Motorcycle Travel, Part II: Planning
Have you picked a destination you want to ride your motorcycle to? Great! Now have some fun planning it!
See cool stuff
The roads are not the only reason for the trip. Make sure to plan fun and interesting destinations along your route. That could mean a beach, a mountain range, a forest, a city, a monument, a desert, an amusement park, an ocean (or, heck, some relatives or friends!). The list is endless.
Don’t get lost
You’ll enjoy your trip more if you’re not stressed about finding a place to sleep, or wondering how far you can go on a tank of gas.
Get a GPS or a navigation app on your smart phone (See our blog post about GPS vs. Phone) and plug in your route. That way you can simply follow along and not have to worry about getting lost.
Some minor adjustments to your GPS can make you more comfortable (such as turning the screen brightness all the way up). And, of course, you want to make sure your phone or GPS is securely mounted (hint: use a Leader mount!).
Look for out-of-the-way “local” places to eat (they often have the best food and atmosphere).
How about taking a tour of America’s weirdest food? Ever tried Scrapple in Pennsylvania? The name is as it implies. Scrapes of the pig! (Could it be good??)
Wisconsin - up in our neck of the words! - is famous for fried cheese curds. (These are amazing!)
Geoduck anyone? The leathery siphon protruding from the six-inch shell of this odd-looking deep-water clam can reach up to three feet in length. Served like sashimi and sauteed in butter. (Not sure about this one...)
Try to plan your day’s travel so you end up at a location where lodging is available. In peak times of the year lodging can be hard to come by so you may want to make reservations in advance. Knowing where you are going and where you will stop helps make the trip less stressful.
Think about where you want to stay. Do you prefer a big hotel or something smaller? I love a good B&B (bed-and-breakfast); they’re often quaint or quirky, and the food is usually fantastic. Plus they have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening locally and are a great source for things to do in the area.
Every state (and many municipalities) has dedicated tourism websites that can be helpful in identifying destinations and lodging.
- Tracey Cramer
Motorcycle Travel: Part I: Dreamin’
Do you dream of life on the road, just you and two wheels (or three)? Places you’ve always wanted to go, but just haven’t made the time to visit? Start planning your motorcycle trip and make this the year you make it happen!
Planning a motorcycle trip can be daunting. Where do you begin? We all have places we’ve been daydreaming about. Pick one from your ‘bucket list’ today!
Pick the route
The beauty of traveling on a motorcycle is that no one just “takes the freeway.” For some the point/goal is to pick roads they’ve never ridden on. Others look for scenic drives, roads with lots of curves (hooah!) or quaint towns they can explore along the way.
Google the words “scenic routes” and all kinds of things come up. Roadrunner Travel is a great resource when planning your trip. This website/magazine has tons of riding routes along with events and organized tours. Get out your “old-fashioned” map and peruse your route to see what towns and sights are near it.
If you’ve always wanted to see a landmark (say, Mount Rushmore or Niagara Falls) or tourist attraction (Disneyland?!), plan your route to take you through it (or by it).
Now that you’ve got an idea of where you want to go, what kinds of things should you consider? Check out this article for ideas!
- Tracey Cramer
The Dreaded Updrafts: What to do About Them
One complaint we hear a lot is that updrafts come up under the windshield and blast the rider in the face. (In Minnesota we're usually concerned about COLD updrafts LOL.) If you can minimize updrafts, you’ll have more enjoyable riding not just later into the season (and earlier in the spring), but all season long.
The Desert Dawgs Rain Guards/Wind Deflectors do a fantastic job of repelling water away from your legs and feet if you happen to get caught in a rainstorm.
But did you know they also reduce updrafts and helmet buffeting? Instead of air hitting your legs and being redirected up toward your face, the Desert Dawgs force the air out and around (rather than up).
The effectiveness of the Desert Dawgs (or any lower deflector for that matter) varies depending on the motorcycle itself as well as on the windshield. For instance, I’ve noticed certain OEM windshields (such as some of the Yamaha ones) result in more wind in my face than the Memphis Shades windshields I’ve had on two different motorcycles.
Factors that can affect wind flow (updrafts):
- curvature of the windshield
- angle of the windshield
- space between the windshield and the engine guard bar
- rider foot placement and height
They are quite possibly the easiest and least costly way to protect your body. And because they are a cinch to remove and store in a saddlebag, you don’t need to keep them on in warmer weather (although they have no temperature restriction and can be used in warmer temps).
Read more about the Desert Dawgs - and check out Tracey's video about "the little things" - right here!
- Tracey Cramer
Motorcyclist Beware: Nine Common Road Hazards
Road hazards are a common cause of motorcycle accidents. Things that have little effect on a car can cause a motorcycle to crash.
Motorcyclists should understand what constitutes a hazard, be alert for such dangers, and take precautions to avoid them. Here are some of the things bikers should be on the lookout for.
We have a lot of these around our home base (which consists of county roads, a popular choice for bikers). Rough and bumpy roads happen due to disrepair, construction work, or resurfacing efforts.
Gravel is possibly the trickiest hazard, at least for me (it has factored in two incidents in my riding history!). Unfortunately, gravel on pavement tends to be more common on winding roads, which are, of course, popular with bikers (and which require lots of cornering). Gravel can be particularly troublesome if encountered during cornering -- and especially dangerous for riders going too fast, or riders who haven’t done a lot of cornering yet.
An edge break is when two traffic lanes are different heights. (These are common here in Minnesota, where we have two seasons: ‘winter’ and ‘road construction’!) Edge breaks are a piece of cake in a car, but can be problematic for unsuspecting bikers, especially at higher speeds - and especially if you’re forced to ‘side step’ over them (try to get as straight-on as you can).
Expansion & Bridge Joints
Expansion joints connect two sections of a road together, or a section of a road to a bridge. Bridge joints hold sections of a bridge together. Both allow the road or bridge to expand or contract without cracking.
We have a bridge over the St. Croix River on a route along the MN/WI border that I love to ride. This bridge always makes me tense because it has everything a biker dislikes: expansion joints and open bridge joints that are really wide (ever get that ‘grid’ feeling when riding across a bridge?!). This particular bridge can be slick even on a sunny day, especially if it’s humid.
Ah, yes, another one we have to be aware of here in the land of deer, raccoon and even possum! Hitting a small animal can throw a motorcycle off path and/or off balance. Unfortunately, animals that run into the road are difficult to anticipate and swerving to avoid them can cause an accident as well. I once hit a pheasant that ‘flushed up’ behind the bike I was following.
It goes without saying that hitting a large animal (like a deer) could really mess up a rider (or worse). On a trip to Colorado, I was following my dad when he hit a deer. He managed to stay upright but his entire fairing and all his lights were crumpled. (The deer faired even worse.)
Slippery surfaces that you might not even notice in a car can be problematic for a motorcyclist. The unstable nature of a two-wheeled bike and the smaller, lighter size mean that sliding on the road can easily result in a crash. Slick surfaces are even more dangerous when the biker is turning. The list of potentially slippery objects/surfaces is long but includes:
- Crosswalk Lines
- Any painted surfaces
- Anti-freeze or oil
Bikers must also be cautious of rain after a dry spell. Dust, dirt and oil on the road combine with water to form a slippery layer.
The first half hour of a rainstorm is the most dangerous time to ride on the road. Standing water can cause hydroplaning. And though some of you reading this don’t have to deal with snow and ice, here in Minnesota we do! Personally, I try not to ride in it, but if you must, see our blog post for winter riding tips.
Railway tracks and crossings
Motorcycle tires can get caught in a railway track, causing a crash. Some railway crossing areas have metal or wood between the tracks, which become extremely slick when wet.
Debris or objects in the road
Debris or objects in the road, such as parts of tire treads, things fallen from trucks (furniture, tools, boxes), branches, or rocks, are more hazardous to motorcycles than cars. Not only can they cause a crash, but the object itself can hit and seriously harm the rider.
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, take a deep breath. With a little caution you can retain your joy of riding while staying safe!
Also see: Eight Tips for Defensive Riding
- Tracey Cramer
'Extreme' Winter Motorcycle Riding
I’ve lived in MinneSNOWta all my life, 30 years as a biker. Winter motorcycling isn’t particularly fun for me, even with crazy PMS (“Parked Motorcycle Syndrome”) right about now. But if you simply MUST ride a motorcycle in the winter, here are our top tips for doing so.
Layer. Start with a long-sleeve base (such as Under Armor) that wicks moisture away from your body. Add an insulating layer (like fleece) and/or a heated vest with controller.
Your jacket is no place to skimp; get the best. Gore-Tex is popular for its breathability and waterproof features. Same with boots and gloves; add a neck warmer and a full-face helmet. Think like a snowmobiler but buy like a biker!
A motorcycle windshield goes without saying here, and extras like the Desert Dawgs Rain/Wind Guards and motorcycle hand guards or muffs are a huge help as well. If you’re able to install heated grips, they’ll go a long way toward keeping your hands warmer.
If your bike is water-cooled, make sure the antifreeze is fresh and mixed properly and that all hoses are in good shape.
Tires: make sure you have awesome tread if you plan to ride in snow. Check your tire pressure, as it can change with temperature swings. Also, be aware that cold motorcycle tires offer less traction.
First, the obvious: if it even remotely looks like ice, stay away! If you live in an area that uses salt on the roads (like we do), be very cautious; it can cause you to lose traction (just like snow can).
Also remember that snow, salt, fluctuating temps and equipment like plows can really do a number on road surfaces. I swear some of the cracks and pot holes around here are big enough to swallow a motorcycle!
Visibility and Following Distance
During winter riding, look further down the road so you can recognize hazards before they occur, and/or react to a potential problem more quickly. And give the vehicle in front of you plenty of space. You might not have the same space available for stopping (or avoiding) due to less traction.
Keep an eye on the forecast; if the weather folks are calling for multiple inches of snow, leave the motorcycle at home. And if you’re out riding and it starts snowing, get home. The white stuff can accumulate quickly and make for some seriously slippery conditions (even in a car).
If you’re really into winter riding, consider a snowmobile. Just kidding! (But you can buy studded snow tire kits here in the northland.) Riding a motorcycle in the winter can be challenging, but it can be done with the right attitude!
- Tracey Cramer
New Year's Resolution: Learn to Ride! How to do it Right!
Have you been thinking about getting a motorcycle and/or learning to ride? Does the idea of riding free on two wheels make you smile? Have you seen bikers go by and wondered what you were missing? Or maybe you just want to save a little gas on your commute?
Whatever your reasons for wanting to ride, we want to help you with a few pointers. If you are a new rider there are some important things you should know before getting in that seat.
Step One: Take a class.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘my husband/brother/boyfriend rides a motorcycle, he can teach me.’ Well, maybe he can, but it may not be a good idea. It’s better to find a teacher who’s not too intimately involved with you. He/she will be more impartial and less nervous about what you are doing.
I can’t say enough about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Riding Course. I took it years ago, and when I married I insisted my husband take it, too (because *I* didn’t want to teach him!).
An added bonus to the course is that in most states, you can take the license exam at the conclusion of the course. In addition, in some states passing the MSF course qualifies you for discounts on insurance. AND the MSF course can be completed in one weekend.
You may be able to find other riding classes offered for free, but even if there’s a cost, it’s money well spent. Try google to search out classes offered in your area.
I believe so strongly in getting some basic training that you notice I listed this as Step ONE, and then...
Step Two: Get licensed.
Does a motorcycle endorsement on the piece of plastic in your wallet make your riding skills sharper? Of course not.
The real reason licensed riders are less likely to crash is because of their attitude, not their license status. Riders who take motorcycling seriously, ride legally, ride sober, and try to continuously improve their riding skills are more likely to have long and happy riding careers. It's all about attitude.
Step three: Choose the right bike for you.
Everyone has that dream bike. The one they picture in their mind’s eye riding down the road.
However, your dream bike may not be the best choice for your first bike. Why, you ask? I can think of a couple reasons:
- You may drop it. Everyone does when they are first learning. Wouldn’t you rather drop a bike that you are less emotionally and financially attached to?
- What you think you want now may not be what you want later. You’ll get a better idea of what you really want only after you’ve ridden a while and gotten some experience. No reason to fork out a ton of money only to find out a year later it doesn’t really suit your needs.
One more note: don’t go too big right away (especially women). A big motorcycle can intimidate a new rider and make you uncomfortable, and soon you’ll find yourself less enthusiastic about riding. And we don’t want that!
Get the smaller bike, and just know that at some point, you’ll want to ‘step up’ to a bigger machine. Trust me - you’ll know when the time is right.
Step Four: The gear.
It’s not just about the motorcycle; you need the right gear.
A helmet and gloves are a good start (and in my opinion, absolutely required). I have personally found a good set of boots to be crucial - you don’t want to find your feet slipping when you’re trying to stop or move the bike. Also, think about getting a jacket and pants specifically made for riding.
Gearing up right doesn't have to be expensive. You should always buy a helmet NEW, because crash damage to the interior can be undetectable to anyone but an expert. But it’s easy to find gently used riding pants, boots, gloves and jackets. Many retailers and online mail-order houses offer discounts on sell-outs and non-current styles.
Step five: Find like minded people to ride with.
Motorcycling is a social activity. There are tons of groups out there. You can always find people on Internet Message Boards. Just do a search by the brand or type of motorcycle that interests you and see what you find.
Meeting other riders will introduce you to a level of camaraderie that's uncommon these days. Riding with responsible, experienced riders can help you improve your own skills - and it’s the icing on the cake!
- Tracey Cramer