Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preparing for Motorcycle Travel

               A comment from a reader about motorcycle trip preparation was such a great question that it had me putting fingers to the keyboard again. Thank you to MarvinLWright for taking time to read and comment of my most recent post. Marvin wants to know how we survive long road trips and what type of gear we bring. Surviving takes planning and that is only one of the steps in the process for any great trip. You have already made some great moves in immersing yourself in a motorcycle vacation adventure, and that is to read everything you can on the subject. Here are some of the major points to consider when planning any trip on two wheels. 

                 Prepare. Preparation is key to any successful trip. I like making lists, and I check them off as I go along.  I double check them before departure, read them aloud to my riding partner, who then may have an item or two to add.  There are many great books about long distance travel, and magazines galore focused entirely on the subject. Not only is the content useful and informative, some of the ads associated with the articles can sometimes offer useful items for purchase. 

                Deciding on a destination is just the beginning of your adventure. Read more about the location and sightseeing opportunities along the way in the area you plan to visit. Check online for tourist information offered by the state you plan to visit. They can send brochures at no cost to you that offer a wealth of information. Of course these will be for the general traveler, so once you know where you want to go, do some search of motorcycle destinations in the area as well. This will result in tips on great motorcycling roads.  With this information in hand you can begin your route planning.

                Mapping out your trip is important. Sometimes we plan ours with strict limitations in mind, especially if there are time constraints. At other times our routes will be more flexible. It’s whatever you need, but don’t skip it. If you have a GPS use it and the software. Segment your route by days on the road. Understand where you plan to stop each night and research lodging so you are not trapped into traveling another 100 miles because you didn’t realize there were no places to stay in the area. (This usually happens in the middle part of the country but has happened to us in upstate NY.) Some people like to make reservations. I personally don’t like being tied that tightly into a schedule. I’ve never had much of a problem finding decent lodging on the fly. With today’s technology such as smart phones and GPS, it’s easy to find a place to stay or a place to eat as well as where the nearest gas station is located.

How far you want to travel from home all depends on your endurance ability.  Only you know your limits. If you want to increase your daily saddle time, start long before your travel date. Take extended weekend trips that involve overnight stays. Not only does this help you understand where your endurance levels are, but the learning experience helps build confidence in your ability to plan successful adventures. Know the laws in each state in regard to motorcycle law. This will keep you out of trouble. 

Comfort is paramount if you are going to be putting on the miles. If during your extended weekend excursions you discover that your backside can’t take another minute after 100 miles this is a serious concern.  I have an after-market saddle I like very much. There are several  makes available. Read the reviews and decide which is best for you. If you don’t want the expense, you can purchase a saddle seat pad. My husband uses a sheepskin gel pad he likes very much and so does his own backside.  You also will want to pay attention to such things as foot pegs versus floorboards, and handlebars adjustment. You may even want to consider handlebar risers. You need to keep the stress out of your shoulders and back if you want comfort on long distance riding.

While we are covering motorcycle comfort, don’t forget to prepare the mechanics of the bike for road worthiness. Get a tune up, change the oil and filter. Check the tires for wear.  Take time to check every nut and bolt to make sure they are tight and snug.  Even after all this, things vibrate loose, so don’t forget to pack the tools.  Add a flashlight too, as these things never happen under the best of circumstances. The small LED type are great and don’t take up much room.

                I have adequate saddle bags which I find very useful on long trips. I keep one strictly for emergency items, and the other for items I want to access quickly while on the road. In the emergency bag for instance, I keep a tire pump, along with patch kit. This is only good if you have tubeless tires. A first aid kit is a must, but something I hope you never need. Although I keep pain relieve in there too, and that can come in handy anytime. Again, don’t forget tools. Something always seems to wiggle loose on long road trips. I haven’t had a trip yet when I didn’t pull out the tools. Other items in no particular order that I use consistently in this saddle bag are, windshield bug cleaner, bungee cords, extra gloves, rain gear and a long sleeved shirt for the sudden chill and something for the neck. The neck items are important. If it gets too hot, soak a bandana and wrap around you, if it’s cold, pull the neck fleece out. Layers are your friend.

                In the every-day quick access bag I keep chargers for my electronics to charge on the road if need be. The cell phone for instance can drain if you are in a poor reception area and the phone is searching for the nearest tower. If you don’t have an accessory to charge items on the bike, install one.  You can plug your tire pump into this too. If traveling during times of weather fluctuation I may have a warm weather jacket that I swap for the cold weather jacket during the day. This bag is for whatever is needed quickly. Some women keep their purse here. I’ve recently dispensed with the purse and wear a hip bag. This also helps me learn how to travel light.

                I have successfully packed enough clean clothing in a tour pack to get me through an entire week. Many hotels have guest laundry so that is never a problem. Even then it’s more my persnicketiness that takes over where cleanliness is concerned. One never needs more than a couple changes of riding pants. Shirts are another matter for me personally. I like changing daily along with socks and underwear. Roll these instead of folding for the tour pack and you will find enough room left for wants, like your laptop. As an added precaution, I roll and put into zip lock bags. Then if it rains, I have dry clothing to change into. Don’t forget the toiletries, but remember you don’t need the family size toothpaste. In all things think small.

                And speaking of clothing let’s not forget the riding gear. There are all types of riders out there, from “all gear all the time” to no gear at all beyond that required by law. I fall into the conservative range. Jacket, gloves, boots and helmet always, with denim jeans preferred. I have a pair of Kevlar liners (long john type) but these tend to make me feel overheated. They are great in the spring and fall as they add warmth plus are not bulky under the jeans. Or try Kevlar enforced riding jeans. I have worn these, but again, if it’s hot out you will be too. With riding gear is all a matter of preference in my opinion.  With that said, plan for the area you are visiting and adjust accordingly.

                Now for a word or two about items that aren’t necessary but help make trips more enjoyable over all; electronics. I don’t go anywhere without my GPS. I have a terrible sense of direction. My husband could sail us across the sea using only his finger in the air, but my comfort level is better when I can see he is right. If you don’t have a smartphone, you are missing a lot of handy information. The smartphone lets us keep tabs on the weather, quick need to know information like where the nearest gas station is located. The GPS can do this too, but the smartphone is always up-to-date. It can substitute nicely for your camera and makes one less thing you need to bring. You can find and then call all the area hotels and get the best rate. The uses for the smartphone are infinite.

                My husband and I like keeping connected so we communicate with bike to bike communication. We will be updating this equipment soon as it is so essential for us.  The type we are looking into has Bluetooth capabilities so listening to music, taking a call (is that is what you would do on a bike) or just exchanging information between bikes is all wrapped up in one unit. Some folks have electronic cold weather gear such as heated vest and gloves. I do not have any of these, but it is something to consider if you would like to extend your riding season.  A 12V Power Socket Adapter is handy if you want electronics along on your trip. If you don’t have one, they are easy to install.

                If you plan to travel with more than a spouse or significant other, I strongly urge you to take these people along on your extended weekends. This will allow you and them to experience all the idiosyncrasies one might have. If they still like you at the end of the weekend excursions, you’re golden. When planning the vacation assure you are all on board with every aspect of the trip. Don’t discount the small stuff either, because these are the very things that can suddenly loom large. For instance, my husband can get on the motorcycle and ride until the sun goes down, while I like the sun still above the horizon and some relaxation time before bed. If something comes up that no one anticipated, talk about it and compromise. There are a million ways to say things right, but it only takes one bad way to ruin friendships. Choose your words carefully. Often things work out better than you anticipated. The worst thing you can do is leave something unsaid.
                I had fun reliving some memories while outlining some motorcycle travel tips. While these are broad generalizations, I always welcome feedback. Not only does it help me, but other readers too. In closing, above all else ride safely and with constant alertness.  Take brakes, drink lots of fluids, and have fun. If you’ve prepared well, the only thing left is to have a great time!