May 5 2009 by Jason Fogelson
They're not part of a gang. They don't start fights. They don't scare little old ladies. But they are tough, and you can join them if you dare. They are the Iron Butt Association (IBA) , the World's Toughest Riders.
35,000 members strong, the IBA is "dedicated to safe long-distance endurance motorcycle riding." They conduct an annual ride called the "Iron Butt Rally," an 11,000 mile timed road ride. To qualify for the Iron Butt Rally, you have to complete an official Saddle Sore 1000 or a Bun Burner 1500.
The Saddle Sore 1000 is the most accessible goal for most of us. You have to ride 1000 miles within a 24-hour period. The IBA emphasizes that they mean 24 hours of "wall time, not riding time... The majority of riders will cover their 1,000 miles in about 18 hours (including all stops)." To get credit for an officially sanctioned Saddle Sore, you have to get a starting witness, get a finishing witness, complete a log book, submit a map of your route along with receipts, and pay a fee of $35 for a certificate or $45 for a certificate, pin, license plate back that identifies you as a member of the IBA. The same costs and rules apply to the Bun Burner 1500 for rides of 1500 miles over 36 hours.
Route planning is key for a good Iron Butt ride. You might choose a straight-line ride, from one point to another, or a circular route that returns you to your starting point at the end of the ride (which carries the distinct advantage of getting you back home).
The IBA comes under some criticism from motorcycle safety advocates, but the organization contends that safety is their first concern, and that a Saddle Sore or Bun Burner can be completed without exceeding posted speed limits or any unsafe riding practices.
I've often dreamed of completing a Saddle Sore 1000. In fact, I actually have a route planned, and have prepared my forms. My longest one-day ride to date has been about 800 miles. The limiting factor has been my motorcycle, a 1993 Harley-Davidson Sportster with a solid-mounted engine. I have no doubt that my motorcycle can make the trip - but because of its design, it would be very difficult to ride 1000 miles in a 24-hour period and still retain sensation in my extremities. Over time, with the engine mounted directly to the frame, the vibration causes numbness in my hands and feet. After about 400 miles, I can no longer feel the handlebars or footpegs - not exactly safe riding. If I ever attempt a Saddle Sore 1000, or a Bun Burner 1500, rest assured I'll be riding on a rubber-mounted bike, like the new Sportster or one of Harley-Davidson's touring motorcycles.
I'd love to be counted among the World's Toughest Riders.