WELCOME TO PLANNING FOR A MOTORCYCLE TRIP
|One of the questions I am often asked, is "Just how do you plan for a particular ride?". This page is dedicated to what works for me and hopefully you will come away with some things that you can use. I given the questions in order that I consider them.
1. "What is the purpose of this trip?" "What do you want to get out of this ride?" may be a better way of putting the question. This usually determines just about everything else in the plan. I tend to be a very goal oriented rider and usually have goals for every ride that I do. To give you an example, on my 2009 trip out West with Dave and Andy, we decided that we wanted to squeeze in as many sights as we could in two weeks. So I had the time frame and a basic area of the country we wanted to cover. My upcoming trip to Ireland is to take my wife on a relaxing tour to the Ring Of Kerry and Blarney Castle - anything else is just icing on the cake. My trip out West in 2007 was to do all of the Sierra Passes in one day. Maybe your answer is straight from "Then Came Bronson" - "Where ever I end up I guess". If that's the case then it's just a matter of choosing a general direction and starting out that way. Nobody can decide that but you and if you are taking someone along, you'd better be sure that they've signed up for the same cruise! Someone asked me about going with me on my 2008 Alps Tour and taking their wife. I explained that Dave and I were planning on squeezing in as many passes in the Alps as we could get - not stopping at every Alpine meadow where a cow with a bell was and taking pictures. So I doubted that he would want to spend the money on that kind of trip and I did not think his wife would enjoy it at all. He was an experienced rider and was smart enough to know that I was correct. So once you've decide on the purpose, then you can look at the logistics.
2. "How Much Time Do I Have To Take This Trip?" This is what I call a 'critical limit'. If you've only got 5 days, then traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast is possible - but not very practical or fun. If you hold down a regular job like me, the amount of vacation you can take in one chunk may be limited. But always remember that if you 'stack' the weekends on both ends of a week, you end up with 9 days. And If you can 'sneak' out a little early on Friday, you can cover another half day's worth of distance. If you are retired or semi-retired, then money becomes more of 'critical limit' than time.
3."How Much Time Do I Want To/Can Spend in the Saddle?" This along with the time you have dictates the maximum miles you can cover - it's just a case of math and physics. This is also another 'critical limit'. Notice I said 'time' and not 'miles' - a pretty simple concept missed by a lot of folks. Whizzing down the Interstate at 75 mph for 3 hours with no stops and you've covered 225 miles. Backroading on 2 lanes through small towns and villages for 3 hours and you will be lucky to cover 150 miles. Over the length of a multi-day trip, it makes a big difference. My general rule of thumb is to figure 60 mph average on the interstates, 50 mph average on backroads. That takes in fuel stops, traffic surprises, etc. but not stopping for a meal. Don't be foolish and think your ability to do miles will improve as the trip gets longer. Your naturally best mileage day will be the first day when you are the freshest. You can do longer days, but it will not come as easy as on the first day.
4."Where Am I Going To Stay?" I know folks that only camp and wouldn't be caught dead in a motel - and vice versa. I know some that use a combination of both, and some that 'stealth' camp - just find an open space off the road and pitch a tent. My general rule of thumb is if I'm going to be on the move, staying in a new place almost every night, I'll stay in motels. If I am going to operate out of a central place, then I may camp if there are good facilities in the area. Realize that if you camp on the move, you are adding at least an extra hour in the morning for taking down and an extra hour in the evening for setting up. You're carrying extra weight on the bike which means the tires won't last quite as long. And if it's cold and rainy, you'll be out in the cold setting up and taking down. If your trip is going to be of any length and you want to camp, you need to look at some good quality gear for both the tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress/cot. And if you decide to cook your own meals, that brings in a whole other discussion. If you decide to motel, then you have to decide whether you will reserve ahead of time or take your chances when you get there. That can be a mixed bag either way - and I've done both. If you're going to take your chances, then take a drive through the area of town with eyes open, make a couple of choices, then go back and see what kind of deal they will give you. I generally prefer a mom and pop motel that's been kept up rather than a chain. And beware - an online 'review' on a travel/motel site is pretty worthless! One of the most wretched rooms I ever stayed in was a national chain that was so bad I actually got a partial refund when I complained to headquarters. If you are going to stay at chains and not reserve ahead, you might make a list of their 800 numbers. Some folks find one they like, then call the 800 number out in the parking lot to make the reservation. Walk-in rack rates for rooms in a chain can be pretty pricey - especially if you are late getting in and the weather is bad. Also, it will be better for you if you pick a place to stay where restaurants are in walking distance. Trust me - after a day on the road you don't want to gear back up to ride to super! When I look for a place to stay, I like to find one that has super, breakfast and fuel next door so I can fill up on the way in and walk to my meals.
5. "What Roads Will I Take?" The new GPS technology is both a blessing and curse. It can get you to a lot of places, but it can also get you into a lot of fixes! I've finally moved over to use a GPS as my memory ain't what it used to be. But I still have the "ancient papyrus with the hieroglyphics" along with me in case of a technology failure. My choice of planning software is Microsoft Streets and Trips. It allows me to chart out a route ahead of time and print maps, etc., then I usually take that and put each day's route on a 3x5 card using my route 'shorthand' that I have developed over the years. I also pack a national atlas along and a Delorme Gazetteer of a state if I plan on spending time there. I've found the MSS&T time estimates are pretty accurate when stacked against how I travel so I know about how long it should take to travel for the day. But if you are just wandering around, just take the atlas so you can get back home at the appointed time! Just remember - computer mapping - both static and GPS - is not 100% accurate. Some roads shown don't exist, the road surface is not one you want to ride on, they are actually private roads you cannot go on, they don't look like they appear on the maps - the list goes on! There are plenty of motorcycle forums that can give you all sorts of suggestions for roads to ride pretty much any where in the country, Google is your friend when it comes to that!
6. "What Does The Weather Look Like Where I'm Headed?" If motorcycle riders focused on the weather, most bikes would never leave the garage. And if the weathermen predicted the economy and the economists predicted the weather, the accuracy for both would probably not change! But you need to know what kind of gear you will need on the road and what kind of temperature ranges you will be facing. A classic for us was 36 degrees F in the Yosemite area when we left in the morning and 120 degrees F by the afternoon in Death Valley. Flexible gear is important if you are traveling very far - especially out West. Plan for the worse and hope for the best and you'll be all right. You definitely want to wear waterproof (not water resistant) boots and have rain gear in easy reach if your riding suit is not waterproof. The last thing you want to do is spend hours riding in water soaked clothes. If the temperatures drop suddenly, you could get in trouble very quickly from hypothermia. Also, what are the chances of encountering ice and snow on the road? Realize that if you are on ice on a motorcycle and hit the brakes, you will go down and go down hard. What are the chances of encountering tornados or thunder storms? In Kansas, you could be the tallest thing around in a lightning storm (not a very comforting feeling I can assure you!). If I'm in a motel, I usually find the Weather Channel so I at least some idea of what it will look like tomorrow.
7. "How Much Is This Going To Cost?" Obviously the three major factors of this is - fuel, food, and lodging. If I am moteling, I generally use $150 a day as a rough estimate when traveling in the USA. It's a simple break out - $50 for fuel, $30 for food, $70 for lodging (that assumes not stopping for lunch and no consumption of alcoholic beverages - I don't drink). Some days you'll do better, some days you'll do worse and it depends on what part of the country you are in, how fancy a motel you have to have and how big that supper is going to be. In Utah, I got a room for $25, on the California coast it was $135. If you are camping, you probably would be closer to $100-$110 a day with what a campsite costs. If two of you are splitting a room, then obvious the lodging costs usually drop in half or close to it. I usually do not carry a lot of cash but some is necessary as there are places that don't take credit cards.
8. "What Should I Pack?" It is human nature (at least for most humans), to pack way more than you need for a given trip. It is not practical to pack enough clothes for an entire two week trip, so you have to decide how often you want to wash clothes (be sure to bring a small bottle of detergent). Some folks actually throw their dirty stuff away and stop at WalMart to buy new clothes. I usually pack 4 days worth of underclothes and T-shirts. 3 pairs of various thickness of socks (warm weather, cool weather, cold weather), 1 pair of flannel pajamas (which can also be worn under a riding suit), 1 pair of slacks, 1 golf shirt, and a pair of canvas casual shoes that fold up nicely, and a medium weight jacket. My shaving kit has been 'refined' over the years of travel and I usually carry a small bag of over the counter remedies to have handy. Depending on the weather, I may also pack some of my favorite snacks like beef jerky and trail mix. As noted above the Weather section, I always carry my heated gear, my hot weather gear, and my rain gear so I am covered in all situations. A USA road Atlas also comes along and small tool bag that contains tire repair stuff including a small 12 volt compressor. I prefer everything to fit in my panniers and topbox if at all possible for weather and security reasons. One luxury I usually also take along is a small AC powered fan that makes a little bit of white noise and stirs a bit of a breeze in a stuffy motel room. This fan also runs on batteries and has a 12 volt DC adapter. I am a big fan of compressor bags, which look like oversized Ziploc bags but allow you to take the air out of your clothes. Eagle Creek through REI.Com makes some with one way valves on the bottom so you can roll the air out.
9."Can I Be Flexible?" On any trip, the 'best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray' to borrow a line from Mr. Burns. If road is closed, if the weather stops us, if we have mechanical or health problems, what will we do? If you get a bad tamale and can't stay out of the bathroom for day, you're sure not going to be on the seat of a motorcycle! Things happen when you're on the road, so you've got to determine what's a must and what's a maybe.
So let's review one of my trips - the recent West 2009 trip - and see what my process was -
1. Purpose - See as many sights as we could in the time we had.
2. Time - We've got 15 days to do the West part with Dave, 2 days on either end for Andy and I to get to/from Nashville/Denver, 19 in all.
3. Saddle Time - We'll be mostly on backroads and we all three are experienced distance riders, I've ridden a lot of miles with both of these fellers, so about 400 miles is going to be a good 'planning' max. That means we will get up early, skip lunch, and ride hard.
4. Where To Stay - Moving this quick, and with Dave flying in, camping is out of the question. We'll be doing motels for sure and I'll pick them as I pick the places we are going to see.
5. What Roads - Well, Andy and I will be coming from Nashville to meet Dave in Denver, so we decided to slab it out and slab it back. We're headed north from Denver, so we'll slab it up to Wyoming the first day together. The rest of trip we'll try to stay pretty much on backroads. I select the proposed 'sights' and we hash around what sounds good and I make the final list. Using MSS&T, I 'waypoint' the points of interest and let the software pick the route. Then I go back and route us over roads that I know are particularly 'interesting' to come up with a final route. Then with our daily average mileage in hand, I start looking at towns along the way that should have multiple motels at about the right mileage. It's an iterative process, as I contact folks I know along the route for motel/restaurant suggestions. Sometimes it's a sure thing, sometimes it's a blind guess. Some days we will be a particularly scenic area, so I figure the mileage to be less, some days will be mostly riding, so I figure it a little higher. Since we'll be making a big loop, I look at doing it both clockwise and counterclockwise.
6. Weather - Historically, we should not see any snow, but we will be at some altitude. I plan on taking my heated gear, my mesh gear, and my rain gear - that covers me for about any thing I should hit. We might hit some snow, but if we do, we'll just have to route around it. The heat of Death Valley is the one thing that I am not looking forward to, but we won't be in there long so mesh will work well.
7. Cost - Since we'll be staying on the coast of California over the Labor Day weekend, the price of motels will be breathtaking to say the least. But then two of my riding friends have offered to put us up for a couple of nights so that helps. Once I've pre-booked all of the rooms, I can look at the actual costs but I'm comfortable that my rule of thumb will be pretty close once again.
8. Packing - I used pretty much everything I brought along which is a good sign. I did hand wash my dirty clothes out in the sink a few times and got to use a real washing machine when we stopped at Don's place.
9. Flexible - The constant refrain from Andy and Dave was - "We're just following you" so we think we've got that covered.
How did we do? Of all the sights we wanted to do, we decide to 'bag' two of them for another time. We ended up changing the route due to fires, fog, and deciding to spend more time at some of our stops - that's why I always carry an atlas. But after 8,000+ miles in 19 days, Andy said at the end - "This was the Gold Standard Of Touring".