Touring Tip: Riding Cross-Country

Feb 06, 2015 View Comments by

Touring TipAn enduring dream of many touring motorcyclists is to ride their mount all the way from one coast to the other, or ride between the Canadian and Mexican borders, or at least to venture across many state lines on an extended excursion. Obviously, riding thousands of miles across plains and mountains through varying temperatures and changing weather patterns, spending many days and hours in the saddle, and navigating unfamiliar territory is not your typical Saturday morning breakfast ride or even a multi-day tour over a long weekend—riding cross country may be a whole different ballgame from your previous riding experiences.

At the same time, completing a cross-country ride will engender lasting memories and provide great fireside stories on cold winter nights (some of which may even be true). There’s also a sense of accomplishment from riding such a long distance, exposed to the elements and vagaries of life on the road. My first piece of advice for those with a burning desire to ride from “sea to shining sea” is to do it as soon as time and circumstances allow.

If you’re serious about taking that long, long ride, here are some things to think about:

Set Priorities: Anyone considering a cross-country motorcycle trip most likely has certain places they want to see, roads they want to ride, landscapes they want to experience, and/or people they want to see along the way. A good way to start planning the trip is to first brainstorm about, and write down, all of the potential goals of the trip and then prioritize them on a five point scale from most important (number 1’s) to the least important (number 5’s). Next, plot the higher priority items (1’s, 2’s, and 3’s) on a map. This will establish an overall framework for formulating a plan for the trip.

Allocate Adequate Time: America’s lower 48 states offer a veritable smorgasbord of fascinating sites and experiences. By doing the trip on a motorcycle, riders will experience it with all five of their senses, creating vivid, lasting memories. My recommendation is to expect around two to three weeks for a one-way coast-to-coast trip. Of course travel times will vary depending on the route, type of roads, and number and duration of stops. To have the most fulfilling experience, though, it’s often best to take those “roads less traveled,” which will require more time than the super slab. I’ve also found that on trips of several weeks it’s prudent to build a couple of rest days into the schedule.

There’s also the matter of factoring in the return trip. After several weeks on the road, the prospect of riding another 3,500 to 4,000 plus miles may be unappealing and the time required to do so unavailable. Consequently, riders may want to arrange in advance for their bikes to be shipped home from their destination and return themselves home via the nearest airport. Long story short, if you don’t have at least two weeks for a cross-country trip, it may not be worth doing it until the time is available.

Plan the Route: Establishing a route for your cross-country riding adventure will largely be determined by where your highest priority goals are located on the map. Let’s say, for example, your highest priority is to ride historic Route 66 from one end to the other. That alone will determine a large portion of the route.

Although I usually prefer to have every overnight location identified and advance hotel reservations secured, I can see how this might hinder a rider’s flexibility to explore unexpected points of interest that pop up during the trip. If you’re traveling without reservations during the height of tourist season, it’s a good strategy to start each day early and plan on quitting around 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., before accommodations are fully booked up by other travelers.

And then there’s the matter of which direction to follow the chosen route: east versus west and north versus south. While this is a matter of personal preference, I usually like going from east to west for two reasons: (1) I live in the East and (2) because I like history, it’s interesting to follow westward expansion from the heavily populated East Coast to the more sparsely populated, dramatic landscapes of the West. On the other hand I can see the benefit of shipping your bike and flying to your trip’s destination, spending time there, and then riding home. There are a lot of ways to skin this proverbial rabbit.

Prepare for the Ride: In addition to planning a route and destination, it’s important to prepare yourself and your bike for riding thousands of miles. First, given the many unexpected things that can go wrong on such a long motorcycle trip across unfamiliar territory, I strongly recommend that the ride be taken with at least one other person, but no more than two or three others. Managing the desires and proclivities of multiple riders can become a significant burden in itself. Go with people you have experience riding with, who have similar touring priorities, and who have compatible personalities and riding styles.

Of course, your motorcycle has to be in tip-top condition before leaving home. If new tires, an oil change, or some other service will be required during the trip, arrange for this in advance with a dealer along the route. Also, it’s important to have a few tools and spare parts that might be needed in case of a breakdown. A credit card and a cell phone are must haves on any trip. Some locations, however, will not have cell coverage. A portable CB radio, for contacting others in an emergency, is also nice to bring along.

It’s been my experience that less-seasoned motorcycle travelers often pack too much gear, clothing, and other devices—stuff that’s really not needed. For example, expect to do laundry on your rest days and, therefore, don’t pack clean clothes for every day of the trip. If you will be traveling two-up with a significant other, don’t tell them what to take. Instead provide them with the bag liner, tankbag, etc. for their stuff and let them decide what to put in it. Trust me, this can avoid a lot of pre-trip drama. Whole chapters in books and many articles have been written on the science of packing a motorcycle. The golden rule is to take only what you will need and nothing more!

Manage the Ride: Plans are great to have, but trips rarely go completely as they were planned. For example, if you’re traveling across the Midwest in spring or summer, there’s a strong chance of severe—even violent—storms, and often there’s no place to take shelter when storms appear with little advance notice. Consequently, staying apprised of forecasts and changing weather conditions is vitally important so there will be time to find shelter. I have, on occasion, ridden through thunderstorms, because I thought I had to keep riding to stay on schedule. This is not only a bad idea, but an unnecessary and dangerous thing to do, which is why I don’t do it anymore.

Because traveling cross-country can be stressful, particularly in a group, it’s important to communicate frequently with your riding partners and to be flexible with the itinerary so that everyone stays on the same page, enjoys the trip, and disagreements are avoided. If you’re traveling alone, let someone back home know where you will be riding each day and then check in with them at day’s end.

And last, but certainly not least, document your experiences with photos and entries in a journal. This effort will pay many dividends after the trip. There’s nothing better than photos (or video) and a written narrative to help relive the experience over and over again with friends and family.

Some of my best travel memories are from extended motorcycle journeys I’ve experienced over the years. Get ready to make some memories of your own. The treasure chest of RoadRUNNER tours online (at can be a valuable aid in planning your epic cross-country trip.


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