Planning the Long Motorcycle Ride

The Motorcycle Chats                                   Planning the Long Motorcycle Ride

 This time Dave Preston interviews Ride West GM Dave Swezey about planning for a longer ride. Between the two of them they have been riding for well over half a century!

 DP:     Dave, we both have some familiarity with taking a long ride. For starters, how would you define the phrase “long ride?”

 DS:     Depending on your riding habits, a “long ride” could mean anything longer than your current commute to work or longer than your last day ride with friends. For me, it typically means a 500+ mile day, or an overnight and/or multi day ride.

 DP:     I’ve always felt that the preparation can be almost as much fun as the ride itself. Once I have the idea and the time available, I start spending a lot of time scanning an atlas – looking at different ways to get from Point A to wherever, using as few freeways as possible. How do you personally prepare for such a ride?

 DS:     The planning stage is one of my favorites. It helps to use a packing list and I do still use one for every “long ride.” After so many long tours I pretty much have it dialed in so I can now grab what I need and be packed in a few hours. I love the mountains and the twisties so I start with a few maps and a few “secret” websites, then I start connecting the dots. In the fall of 2007 a good friend and I rode what we dubbed our “Byway Tour.” We connected 34 scenic byways together, over 30 mountain passes, through 14 national parks, and 11 western states.

 DP:     How much time do you spend on bike preparation?

 DS:     I’m comfortable with minor maintenance and adjustments, but I do not consider myself to be a “mechanic.” Because I have so little time to ride, especially during the summer riding season, I have my bike thoroughly checked out by our shop so that I can ride with mechanical confidence and concentrate on the route, scenery, and taking photos.

 DP:     One idea I like for when I reach a stage in life where I can take long rides whenever I wish is to have two sets of wheels for the bike, and always leave on a trip with fresh rubber. On a street bike, I can make most trips I am likely to plan without needing to pause somewhere for a tire change.

 DP:     What “system,” if any, do you use for selecting a destination?

 DS:     Mountains, and scenic byways. There is one specific motorcycle trip that I would like to take with my wife. I have always wanted to take a motorcycle trip throughout Canadaand theUSto visit the 12 Great Lodges, many of which were built during the Depression with the help of the WPA and CCC.

DP:     I’ve evolved my own planning over the decades from intensive detail to experiments with the optimum lack of planning, such as selecting “East.” On my longest ride, from here toFlorida, I chose my route by scanning the sky ahead and making turns to avoid storms. This was long before cell phones and GPS, so I relied on my eyes. I managed to ride from here toGeorgiawithout seeing any rain! These days I would use a visit to a relative or a particular event as focus.

 DP:     Do you prefer to camp, motel, stay with friends, or a combination?

 DS:     Call it 50/50. Half the time I camp, and the other half I hunt out the single level, quaint old motels with a courtyard, chairs on the porch, and bike parking directly in front of the room.

 DP:     Most of my longer rides were long ago, when budget was a primary concern. I found that I could camp for a few days in a row, and then take a break with a friend’s home in another state or a motel, where I would take a day off to wash clothes and rest. That worked really well.

 DP:     How do you deal with food on a long trip? I think we have the same solution for breakfast.

 DS:     Maybe I spent too many years backpacking, carrying all my grub on my back, cooking and cleaning up, but on a motorcycle trip, I don’t cook. I am up early, ride for a couple of hours until I find a small town, the local café, and hot coffee. This is also when I meet a lot of locals and ask them about the best roads in the area. For lunch, I snack at a gas stop. At the last gas fill-up, I hit the deli and load up my small collapsible cooler (ice and cold beverages on the bottom) dinner on top, and head to the campground where I build a fire, relax in my camp chair, and dine. If I am not camping, I find that great little motel with the restaurant nearby.

 DP:     I do exactly the same thing, but I extend it to the motel as well. I stop at a deli (most large grocery stores have some version of a deli now) and select a picnic dinner to be enjoyed in the serenity of the motel, or at a table by the motel pool.

 DP:     Safety is always a concern on any ride, and longer rides mean that a great percentage of the time will be spend in remote areas – terrific as long as nothing goes wrong. What equipment do you carry for potential problems?

 DS:     Hey, I was a Boy Scout so I try to be well prepared. I do carry a pretty good tool kit for minor roadside maintenance and I’ve repaired a few flat tires so I always have a tire repair kit. I also carry a SPOT locator beacon. It’s really nice to be able to hit “ok” and send a message to my wife.

 DP:   In the beginning, I took long trips with no planning or equipment at all. No cell phones, no ability to change a tire, no first aid, and I was very fortunate to ride along in my little bubble of blissful ignorance and never have a problem. Perhaps that should be “big” bubble. Today, I have a first aid kit and tire repair kit and air compressor with me on any longer ride or any of our Team Ride West club rides or our Ride West group demo rides. And these days, of course, almost everyone carries a cell phone, even though they do not have coverage in some areas.

 DP:     Let’s share “worst” stories from our longer rides.

 DS:     I was riding in the SW towards 4 Corners. Chased out of the mountains on highway 64 while trying to outrun a storm that had pushed me east almost to Santa Fe, it was late, I was tired, and wet, with thunder and lightning strikes on both sides of the road so close that I was sure I was next. Finally on the horizon I saw a sliver of sunlight as it dropped below the clouds. My spirits immediately lifted and I blasted west towards the sun. Relaxed, drying out, and riding in full evening sun, I saw a thin, low layer of fog across the road and about a hundred yards deep. The pickup truck ahead of me disappeared into the fog bank and I followed him in….then everything was white, really white. The fog, the ground, and my bike started wandering in the lane. It took me a moment to realize that the only reason there was fog here was because minutes prior to my dash out of the mountains, a very serious hail storm dumped 3 to 4 inches of thick hail across the road and as the sun came out, so did the fog. I was sure that I was not going to make it out of that fog bank with the shiny side up but I popped out the other side, said a few prayers of thanks, collected myself then headed to a motel and a cold beverage.

 DP:     My “worst” story is also a best story. I ran out of gas in the middle ofMontana, almost at sundown. I did not know where I was, and it would be dark soon. I was all alone and 22 years old. I was scared and did not really know what I should do. The first car that came along had several teens from the next town that drove me to a gas station and back and in 30 minutes I was on my way. That taught me that things are usually not as dire as they first appear, and that patience and a positive attitude will often create the good luck you need.

 DP:     How about your “best” long ride experience?

 DS:  Honestly, every long ride is special and I have fantastic memories from every one of them. I think that a very good friend of mine said it best as we were riding somewhere in theRockies. “This country is worth fighting for and we are so fortunate to be able to explore it on our bikes.”

 DP:     My best experience is what I learned on my first long ride. It was 1968 and I was a junior in college, a trip toSeattleand back with a friend, camping most of the time, provided me with a wealth of terrific memories I can summon easily even today. I have felt ever since that I learned more about myself and about people and about life in general on that trip than I did in all my years of college (seven of them!) combined.

 DP:     What advice do you have about selecting a motorcycle for a long distance ride that is more than 50% gravel or dirt roads?

 DS:     Ride what you have but a dual sport specific bike, especially an adventure travel bike like the G650GS, F650GS or F800GS and of course the R1200GS, makes a long distance dual sport ride a pure pleasure.

 DP:     For street rides I think people are often too picky. There’s no question that any of the large BMW models will provide a terrific steed for a lengthy journey, but really – any street legal motorcycle that is in good mechanical condition will do the job. If I can “tour” from here toFloridaon a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, then surely most of the used street bikes we have on the sales floor would do. We have a great pre-owned older Honda 750 cruiser with a windshield and saddlebags, and as I looked at it next to my desk, it occurred to me that anyone who was short in stature could hop on that bike and ride it anywhere in this country and with more comfort and greater ease than what I chose to ride on my initial long rides.

 DP:    Bring on the summer and the longer rides!

 Next time – attending a large motorcycle rally

 Copyright 2012                                             David Preston

About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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