PREPARING AND PACKING FOR A LONG RIDE
To take ANY ride, you need a safe, reliable bike and a few basic but essential steps. You likely already know to check tire pressure, tread depth, turn signal and hazard light operation, headlight operation, etc.; quick refreshers never hurt and will give you peace of mind. So when you're ready, check out pre-ride walkarounds on here: https://www.msf-usa.org/downloads/t-clocs_inspection_checklist.pdf
Pay particular attention to your oil life. If your upcoming high mileage trip requires a fluid change while you're gone, you may want to consider doing it yourself or getting it done before leaving. I'm a real stickler for getting my suggested services when required, so if I'm going to get it done, I'll take it to a dealership I trust. Most service locations can do it in less than a day, but it may take up to a week or two to get the appointment. Make sure you plan for this in your schedule. And hey, having it done by someone else means one less thing on your list. Having an appointment means you won't put it off to the last minute.
Paying attention to your tire condition, tire pressure, or tread depth can potentially save you from dealing with minor inconvenience; it can also save your life. Tire condition is critical when you're going to travel out of state. A flat or even something as little as losing a moment of traction at a critical moment can mean a trip delay (minimally) spell disaster. Remember, those two pieces of rubber are all that's keeping you off the pavement. Depending on how and where you ride, an average life span is around 12-15 thousand miles. Again, you don't want to discover this while you're on your trip, so keep an eye on your tread depth and overall tire condition; if your tires are at that "almost, but not quite ready" stage, it's not worth second-guessing it. Schedule an appointment and take care of it before you leave. Make it easy on yourself; combine it with your fluid change appointment.
When I made my first long trip, I used google maps to plan my route and based hotel reservations and way-points accordingly. Like most novices, I had assumed that car driving time and motorcycle riding time would be the same. Boy, was I wrong! Over the next few days of my trip, I kept a very close eye on riding time versus distance and found out quickly that regardless of whether I took highways or secondary roads, I only averaged 50 miles per hour. How can that be? I was riding the speed limit, on the right route without deviation; why was I so far behind?
Here's the answer; you take more breaks, and likely you take a little longer while you're on them.
So whatever mileage your preferred navigation tells you is your fastest route, take that mileage, divide it by fifty, and the resulting number will give you a much more realistic travel time than if you were in a car.
The H-D® Ride Planner is a great place to start planning your trip. Find pre-loaded recommended rides, map your route, add gas stations, waypoints, and H-D® dealerships along your route (you know you're going to want a t-shirt or poker trip). You can save and share your trip with friends.
Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play
Make sure you have some kind of roadside assistance plan in case something does happen. AAA is always good, a lot of vehicle insurance plans come with roadside assistance, and roadside assistance even comes with your Harley Owners Group membership. Becoming a Haley Owners Group (H.O.G.) member is easy and well worth the $49 annual fee. There are a lot more benefits than just roadside assistance.H-D® National H.O.G Membership Benefits Having access to these programs can not only save you hundreds of dollars in an unfortunate situation but can often provide other services like hotel stays, meals, and trip reimbursement.
Toll roads are something you may have to contend with, and there are few things more aggravating than having to park the bike get out your wallet, or get change. We've included a few toll-estimator links to help plan your trip:
If your trip includes toll roads, you may want to consider getting EZPass for even more convenience and time savings. At the time of writing this, nineteen (19) states along the northeast coast through to Illinois & Wisconsin are part of the ESPass Tool System Network. For a small one-time fee, you'll get a small electronic transponder. It's weatherproof and mounts easily behind your windshield. You can even carry it inside your jacket. EZPass customers can travel thru specially designated EZPass lanes where the toll is paid electronically from your pre-paid account. Most times, you don't even have to stop making it so much easier to get around, especially in states like New York, where bridges and random stretches of road have unexpected tolls. Just slowing down at the gate will open the arm and let you pass without ever having to completely stop or worry about "How much do I owe this time?" Several states even offer toll discounts for having the EZPass.
I'm one of those minimalistic, efficient, 'be-prepared' kind of motorcycle travelers. I tend to travel with just what I need and nothing more. So, if you see me traveling for a month, it may look like I'm just traveling for the weekend with as little as it looks like I've packed.
I've learned a few things, the first of which is that you can do laundry while you're traveling. You don't have to pack three weeks' worth of clothes if you're going to be gone for three weeks. Pack 8 days' worth of clothes and do laundry a couple of times. If you plan for it, it doesn't have to take you off the road at all. This saves SO MUCH space and weight when piling on your luggage and supplies for a long ride.
Speaking of luggage… I have a full touring bike, a 2018 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited, so I have an abundance of storage to begin with. Still, with the addition of the storage inserts (for short rides) or strap down luggage for longer rides, you can easily pack everything you need to keep you comfortable, clean, and easily mobile.
Like I mentioned earlier, pack as lean as possible and pack in order of importance. Here's an example, make sure the things you need every day are more easily accessible than those that aren't. An easy way to remember is to pack heavy on the bottom of your luggage, to light on the top. This will ensure that your jeans or extra footwear are on the bottom, whereas your socks, toiletries, and 'quick grab' items are on the top.
Don't forget to save room for collecting! You're inevitably going to buy souvenirs, t-shirts, and poker chips; if you overpack before you leave, you won't be able to bring any memorabilia from your epic road trip home with you. I will sometimes go as far as to mock pack several extra t-shirts, taking them out before I close everything up to ensure there will be room.
ON THE ROAD
Now that your motorcycle is ready and your essentials are packed, it's time to learn how to take care of yourself on the trip.
Hydration, hydration, hydration. Water is life and critical to safely riding a motorcycle. Because it's an open-air vehicle, you don't realize you're sweating as much, so you don't realize you are. Trust me, you are! Keeping up with your fluids is essential for several reasons; first, it keeps your muscles loose, your vision clear, and your mind alert. Having a cup holder easily and safely accessible while you're moving is a must on a long ride regardless of the outside temperature. I always keep several 'sport-top' caps of different thread designs, so regardless of the purchased bottle, I always have a cap that's easily used and secured one-handed.
If you stopped to eat a meal every time you got hungry on a ride, you'd never get to where you were going. Sometimes, that's not a bad thing, but I like staying on the road and covering as many miles as I can in a day. This means not eating full meals and being very careful what and when I eat
(Before I go any further, I DO NOT know your health situation. PLEASE follow your physician's recommendations for any specific diet restrictions and allergy reaction avoidances. I am not a doctor, nurse, or nutritionist. I am reporting only on what I found works for me.)
Legality out of the way, I stick to a strict diet of water, protein, and caffeine when I ride long trips. I avoid carbs and sugar altogether! No question. Very little to no sugar, no bread, no potatoes. Carbs inevitability lead to metabolism crashes, and those will make you overly tired, unexpectedly hungry, and your reaction time sluggish.
I keep a small jar of peanut butter and spoon, protein powder packets to add to my water or coffee, and beef jerky. Every time I stop, for any reason, I will take a few minutes to eat a couple of spoonfuls of organic 100% peanut butter. There is little to no added sugar, it tastes good, encourages me to drink extra fluid, and is packed with protein. I follow with several beef jerky pieces; together, these are an easy way to keep my belly feeling full until the next stop. There are several pre-made protein water drinks available, but if you don't want to carry that kind of bulk with you, you can usually find the individual packets of flavored or unflavored protein powder to add to your water bottle. Plain, black coffee is excellent for overall alertness and staying awake. The only problem with drinking too much coffee is that it is a diuretic, meaning you may have to drink more water to stay hydrated, and you'll probably have to stop more often to use the restroom.
You already know the importance of paying attention to everything around you when you're on a motorcycle. It's vital when you are someplace you don't know, on roads you're unfamiliar with and with automobile drivers that may be vastly different from those you're accustomed to. It's more important than ever to keep your wits about you in these situations. The last thing you need is to be fiddling with your radio, MP3 player, or cell phone. I'm fortunate enough to have a fairing bike with adequate navigation and Bluetooth-enabled radio, but if I didn't prepare it for ease of use on long rides, it could easily be a dangerous distraction.
I keep my phone stowed in the tour pack, and plugged in to keep it charged. I don't need to see my phone while I'm riding, and I won't mount it on my handlebars. It is a terrible distraction and, depending on unexpected weather, an easy way to ruin an expensive mobile device.
When I do listen to music, I will almost always decide to listen wirelessly over Bluetooth or through a stowed MP3 storage device. A good piece of advice is to have your media delivery pre-stacked with your favorite music from the start. You'll fiddle with the radio less and enjoy the tunes more. Listening to local FM can be fun, but when traveling from state-to-state, it lends to changing the station more often, which draws your attention away from the road.
Dress for Success
Helmets are the number one most crucial piece of Personal Protective Gear you can wear. All the styles and configurations have their advantages and disadvantages but make sure the helmet you pick for your trip is fitted properly and a style you can wear for extended periods. You don't want a half helmet that fits too loose and rattles around on your head when you're moving. This could affect vision, fatigue, cause neck pain, and give you headaches. A full-face helmet that fits too tightly can cause many of the same issues (plus, it can hurt having face squished in one position for too long). So, make sure you buy the helmet in person, and it's fitted by someone that knows how it needs to be fitted for the style you pick. Traveling from state-to-state, it's just best to always have one on and worn correctly, so you don't run the risk of violating any motorcycle helmet laws anywhere.
Check here for up-to-date motorcycle helmet use laws by state. https://www.iihs.org/topics/motorcycles/motorcycle-helmet-laws-table
It's smart to take a few pair of gloves with you if you run into inclement weather or the road conditions change. I usually purchase my gloves from a hardware store; work gloves are advantageous because they are designed for knuckle protection, non-slip grip, and on the upper end, provide superior vibration dampening. They come in light-duty, heavy-duty and insulated versions for all-weather use. The newest ones come with fingertips that make using touch screens easy and convenient without taking off your gloves.
Some form of eye protection is required in every state, so make sure you are prepared. Lightweight safety glasses are an excellent option for just zipping around town but tend to 'flutter' and become unstable on the highway. Riding glasses with a foam back and an adjustable head strap is the best choice to make for long rides. They keep wind and debris from getting behind them, avoiding eye irritation and fatigue, and the adjustable strap keeps them tight to your head and prevents 'fluttering.'
You can adorn yourself with leather wearables from literal head to toe for extra protection against the elements or skin protection in the event of an accident. I am not a chaps person, but quality leather boots and a good leather jacket are what I wear at a minimum. Before you take off on your trip, make sure all vent, closure, and pocket zippers and snaps work correctly and efficiently, and check for over wear, tears, or lose seams.
I keep a quality set of rain gear with me at all times. Honestly, you never know when it is going to come in handy. The best thing about rain gear is that it generally fits over all your clothes and jacket, so it can be slipped on or off at the side of the road, rest area, or gas station without having to strip down or stow anything. They are often fitted with integrated reflective badging or beading in the seams and full fluorescent color panels for safety reasons. Even off the bike, just the rain jackets are lightweight, pack small, and good for weather resistance and visibility anytime on your trip.
I always keep a brightly colored, half sheet of laminated paper on my person and a second, identical sheet stored in the bike, containing all of my information, emergency contacts as well as complete health and vehicle insurance policy information. Regardless of the situation, the ability to share vital information quickly is vital.
I have just started using a mounted camera for my trips, but I'm finding out how advantageous it can be to have on hand. I have several mounting options on-hand, including fairing mounted, helmet-mounted, and breast mounted on my jacket. Fairing mounted gives me the most fantastic view of the road and horizon. Mounting the camera on top of the helmet also gives me this view, with the additional benefit of gauge views including speed, and RPM. In the event of an incident or accident, this information is vital. It can view and record all of the statuses of the bike at a particular moment. I also devised a way to mount my camera directly to my riding jacket securely. This option doesn't give me great horizon views, but the gauge views are superb, and the camera doesn't have to be taken off the bike when walking away. When you are off the bike, it can act like a 'body-cam.'
Not everyone has an on-board Citizen Band (CB) radio on their touring bike, and those that dodo rarely use them. I keep mine on almost every long trip I've ever made. The information you can glean from the truck drivers is indispensable, such as traffic hold-ups, accidents, road debris, detours, police and highway patrol. Admittedly, there is way more useless information than good, so I keep my 'squelch' turned up to get only those transmissions from the closest drivers.
OFF THE ROAD
After a long day of riding, there's nothing I love more than relaxing, getting a good bite to eat, and a good night's sleep before getting up and doing it all again.
Protect your bike
Almost all Harley-Davidson Motorcycles come with passive security fobs, and that's great for rest and gas stops, but nothing beats locking everything down securely at the end of the day. Using the key to lock the forks, saddlebags, and tour pack is a peace of mind that makes it so much easier to leave your bike in a strange parking lot, in a strange part of town, in a place you're unfamiliar with.
I have come to like my fitted day cover. In addition to locking everything up, the cover is a nice deterrent as well. It goes on and comes off quickly, keeps your seats dry overnight, and in the case of the Harley-Davidson day-cover, it folds up into an attached storage bag. I made a couple of modifications to my cover to accommodate the antennas on the tour pack. I also made a pocket for the optional cover alarm currently only available on the full cover.
A caliper lock is also available and is often issued with motorcycle rentals. I am seriously considering purchasing one for my next trip. Admittedly, it's probably overkill, but every little bit helps, right?
Picking lodging for the night can be just as important as anything else I've mentioned on this list. At the end of the day, it literally depends on where you are at the end of the day. All kidding aside, you've got to eat, you've got hygiene to consider, and you've got to get a good night's sleep.
I'm a hotel guy. I like hot showers at night, privacy, TV, and complimentary breakfasts. That gets expensive on a long trip. I do keep a small tent with me, a single air mattress, pillow, and blankets just in case camping is a better option for a night or two. Finding hotels or campgrounds close to food, shopping, and tourist attractions is a smart move, so plan accordingly. There's nothing worse than getting somewhere, settling in, and then realizing that you've got to get back on the bike to go several miles to find food or beverage
If you are a people person, like a good adventure and stories to tell while you make new friends, Bunk-a-Biker is a great resource to find a spot to crash for a night. It's free and hosted by bikers, for bikers. There are host 'pins' worldwide, and you can usually give the hosts as little as a couple of hours' notice when you're coming. The site encourages the pin hosts to keep their information up to date, but I've seen reports of wrong phone numbers and unresponsive hosts. The only other disadvantage is that pins are often quite a distance from major centers and between each other. Personally, though, I can't wait to try it on my next big trip. www.bunkabiker.org
At the end of the day, when you're getting ready to settle down and call it a night, it's not a bad idea to write about your ride in a daily journal. It's a great way to keep track of how your day went, stops you made, people you met, the positives and negatives, what you've learned, and what you can do differently tomorrow. None of our memories are getting better with age, and anything we can do to keep a record is a good thing.
Ready for your next adventure? Download our LongDistanceRidingChecklist.pdf
"I love the simplicity of riding. Life is so much easier from the back of a motorcycle."
When Stephen isn't leading rides & events at Rock-N-Roll City H-D®, you'll often find him posting selfies and GoPro from his 2018 H-D® Ultra Limited. Stephen's favorite Ohio ride is State Route 42 from Public Square, downtown Cleveland to downtown Cincinnati, but he has much bigger plans. "All of my big rides have been bucket-list rides: Key West, New Orleans, The Iron Butt. First on my Bucket List item is riding in 49 states by the time I turn 49, and I'm accomplishing that with my destination rides. 27 states so far! Next up is California and Route 66, then off to Alaska!"