Long Distance Riding 101

Long Distance Riding 101

Did you do it? I did.

Did you read the “Letter from the Editor” in RoadRUNNER’s Jun ‘23 issue, take the required picture of your odometer with said magazine cover, and go riding all summer? I can't think I've ever heard of another contest that was so easy and fun to participate in.

Take a picture. Get out and ride. Take another picture. Maybe win some tires or other great gear.

Just for doing what we love.

The beauty of the contest is that anyone can win. It's not a race and you don't have to go on big trips to rack up big miles. Riding to work every day until the end of October could be the consistency that is needed.

Yet, if you realize that you enjoy riding more and want to get serious about riding long distances, safety has to be on the top of your mind. Being efficient and consistent will lead to success.

Of course, you can't just jump on your bike and easily complete an Iron Butt Association Saddlesore 1000 (IBA SS1000), a thousand-mile ride in 24 hours. You need to build up to it, increase your stamina, develop efficient time management, and be consistent.

Although the IBA is based in the U.S., there are more than 82,000 members spread around the world. Any time you see a bike with an IBA World's Toughest Riders license plate backer, you have found someone who could answer questions about how they ride long distances.

It is still up to you to figure out how to do all of that within your comfort zone and abilities.

Long Distance Riding 101

Cannonball Rides

Although the IBA has been issuing SS1000 certificates since 1993, it wasn't until 2015 that what can be thought of as a long-distance training ground appeared on the scene. That happened in the form of the Cannonball Rides up in Canada.

David Purdy recognized that it takes planning and effort to successfully finish a big ride. He has taken the planning part out of the rider’s hands while providing timed routes that help build a solid foundation for long-distance riding.

Cannonball Ride routes come in bite-sized chunks of 250 miles/6.5 hours or 500 miles/12 hours and increase up to 10,000 miles/20 days. Riders are required to stop at dealerships along the route to collect business cards or take selfies to prove they rode the route.

This dealer interaction aspect was the impetus for riding gear manufacturer Joe Rocket to become a sponsor. The company offers monthly prizes throughout the summer. In the last couple of years, the big win has been a motorcycle given away at the end of the season.

None of these rides require more than a 500-mile daily average to complete. Anyone, anywhere could use these increments as a template to build stamina and increase their riding.

Long Distance Riding 101

How and Where to Ride

When it comes to planning your own big rides, there are a number of things I’ve learned from my more than 50 Iron Butt rides. They may increase your chances of a successful, certified ride.

First off, like RoadRUNNER's Mileage Masters contest, an Iron Butt Ride is not a race. As a matter of fact, the IBA will not issue a certificate if a rider submits a time that obviously could not have been reasonably completed within speed limits.

Safety has to be the prime concern of anyone heading out for a big ride.

Make sure your body is physically fit and that your bike is mechanically sound. If you realize you are having issues, it is better to stop and ride another day than to push beyond safe limits. Riding with a friend also has its advantages.

Plan your route—and plan it some more—but be flexible to allow for traffic or disruptions. I spend a lot of time mapping my routes and planning my gas stops.

Interstate and four-lane divided highways are preferable travel options as they mean the wheels are turning at speed more than they aren't. It's also wise to avoid big cities, or to plan your ride to traverse cities at non-peak hours.

Riding on a long weekend can mean that construction projects are paused, thereby reducing the impact on your progress.

Timing is Everything

While I have done Iron Butt rides early in April and as late as mid-October, many of my rides have been in May-July. As far north as I am, we get as much as 17 hours of daylight, meaning little if any riding in the dark.

I prefer to start my rides about 5 a.m. and finish by 10 p.m. so my regular sleep patterns aren't disturbed. Many people like to ride through the night, probably to avoid the daytime heat in hotter climates. If you're going to do much riding at night you may want to add extra lighting to your bike. You will learn what works for you.

Long Distance Riding 101

Know how far you can ride. This will come from your practice/training rides and also from your bike.

My Honda ST1300 has a 7.7-gallon fuel tank and, in perfect conditions, I can ride up to 300 miles on a tank. I plan my gas stops around the 250-mile range at truck stops or locations where another station is in close proximity to reduce potential refueling problems.

Ironically, with the generally higher speed limits found in the U.S., the time to finish a 1,000-mile ride may increase due to the need for more fuel stops.

Bread and Circuses

Drink a lot of water during your ride. I keep a hydration bladder in my tank bag so I can drink while I'm riding, and refill it at gas stops.

I stock my tank bag with energy bars that are easy to eat while riding. I also usually have a sliced apple in my jacket pocket and slide slices into my mouth through the open visor to help stave off the mid-afternoon energy lull. Trail mix and pepperoni sticks are also popular snacks to consume at gas stops.

I used to pack a sub sandwich in an insulated bag to avoid waiting at restaurants. As the years go by, though, I’m finding I don't need that much food during the day.

Plan your rides to include some fun. My wife has pillioned two SS1000 days with me and I planned them both to end at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in the British Columbian mountains, just in case she needed to soak her sore saddle.

On National Barbecue Day, May 16, the IBA organized a special Bar-Be-Quest 1,000-mile ride that required eating at four barbecue restaurants at least 200 miles apart. This is not a special day in Canada but, when I contacted Moose Shed BBQ Food Truck in Canmore, Alberta, to enquire about their hours, the owner was so taken by the ride concept that he opened early to make me his awesome brisket breakfast sandwich.

Master Your Miles

Hopefully you're getting out to become a RoadRUNNER Mileage Master this summer and are excited to get out and ride more. There is so much to see and so many great roads and challenges in this world. A motorcycle is a fantastic vehicle to take you there.

I've covered a lot here, but really seem to have barely scratched the surface of what is involved, and I'm still learning too. Enjoy your rides!

Fuel Efficiency

You can't make time when riding, but you can lose a lot of time by being inefficient with your fuel stops. The math is easier and more obvious with my Canadian hat on, so please pardon my metric.

For reference, 1,609 kilometers equals 1,000 miles, and 100 km/h equals roughly 62 mph.

1,609 km distance
divided by
100 km/h
16 hours riding time.

1,609 km
divided by
400 km on a tank of gas
4 refills required to go the distance.

Your first fuel receipt starts the clock. You must get your fifth and, in this example, final receipt within 24 hours.

I have my credit card in a zippered pocket at the end of my sleeve, use pay-at-the-pump gas stations, ride tank-to-tank, and often don't get off the bike when refueling. I’m usually back on the road in less than 10 minutes.

Practice your fuel stops before your ride. Four gas stops at 10 minutes each add 40 minutes to your overall time. Being inefficient with your fuel stops can eat up a lot of time on your 24-hour timer.

Add 40 minutes for fuel stops to our previous calculation and you get about 17 hours total riding time.

Two other fuel considerations are your speed and the weather. In Texas or Idaho, for example, where speed limits exceed 75 mph, you will burn through more gas. I usually plan fuel stops in these states roughly every 185 miles (300 km).

So, in Texas I would need:
1,609 km
divide by
300 km on a tank at higher speed
5.4 (round that to 6) refills to go the distance

At 10 minutes per stop, add another 60 minutes to your riding time.

In terms of weather, which way the wind blows is the important factor. On one ride, I went 250 miles with the wind at my back, refueled, and turned around, riding the same distance into the wind. I used an extra 1.2 gallons of fuel on the return trip.