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Tips on Planning a Multi-day Ride

by Craig O. Olsen
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, November 2014

Long before the ride every begins comes the planning – sometimes months of it – pouring over maps, reading and reviewing ride reports, talking with other riders who have traveled the same or similar routes, and researching the history behind some of the sites and other points of interest that will be encountered along the way. Then come the ride meetings with the other riders opting in on this ride, usually social get-togethers mainly as an excuse to drink beers. (Now for the record, the only beer I ever drink is Root Beer or the occasional lemonade, but the amount of beer consumed at these meetings – in my estimation – is considerable!)

My preference for maps include the Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlases specific to each state. These are excellent detailed sources for both paved and unpaved roads. Also the AAA state and regional maps are good for overviews on highways less traveled. Once the preliminary details are roughly sketched out, I begin fitting these plans into routes with daily ride segments that will insure adequate lodging, food and fuel along the way. For this purpose, I like using Garmin mapping software (BaseCamp) coupled with electronic topo maps available from GPSFileDepot. [1] I then load the constructed routes into Google Earth to view them in 2-D and 3-D modes that give me a better idea of what the routes will be like.

All this sounds like a lot of work and effort to plan a multi-day ride, but I find the planning phase of a ride to be just about as enjoyable as the riding phase, and the better the planning, the more enjoyable the riding phase is. With two decades of planning multi-day rides, I have found (mostly by trial and error) several tips that help in planning and executing a successful and enjoyable multi-day ride. Peter Egan, a writer well known for his monthly columns, Side Glances in Road & Track magazine and Leanings in Cycle World magazine, summed up these tips in one of his columns from December 2009 that I have summarized here. [2]

1. Find a Date and Protect It – “A year from now, you won’t remember why you stayed home, but you never forget a motorcycle trip.”

2. Skip All Yellow Zones – A yellow zone is any American city so large, sprawling and populated that it’s depicted on the map in a large yellow blot, usually found at the convergence of several Interstates, with a ring road around it.

3. Choose the Smallest Possible Roads – It’s okay to use a road atlas or official state map to lay out your general direction or travel, but the best roads are often missing from these maps… Get a supply of DeLorme GazeDeers and seek out the small stuff. Regional bicycle maps are even better. If bicyclists like the road, you probably will, too.

4. Use the “Never a Dull Moment” Principle – If you must ride through, say, Illinois, try to follow a river or ride through small towns with neat old main streets. Upshift, downshift and amuse yourself with roadside scenery, how ever humble… A good trip is one where evening sneaks up on you and the passage of time seems downright lamentable.

5. Stop for the Night at Towns in Bold Type – The best places to stop for the night (unless you know of a good campground or mountain lodge) are medium-sized towns depicted on the map in bold type. These usually have fuel, a couple of real restaurants, a small choice in motels and at least one bar featuring the local tap beer you so richly deserve.

6. Stay Flexible – Avoid a rigid schedule and ignore all these rules if something interesting and unexpected comes along.

7. Don’t Plan Too Large a Loop – If you do, you won’t be able to follow any of the guidelines above. I find 300 miles per day just about right, 400 slightly tedious and 500-plus fit for nothing but dull roads and bragging rights. And no one else really cares how far you can ride. (If the miles are off-road, I might add, limit your daily mileage to 150-250 miles depending on the nature of the roads, size of the riding group and expertise of the riders.)

8. Don’t Blow Off the Last Day – Every day on the road should be a good one. Don’t get homing instinct on the last day and do 600 miles of Interstate so you can check your e-mail messages… Relax and … stop at a bar 20 miles from home, eat peanuts and SlimJims, talk over the trip and unwind for an hour or two.

Additional tips come from the Cycle World forum in response to Peter Egan’s article: [3]

• Don’t forget to stay west of the Mississippi River and have a check list that you use.

• Plan to take some photos and maybe videos so you can remember people, places and conditions for next time.

• Adjust and plan alternatives to avoid storms and wet weather.

• Plan to go faster than normal and stop more often.

• Call the highway department and ask about construction projects, big delays and mud.

• Never pass up a National Park. They are worth a stop – all of them.

• Pack up, ride 10 miles, unpack and make sure you have enough bungees, repack to stay light.

• Plan to stop by 4pm, get some food, beverages and rest.

• Let the GPS or Google Maps do a draft route for you with settings to your liking.

• Consider some Medevac insurance, just in case.

• When you get home, make a list of the things you took that you didn’t need and the things that you needed that you didn’t have.

• If you have someone special and want to keep it that way, call home every night.

• Take 1.2 times more money than you think you will need.

• Have fun, no matter what, and keep going if you have a tailwind.

Additional tips to consider are to be sure that you pack light and right, plan shorter day segments every 3-4 days, and are physically and emotionally fit for the demands of multi-day riding.

Personally, I have seen many novice riders struggle handling their overloaded bikes. The lighter your bike is, the easier and funner it is to ride, the less tired you will be riding it, and the less likely you will be to have an accident while riding it. Travel as light and compact as you possibly can. Do not take anything with you that you do not absolutely need. Pack heavier items (tools, etc) low on the bike and lighter items higher on the bike in order to keep the center of gravity as low as possible. [4,5] There is a real art and science to packing light and right that covers the tools in your tool pack, your camping and cooking gear, and even the type of clothes and toiletries that you use. [6]

Endurance and appropriately managing riding fatigue plays a major role in multi-day rides – both in terms of enjoyment and safety of riding. [7] That’s why planning to stop by 4 PM daily to get food and rest is important. Similarly helpful is to plan a shorter ride segment every 3-4 days. This helps to dissipate the cumulative fatigue of serial days of riding and allows you time to enjoy other activities off the bike. Some of those activities may be laundering your riding clothes, thus allowing you to pack even lighter.

Another element of endurance allowing you to manage riding fatigue has to do with your physical and emotional fitness. Motorcycle riding, like any other sport, requires a certain level of physical fitness and endurance. And in any sport, the better physical shape you are in, the better and safer you will be to participate in that sport, and the more you will enjoy it. [8]

It is important when riding with a group to ride your own ride. If you feel you are being pushed beyond your riding comfort level – the pace is too fast or the terrain too difficult, discuss it with the group. Do not try to ride beyond your riding capabilities. That will not be enjoyable for you, and you are far more likely to have an accident. That will not only hurt you and / or your bike, it will ruin the ride for everyone else in the group who now have to take care of you.

These are some of the tips to consider in planning successful multi-day rides. Now, go out there, plan some rides and have a good time.


1. GPSFileDepot

2. “Tips on Planning a Great Big Trip,” by Peter Egan. Cycle World, Vol. 48, No. 12, 2009, pg. 24 %22&source=bl&ots=AvZGxYWj3h&sig=ofqYNO4gO5SqD5shE1fxXVmUlPA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=E3naU6eKCoLboAST2oGQCA&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=peter%20egan%20%222ps%20on%20planning%20a%20great%20big%20trip%22&f=false


4. “Packing Light,” by Tom Tolle. IAMC Newsletter, February 2011, Issue #1

5. “Packing Light / Living Right,” by Craig O. Olsen. IAMC Newsletter, April 2011, Issue #2

6. Packing Light Packing Right – The Sound Rider Guide to Motorcycle Packing, by Tom Mehen, 2007.

7. “Fa2gue and Managing Motorcycle Riding Risk,” by Craig O. Olsen, M.D. IAMC Newsletter, April 2010, Issue #1

8. “GeLng in Riding Shape,” by Craig O. Olsen, M.D. IAMC Newsletter, February 2013, Issue #1

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