Humans are competitive, and we like a challenge. Whether it’s mental or physical, we want to do what we believe can’t be done. Or at least done easily. If you’ve never ridden cross-country, see the sites, and find the best, hidden diners along the way, you’ve never experienced an extreme endurance ride like the Iron Butt Challenge. It’s a grueling ride starting at 1,000 miles minimum in 24 hours.
With rallies hosted on almost every continent on Earth, if you want to literally see the world from a motorcycle, you can. Whether it’s riding through continents or cruising through the backcountry across your state, long distance motorcycle rides is a truly unique experience that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
Before you buy your plane tickets and organize shipping to a faraway destination, or spontaneously hop onto your bike and cruise, there is some preparation involved. Here’s what we suggest to make this the experience of a lifetime.
Before You Ride Preparation
Before you embark on your long distance journey ahead, prepare yourself and your ride with these tips!
Choose an Appropriate Motorcycle Style
With so many styles available, there are definitely motorcycles that are better suited for long distance rides. Riding position, cargo potions, and windscreen coverage are all amenities that will make a large difference in your journey. Here are our recommendations on the type of motorcycles you should opt for.
- Touring Motorcycles – As our top contender, touring motorcycles are designed for long journeys that involve hours of sitting and riding. They typically have a more upright riding position that won’t put a lot of strain on your back to hold yourself up while seated. Cargo is usually maximized with saddlebags, a trunk area, and extra pockets for smaller items. The windscreen and front fairing are large to move air around you as you cruise, so you won’t need to fight the wind.
- The Honda GoldWing and the Harley Davidson Electra Glide as two very popular options if you’re looking for a new or used motorcycle for touring. It’s not uncommon to see them with 100,000 miles on the odometer!
- The Kawasaki Concours14 is a sport touring motorcycle with slightly more aggressive ergonomics than a normal touring model. It has a 1,352cc engine with anti-lock brakes that will easily cover hundreds of miles in a day.
- The Can-Am Spyder is a three-wheeled motorcycle with three model levels to choose from. The Spyder F3 Touring model features a high-performance braking system and a full front fairing for maximum wind deflection.
- Cruiser and Standard Motorcycles – Cruiser and standard motorcycles are also comfortable options, as they both have a lower, relaxed seating position that is good for long rides. However, one of the features that they typically lack is a large front fairing to completely deflect the wind around you. Although they do have options for storage such as saddlebags, a tank bag, or a front pouch, they don’t generally offer the trunk storage a touring motorcycle would.
- Adventure or Dual-Sport Motorcycle – If you’re planning a mixed ride of asphalt and dirt, you may want to look at an adventure or dual-sport motorcycle. They offer good ergonomics that won’t put a lot of strain on your back and wrists, and they offer a fair amount of wind protection. They can be easily upgraded with added luggage for additional storage space.
- Sport Motorcycle – Sport motorcycles are one of the least enjoyable motorcycles for long distance riding due to the forward leaning position required. They are designed for a low, sleek riding position and crouched posture to make them more aerodynamic and built for turning at speed. Many people have made long journeys on sport motorcycles, so do not completely count them out as an option. Try one on a shorter distance ride and see what you think before committing to a long journey.
Choose an Engine Suited for the Ride
Engine size on a motorcycle isn’t a definite guarantee that you’ve selected the best motorcycle for your journey, but they can have an effect on them.
- Under 750cc – Depending on the style of motorcycle, 750cc is a suitable engine size to ride long distances with. A 750cc standard or cruiser may be a perfect fit for a daily commute and an occasional longer ride. Something smaller, like a 250cc, is suited best for a daily commuter; although it’s fuel efficient, it can struggle at highway speeds. A 750cc sports bike should be able to do it all: capable of riding around town with efficient mileage and easy maneuverability, but also able to cruise at highway speeds for long periods of time without an issue.
- Over 750cc – Over 750cc is also well-suited for a daily commuter, but it’s prime time to shine is cruising at highway speeds. Large enough for a long, comfortable journey, a larger engine can be fit inside a larger motorcycle that can carry added weight and offer extra storage options.
Proper Motorcycle Maintenance is a Must
If you’ve ever broken down around town, you know how much of a pain it is to leave your motorcycle or have someone come pick you up with a pickup or trailer. Now imagine that scenario when you’re 800 miles from home in a strange town or stuck on a busy highway… not very enjoyable is it? Conducting proper maintenance to your motorcycle before you leave on the trip is absolutely necessary, as it will give you the opportunity to make any repairs, or get ahead of maintenance items that may need to be done at a certain mileage. Worn tires, worn or stuck cable, and old brake pads are all things that contribute to added risk for your next ride. Your motorcycle is your investment so take care of it!
You should already expect that you’ll need the proper motorcycle gear for riding. Beyond all-weather protective gear, there are some different options in the aftermarket that may make your long distance ride more enjoyable:
- Heated grips – These are a good option if you plan to ride in the early morning or late evening, as they will add some heat to keep your hands warm when the surrounding temperatures become a little chilly.
- Padded grips – Padded grips provide extra cushion for your hands and wrists, which can prevent any wrist pain and tightness when gripping your bike for hours.
- Gel seat(s) – OEM seats are fine for a good ride, but they don’t have the extra seat support that a gel seat can offer. If you don’t have a gel seat offering, you can always contact an upholstery shop to custom make a seat for you.
- Backrest – A backrest for you and a passenger can add a little extra support to lean back on as you ride. They mount to your seat and they even have gel options to couple with your gel seat.
- Cruise / Throttle Control – Some grips offer a throttle lock that will help with cruising throttle and not require you to continually squeeze your hand around the throttle. You can still rid with your hand on the controls for safety, but just not have to squeeze the grip to keep the throttle in a certain place.
These are the most common types of storage options for your motorcycle:
- Tank Bags – Tank bags typically fastens to the top of your fuel tank with straps or magnets. They are great for items that are used more frequently than others (rain suit, identification, etc.). It also can have a clear pouch that you can store a map in to review as you ride and stop for a break.
- Saddlebags – Saddlebags can also be fastened to the motorcycle with straps or have a rigid mounting structure for the larger sets available. They fit on either side of the rear wheel and offer extra storage for gear. Offerings include hard or soft materials made from fiberglass, canvas, and leather.
- Trunk/ Tail Bags – Trunk/tail bags can replace the rear seat or have a structure that holds the storage compartment over the rear wheel. They provide an abundance of extra storage and can typically hold a full-face helmet, a small pet, and lots more.
Think of the all the chairs you’ve sat on. A bar stool, a recliner, an office chair, etc. Which offers comfort for 10 minutes versus 2 hours? Which can you quickly react from? A bar stool offers a quick reaction but isn’t comfortable for 2 hours. A laid-back recliner offers great comfort, but slow reaction times. Your motorcycle posture should offer both comfort and quick reaction ability for control. When you’re riding for long hours, sit in a neutral position to keep your muscles loose and ready to react until you stop for a break to stretch. Your handlebars should position your hands ideally between your stomach and shoulders, roughly midway, and your arms should have a slight droop to them. Anything too low and too high put stress on your muscles and joints which can lead to premature fatigue.
Plan Your Route
- GPS/Maps – Know your end destination and map to it via GPS or by the old-fashion paper map. Decide how long it will take to get there, whether that’s within a few hours or days. This requires some thinking and planning, as there can be many routes to journey on. Do you want to get there quickly on the interstate? Or do you opt for the scenic route and check out the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn? Perhaps there this famous diner in the backroads that you’ve been wanting to try?
- Climate – Be aware of the climate when riding so you can pack accordingly. Are you going to ride at night, which might require cooler weather gear? Or are you riding in the Spring with erratic rain showers? Perhaps it’s a long summer day of sunshine? Topography over mountain passes can change from hot to cool in a matter of minutes, so be prepared for the evolving temperatures.
- Obstacles – The warm weather that is great for riding can also be great for construction. Are any parts of your travels obstructed by construction zones that may cause a delay or a detour? Most states have a website that is continuously updated for road conditions and traffic delays.
- Accomodations – If you plan to stay overnight during your trip, plan ahead and have your accommodations booked before you leave. You don’t want to ride into a town and realize the big championship game has every hotel in town booked solid. Planning ahead also gives you a target goal to achieve and look forward to every day.
- Fuel Stops – You should know how far you can ride on a full tank of fuel, and with that information, you can plan out your fuel stops ahead of time. Larger motorcycles may have larger fuel tanks that can run up to 500 miles at cruising speeds. Decide if you want to run through a complete tank, or just stop at half tank for a break to refuel and stretch.
- Riding Distance – Be realistic with your destination. Riding while fatigued because you had committed to the end-of-day destination can be wearisome and dangerous. Plan your routes and distances accordingly so you don’t have to scramble to stay awake and keep going each night.
Training for your Journey
- You don’t run a marathon without preparing for it, and so you shouldn’t try to ride long distances without preparation either. Riding for an extended period continuously requires muscle movement and quick mental faculties to deal with the changing landscape. Consider an exercise routine focused on building muscle endurance (less weight and more repetitions for less muscle fatigue.)
- Ride on your time off to build up your endurance and stamina for your trip ahead. Your body can provide you feedback on the trip, whether it’s through the aches and pains indicating the ride was too long, or a feeling of satisfaction signaling you can ride further than you thought. Short touring trips can simulate the actual experience and you’ll begin to find ways to push yourself to venture further each time.
- Adjust your diet, if necessary. Cheeseburgers and fries are delicious, but they don’t refuel you with clean energy for your body to use for hours. Focus on protein and fiber instead of heavy carbs. Pick up a book or download a few videos on how endurance athletes eat as they prepare for their next event and perhaps you should mimic their eating habits as best to your ability.
- Take several shorter trips with all the gear you intend on bringing with you. This will give you the opportunity to feel the difference in balance and weight of the motorcycle. You’ll either discover that you need more than you thought, or you overpacked and didn’t use half your gear.
- Prepare your motorcycle for the extra load of all your gear. You may need to add extra air to your tires and adjust your suspension to accommodate extra storage and cargo. Packing your motorcycle a few times will allow you to decide what goes where for optimum balance.
Share Your Itinerary
If you have a paper map, make a simple copy and outline your route with the dates you intend to be there at each location. It’s comforting to know that someone knows your whereabouts when you check in. There are also GPS tracking applications for your cell phone for your loved ones to locate you, as long as your phone is turned on. This can also be a great tool for other riders in your group to check-in on your whereabouts in case someone falls behind.
Suggestions for Packing
Packing for success on a long distance ride involves the right gear for the right situation.
- ATGATT – Prepare for every climate and weather condition you expect to ride through during your journey. Hot can turn to cold quickly, so you need to be prepared to change clothing. Wear base layers under your motorcycle gear to adjust to fluctuating temperatures. Invest in synthetics where you can as cotton tends to be heavy and doesn’t wick away sweat easily.
- Rain Gear – You may not think you’ll need it, but better safe than sorry! Roll up your rain gear and keep it ready to go.
- Personal Identification – Keep your wallet and cell phone in a place where it’s quickly accessible. Always carry a few dollars in the local currency to pay tolls or for any purchases that do not accept a credit or debit card. Your license, registration, proof of insurance, and medical information documents needs to be close by in case you are pulled over or in an event of an accident. Don’t forget your passport if you’re planning on traveling internationally!
- Protective Eyewear – Carry a spare set of contacts or glasses if you need corrective eyewear for vision. Consider packing a separate visor to adjust to the changes in lighting, possibly a dark, tinted one for daytime and a clear visor for nighttime riding.
- Protective Balms – Sunscreen or lip balm with SPF is helpful in reducing the chance of wind and sunburn.
- Earplugs – Wear earplugs everyday to reduce fatigue from wind noise. Wind noise can cause headaches from the constant static noise heard from inside the helmet. You can have custom-made earplugs made or simply pick up a pack of disposable ones so you can wear a fresh set every day on the ride.
- Extra Toiletries – Carry anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, pain or regular medications, bug repellent, first-aid kit, soaps, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, female sanitary items (if applicable), toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, grooming supplies, a spare washcloth, etc.
- Tool Kit – Carry a small toolkit for emergency repairs or adjustments. A crescent wrench, small locking pliers, a simple socket set, a small flashlight, a multi-tool with screwdrivers and picks, an Allen wrench set, tire repair kit(s) with inflator and gauge, bungee cords, and a set of jumper cables can all find uses on a long ride.
- Extra Parts – You may want to carry a few of the common-sized fasteners used on the motorcycle, a roll of duct tape, some electrical wire, baling wire, cable ties, cotter pins, spare replacement bulbs, and extra fuses just in case.
- Fuel – Depending on where you’re headed, gas stations may be limited. They make small auxiliary fuel tanks that can be added safely to your equipment to extend your fuel range if you run short.
- Cleaning Supplies – Bring a travel-sized simple spray cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth to keep your helmet visor and motorcycle windscreens clean while on the road. Avoid paper towels for cleaning as they can cause micros scratches on your surfaces.
- Hydration Packs – Consider wearing a hydration pack or carry small bottles of water in a tank bag to keep you hydrated during long hours of riding.
- Snacks – Pack small snacks such as trail mix or protein bars in case you get hungry on the road (or buy them along the way).
- Plastic bags – Plastic bags are a cheap alternative to keep things organized and dry. Use a permanent marker to document the contents of the bag and include the weight so that you can balance the weight on your motorcycle.
- Camping Equipment – If you intend on camping along your long distance journey, consider packing a flashlight, candles or a lantern, extra batteries, lighter or matches, sleeping bag with air mattress, tent, ground cloth, collapsible chair, eating utensils, a cook stove, and something to cut with (small knife or saw). And most importantly, never forget your toilet paper!
Additional Safety Tips
- Get plenty of rest – Don’t rely on caffeine to keep you going through the day. Rest up and listen to your body. If you’re tired, pull over.
- Stay healthy by putting in good nutrients – Have a good, balanced meal before and after your ride and drink plenty of water and eat healthy snacks throughout the day. Load up on protein and fiber for breakfast to prepare for your long journey ahead.
- Don’t speed – The adventure you’re on is more of a marathon than a sprint. Losing an hour or so in one day isn’t a big deal, but getting pulled over while speeding will delay you even more.
- Get an early start on your ride each morning – Riding in traffic is unpleasant, so opt to start early to beat the crowds and the heat. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch the sunrise each day!
- Take a lot of breaks – The human mind does best when it stays focused for 45-minutes followed by a 15-minute break. Stop every so often for a certain amount of miles to stretch, relax, eat, and drink. Check out the local scenery; you just might learn some new history at a rest stop with a map. Refresh your energy and relax your body. Do some stretches; the best long distance riders practice yoga, so do these simple stretches at each stop to stay ready to ride.
- Be flexible with your itinerary – Traffic can vary by the hour, as well as the weather. Plan for the unexpected with the right gear for the ride and utilize your GPS to keep you up-to-date on route changes.
For Your Motorcycle:
- Check your oil and fuel levels on your rest stop – It takes an extra minute to check your motorcycle at a stop. Don’t let a leak leave you stranded.
- Carry an extra key – Believe it or not, things do get lost on a long trip, including your motorcycle keys. Be mindful of where you store the spare, as thieves can go rustling through your belongings.
- Perform a thorough T-CLOCS inspection each morning:
- Tires and Wheels
- Lights and Electrics
- Oil and Other Fluids
- Know your fuel range – Don’t assume each town has a gas station. Be aware of how many miles you can ride on a tank of gasoline, how many gallons your tank should hold at fill up, and how to calculate your miles per gallon every tank. It will allow you to plan ahead for the next stop and won’t leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere at night.
A long distance motorcycle ride is a challenge for your mind and body with a huge reward for completion. Planning ahead and preparation is the key to getting off on the right path. Follow these steps for an enjoyable ride, and finish strong! While we have provided a lot of information for you, your motorcycle, and the journey itself, we’ve also made a simple checklist to assist you in packing for your adventure ahead. Be sure to download it to help you prepare for the ride of your life. Happy riding!