Saturday, July 12, 2014

What I learned from my first 3-day ride

The 3-day ride to Northern California was a spectacular experience. I better write down what I learned before I forget. Here are my key takeaways.

  • Long distance riding takes preparation. Prepare, but be spontaneous.
It is a myth that motorcycle riding is a free flow, unstructured, and "ride at will" endeavor. Yes, you can do that if you wish, but you will enjoy the ride more, and be safe if you plan out the route, set the destination, have an idea of how many stops etc. During the ride, you can spontaneously make changes, but those changes will be made against the baseline plan, therefore it is not as if the original plan has to be followed in a strict manner. Hotels may not be available especially if you plan to ride during holiday weekends. Or you may end up in a low quality hotel and pay a high price for staying there.
  • Long distance riding takes fitness.
Physical and emotional energy is required to ensure you can remain in the moment and focus on the ride for long durations. The three components of fitness are strength, flexibility, and endurance. Regular exercise at the gym or elsewhere, a balanced, healthy diet, and good sleep habits is the way to build your fitness.
  • Group dynamics have to be managed carefully.
A group ride involves people who may not have ridden before. You may be aware of the forming-norming-storming-performing cycle that teams go through. A group ride will go through the same cycle as they learn and adjust to each others preferences. Do not be quick to judge during the "storming" phase. In this phase, complaints, whining, and conflict leads to improved understanding, and compromises are made. It is not easy to change and adjust, and there is not enough time to complete this phase in a leisurely manner. The other option is to ride only with people you know, but that may not be an option or may limit your range of experiences. Be flexible and suspend judgement at all times.
  • Watch your body temperature.
If you get hot or cold, it will wear you down faster. Dress in layers and don't hesitate to raise your hand if you need to stop and adjust your clothing. Drink fluids to stay hydrated (caffeinated drinks will reduce your water levels, take it easy on coffee and soda). Pack several bottles of water and have a drink every time you take a break.
  • Take frequent breaks.
Experienced riders are loath to take breaks and prefer to time their breaks with the need to refuel. Most cruisers can ride at least 150 miles before they need fuel. Since a gas station will not magically appear when you need it, you will need to fill every 110 to 120 miles. However, you may not last that long. It is better to stop than to cramp, because cramps will ensure you cannot maneuver your bike and that may lead to a crash. Even if you are able to stop, you may not be able to get off a heavy bike, and you may tip over. Therefore, ride with a group that is willing to stop when you need to, or don't go on group rides unless you can ride at least 100 miles without a break.
  • Get a good night sleep.
Rest is crucial. Unless you are competing, you will need a lot of rest. Take it easy on the drinking and partying at the end of a long day of riding. Early to bed and early to rise is the preferred mode.
  • The point is to collect experiences.
If new experiences make you uncomfortable, long distance riding is not for you. Every incident is to be treasured. Every sensation is to be savoured. There is no "right" or "wrong," or "good" or "bad." The only things to watch out for are "safe" and "unsafe." Your fellow riders may not have the same philosophy, so you have to accommodate for that as well.
  • Take lots of pictures.
The guidance is learn how to take pictures quickly. Modern cameras and digital and have enormous capacity for photos. Take lots of pictures and delete the ones you don't need later. You only have to worry about composition and focus. Unless that is the purpose of your trip, there is no time to leisurely set up your tripod.
  • Keep your motorcycle in top shape.
This is so obvious, but I thought I'd mention it for completeness. Carry some basic tools if you think it will be handy during the ride.
  • Make sure your riding skills are ready for a long ride.
This is also another obvious one. Experienced riders will want you to ride at their pace, though they may agree to slow down a little for you if you are still getting comfortable riding at high speeds. Ideally, all riders are at the same skill level, that will reduce one cause of friction.
  • Don't pack a lot of luggage.
Your motorcycle will typically have saddlebags and a sissy bar bag. These have limited capacities, so pack the bare minimum you need for the trip. Travel light, and be prepared to wear the same clothes for a few days. I'd insist on showering and changing my underwear daily, otherwise, wearing the same clothes for several days is not as bad as it sounds. If you are fussy, stop at a laundromat and wash your clothes every few days.
  • When nature calls.
If you remain hydrated, you will need to use the bathroom on the same schedule. When riding through civilized terrain, you will have access to toilets with soap and water. If not, ask mother nature for forgiveness, and let her know that it is better that you do not damage internal organs by holding on too much. Might as well pack a toilet roll, soap, and water. On a practical note, your hands need to be super clean before you wear your gloves. (but you knew that already!)
  • Staying in touch.
During group rides, friendships may be formed. Nurture them after the ride. However, the next group ride may not capture the same magic, but you may end up with a different level of magic. Do not compare rides, even with the same group.

  • Use gizmos for improved productivity.
A GPS is indispensable.  If you can program your route in advance, do so. Smartphones that will post pictures to social media will allow you to communicate with your near and dear ones, who will know where you are, real time.