September 29 2011 by Jason Fogelson
I've been on a few long rides in the past few months. I've been all by myself on most of them, but I've been part of a group on others. When they are not riding, riders talk about riding. Where they've ridden, what they've ridden, how they've ridden. Who they've ridden with.
And frequently, riders talk about how far they've ridden.
On a lunch break during a recent ride, I asked my companions about their long distance riding experience. Everyone had great stories to tell. Some told of long days in the saddle through bad weather. Some told of fantastic roads that they hoped would never end. One rider in particular was a long distance hero. He regularly rides from Montreal, Canada to Miami, Florida - without stopping for the night.
Since I had stumbled upon such a brain trust, I pried further. "What are your secrets for long distance riding?" I asked my riding buddies.
Without fail, each man denied that they possessed secrets. They were more than willing to share their riding philosophies, however. I've boiled them down to their essences, and now share them with you.
Don't ride tired. Get a good night's rest before you ride. Stretch and limber up, and make sure that you are alert and wide-awake before you jump on your bike for the day. Starting the day off on a tired note does not make your ride better or safer.
Stop before you're drowsy. There's no worse feeling than fighting sleep, and there's no more dangerous way to ride. If you think you might be getting drowsy, pull off the road as soon as you can safely do so, and get some rest. You're better off late than wrecked.
Beware the twilight and the dawn. Most of the long distance riders I spoke with were not averse to riding in the dark, or to riding in the bright sun. To a man, however, they all tried to avoid the twilight hours and the dawn. That in-between state of light is hard on the eyes. It's difficult to see obstacles, and it is most difficult to be seen by other vehicles. Not only that, deer and elk are most active during twilight and dawn, and there's very little positive that can come from a collision between a motorcycle and an elk. Find a place to have breakfast or dinner, and avoid the issue altogether.
Ride hungry. Most every rider agreed that a heavy meal before riding was a bad idea. It makes sense - a full stomach demands energy for digestion, and can leave you feeling drowsy. I've taken to eating fruit for breakfast before riding, and avoiding heavy meals on the road whenever possible. Good advice, tough to follow for some of us.
Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, even on a cold day. Staying hydrated helps keep you alert. I make it a point to drink at least a bottle of water at each gas stop. In the heat, I sometimes drink more. A few of the riders I spoke with go so far as to carry hydration packs with them - backpacks that hold water, which you can drink while you ride via a hose connection. Not a bad idea if you'll be traversing any serious desert terrain, or extreme heat.
Gear up in layers. Traveling long distances may put you in weather extremes. The best way to be ready for anything is by dressing in layers. Start with a good base layer - cotton or another wicking fabric is good in hot weather; silk or another breathable insulating fabric is good for cold. Add thin layers that are not too closely fitted, but won't add too much bulk. A jacket with a removable liner is essential for your outer layer. Now you can mix and match for the conditions.
Stay cool. "I'd rather be a little cool than a little hot," one rider told me. "You can always add a layer for comfort, but there's only so much you can take off and still be safe." Being cool - not cold - will also help keep you awake and sharp.
Don't rely on caffeine. We all love our coffee. But if you find that you need a cup of coffee to stay alert on your motorcycle, you're pushing past your limits. Don't up your caffeine intake to stay awake on your long ride, and definitely don't fall prey to those "energy in a little bottle" drinks. The quick "up" that they provide can be followed by a quick "down," and you're worse off than when you started.
Take care of your butt, and it will take care of you. Every rider I spoke with had experimented with different seat pads, gel seat inserts, inflatable cushions, beaded mats and other ways of extending their comfort for a long ride, and everyone had a different favorite. Make sure that your bike's ergonomics are right for you, and find the seat and/or cushion that makes things just right. Your riding posture can also affect your comfort over a long distance, so be aware of sitting up straight in the saddle and distributing your weight evenly.
Take frequent breaks. On some bikes, you can ride for hours before you need to stop for gas. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't stop more frequently to stretch your legs and give your body a break. I try to stop at least once every 90 minutes, no matter how far I've ridden. I hydrate, walk around and stay off the bike for 10 minutes or so, then ride on. That's my rhythm. You'll find yours if you pay attention to your body while you ride.
What are your secrets for a long ride?