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.

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