Category Archives: Motorcycle Touring

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.

American Motorcyclist Magazine Full Interview


Back in August, I was asked by American Motorcyclist Magazine Managing Editor Jim Witters for a interview concerning my involvement in the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)’s EAGLES program. American Motorcyclist is the official magazine of the AMA, and I was delighted to see it highlighting the AMA’s political advocacy program.

The motorcycling lifestyle is under threat from several angles. Environmental  groups attempting to curtail responsible access to public lands. The sport continues to be damaged by a negative media image, and the sport touring segment continues to age without enough young people coming up through the ranks. Programs like the AMA EAGLES program are essential to combating those conditions and others that threaten the future of the motorcycling lifestyle. By equipping volunteer members who can advocate for the motorcycling community on the local, state, and national political levels, the motorcycling community is able to make its diverse community seen and heard.

I was one of several individuals interviewed for the article in American Motorcyclist. Due to space limitations, my full responses to Jim’s questions could not be reproduced in the article. My full, unedited responses can be read below.

How long have you been riding motorcycles?

I got into motorcycle riding a lot later in life than many of the other riders I know. I got my motorcycle endorsement in 2006, when I was 23, but did not start riding until Spring of 2007. I grew up in Upstate New York, and I took the MSF course in October (the weekend after a massive snowstorm). So I waited until old man winter had finished wrecking havoc before buying my first bike.

Is you riding mostly street or off-road?

I have been a strictly on-road rider. While I originally got into motorcycles after seeing what my friend’s Yamaha YZZF600R could do, I did not have the money for a true sportbike and ended up with a 1982 Honda CB450T for my first bike. I started riding back roads just to learn how to ride better, and gradually got hooked on doing longer distance rides rather than trying to ride at break-neck speeds on public roads. I am working on building a track bike to appease the speed demon in me, but am primarily a long-distance/sport touring road rider for now.

What is your current bike(s)?

My road bike is a 2003 Yamaha FJR 1300 that I bought in January 2015. The only real farkles I have added are a Sargent World Sport Seat and Spiegler brake and clutch lines. Since 2009 when I bought my previous bike (a 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200S), I have been averaging 10,000-15,000 miles a year.

When did you decide to become more politically active in motorcycling issues? What prompted that decision?

It has been a gradual decision due to my life-long interest in politics and public policy. One of the first things I did when I started riding was join the AMA. At the time, I was trying to learn more about the sport, and the information for new riders on the AMA website proved to be very important to getting me into motorcycling the right way. As I read the American Motorcyclist magazine and reviewed the AMA’s position papers on motorcycling issues, it became apparent to me that motorcycling is facing tough challenges in the public policy arena on several fronts. For years I had used my knowledge of both motorcycling and politics to develop ideas about how to confront the motorcycling community’s public policy challenges that were both technically feasible and politically viable. When I became aware of the AMA EAGLES program, and immediately realized the potential opportunity to put my ideas into action with the support of the AMA.

Were you politically active before that on non-motorcycling issues?

Not particularly. I keep abreast of a wide range of political issues as part of my interest in the political arena. I have also done a couple minor volunteer things (e.g. door to door campaigning) for friends’ causes. That said, have shied away from direct involvement due to some of the goals I have set for my future political career. I have long been disenchanted with what I observe as the diminishing quality of what I see coming out of Washington, DC. However, when I see stories about drivers who injure motorcyclists being shown leniency, or have been stuck in the queue for a motorcycle-only checkpoint, or am forced to buy an original equipment exhaust system because an aftermarket exhaust system (that would pass the AMA’s SAE-approved sound meter test) would mean risking getting a ticket for an equipment violation, it is apparent something has to be done.

Is your EAGLES participation prompted by your desire to become more politically active? Or just to help out the AMA as a volunteer?

It’s a bit of both. Once I get my Ph.D I will become very politically active and will begin my career in elected politics. However, the more important issue here is furthering the AMA’s goals of protecting our freedoms to both ride and race. We, as a community of riders right across this country, are faced with a wide range of challenges. Many of those challenges are from sources that do not hate motorcycling, but simply do not understand it. Environmentalist groups who want to practice conservation of open land are laudable. However, those same groups need to understand responsible off-road riding on those lands, in general, does not pose a threat to their conservation practices. Similarly, towns and villages that pass so-called “bike bans” need to be educated about motorcycling, and provided with counsel about developing policies that address the issue of excessive motorcycle noise without punishing all motorcyclists for the actions of a few riders.

Have you taken direct political action on a motorcycling issue? If so, please explain what the issue was, what you did and why? What was the outcome?

Not as of yet. A college I was attending appeared to have a somewhat hostile attitude towards motorcyclists. While many of us who rode into campus parked on sidewalks and were not ticketed, the “official” motorcycle parking area was on the far end of campus, and only four spaces were provided. I ended up leaving the school before I took action. However, I had drawn up plans for something I called a “ride-in.” If my efforts to lobby on behalf of the motorcycling community at the college had failed, I was going to contact the AMA and other motorcycling organizations I am involved in and organize a protest event. Basically, the plan would have called for a large of a group of riders  to meet at a designated off-campus location, then ride into the campus area together and take up as much of the on-street and visitor parking as we could. It would be a great demonstration of both the unity and diversity of the motorcycling community. I still keep that idea in my back pocket just in case I run into a similar situation one day.

What are your plans for becoming more involved?

The first steps I plan to take are coordinating my efforts with the AMA’s needs and building up my contacts in the political arena. Based on my unique background and knowledge of public policy, I want to coordinate my efforts to make sure my talents are making the biggest impact they can for the motorcycling community. As a future politician, this is also an excellent opportunity to begin networking with elected and appointed public officials who I will be working with on a wide range of issues in the years to come. As the Road Racing Reporter for iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show, I have built up a list of contacts within the motorcycling community. By developing a presence in the political arena, one of my goals is to bring together members of both communities, on an as-needed basis, to foster the development of effective public policies that affect the motorcycling community.

What would you say to AMA members who may want to get involved, but are hesitant?

I would tell them that they do not need to do that much to make a big difference. A former classmate of mine in graduate school had a saying, “Each one, reach one, teach one.” I had adopted a similar mentality toward the discipline of professional motorcycle road racing in the U.S.. Wayne Rainey, Chuck Aksland, and Richard Varner have done a phenomenal job with developing the MotoAmerica brand. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of rebuilding the sport. What the sport needs is each fan do just a little to help the series grow. Whether it is volunteering at a MotoAmerica event, providing sponsorship to a MotoAmerica rider, helping a family afford getting their kids into racing, or just inviting friends to come with them to events, if we each move the sport forward one inch, just one inch, there is no telling how far and how fast we can move the sport forward, together. It is the same with motorcycling in general. You do not have to be a big name lobbyist in Washington, DC to make a difference on the issues that affect the motorcycling community. If we can grow the AMA EAGLES ranks and equip more AMA members with the knowledge and skills to advocate for motorcyclists’ interests, and we can each make even one inch of progress on the issues the motorcycling lifestyle is facing, just imagine how fast and how far we can advance and protect our freedoms to ride and race.

What else would you like to get across in this story?

I would say one of the biggest challenges the motorcycling community faces is the image of motorcycling. Walk up to random people in your local shopping mall and ask them what comes to mind when they hear the word “motorcycle”. Chances are they will say biker gangs, kids popping wheelies down the freeway, or stunts in movies. A lot of times when I talk to non-riders about motorcycling, I feel like I am having to work hard to show I am neither a cautionless thrill-seeker or a juvenile delinquent. While we, as a community, cannot directly stop those who propel the prevailing negative media image of motorcycling, we can do an awful lot to advance a far more positive image of it. Sometimes I am rushing while I am touring, trying to get to a destination on time. But when I stop at an Interstate rest area and someone asks me about riding, I always take time to answer their questions and be friendly. Should I have to do that? Probably not, but I realize the importance advancing a more positive, friendly, safety-conscious, inclusive image of the sport. I think it is important that groups like the AMA and MotoAmerica work together to positively challenge the negative media stereotype of our community. In the public policy arena, people come up with brilliant public policies all the time that are never adopted. Real progress on public policy issues, motorcycling-related or otherwise, is a product of consensus. For us, the motorcycling community, we need to gain the support of the non-riding community on many of our issues in order to have a more effective voice at the state and national level. However, it is impossible for someone to effectively support something they do not understand. This is not to say we need to make every American a rider (though that would be great). What is needed are two things: (1) A better, general understanding of our community and chosen lifestyle, and (2) a better realization that our freedom to ride is tied to a culture of personal freedom. We need to do more to invite non-riders into our community. This is not meant to be a method of recruiting new riders, but rather recruiting new supporters. Those who want to curtail our freedoms to ride and race often know very little about our lifestyle or passion. Often they are trying to solve a problem they do not fully understand. It is important that those individuals are given the opportunity to learn more about the motorcycling community, so that they can understand how much some of their ideas or policies may unintentionally harm our freedom. We, as a community, may also want to look at building alliances with other groups whose freedom is also under attack. We absolutely need accountability with motorcycling to ensure the freedoms to ride and race are not abused. However, as I am fond of saying, accountability is a method of ensuring freedom; not unilaterally suppressing it. The freedom to ride and race and fundamentally part of a culture that promotes individual liberty and accountability over high-handed micro-management by government.

I would also like to make a particular note about getting young people involved in advocating for the motorcycling lifestyle. As a member of the up-and-coming generation, we have by-and-large become disenchanted with our Western existence. While we are blessed with a quality of life many do not have access to, it has been opined countless times that the later Generation Xers, Generation Yers, and Millennials are very apathetic toward politics and public policy. I would argue differently. Look at some of the politicians that have struck a chord with my generation. Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump have, on the average, better engaged younger people than more traditional politicians like John Kerry and Mitt Romney. My theory for this is that the traditional political marketing techniques, which center around repetition, targeted personal attacks, and appealing to deeply-held values, are a turn off to the best educated and economically depressed generation in American history. Many of us grew up following what we were told to do: Go to school, get good grades, and you’ll get a good job and you will find economic security. The reality has not matched the bedtime stories for many of us. It is nearly impossible to convince this generation of the reality of the American Dream when many of us are living at home or move in with our friends to dingy apartments while working retail jobs and volunteering to try and get experience. We are also a tech-savvy generation that is not as wowed by marketing schemes. In the YouTube world we now, and for the foreseeable future will exist in, young people now have access to far more of the reality of so many parts of the world than what the 30-minute evening news could ever deliver. Our difficulty to impress with fancy, inauthentic marketing gimmicks and our financial struggles have made us a very cynical generation, and for good reason.

On the surface, this makes the outlook for the motorcycling lifestyle and the advocacy for it appear bleak. A generation that does not have the disposable income previous generations have had, and a lack of enthusiasm or even distaste for what is commonly viewed as a stale, ungenuine political system does not appear to be very reassuring. However, to me, the very core of what motorcycling is is what will make the difference for us. For those of us who ride, what is more real than the feeling of riding? The freedom, sensation, and adventure that gets our souls revved up every time we put the kickstand up is about the most authentic thing I have ever experienced. Motorcycling is also very personal. Unlike so many corporate goods and services we can obtain in a shopping mall or a big box store, each motorcycle and rider is a unique pairing. Whether it is the type of motorcycle we buy, the accessories we put on it, the roads we chose to ride, or the places we chose to travel to, each pairing is a unique, exciting, authentic story unlike any other. What we need to do is not try to tell the up-and-coming generation to ride. Rather, we need to share our experiences and lifestyle with them, and show them that our community and lifestyle is all about what they are all about. As for advocacy, we are a resourceful, creative, motivated, and compassionate generation. Thanks to the likes of social networking outlets, we are staying close to friends and family that in generations past would have been long forgotten. We are interacting with more other members of our own generation that generations past. With each of those interactions, we are learning a little more about each other and the many cultures and places we all come from. So when it comes to advocacy for the motorcycling lifestyle, I firmly believe this up-and-coming generation, with our strong sense of connection with each other, mastery of technology, intolerance for the inauthentic, and ingenuity is primed to promote and protect the motorcycling lifestyle in new, creative, and more effective ways. This generation has shown itself to be one to stand up for a good cause. We only need show them just how much the freedoms to ride and race are worth standing up for.

 

2016 Riding Season Review


As we get closer to the first snow falling and the end of the 2016 riding season, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been one of my most memorable riding years to date. Despite not going on the western states adventure I had hoped to, I rode more, saw more, and learned more than I had in any previous year. 2016 was also a year of firsts. It was the first time I got to try some new farkles for my 2003 Yamaha FJR1300 (named Fiona), and the first time I visited some places that I had been wanting to visit for years. Even though I did not accomplish everything I had planned to, I had an absolute blast accomplishing everything that I did.

2016 was a year of milestones for me. The first of these milestones was how much I rode. In 2015, my first year with the FJR, I logged 13,900 miles. That was a personal record that I hoped to break in 2016. Instead of breaking my record, I shattered it. While being employed full time for the vast majority of the riding season, I clocked over 18,000 miles this year. For someone who is neither retired nor rich, that is a lot of asphalt to cover in the course of eight months. Another milestone was the number of trips I took. The only weekends I was home lounging around during the summer were holiday weekends. Between adventures, rallies, and motorsports events, I was on the road nearly every weekend from April to August. In total, I spent around a month out of this year living in hotel rooms.

Two things that made my riding season such a personal success were some of the upgrades I equipped my bike with, as well as how I learned to be a more organized long-distance motorcycle rider. The most important of those upgrades was the seat. In March, I purchased a Sargent World Sport front seat. I had had Sargent re-do the seat on my old Suzuki Bandit 1200, which had made long-distance riding much more enjoyable. The seat for the FJR, on the other hand, was a brand new seat that used a wider base pan and more of Sargent’s specialized foam. The result was a seat that was even more comfortable than my old Bandit’s seat. That comfort allowed me to double how long I could ride the FJR before I needed to give my rear end a break.

Another upgrade was the addition of Spiegler braided steel brakes lines and clutch line. Not only do braided steel lines never need to be replaced, but the bike’s braking performance and feel were noticeably better. Another change I made was converting from charging my phone directly off the motorcycle’s battery to using $10 power banks from Amazon.com. This allowed me to feel safer by keeping my phone inside my riding jacket without being tethered to the motorcycle’s battery by a charging cable.

In terms of being a more organized rider, I built on last year’s acquisition of hard luggage with the FJR to optimize packing and touring. I went through the tool kit I had assembled for my bike and found ways to carry fewer tools while still being able to make nearly any roadside repair. I also put some of the tools underneath the seat where the stock tool kit would be to better distribute weight. I also revised my standardized packing list. I made the saddlebags more balanced in terms of weight, as well as bought a few items so that I would not need to take toiletries, tools or anything else from the apartment when getting ready for a trip. I effectively reduced my pre-trip packing to, “add clothes and go.”

Among my favorite memories from the 2016 riding campaign are my two big trips. The first of these was in early April and was my first non-solo trip. Fellow motorcycle enthusiast and distance riding noobie “Speedy” Dan Zosky and I battled cold, wind, downpours, and a packed Circuit of the Americas to attend the MotoGP weekend in Austin, Texas. Except for a small stability problem at high speeds with Speedy Dan’s borrowed ST1300, we had a cold to warm two days of riding down to Austin. Along the way we stopped at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had a blast both checking out the old Corvettes, as well as seeing the sinkhole the opened up below part of the museum a few years ago.

Once we got to Austin, Speedy Dan and I headed over to a custom bike show in downtown Austin. The setting and atmosphere for the show were matched by its great turnout. I will cover my experience at CotA in another article about my first year as a motojournalist. Needless to say, Turn 1 at CotA is even steeper than TV can ever really show, and it was great to see so many fellow riders attending the event. On the way back north, Speedy Dan and I stopped in Longview, Texas (hometown of three-time AMA Superbike Champion and 2009 World Superbike Champion Ben Spies) for lunch.

We also stopped at the Barksdale Global Power Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana to check out the old U.S. Air Force fighters and bombers on display there. I never thought I would get that close to an SR-71 Blackbird in my life. Our stop at the museum delayed us just long enough to hit a massive lightning storm. We spent two hours unsuccessfully trying to dry out at a gas station while the lightning kept stopping and starting. When we could finally get going again, we realized we were not going to make our planned overnight stop in Memphis and had to stop in Little Rock instead. The next day was 12+ hours on the road but we made it home safely. It was Speedy Dan’s first ride of more than two hours, and I doubt it will be his last long-distance ride (despite what he says now).

My other favorite trip of 2016 was what I call my “Down South Trip.” I took six days to go visit several museums and twisty roads that had been on my list to visit since I started getting into motorcycling. The first day took me from Columbus to Nashville, and included stops at the Motorcycle Superstore Outlet and Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, and the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville. Day two took me further south to one of American motorcycling’s most hallowed sites: The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The five-story, 144,000 square foot museum, which is currently being enlarged by another 85,000 square feet, was absolutely stunning. No narrative can do the museum justice. Suffice it to say that the 4 hours I spent there were not nearly enough to fully enjoy it.

I finished the day by riding to my hotel outside Atlanta. The next day I went to an Atlanta Braves game. It was the Braves’ last season at Turner Field, which was originally constructed as the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Summer Games. The future is uncertain for the facility, and I wanted to get there at least one time before the Braves move to a less iconic home. I also tried to visit Underground Atlanta while I was there, but found it to be akin to a dead mall.

The next day I began to trek back north. I stopped at the International Tow Truck Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While I had planned to visit the Wheels Thru Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, a traffic delay kept me from making it there before it closed for the day. So I continued on my way to my accommodations for the next two nights: The Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, North Carolina. The setting and atmosphere of Iron Horse exceeded my expectations. The food was also great, and it is conveniently located within a short ride to the area’s many attractions.

After enjoying my first of two nights in the Iron Horse bunk house (that I ended up having all to myself), I spent the next day riding two roads I had been impatiently waiting to ride for several years: The Tail of the Dragon, and the Cherohala Skyway. After riding NC Route 28, which turned out to be my favorite road of them all, and stopping to admire the “Tree of Shame,” I began my ride along the 11-miles and 318 turns of US 129. While the Dragon can be dangerous due to oncoming traffic, there was little traffic on it and I was able to have the road mostly to myself. It was easily the most technical road I have ever ridden.

After getting a workout riding the Dragon, I stopped for lunch at Tellico Grains Bakery and later began my ride along the Cherohala Skyway. With changes in elevation from roughly 1,500 feet to 5,000 feet above sea level, the Cherohala offers great views and less technical, sweeping curves for riders of all skill levels. Although part of my ride was ruined by a repaving project, I found the Cherohala to be as good as expected. After spending my last night at Iron Horse, I began my ride back to Columbus. I took US 441 over the Great Smoky Mountains and then took the Gatlinburg Bypass. What a zoo city Gatlinburg turns into during tourist season. After suffering through traffic jams getting through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg’s other tourism colonies, I had a smooth ride back to Columbus.

A number of my other trips were related to my gig with iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show (TWPH). I had the privilege of representing the TWPH at the MotoGP/MotoAmerica event in Austin, Texas, as well as standalone MotoAmerica events at New Jersey Motorsports Park (twice), Road America, and Virginia International Raceway. I also traveled to cover AMA Pro Racing Flat Track events at Austin, Texas, Lima, Ohio, and Springfield, Illinois. One thing that was sorely missed this year was the MotoGP event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even though I got to see a MotoGP race last year at Austin, it just was not the same. That event, and the former AMA Superbike event at Mid-Ohio, had become such staples in my summer calendar for the previous half-decade. It felt weird this summer sitting home watching MotoGP race in Austria on TV rather than sitting on the top row of Grandstand H at Indy Motor Speedway.

This summer also marked the beginning of my Johnny Cash initiative. I was able to collect pictures or shot glasses from 14 places mentioned in the song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” It is not a grand start, but it is a start nonetheless. Hopefully I will get to double that total by this time next year. I also did not have time to re-attempt my 1,000 miles in 24 hours ride. I will be looking to do both the 1,000 in 24 hours, as well as the 1,500 miles in 24 hours rides next year.

The season did have a couple downs. I have never been stuck in as many traffic jams as I was this year. On my Down South trip, I got stuck in four traffic jams of at least 30 minutes in 90-degree or higher heat and high humidity. Southern heat is a different kind of heat. I also had the FJR experience a major electrical snafu. The key cylinder wiring shorted out on an afternoon ride on Ohio State Route 83. I MacGuyvered the bike into working again and barely got it home. However, the story ended on a high note as I was able to fix the problem for under $20.

Despite the downs this past riding season, the peaks definitely outweighed the valleys. I met so many amazing people on my trips this year, got to learn so much more about American history, and birthed a second career in motorsports journalism. It is still not uncommon for people to question me about the risks of motorcycling. The risks are very real indeed. But when you look at how little it takes to protect yourself and how much one can allow motorcycling to open their minds to new knowledge, experiences, and people, the benefits definitely outweigh the risks.

 

The New Rider Advice New Riders Hardly Every Receive


If you are going to ride like you have something to prove, please do not ride 

One of the biggest problems motorcycling as has faced for a long time is its hooliganistic image. Try walking up to three random people in the mall and ask them what is the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word, “motorcycle.” Chances are it will be Harley (not a bad thing), biker gangs (not a good thing), kids popping wheelies down freeways (really not a good thing), or loud exhaust. Without opening the cans of worms that is exhaust noise, two of those four things are examples of the wrong reasons to ride. It is because some riders allow their ego to overtake their judgment that the American Motorcyclist Association is constantly fighting bike bans (as in you cannot legally ride a motorcycle in a village or city), motorcycle-only checkpoints, and the like. It is because of such riders that myself and countless others get followed around by law enforcement, feel less welcome in some establishments, and have parents usher their kids away from us.

I have has several former co-workers who did not want to buy a bike that was too small to keep up with their friends who rode back roads at 140mph. More on engine size can be found in the next section, but for those individuals, the problems was not that they wanted a big bike. Rather, they had the wrong mentality towards riding. They were too interested in fitting in, and not interested enough in what was safe or what was best for them in the long-term. Riding is your own adventure, not someone else’s. Too many riders get into riding to feel accepted or to prove how brave they are, only to find themselves in traction, in a casket, or back on the couch all weekend. We are all ambassadors of this sport the moment we swing our leg over a motorcycle. We have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as each other, to not ruin someone else’s time on a motorcycle. This includes not letting our insecurity get the best of us. If you want to get into riding but do not feel comfortable riding with your family or friends, contact the author. I will help you find the right group to ride with. Motorcycle riding can be one of the most positive or destructive forces in one’s life. What makes the difference is the attitude we bring to riding. Just like shouting out the ending before a movie begins, please do not ruin riding for everyone else. Don’t be that person.


 

Size doesn’t always matter, but you don’t need a big one to have fun

Back to those co-workers of mine who did not want to buy too small of a bike. The truth is even 250cc motorcycles are much higher performance that your average saloon car. A Scion TC averages 6.8-7.3 seconds 0-60 ($21,300 new). A Subaru WRX STi ($38,995 new) is around 5.0 seconds 0-60. A used Kawasaki Ninja 250 (model years 1987-2007) has a 5.75 seconds 0-60 ($1,500-$3,000 on Craigslist). A 1999-2001 Suzuki SV650 has a 3.2 second 0-60 ($2,000-$4,500). As one can see, you do not need a big motorcycle engine to obtain superior performance. If you are worried about riding 140mph, not only are you missing the point of riding, but you will not enjoy it as much. When you highside for the first time and realize just how much power you have between your legs, you may not want to go back to riding. When you have a little less power that you can learn to manage, you will soon leave your friends in the dust when you hit the twisties. Moreover, a new rider needs a bike they feel comfortable maneuvering in an emergency. You cannot power your way through that deer that jumps out in front of you.


 

Develop your (real) riding skills

Sure, there are the skills that you consciously use to ride a motorcycle. Practicing your steering, braking, and accelerating are all very important (more on these in the next sections). However, there are lots of other skills and senses that riding a motorcycle requires. The sharper those senses are, the faster, smoother, and safer you will be able to ride confidently. Most important among these is what I call “eyework.” Nick Ienatsch has a great chapter on this topic in his book, “Sport Riding Techniques (1).” Some of the following section is borrowed from that book, and it is recommended that new riders read it in its entirety.

The first example of eyework is practicing looking through the corner, and looking as far up the road as possible. This was one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp when I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)’s Basic Rider Course (BRC). It felt very unnatural at first. Honestly, I did not really understand where the instructors wanted me to look. Why would I want to look at the exit of a corner just as I am turning into it?

But once I got used to it, it was more than worth it. I could navigate corners much more quickly and sharply than when I first started riding. This was because I felt more balanced, and I could better tell exactly where I was in a bend. On long, straight roads, look as far down the road as you can. When there is something lying in the road that could put a gash in your tire, it will give you the most time to react to it. This is not to say a rider should ignore what else is going on in front of them. A safe rider keeps their eyes moving, constantly scanning for threats in the road and alongside it. That said, looking down the road helps you “slow down” what you are seeing, giving you a feeling of even more time to react. When you come over that crest and there is a critter in the middle of the road, you need all the reaction time you can get.

For cornering, I will look down the road in the direction of my braking marker, then look to the apex of the corner (what I am turning toward) as I initiate my turn-in. As I begin to tip in, I quickly change my glance to where I want to exit the corner, or as far ahead in the corner as I can see. As I progress my eyes through the corner, I scan the road surface for anything that could cause an issue (gravel, dead animals, crack sealer, etc.). The hardest part is learning to not overreact if you do see something in the corner. Our instinct is to look at the obstacle and try to maneuver around it. Motorcycles are so sensitive to their riders, that such a reaction will often result in a collision. To practice avoiding such hazards, focus your eyes on the solution (a path around the obstacle) and not the obstacle itself. Go to a parking lot and practice turning. As you are turning, start changing only your gauze and see how the motorcycle reacts. Then pick a couple points in the parking lot (maybe where parking lines cross) and pretend they are objects. Start turning toward them, then change your focus to a line around them. Vary your speed to get a better idea of how your particular motorcycle will react to different inputs at different speeds and lean angles.

In addition to making sure you are focused on the right points on the road, it is just as important to “see” what you are not focusing on. If all obstacles were immobile like gravel or a dead animal, motorcycle safety would be orders of magnitude easier to achieve. Sadly, inattentive drivers, live animals, falling debris, and the like do not always cross out direct line of sight or stay in one place. In order to deal with such hazards, one must practice keeping their eyes moving when riding, as well as strengthen their peripheral and other visual skills. Our peripheral vision is probably the most important of these skills. Just because a rider is focused on the path around a hazard does not mean he or she does not need to be able to see what the hazard is doing. If a deer suddenly starts crossing the road, one needs to both focus on a path around the deer as well as be able to see what the deer is doing. If the deer suddenly turns around, a rider will want to see that and adjust their line and speed through a corner. To develop this skill, try watching TV while looking only at one of the four corners of the screen. You do not have to miss your entire favorite show while doing this. However, you will be impressed with how much of the show you will be able to “see” the more you do it. For more techniques and information on this issue, see Ienatsch’s book referenced above (1).


 

Go back to the course, and often

As you begin to master the vision skills discussed above, apply them to the same drills that you did during your MSF BRC. While some ranges are not open to the public, many of them are located in parking lots at community colleges, career centers, motorcycle dealers and the like. Here in Columbus, Ohio, the Iron Pony has a range painted in the outer part of its parking lot. You may not find yourself using all of the skills that the BRC emphasized in your everyday riding. However, those techniques are like tools when your bike is broke down on the side of the road: Better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them. If you do not have a range around you, use an empty parking lot. Parking spaces are usually 18’x8′. Use this links to practice guides prepared by the Idaho STAR Motorcycle Safety Program to see some of the ways a rider can use a parking lot like an MSF range:

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=9B7F8C9FBADF30FC!209755&authkey=!AFjXhAIM-rU5HRo&ithint=file%2cpdf

http://idahostar.org/resources/practice-guide


 

Gear up

New riders are statistically predisposed to crashing at a much higher rate than more experienced riders. While no rational rider plans to crash their bike, new riders all too often find themselves doing some soil sampling due to entering a corner with too much speed. Another common accident is a car driver turning left in front of a motorcycle. In light of the probability of a crash and the severe injuries that can result from one, it is best to be prepared for the worst. As a lot of veteran riders told me when I started riding, “Dress for the crash.”

Even though I am an “all the gear, all the time” (ATGATT) rider, I am not here to tell you what to wear when you ride. As long as you do not take me out if/when you crash, it is not my skin and bones on the line. If you want to ride in a t-shirt, gym shorts, and flip flops just like your riding buddies, just do a quick Google image search for “motorcycle road rash” before you do. It is hard to conceptualize what it feels like to slide on hot asphalt. You are tough, right? You will get right up, rub some dirt in it, and feel fine. Unfortunately it is not that simple. If you would not want to run an electric belt sander over your skin, riding without gear might not be for you.

I realize riding gear is not inexpensive. Plus, it does get hot outside in some parts of the U.S.. However, personally, I would rather be soaked in sweat for an afternoon than covered in skin grafts for the rest of my life. Just ask yourself before you ride if it is worth blowing your entire health insurance deductible on something that could be prevented with $300-400 in riding gear and drinking a couple extra bottles of water? Skin grafts are not exactly easy on the eyes, and quite painful to have done. Do yourself a favor and Google image search those too. From experience seeing several people crash without riding gear, it is hardly worth risking so much to “fit in.” The most memorable of these was watching my best friend crash in front of me. We went over a set of train tracks and he tucked the front. He was coming past me to lead us back to his house, and instead almost took my bike out. He is an Iraq veteran who was in a number of firefights and hand-to-hand combat scenarios. Even after all of that, he confided in me that the most painful thing he has ever experienced was scrubbing the polyester out of his road rash wounds. His shirt had literally melted into his skin. Think about your family, friends, and significant other, and ask yourself if it is worth the risk. If you still think it is, I will not do anything to stop you or change your mind.

For those of you who have decided to change your mind, there are plenty of options for sturdy and relatively inexpensive riding gear. Start with a good helmet. While a full-face helmet offers the best protection, a number of three-quarters helmets with face shields also offer a strong level of protection for the entire head. While some brands are of a higher quality than others, it is more important to make sure the helmet has the proper safety certifications. All on-road riding helmets must have a DOT-approval sticker on them (usually on the back of the helmet). A Snell 2010 or later rating is also highly recommended, as it means the helmet has passed another rigorous set of safety tests. Also, if you do happen to have an unfortunate crash, be sure to get yourself a new helmet before swinging a leg back over a bike. Chances are the helmet is fine, but is it really worth the risk? For more information on helmet technology and fitment, please visit The Service Pavillion’s website: http://www.theservicepavilion.com/

In addition to a helmet, a riding jacket, pants, gloves, and boots complete the riding wardrobe. The jacket and pants can be made of leather or a motorcycle-specific textile material. What is important is that it is an abrasion-resistant material. Denim-based garments like jeans and denim jackets are really just plain cotton. While they may seem study on a work site, they shred very easily in high-abrasion situation like a motorcycle crash. While a great many riders wear riding jackets, far fewer wear riding pants. In reality, the legs are far more susceptible to injury in a motorcycle crash. Between contact with the road surface to the motorcycle coming down on top of them, a rider’s legs are in great peril when the shiny side goes down. Motorcycle-specific riding pants are usually equipped with armor and/or padding to protect the legs in a crash, and sometimes have extra padding in the rear for those longer rides. Similarly, motorcycle-specific gloves have curved fingers for gripping the handlebars and have extra protection in the parts of the hand the usually make contact with the road during a crash. While racing style motorcycle boots generally are not necessary for the street, and sturdy set of over-the-ankle work boots will help keep your foot attached to your body if you should go down. If you have more specific questions about riding gear, please do not hesitate to ask the author.


 

Don’t be afraid to get wet

When I was a graduate student, I used to ride my motorcycle to my part-time job rain or shine. When my co-workers would ask me if I had lost my sanity, I would respond, “There are only three ways to improve at riding in the wet: Practice, practice, and practice.” When I first got into motorcycle riding, I was a fair weather rider. That all changed after I got stuck in the rain a few times. Meteorology, despite its name, is not exactly an exact science. Like other riding skills, it is far better to have strong wet weather riding skills you never have to use than to put yourself and your bike at risk in wet conditions. Sitting under a bridge on an interstate highway is actually quite a scary experience.

When I decided to get into long-distance riding in 2009, I knew this was an area I needed to improve on.  So I rode every chance I got in the rain. Today, riding in the rain really does not phase me at all. In reality, riding in the rain is great training for all sorts of low-traction conditions. Whether it is rain, gravel, sand, crack sealer, or a combination of the above, riding in the rain will improve your chances of successfully navigating any less-than-perfect riding surface. A lot of motorcycle riding gear (which is discussed in the previous section) is waterproof (or relatively close to it). Riding gloves tend to be the exception to this. However, rain gloves are relatively inexpensive, and easily double as cold-weather gloves.

 

(1): “Sport Riding Techniques: How To Develop Real World Skills for Speed, Safety, and Confidence on the Street and Track” by Nick Ienatsch