The lure and romance of long distance motorcycling is irresistible. The feeling of freedom when riding the open road, the mystique of travel far from home, the sense of adventure inherent in individual travel and the richness of experience that derives out of seeing, meeting, knowing and remembering makes this an avenue that transcends even age. Of course, the magnitude of our travels lie within limits and context of our needs and aspirations.
Text: Sandeep Goswami (Old Fox)
Long distance motorcycling comprises of two distinct entities. ‘Long distance’ and ‘motorcycling’. Motorcycling is pretty absolute and anyone who rides a motorcycle is a motorcyclist by definition. But ‘Long Distance’ is hugely relative. To some, a 100 kms would be long distance while to others even 800kms a day would be pretty-much usual. The perceived ‘long’ in this arises from quite a few elements, majorly being 1) mind-set/attitude 2) prior experience of distance travel 3) state of one’s physical fitness 4) confidence about one’s riding skill levels 4) confidence in the reliability of one’s machine 6) availability of like-minded company etc etc, all not necessarily in that order.
Through the 100 points detailed below, we shall put forth for you a repertoire of suggestions, advice, pointers towards essential skill sets for long distance motorcycling and ways and means of improving the skills you already carry, to a high potential. The idea is to make your long distance rides a safe and pleasurable experience. Come…..share the high road with us.
- Don’t get your bike serviced, fixed for a fault or add accessories “immediately” before the ride. Instead, get these things done a few days earlier so that you get to ride the bike around long enough for remaining or new faults to show up. A loose electrical connection, mounting bolt or spongy brakes will show up within a day or two of riding. Let it happen while you’re still home. To get your bike serviced by reliable & trained technicians, you can take your bike to a nearby Castrol Bike Point.
- Pre-trip checks should include: 1) brake pads/shoes and brake oil 2) drive chain 3) oil (and coolant where applicable) 4) lights 5) battery 6) spark plug 7) control cables (throttle, clutch, choke and brake) 8) clutch 9) air filter 10) suspension components (front fork and rear damper) 11) tyres 12) general nuts and bolts 13) PUC validity 14) Insurance validity 15) Registration certificate.
- In India, you are required to have four essential documents related to you and your vehicle and can be asked for by the law enforcers. They are the Registration Certificate (RC) of the bike in original or photocopy attested by a notified government official, the original Insurance Policy, the Pollution Under Control certificate (PUC) and your valid Driving License. Make sure you have them in order before you leave home.
- Long distance riding is as much about riding skills as about being able to physically endure the long hours on the saddle. Being fit helps in stretching your fatigue threshold. It is important to be able to complete your ride for the day while you’re still not tired enough to start making mistakes
- Plan your route, along with any alternatives, and calculate equipment and financial requirements according to the longest probable route. Good road maps are a must. Especially the ones that show distances (with heights in case of hills) accurately and mark petrol pumps that actually exist. Being stranded without fuel is depressing at the best and life threatening at worst if you get caught at high altitude late in the day and without equipment to spend the night in the open.
- On highways within our country, doing about 200 kms stretches between breaks is usually the limit. The traffic density, the infinite hazards that populate our roads, the road surface conditions and the weather make for a stressful concoction that tires both the mind and the body.
- Be aware of your own experience and limitations. If you’ve not done more than 200 kms a day ever before, don’t plan a 1000 km round trip in 3 days. Give yourself time, space and opportunity to learn and get comfortable before pushing for those real long rides. Even nature respects progressive growth.
- Carry only as much luggage as is totally essential, but never skimp on tools and repair equipment. Carry all that you would need, short of towing another similar bike behind you. Tie the luggage securely on the bike. If riding one-up, tie it on the seat behind as it gives your back some added support and stops the wind from getting in from behind you.
- Take a break, however short, at least once every two hours. Don’t make your ride a ‘chore’ unless you are attempting a distance/time record. Some 8-10 hrs in the saddle would make you want to stop even more frequently. Do as the body demands. Fatigue and discomfort become one homogenous menace at the end of a long riding day.
- Have all that you’ll need for the trip with you before you leave. Searching for stuff on the road in strange towns and cities is not only a nuisance but also a huge waste of time.
- Saddlebags or panniers, mount them tight and proper and keep them light. Too much weight so far from the center of gravity of the bike gives it the kind of leverage you’d thoroughly dislike in a panic stop or with a rear-wheel slide. The weight behind will act like a pendulum and tend to swing the bike sideways when you least want it to. In a nutshell, carry only the essentials and carry them tight.
- Wrap your clothes etc in polythene bags before putting them in the luggage. Day long rain when encountered at highway speeds makes water penetrate into the best of waterproofs and it’s a real nightmare to find all your stuff soaked, especially on a cold evening.
- Ideally you should have a separate helmet for long distance travel. The daily use hard hat gets dirty and grimy from repeated use and smells all the worse after a long day of continuous use. . A dedicated touring helmet ensures 1) you feel purposeful when wearing it…you’re on the high road 2) it remains clean of the daily commute grime and sweat 3) better chances of maintaining the visor clean and scratch free. 4) a ‘new’ looking helmet makes for great pictures eh!
- If not a helmet, at the very least keep a separate clean visor for tour use. Believe me, you’ll need all the clarity you can get when doing those last 50 kms after dark and when fatigued. Also make sure the visor seats tight on the helmet frame and seals out the dust effectively. Being forced to follow a truck or bus on a narrow and dusty mountain road will prove you its real worth.
- Balaclavas are the best bet protection, both for the riders head and the helmet insides during long and continuous use. Find cotton or a silk one and avoid synthetic like plague. Not only will the balaclava stop all your perspiration ending up in your helmet’s liner, it will keep your ears warm when its cold and prevent insects from getting into your ears when you need to ride with your visor open, say after dark. Two thin cotton balaclavas inside a well fitting helmet can see you through the coldest ride.
- A thin cotton inner garment or even a cotton track-suit worn beneath the riding gear makes both for comfort and maintains riding gear hygiene. The cotton inner can be substituted with wool ones for winter travel. When using mesh-type riding jackets, keep a windproof jacket that fits over the jacket handy. Even 20degC summer mornings can be uncomfortably cold when doing a 100-kmph for hours together. (Remember the wind-chill factor). Also, when riding in those hot summers, contrary to instinct, cover yourself well, leaving as little skin exposed as possible. The dry hot wind blows away perspiration before it can cool you and since every bit of liquid near the skin gets dried up almost immediately, you get dehydrated pretty soon. Clothes help retain this water. And keep drinking water or cold drinks frequently.
- Gloves are an indispensable part of a motorcyclist’s armor. Never ride without them, whether the distance is 2kms or 200. When buying gloves, buy safety without compromising either on feel or flexibility of fingers. Motorcycling is as much about feeling the control as about using them sensitively. Loose feel and you lose part of your sense of control. Buy water-proof ones for long distance riding. Leather is ideal. Improvise a nape cover for the gloves using a non-slip type polythene bag if yours are not rain-proof.
- Your legs and feet need as much protection and/or thermal insulation as the torso, head and arms. Here again, dedicated riding pants and boots are the best. Knee-pads (bionic type, the ones that are hinged at the knee joint) are a safe alternative. For cold, dress in layers again making sure you have a wind-proof/water-proof top layer.