I am a member of the Iron Butt Association, which has over 60,000 members who love long distance riding. To join, get a start and end witness, ride 1,000 miles (1600 km) in less than 24 hours, keep a log and your receipts, and then submit the paperwork along with a fee for having your ride checked and certified. In return, you get a frame-worthy certificate and a license plate backer that says, "World's Toughest Riders". Once you have completed that initial ride, then you can do other rides, such as a "50cc" - coast to coast in under 50 hours.
Iron Butt Association - "Worlds Toughest Riders"
Iron Butt Association members know a lot about long distance riding. Check out their FAQ and Forums. You may find a lot of useful information. Also check out the ADV Rider forums. (I have no experience and do not participate, but their reputation is good.)
I prefer to ride to business meetings rather than fly. The meetings are all over the country, so it is a great opportunity. Here are my personal recommendations:
* "Captain Obvious":
(as my children would say)
- Make sure your riding skills are up to the task.
- Make sure your motorcycle is in excellent running condition before you leave. Oil changes, fresh tires, etc.
- Wear the best, safest protective gear that you can afford. Often the best stuff is the most comfortable.
* Don't Add Accessories at the Last Minute:
Give yourself time to fix the unexpected issues, ride with them, and learn them first. Don't add to your stress just before you leave, and don't distract yourself trying to learn the new accessory while you are on the road in unfamiliar territory. Motorcycling requires your full attention without additional complications.
* Motorcycle Comfort:
Handlebar and footpeg extenders have already been discussed above. That's just the start. Consider adding better wind protection. I have a tall Aeroflow shield and Aerogards, both of which I highly recommend. (Note: Sometimes I swap them out for summer riding, because I like the air flow and don't seem to mind the extra buffeting at highway speeds.)
Consider auxiliary lighting so that others will see you.
If you plan to ride at night, consider auxiliary lighting that can increase what you can see, especially in the left and right margins. Deer come out at night and are particularly dangerous for riders.
Useful Hint About Wildlife Dangers:
If you encounter wildlife with little time to react, the rule-of-thumb is: "If you can eat it in one sitting, keep going. If not, do whatever you can to safely brake and swerve to avoid it." (Me, paraphrasing quotes from many of my smart LD Rider friends.)
* Riding Comfort:
- Rain gear.
On any given long trip, you will probably encounter wet weather somewhere along the way. If you are using an outer layer, put them on BEFORE the rain hits. It sucks to put on rain gear in the rain. Many storms are drop-drop-downpour. You have been warned. I used Froggs Toggs raingear for a long time because they were an effective low cost solution. Buy gear that has reflective piping. These days, I wear Klim Badlands Pro gear, which is "guaranteed to keep you dry" with GoreTex. It just works, no changing required, but it is expensive. (By the way, "waterproof" gloves rarely are. Get used to the idea that your hands may be wet. Make sure your handgrip heaters work.)
Useful Hint About Gloves:
Buy at least one set of 100% pure silk glove liners, which cost $10-15 at most. One size fits all. They will help you get your hands into wet, clammy gloves. They just slide in. Without them, good luck! Silk glove liners are thin and light and small. I keep a set in my glovebox always. As a natural fabric, they also add warmth even when wet.
Mens Motorcycle Jackets | Reflective Motorcycle Rain Jackets
Womens Motorcycle Jackets | Womens Reflective Waterproof Jackets
Klim (expensive, but very good):
Welcome | KLIM Snowmobile and Motorcycle Gear
Badlands Pro Jacket
(No longer a current model.)
- Heated gear.
I can't imagine traveling without a heated jacket liner. I strongly recommend Warm 'n' Safe, which I have used for years. They seem to be the preference of most long distance riders that I know. Even in summer, you can encounter very cold weather, especially going over the Rockies.
Warm & Safe, the Home of the Warmest Clothing in the Universe
- Ventilation and Cooling.
Think about how the air flows through your gear. Also think about how you will stay cool in the hot weather. Air flow works up to a point, but when temperatures get above the high-90s (F) (say, above 37 C) then the hot air will actually HEAT your body and make you more uncomfortable. In addition, in dry conditions the flowing air sucks so much moisture from your body that you CANNOT take in enough hydration at fuel stops alone.
When temperatures get high and the air is not too humid, then I soak my undershirt, button up my jacket, open my sleeves a little to allow a small amount of airflow for evaporative cooling. That lasts about an hour, and can actually make you feel too cold (just cut down on the airflow in your jacket). You can buy dedicated evaporative vests to wear under your jacket which will hold more and last longer, but I don't bother. See LD Comfort's website for a description of what I do:
(Honestly, I just soak the whole shirt in a gas station sink and then put that soggy thing on. It can get downright cold, even on a 100+ F day. The important lesson is to avoid letting too much of the cold air flow out of your jacket.)
- Underwear. (Yes, you read that right.)
Many thousands of my closest riding friends and I swear by LD Comfort underwear, which is purpose-designed for long distance riding. LD Comfort undergarments are simply amazing. They are expensive, but they work. All of mine still look new after many years and tens of thousands of miles. I can't explain it. I have a variety of their undergarments, and packing depends on the time of year and expected weather of course. As a general rule, I carry a set of shorts (shirt and underpants) and a set of longs. Unless the temperatures are extreme (close to freezing) I almost always prefer the short pants. I wear them with the long or short shirt as appropriate.
My personal favorites are the shorts, the long sleeve zipper top shirt, the short sleeve crew T-shirt, and the long sleeve shirt without the zipper top. Another favorite is the helmet liner, which I always wear. They always have black, but I think that the colored ones increase visibility. Mine is traffic cone orange, but I think it was available only once. I also have a black one. Don't tell my business associates, but I often wear the long sleeve shirt with a suit or sport coat for meetings or evening dinner/social activities. It fits right in.
I bring a travel-size bottle of baby shampoo to wash the LD Comforts in a hotel sink. They dry very quickly. If you roll them in a dry hotel towel, they are essentially ready-to-wear - barely damp at all. Because of the anti-microbial properties of the fabric, they don't stink. Don't tell anyone, but I know many riders who will ride for days without washing them. They may stink, but their undergarments don't. :-)
Some of my friends wear the long sleeve tops and bottoms, even in the hottest weather. They feel that the wicking and evaporation help cool the body. I will wear the long sleeve top in hot weather for soaking and evaporative cooling, but not ordinary riding in the heat. I do not like the turtleneck short sleeve shirt either. Some people like it to prevent chafing from the jacket collar.
Bottom line: LD Comfort undergarments are the absolute best for long distance riding. Don't settle for anything less.
LDComfort Motorcycle Baselayer Undergarments that keep you cool in the heat and warm in the cold.
Here are my favorite men's LD Comfort undergarments. Note that they design similar versions especially for women, too:
Long Sleeve Mock Zipper Top - Tri Monte Group Inc DBA LDComfort
Top Short Sleeve Crew Neck - Tri Monte Group Inc DBA LDComfort
Men's Shorts - LDComfort - Tri Monte Group Inc DBA LDComfort
Helmet Liner w/Ties & Tail New Sizes - Tri Monte Group Inc DBA LDComfort
My favorite socks are the BMW Silver Function socks. They just work and they don't stink, but they don't make them any longer. The new versions of the BMW socks are missing the silver anti-microbial feature. I have not found a replacement that excites me. Basically, I look for an all-purpose, anti-microbial sock with good comfort and wicking features. I also wear Drymax socks but they don't excite me. Many of my LD Rider friends like them, but I have been spoiled by the old BMW socks.
Balance the load carefully and keep the weight down. Add up your weight and your passenger's weight (embarrassing to ask sometimes!) and deduct it from your motorcycle's weight limit (based on GVRW). For my K1200GT, I use 230 kg = 500 lb. Total - rider, passenger, and luggage. Those hard cases weigh a lot.
Don't put all the tools in one side case and the feather pillows in the other. Keep the heavy stuff (e.g. tools) low and forward. Those BMW 49 liter top cases hold a lot. Don't be tempted to overload it or put the heavy stuff there, or your ride balance will not be good. When you're tired and your top case is overweight, the motorcycle can feel very unstable at low speeds. Nobody wants that when they are tired and hungry while stuck in heavy traffic in a far away town.
(Official BMW content limits are:
Tank bag: 5 kg = 11 pounds; Side cases (each): 10 kg = 22 pounds; 49 Liter top case: 20 kg = 44 pounds. (Don't be tempted!).
Buy case liners. They are wonderful. Open the hard case, grab the liner, and go to the motel room. Leave the hard cases on the motorcycle. Liners make packing easier, too. I have the official BMW cases. I like them because they are very stiff and hold their shape, but they have a single zipper lengthwise in the middle of the top, which is inconvenient because it is covered by the hard shell of the BMW side case. That makes it more difficult to retrieve items while traveling (you have to tip the liner out to get at the zipper.
I recommend the liners that have two zippers that run around the side edge perimeters. With those, you can lay the case on its side and fold the entire side flap back for packing. That style of liner also makes it easy to get at your stuff when on the road, because the zipper is on the side edge - convenient when you open the side case shell. When the zippers are on both sides, there is no "right" and "left" liner.
A friend has these RKA liners, and sometimes I wish I had bought them instead:
R1200RT/1200ST Liner Bag Page
While searching the web, I found these Bestem liners at a reasonable price. I do not know if they are good, and there is only one side zipper on each case, but that's might be good enough. (You have to remember which one is left and which is right when you pack.):
BMW R1100R K1200RS R1100GS K1200GT R850R (-05) Saddlebags Liners Bag Sideliners
NO, because it has a center zipper, like my BMW liners:
Stay hydrated while you ride. Keep your body lightly fueled with frequent snacks.
I carry a camelbak liner in my tankbag, wrapped in an old kitchen towel to absorb and evaporate condensation. I grab the tube sticking out of the zipper and drink. You may want to wear a camelbak, so your passenger can drink too.
-> Pay attention to your passenger's needs!
They may become overheated, dehydrated, fatigued, etc. and may not have the skills to recognize when they are in danger. (I had a passenger who become overheated. We were lucky, and I learned a valuable lesson.)
* Communications and "entertainment":
How will you communicate with your passenger? (I don't have this issue on long trips, but you will.) Will your batteries last for a whole day's ride? Will you be able to recharge all your devices (phone, communicator, etc.) every evening? If not, then maybe you need to bring a battery pack (or direct connection) for charging while riding. Be sure your communicator works while it is being charged; many models will not work if they are charging.
Do you need cellphone communications while riding? What about music? I can listen to music while I ride, but I almost never do, even though I love music.
- Emergency Medical Cards
I keep emergency medical cards (just a folded piece of piece of paper, in a ziploc plastic "snack bag" if necessary) in my pants, wallet, jacket, and on the motorcycle. It contains emergency contacts, my prescription info, and my doctor's contact info. They have a red cross and say "ICE - In Case of Emergency" in a prominent place. I always update it and print fresh copies before a long trip.
- Roadside Assistance.
Does your roadside assistance plan cover your needs adequately? (AAA? Good Sam Club? American Motorcycle Association (AMA)? BMWMOA?) Will they tow a motorcycle if required? Do they have a clue about motorcycle towing? For me, I learned that AAA was completely useless unless I got stuck VERY close to an urban area. The towing fees start after only a few miles, even if you have a premium plan. Other roadside assistance services will tow you as far as it takes to get to an authorized service center. After 35+ years, I dropped AAA and signed up for Good Sam roadside assistance. I don't own a motorhome and am not a member, but their plan works for me. I have never used their towing. I hear that AMA is also good, but I am not a member.
- SPOT, already mentioned:
I carry a SPOT with tracking and the additional roadside assistance. With SPOT, my family can track me on the internet. They can see where I am at any given time, where I stop, and when I am moving. The roadside assistance plan is not very good, but SPOT works in places where there is no cellphone reception, which I encounter frequently. I figure that they can get me and my motorcycle to a place where I can invoke the Good Sam plan. I have never tested this idea. If I'm lucky, perhaps the towing service that shows up will support both plans anyway.
SPOT plan subscriptions (SOS, tracking, etc.) are annual. You pay for one year at a time. You cannot activate the plan for a month or two and use it only when you're traveling.
Watch out for SPOT automatic renewals on your credit card. IMPORTANT: If you quit SPOT, you MUST actively cancel your plan with them. If not, then they will keep accumulating subscription fees. If you later return to SPOT, they will make you pay the back due bills to resume the service. They justify it by saying that they must respond to emergencies from your SPOT device anyway, since they cannot know that you INTENDED to let the SPOT plan expire. Be forewarned.
An alternative to SPOT: DeLorme
I keep renewing my SPOT plan each year, and each year I swear that I am going to give DeLorme a serious look. DeLorme has more features, including the ability to send custom messages via satellite, but costs more if you keep it going each year. DeLorme lets you stop and start the subscription on a monthly basis. If you are casual user and are diligent about managing the activations, you may be able to save money. The DeLorme hardware costs more initially, but both DeLorme and SPOT work on the "razor blade" model - the real costs (read: profits) are in the subscriptions. DeLorme may be a better long term solution vs. SPOT if you are disciplined. Note that DeLorme was recently purchased by Garmin.
DeLorme is now part of the Garmin family
- Evacuation Assistance Insurance:
I also carry MedJet Assist. If I am in an accident that requires hospitalization, they will make arrangements to transport me to a hospital close to home and ship (whatever is left of) my motorcycle home. Some motorcycle rallies, such as the IBR, require participants to have evacuation insurance.
* MOST IMPORTANT:
Know when to stop. Know how to tell if you are unsafe and stop immediately. Get to a safe place (shade?) and stop immediately.
My heroes are those riders who gave up the goal and stopped. They lived to ride another day.