the tolerance for long distance riding, Giannini said he had about 1,500 miles of riding experience before embarking on his first-ever long-distance motorcycle ride.
“I think the longest ride I had done before this was from King of Prussia to Philadelphia,” Giannini said. “That’s only about 30 minutes.”
The trip was not supposed to be a solo effort. Giannini said he had planned the trip with a friend who was an experienced rider and had remained committed to the trip even after his friend backed out.
His said his parents were not exactly in favor of him taking the trip.
“My family is very against motorcycles, as a lot of parents are,” he said.
He didn’t tell them he was planning the trip until he was about to head out the door.
“They were very upset as first, but I think they realized how important this is to me,” he said. “They warmed up to it and are now super excited that I made it.”
Gettin’ ready for the open (and cold) road
To his credit, Giannini added some farkles to his little Honda that made his first touring experience a success. Realizing he wasn’t going to be able to fit everything he needed for the trip in a backpack, Giannini purchased a set of SW-Motech soft saddlebags.
He realized early in his trip planning that he would need something to combat the cold temperatures and a better seat, so he installed a set of heated grips and an Air Hawk seat cushion.
Giannini picked up his last farkle on his way out of town, riding to Cycle Gear in Allentown, Pa., to purchase a Sedici tank bag.
The long and snowy interstate
Giannini’s journey to warm, sunny Daytona Beach, Fla., began under adverse conditions.
He said it was about 18 degrees, snow on the ground and light flurries when he left the Allentown Cycle Gear parking lot and began heading south toward Daytona Beach.
He said the ride to Daytona didn’t end up being exactly the way he had envisioned it. He had hoped to take his time and ride as many scenic routes as possible in warmer conditions.
“When I was planning this December, I figured it would be a lot warmer this time of year, and it’s not,” he said. “I ended up trying to get here as quickly as possible and stayed on I-95. It was a lot more difficult than I was anticipating.”
He said the low point of his trip was the previous night. He was staying in a hotel in Jacksonville and was physically and mentally exhausted from putting in 600 interstate miles that day. Though his outlook on his endeavor had darkened, it became as bright as the sun when he arrived in Daytona Beach.
“I was really contemplating why I did this and was thinking it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “But when I saw that Daytona Beach sign, got off the highway, and saw all of these motorcycles everywhere, I realized this trip was worth every second of hardship.”
Giannini said he spent most of his first day at Daytona Bike Week in the vendor area at Daytona International Speedway and was planning to head over to Rossmeyer Harley-Davidson that evening. His plan was to stay in Daytona Beach for the weekend, but he was considering staying longer.
He said he was planning on taking three days to ride back to Philadelphia and was expecting the return trip to be easier than the ride down.
“I was worried about missing things going on down here and wanted to make sure I got to Daytona Beach in time,” he said. “I feel like I can take my time more on the ride home now.”
Advice and the future
For others who are planning their first long-distance motorcycle trip, Giannini’s advice is not to worry too much and just do it.
“I think I’ve proven a point here that you can do this on a bike that’s really designed for beginners,” he said.
The trip has also changed what Giannini is looking for in his next motorcycle. He said he was previously thinking of getting a bigger sport bike. With the desire to explore now firmly a part of his psyche, he’s now considering naked bikes that are better suited for long distance riding.
As for his next touring destination, Giannini said he’s interested in riding to Sturgis or exploring the old Route 66.
I saw Giannini again in Daytona Beach when I was covering the sights and sounds of Main Street the night of Monday, March 11. He said he had been having a great time at Daytona Bike Week since we met.
He said he took my advice and went to the Monster Energy AMA Supercross event at Daytona International Speedway on March 9 and had a great time at the event. He also said he was following through on his plan to leave the next day, but would definitely be back next year.
After I got home from Daytona Beach, Giannini sent me an email that said he made it home safely from Daytona. He said the trip ended up being about 3,000 miles.
“The experience was incredible and without a doubt one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life,” he wrote.
Giannini’s story is a happy one, in that it ends with him discovering the passion to explore on two wheels, as well as an infusion of youth into the motorcycle sport touring community. While the challenges he persevered through on his first long distance journey are remarkable, his perseverance is the heart of this story.
Giannini showed great poise in his preparations for the trip (adding the heated grips and seat cushion) and remained committed to the journey despite all of the unknowns he faced. He had very little riding experience and rode his undersized machine on roads he may have never seen before.
He was willing to do all of that. Not many other riders may have been willing to take that leap. While I am happy to welcome Giannini to our community, it is imperative we realize that we cannot depend on having people like him come along and replace those who are graying out.
Each of us needs to take a more proactive role in helping new riders have positive experiences like Giannini did in Daytona Beach. We need to make them feel welcome, teach them what we have learned through trial and error and show them that there’s so much to learn and explore and experience as a sport touring rider.
For us, the journey is never over. There’s always something more to see, to learn, to do. Giannini now knows what we knows and his life will be ever better for it. It’s time that each of us did more, even just a little more, so that the passion and the happiness only we know reaches as many people as it can.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.