Touring Tip: First Overnight Ride

Sep 12, 2014 View Comments by

Touring Tip: First Overnight RideMost motorcyclists start out strictly as day-trippers, meeting with other riders on the weekend for the proverbial breakfast or lunch ride. This allows them to focus on just the day of the ride. If the weather forecast is dry, they may not take rain gear. If they do get caught in the rain, there’s always dry clothes and shelter waiting at home. The type of gear worn also may be more of a light duty nature: half or three quarter style helmet, perforated jacket and pants, one set of riding gloves, no heated gear, no extra set of dry clothes, etc. On day trips, riders also may not bring along more tools than those that came with the bike or navigational aids like maps, GPS, or other items often packed for multi-day touring.

I remember my first overnight ride quite clearly. It was a nice fall day with moderate temperatures when we left home at mid-morning. Although I had the foresight to pack rain gear, I didn’t have extra layers of clothing or heated gear. In fact, I didn’t even own heated gear. All was fine until the next morning when the temperature was only in the high 30s. While packing the bike, I recall a stranger strolling by and saying, “I bet you’re glad you have your Gerbings on this morning.” Yeah right, I thought. Needless to say it was a numbing, but instructive, ride home.

Once riders are exposed to the vicissitudes of nature, unexpected road hazards, and navigational challenges on a multi-day ride, they quickly realize that they’re in a whole different ballgame, so to speak, than when they were just day-tripping to a restaurant and back home. Covering greater distances during long days of riding requires riders to do some pre-planning. As the old bromide cautions, “Plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Touring multiple days on a motorcycle can be an invigorating, uplifting, and confidence building experience for riders. But, if you (or a riding buddy) haven’t done it before, here are a few planning tips:

  1. Buddy-up: While always a good idea to tour with a partner, it’s especially important for inexperienced touring riders to have a companion who is experienced. Unforeseen problems on the road are always more manageable if there’s more than one person to tackle them.
  2. Gear-up: Make sure you have the gear that’s appropriate for the intended trip. Don’t wear anything, head to toe, that you wouldn’t want to crash in! Also, don’t leave home without reliable raingear, extra layers of dry clothing, and a second pair of riding gloves.
  3. Check Your Ride: Make sure your motorcycle has had its proper maintenance and is mechanically ready for the trip. Pack any extra tools, which might be needed, and make sure that your bike is properly loaded with luggage (weight centralized as much as possible). Anything loaded outside of side and topcases should be well secured with locking nylon straps, not elastic cords.
  4. Check Your Route: Make sure your planning includes consideration of the route to be taken. Will the terrain and roads be mountainous, flat, arid, wet, curvy, straight, paved, or unpaved? Are your skills, your gear, and bike appropriate for what is expected in the coming territory, which may be far different from your accustomed backyard riding routes?
  5. Check and Anticipate Weather Conditions: It’s also important to gain as much advance information as possible about your route’s likely weather conditions, including range of temperatures, possible severe weather, etc. There is a lot of weather forecast information available nowadays on the Internet.
  6. Match Your Skills to the Route and Other Riders: Let’s say you’re accustomed to riding in relatively flat terrain, but are contemplating touring through mountainous areas with more experienced motorcyclists who prefer an aggressive pace. You should make sure that the other riders know that you will not be trying to keep up with them and that they should wait, periodically, for you to catch up. After assessing the riding risk environment and your comfort level, don’t be reluctant to decline their touring invitation.
  7. Bring Navigational Aids: In unfamiliar territory, I may employ up to three levels of navigational assistance. Level 1 is a GPS with the route pre-programmed on it. Level 2 is a paper map(s) with the route highlighted on it (usually a computer print out of the GPS programmed route). I always do levels 1 and 2, because electronic devices can fail. Level 3 is usually a state highway map, which may not be sufficiently detailed to show the route, but will allow me to navigate to a more populated area for assistance if both Levels 1 and 2 fail. Yes, I’m a belt and suspenders guy, when it comes to motorcycle navigation.
  8. Pack Only Essentials: Another mistake that first time overnight riders often make is loading their bike up with things that aren’t necessary. First, you don’t want to exceed your bike’s maximum load restriction (as specified in the owner’s manual), because that alone may precipitate an accident. Second, having a lot of stuff complicates the daily loading and unloading process. On most of my trips I’m either riding, eating, or sleeping and generally only need items that directly support those three activities.
  9. Let Others Know Your Itinerary: If you will be riding alone, it’s important for at least one person to know where you will be riding and when to expect your return. Cell phone coverage is often spotty, particularly in lightly populated areas, and can’t be relied upon as your only way of reaching out for help. Letting others know about your plans is a good failsafe backup strategy.
  10.  Ride Your Own Ride: Although riding your own ride is sage advice for all motorcyclists in virtually every situation, it becomes paramount on a multi-day tour. Suffering an injury, while far from home in unfamiliar surroundings, is both physically painful and psychologically distressing.

While most of our readers are experienced at multi-day motorcycle touring, it can be rewarding to introduce day-trippers to this larger spectrum of the motorcycling experience. Help them make a safe and enjoyable transition to multi-day touring. And, if you’re contemplating your own first overnight trip, plan ahead and always ride safe.

 

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