Too Long, Too Short…Where is Just Right?
When I am on a motorcycle tour I often get this question from other riders who may be joining me on this tour or even my wife. How many miles are we riding today? Sometimes, I say I am just letting the road be the guide, Or I will say I don’t really know. But usually, I’ve planned the route and know the answer, not counting my many side trips that may strike my fancy along the way. This exchange, however, often makes me wonder what is the ideal touring mileage for a day in the saddle. In deciding that number, though, there are obviously a number of factors to consider: So when I hear that someone is asking me how long are we riding today? I just smile and say we are on a three hour tour. Which if you know me and have toured with me my three hour tours will be an all day long ride. Got to love it 🙂
My factors in considering how long to be in the saddle.
Weather: Because of the more exposed nature on a motorcycle touring (versus a car), checking the weather forecast each morning is a regimen followed by most experienced riders. I study the weather for each ride. For example, the expectation of thunderstorms may dictate altering the day’s route to avoid them. But much of the weather experienced on a tour can’t be avoided in advance. So you have the choice now to either sit out the thunderstorm in a protected place. Or put your rain gear on and ride through the storm. And even riding in a non-threatening steady rain usually means reduced visibility and a slower average speed.
Besides storms, very hot or cold weather may dictate more stops than originally planned for hydration or warming up in a restaurant with a hot drink. High winds can also affect travel mileage and slower speeds. Weather is always a wild card on any motorcycle trip, which can slow your ride rate of progress.
Terrain: Mountain terrain usually means more curves—and more rider smiles—than flat prairie, but lots of curves invariably results in a slower average speed (or at least it should). A two-hundred-mile ride in the mountains will take noticeably longer than a comparable distance with few curves, and it usually will be more tiring for both riders and passengers. Also, mountain terrain is often more scenic, inviting more stops to enjoy and photograph it. Love the longer scenic routes. But then there’s that situation when you want to get to the most desirable riding area as quickly as possible. To maximize the riding time best route then would be the super slab highways. The super slab would be your best bet. Because you can’t cut time off on the back roads. So Long story short, riding terrain is a very important consideration in planning the day’s distance.
Type/Condition of Roads: Paved versus unpaved roads will make a large difference in mileage each day. A 100-mile day ride on an adventure bike on challenging, unpaved roads takes much longer and more energy than riding several hundred miles on pavement. Also, I’ve noticed in the North East locations where roadways are often in poor condition after severe winters, your average speed on rough pavement is always slower than on smooth tarmac.
Traffic/Construction Delays: Although my planned tours usually avoid metropolitan areas, construction delays on rural two-lane roads and bridges during the warmer months can put a big dent in a your rate of progress. Although there are web sites that can alert travelers to construction projects, and also GPS units. On my Harley I have the traffic alert it works great as long as it is in the construction system. My experience though on back roads is that many of those construction zones appear with little warning. I remember last summer on a trip out west with Bro Showalter. That we came to a stop on a two-lane back country road. Can’t remember though if it was in Wyoming or Montana. Where our main flag man was many miles distant, and out of sight, from the other end of the construction zone.We were stopped by a worker. And we waited quite a while for the pilot truck to arrive and guide us at low speed along the single lane of asphalt. Never experienced that in Ohio. And then there are vehicular accidents, which can stop all traffic (particularly on rural two-lane roads) for an extended period of time. Also, you should expect heavy traffic around resort areas, particularly on weekends. And around Metropolitan area’s.
Touring & Travel Goals
Reservations: Reserved lodging can be an advantage or also a disadvantage. The main advantage is that you know you have a place to stay regardless of the arrival time. This is comforting when unexpected delays cause the ride to take longer than planned at the day’s outset. Occasionally on a tour, because of unforeseen circumstances, you may not want to ride the full distance to the reserved room. This may be caused by severe weather, traffic or what not.Or maybe you discovered off the beaten path an interesting place you discovered that you want to spend more time exploring. Reservations may or may not be canceled, unless it’s too late to do so.
Planned and Unplanned Stops: On motorcycle tours, try to plan one or two interesting stops each day, which you can include museums, battlefields, national or state parks, historical sites, etc. A must to get some of those great photo shots. And then there are those unplanned, surprise stops, which make motorcycle touring such a spontaneous and enjoyable way to see the world.
It’s not always places or things that prolong an unplanned stop, but the interesting people you meet along the way. Riding a motorcycle cross-country frequently triggers conversations with curious strangers, which driving in an automobile does not. Best part of conversations with people you meet along your way is. Now you have the opportunity to do some outreach as you are wearing your ASR back patch.
Preferences of Other Riders and Passengers: Riding with others means that their preferences have to be considered in planning the day’s route and distance. Some riders only want to hit the curves for as long and intensely as possible each day. Other riders want a more relaxed ride, stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. Super slab or back roads? Rather than frustrating one or both sets of folks, a good idea may be to split into two riding groups, taking different routes to the same destination. Or to agree on the route with a mix of highway and back roads in the route so everyone is happy.
By now, you’ve probably reached the unavoidable conclusion that, in reality, there is no one ideal number of miles to cover each day on your tour. It’s just all depends on your day and how you fill and your group if your touring in a group. As for me if your riding with me. All just tell you it’s only a three hour tour 🙂
National Road Captain