Touring the country on two wheels is a pleasure.
Seeing the sights, meeting the locals, experiencing the diversity of cultures that exist only a few hundred km’s away from where you normally hang your jacket – these are part of what ‘quality of life’ means to those of us that regularly hit the roads with our motorcycles.
Note that most of those things require that you get off your motorcycle from time to time. But there are people that REALLY put mileage on their motorcycles, in as little time as possible – and honestly feel as if that is what constitutes ‘quality of life’ for them. Some do both kinds of distance riding described above.
This article may well read like a slam at one of those kinds of people. Instead, it is merely a reflection of my biases and an attempt to put into perspective some sobering realities about travelling long distances with the hope that the reader will at least know what he is facing if he decides to participate.
From my experience on the roads, I have concluded that cars tend to average about 100 km/h on long trips while motorcyclists tend to average about 80km/h even though while actually moving both may travel in excess of 120km/h. Note that this includes all the time they are actually trying to make progress going from one place to another and includes pit stops of all kinds. What it does not include is the time from the last stop of the day until the vehicles resume their travels the next day.
In other words, if you wanted to average 1000 km per day on a multi-day trip, it is quite likely that you will be riding more than 13 hours each day. In the case of a 1200 km day, it will be more like 16 hours. Assuming you have weather problems or other road conditions to have to deal with, it is possible to take upwards of 20 hours to do 1200 km in a single day.
It turns out that most experienced riders I know can rather easily do a 13-hour day on the road, but very few of them could do 20 (or even 16). But after a few 13-hour days you will be exhausted. Indeed, studies have shown that even experienced long-distance riders find that after the second day of riding their stamina begins to fail and they are only able to accomplish about 65% as long a ride on their seventh day as they averaged during their first two days out. Therein lays my concern – stamina.
Even the driver of a cage is essentially a passenger as compared to a motorcycle rider. It is not unfair to argue that one rides in a car and drives a motorcycle. And it takes far more skill and alertness to handle a motorcycle. After 16 hours of riding a motorcycle at least mental alertness has become history for most of us.
Still, at least for the first day or two, this pace is accomplishable – many of us have done it, enjoyed it, and lived to tell others about it.
But I am writing this article for those of you that have not done it and are considering your first long trip. I would like to suggest that you arrange your route so that you average something closer to 500-600 km per day rather than 1000. Furthermore, stretch the early days of your trip. Besides being easier and safer for all concerned, this pace gives you plenty of time to visit the sights you encounter, and to meet the locals, as it were.
There is an infamous award that is well known amongst those of us on two-wheels. It is called the “Iron-Butt Award” or as we call it in South Africa, the “Lam Gat”. This is provided in exchange for proof that you have travelled 1610 km in any one 24-hour period while on the roads. Like motorcycle racing on the public roads, this ‘event’ tends to be a self-correcting problem and therefore, in my opinion, should be avoided like the plague by most motorcyclists. It seems to me that there is nothing macho about flashing that award around. Rather, it is like advertising and being proud about having done something stupid.
A quick note to those that think I just called all who have earned such an award ‘stupid’ – I did not. I said that doing 1610 km in 24 hours is stupid. Not all those that have done so are mentally deficient, by any means. I am not stupid, but I have done more than a few stupid things in my life, including a Lam Gat or two.
The Iron Butt Association (USA) and Lam Gat (RSA); are groups that promote such events and are very safety-oriented groups. They preach the good word, and they do all that they can to encourage safe practices during the rides. They strongly advocate proper conditioning of the riders, proper attention to the mechanical condition of their motorcycles, respect for speed laws, etc. They even make available rather valuable Tips to everyone who might want to do some long-distance rides. Unfortunately, because some people can handle doing 1610 km in 24 hours does not in any way mean that most can.
I think most of us who have some experience with our motorcycles can handle several such days in a row just fine. I think that nobody can handle even one 1610 km day safely, despite months of preparation and training, and the fact that most try to manage to survive the effort. Many motorcyclists, it should be understood, cannot even do 500 km in a single 24-hour period or less – safely!
One little tip for anyone contemplating a LONG trip: if you can droop your elbows while you ride you will find that your wrists and forearms will not be anywhere near as sore or tired as they would be otherwise. If your bike is designed such that you must lean forward and essentially straight-arm the grips, you will have fatigue problems very early on into your trip.
Anyway, let’s go back to the idea of doing 1610 km in 24 hours. It is certainly doable, as you only have to average about 80km/h (including pit stops) to do so. Assuming you can average 100 km/h, you could do it in a ‘mere’ 20 hours.
So, people who really want to earn that award often go to extraordinary efforts to increase their average speeds including, for example, cutting down the number of required pit stops by about half by carrying additional fuel with them in auxiliary tanks. Now if you could legally ride at 160 km/h, and neither you nor your motorcycle was forced to make any stops, you could earn the award in only 10 hours. But the reality is that YOU will average closer to 100 km/h if you try it. That means about 20 hours.
I don’t believe anyone is sufficiently alert after riding their motorcycle for 20 hours to constitute being other than a hazard to themselves and those around them.
Though it is no doubt a rush to accomplish this feat (1610 km in 24 hours), that is not the same as saying it is worthwhile – or safe to try. Truckers have laws that proscribe the number of hours and kilometres they can legally drive on our highways. Wonder why?
I have done my share of LONG trips and I know; that despite years of experience, I was not sufficiently alert towards the end to constitute being other than a moving hazard towards the end of it. In retrospect, it was not very smart nor was it safe – and I knew it at the time.
If for whatever reason, you get yourself involved in an accident while trying to earn the Iron-Butt or Lam-Gat Award you will have no excuse if somebody (other than you) dies as a result. Pride in the ‘accomplishment’ quickly turns to life-long guilt.
If it is imperative for someone to reach 1610 km (or more) in a 24-hour period, then it is my opinion that you best do it with those who have done it before and come well prepared.
This is not for sissies – Prepare yourself!