Category Archives: Getting Started

How do I get started with motorcycle touring?

Why Do I Ride A Motorcycle?

Riding a motorcycle satisfies my need for individual experience, but without excluding others.  It allows me to be an individual, but also part of a community of shared experiences.

Whether solo riding, part of a small group of close friends, or part of a large organized ride, the advice is always the same; “ride your own ride”.
I can choose to ride in silence, to listen to the music, sing, talk to others in my group through intercoms… I can do whatever makes it the best experience for me at that moment. My experience does not prevent others from doing the same, and my freedom is not an imposition on others.

It offers a means of recreation and self-expression that is unlike any other. The motorcyclist can experience travel without the confinement of an automobile, able to use all your senses to actually experience the world around you. By world, I don’t just mean the environment you ride through, but your place in it as a part of it.

More than just the “5 Senses”

Yes, you can hear, see, smell, touch, and taste the environment around you; sometimes a bad thing, but mostly a good thing. There are lots of articles on how riding effects the five senses, but there are other important ‘senses’ in play.

Motorcycling puts you in touch with your sense of balance, sense of direction, sense of adventure, sense of wonder, sense of accomplishment, and sense of community.

No roof-line limits your appreciation of the towering heights of cliffs, mountains or trees. No car A-pillars and B-pillars “frame” your view of nature’s majesty, everywhere you look you get the entire panorama.

4 wheel vehicles encourage passivity, just put in the minimum effort to not hit anything and everything will be fine. Modern autonomous vehicles are striving to eliminate even that little bit of participation in the journey.

But motorcycling is different. You have to be more “present” on a motorcycle. 2 wheel vehicles require you to be a vigilant participant in the entire journey. From pre-ride TCLOCS to making the simplest turn, you have to be “present” and using your body to successfully complete the journey. You see the sun and clouds, you feel the wind and the road. Your body controls the speed, shifting, leaning, lane position. A high-speed delayed apex turn in a car is a one-finger exercise, on a bike it a whole-body activity that leaves you exhilarated.

It’s all about the journey, not just about the ride.

On a motorcycle you stop more often, and are more likely to interact with others when you stop. This “community of the road” is part of the adventure, and you can participate as an equal.

Social class, race, gender, religion, and all of the other things that we let divide us in our daily lives melt away when huddled under shelter from a storm, refueling at a lonely gas station, gathered around a campfire or any of the myriad opportunities to interact.
When you pull in to a hotel, gas station or restaurant and see motorcycles in the parking lot, you know that there are people “like you” already there.

Half of the people you meet are probably coming from where you want to go, and the other half are going where you’ve already been.
They are almost always willing to share the latest information on weather, road conditions, and good (or bad) places to eat/sleep/visit. In return, you can provide them with the same. Equality at it’s best.

It doesn’t matter if your faith system relies on God creating the world for your enjoyment, or random organization of molecules aligning in complex and pleasing patterns, or something else entirely.

Are you not in awe when driving through giant sequoias?
Can you remain unmoved by the view of forested slopes stretching away from a snow-capped mountain peak? 
Do wild animals drinking from crystal clear water leave you numb?

I don’t think so.    You are there.    You are a part of it.

Motorcyclists may disagree about politics, religion and a host of other topics, but can we at least agree that this form of “wind therapy” puts us back in touch with our better selves?
That part of us that feels connected to the world at a deeper level, where we appreciate the beauty and mystery that surrounds us.

That’s why I ride a motorcycle.

Vacation Planning: Is It Right For You?    Choosing A Trip    Planning A Trip   

How do I plan a motorcycle vacation?

I’m going to explain my process for planning, yours can be significantly less comprehensive and still be entirely satisfactory. I am the subject of many jokes about my planning spreadsheet.

I break it down to 4 major pieces:

  • Pick the Destination(s)
  • Choose the Route
  • Plan the Route
  • Stop planning, and DO IT!

  • Pick the Destination(s)
    Sounds easy, but this will sometimes dictate a lot of choices. My favorite destinations are National Parks, but there are relatively few hotel rooms available in/near the parks, so allow more drive time. You can camp, but that changes your packing, and so on.

    Choose the route
    Google Maps is my friend. I can spend hours looking at various routes, comparing distances and drive times. I also use StreetView to ‘preview’ the road sections to see if they are interesting; forest, vistas, water, etc. This is where you can decide to make your trip an Out-and-Back or a Loop, an Interstate Cruise or a backroads twister. In any case, make it interesting to you and the experience you want.

    Plan the route
    Wait, didn’t I just choose the route? What’s left to do?
    That depends – How many miles do you want to drive each day? More importantly, how long do you want to be riding, since interstate miles are much quicker than mountain twisties? Are there gas stations and restaurants at the required intervals? Do you have a Plan B in case of weather or other circumstances? Do you need reservations (tours, hotels) or just show up? I use a spreadsheet to do most of the planning, and I admit I get a little carried away.

    Don’t sweat the plan
    I admit, this is where I struggle. My laminated, color-coded spreadsheet calls me to action, but I have to remember that the ride is what I’m here for, so once the ride starts we refer to the spreadsheet to understand the impact when we want to change plans.

    OK, you can stop laughing at my spreadsheet now.

    Choosing A Vacation Trip

    Vacation Planning: Is It Right For You?    Choosing A Trip    Planning A Trip   

    What You’re Looking For Depends On What You’re Used To

    When many people plan a big vacation get-away, the first thing they think of is something that they’ve heard someone brag about… a trip to Bora-Bora, climbing a mountain… whatever!

    Then they realize that they don’t have the funds, skills, interest or time to make that plan work, so they settle for a stay-cation.

    In a previous post I discuss whether to choose a motorcycle vacation, now let’s talk about HOW to choose the right trip for YOU!

    I see 3 approaches for choosing where to go. The first is to simply pick some place you’ve never been and head out. No planning, no worrying.. just go with the flow.  This is great for the type of person for whom facing the unknown is the fun part, but that is not the kind of trip I’m talking about here.

    The second approach is to choose a destination where you will spend most of your time, and the motorcycle is simply your transportation there and back.Your planning will be limited to logistics, like hotels, gas, mileage, and possibly weather. Again, not the kind of trip I’m discussing here.

    The third approach is to plan the trip, as opposed to just the destination, to do and see the things you enjoy.  A motorcycle vacation adventure can be a weekend, or a week (or more) long and give you the sense of adventure and accomplishment you are seeking.

    I suggest that you start with an inventory of what you ‘have’ and what you ‘want’. If you live in the pine-forested mountains, the desert vistas of the Southwest may get your juices flowing. Or maybe the swamps of the Southeast. If you live in a crowded big city, maybe the wide open plains (with no people) are just the ticket.  Start with an inventory of what you  already have, then develop a list of what you want to experience.

      Here is my list from the Phoenix Valley of the Sun area:

    • desert plants on a flat desert floor
    • small but steep hills we call mountains
      What I love to experience:

    • cliffs & canyons (from the top) with big vistas, and canyons (from the bottom) with rivers I can ride next to
    • colorful, interesting rock formations
    • big vistas of undulating forested mountains and meadows
    • jagged coastline
    • twisty mountain roads and broad, and sweeping turns with great vistas
    • historical sites

    You may have a different list if you live in a different location (or like different things), but the point is to go ahead and create your own list. Once you know what you are looking for, you may be surprised how easily you can plan a great adventure vacation, maybe in your own state!

    Living in the Southwest gives me an unfair advantage, as almost everything I want is within 2 days ride, but their is nothing to prevent you from hopping on a plane and getting close to your destination to rent a motorcycle. Once you are on the motorcycle, your adventure awaits. Whether you want to ride the Pacific Coast Highway, tour the Grand Canyon, ride the Million Dollar Highway, Freedom Trail, or Tail of the Dragon… or make up your own dream ride… you can do it with a little preparation.

    In a future post, I will discuss my methods for finding routes that optimize the things I like to do.

    There are great rides in almost every state. The secret is to create your route by choosing things you love to experience (from your list) and go DO IT!

    Choosing to Vacation on a Motorcycle – Is It Right For You?

    Vacation Planning: Is It Right For You?    Choosing A Trip    Planning A Trip   

    “Oh, I could never do that!”

    How many of us give up our dreams because of that phrase?

    Maybe you’ve heard it’s dangerous, or expensive, or time consuming, or …, or …

    It does not have to be expensive, and the only special skills you need are the ability to ride a motorcycle and, most importantly, the right attitude!

    Everyone knows that riding keeps you in touch with the changing environments you glide through; temperatures, smells, and increased visual range. Riding also establishes an immediate bond between total strangers at a restaurant, gas station, or hotel. When you ask someone about their bike it almost always turns into a great discussion. Whether it is about equipment, road conditions, places to eat (or not), things to see. Take an adventurous attitude and talk to the people you meet along the way!

    The right attitude can also mitigate the ‘dangers’ you face along the way. There are real dangers to motorcycle touring, but approaching it thoughtfully should avoid the worst of the problems. There are environmental dangers, like weather (storms, heat & humidity, cold) and areas without services (hotel, gas, restaurants). There are personal dangers, like medical (conditions, medication refrigeration) and safety (traveling alone).

    Environmental dangers can frequently be avoided with timing. Don’t motorcycle through Tornado Alley during tornado season. Don’t drive in the desert Southwest during summer. Motorcycle around the desert in Arizona in February and you will have a spectacular time! If you feel the need to go at risky times, reach out to locals who can help you plan your risk mitigation.

    Personal safety is frequently the biggest issue holding people (especially women) back from motorcycle touring, but our aging population is pushing medical concerns ever higher.

    Medical concerns might be as simple as keeping medications refrigerated, to availability of medical facilities, to health conditions that may limit mobility/endurance.  All of these can be addressed with a little planning and research on the internet. Keep your medical information on your phone with you by using a phone app that gives GPS-tagged messages to your emergency contact list.

    Traveling alone can be a wonderful way to disconnect from a hectic day-to-day noise, but it is scary to some folks. “What if…” can keep people from taking that step into adventure, but it doesn’t need to. Anybody on social media knows someone who knows someone in virtually any area of the country.

    One of the best social media applications for this particular purpose is Join some motorcycle rider groups in your destination area and ask for help. You will be innundated with suggestions, and maybe people willing to ride with you.

    As your mother told you, strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. With the right adventurous attitude you can visit amazing places, make new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.

    So, which attitudes should NOT try motorcycle vacations?

    • Ugly American syndrome – if you feel the need to tell everyone why their location/lifestyles are inferior to your home location, please stay home
    • if facing some adversity (weather, road construction, schedule changes) along the way throws you into an emotional tailspin, please stay home
    • if you expect to be pampered, please check into a spa

    The Proper attitude for a motorcycle vacation

    • you want to see something different, and meet interesting people along the way
    • you can accept that adversity is part of the adventure
    • you can be like a Boy Scout: be prepared, friendly, and cheerful…