Having more than a few miles under my belt, a lot of ‘em riding my old rigid ’49 panchop, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got a real knack for getting myself into trouble. I’ve never done my genealogy, but I’m certain I’m related to the infamous Mr. Murphy. However, I’ve chosen to focus on the positive side of this fact. By my way of thinking, once you’ve been there, done that wrong, and got the ratty, greasy old t-shirt of survival to show for it, not many things surprise you anymore. And you’re a whole lot better prepared than most when shit does indeed happen--and it will, of that you can be sure. So with that in mind, here are six things in no particular order that just might help you keep it upright and moving down the road. My tips are geared more toward the guys who build their own but may not get a chance to ride ‘em long distances, so folks that’ve done the long rides before will likely find this a bit too simple for them.
Quick oil check and dump
1) Fix Your Shit!
Seriously! If you’re planning to run the long rides you have GOT to invest a little time beforehand (NOT the night before, either) in getting your bike and gear in order. Band-aid fixes are just that: temporary, and will likely leave your ass stranded. And that rear tire that’s starting to look like granddad’s head? Replace it! You get the idea. If you don’t spend some time before you leave, you’ll be spending it on the side of the road. Well, you just might anyway, but try to make sure it’s not something you could have avoided. Don’t be "that guy" who bungees his oil tank on the night before and can’t figure out why it’s leakin’ now. And always carry tools and spare parts, but that’s a whole subject of its own and I’ll get to that later. As for tools, that’s easy, and it starts NOW: next time you work on your bike for any reason, put every tool you use in a box when you’re done with ‘em. Oil changes, tune ups, adjustments, etc, put it in a box. After a few months or so you’ll find that you just have to reach in the box to fix something. And that right there is your tool kit for the road. If it ends up being huge, think about how to reduce the size. One way is to make things dual purpose. For example, if you need a long ½-inch box end to get at that carb mount, and a long 5/8” open end for the motor mount, you can just cut ‘em both in half and weld ‘em together. Does the job and takes up half the room of two combo wrenches. Use your imagination and I’ll bet you can cut the collection size way down and still be able to do the same work out on the road. The beauty of the “box” method is that you’ll end up knowing exactly what you need to keep your bike running when you’re on the long rides.
Trusty ol' handlebar bag
2) Making time on the road
OK, so now you’re out on the road, and you’re trying to cover some ground. Since it’s always a good idea to get most of your daily mileage done in the first half of the day when you’re fairly fresh, the best way to cover ground is to keep riding. Really--it’s that easy. And the way to do that is to not stop. Well, OK, you have to stop for gas and stuff, but making those stops as fast as possible means you’re back on the road and covering miles, not sitting on your ass. I don't know about you, but I’ve never thought gas stations are the greatest places to hang out. A little dive bar, sure. Local Bada-Bing type club? No problemo. But a gas station? Eh, not so much. So in order to minimize the stopping time, here’s a little trick that’ll help get you back on the road faster: tie a small bag that’s easily accessible to your pack/bars/tank/forks, wherever. this bag should include:
- Lip balm w/sun block
- Soft clean rag for cleaning sunglasses
- Ear plugs (spare)
- Clear glasses
- Rag for checking oil, wiping seat, cleaning gas off tank, etc.
- Handywipes to scrape the crap off your face once in a while
- Tire pressure gauge
- Pain reliever
- Smokes (if you need ‘em)
- Granola/trail mix (more on that one later)
- List of phone numbers of folks you might need on the road
The idea is to have everything you’ll need right at your fingertips so you can take care of all that stuff while you’re gassing up. Clean your glasses/sunglasses at every stop. Oh, and a good habit to have: always put on sunscreen/sunblock before you head out in the morning. Even if it’s cloudy now, there’s a good chance it’ll be sunny at least part of the day and that’s one less thing you’ll have to do at a stop. That said, that new spray-on sunblock is great: two quick sprays on each arm, the front and back of your neck, a shot on the hand and a quick wipe of your face. 15 seconds and you’re done. I’ve NEVER had the spray-on stuff melt into my eyes. Never. Another thing I love about it. That granola/trail mix I mentioned earlier? Instead of taking the time to eat a meal that’ll only sit like lead in your stomach, just grab a couple handfuls of trail mix at EVERY stop. It’ll keep you going and won’t make you crash like a full fat meal will. A big dinner is fine tho’, unless you’re plannin’ to keep rollin’ for a while. If you have to go inside for anything, do that first and gas up last. Remember, gas is stored in tanks underground and it’s pretty cool down there. Fill up your tank (which is sitting on your hot motor) with that cold gas and watch the gas start to pour out your overflow as it heats up and expands. Or, if you ride old iron like me, you know that bikes that originally came with center stands don’t have great seals on the gas caps. So if you fill up the tanks and sit it on the side stand you get to watch a ½ gallon or so end up on the ground.
One caveat about keepin’ the stops short: the big exception is if you end up stumbling upon a cool place or meeting cool people. If that’s the case, screw it, take your time. After all, that’s the beauty of traveling the long rides, right? I remember finding a little dive bar in Dodge City, KS, where a certain famous outlaw shot a hole in the center of a playing card from across the bar on a dare, but I digress. You get the idea.
Ready to roll. Functional sissy bar, WP bag, hydration and cruise control
3) Always carry water
Period. There are hundreds of different ways to carry water on a bike, chose whatever works for you. A friend of mine uses one of those fancy CamelBak backpacks that holds a gallon or two of water which he freezes before hittin’ the road. Gives him ice cold water all day long. Me, I’m low-tech--I use a bicycle water bottle holder that straps to the left rear frame section, right below the seat where it’s easy to reach with my left hand. It’s dead important to stay hydrated, especially first thing in the morning (after drinkin’ all night or after coffee, either way you’re dehydrated) and later in the evening. Sometimes when you get really tired towards evening you don’t need coffee/soda, you need water--dehydration makes you feel tired. Getting that water in your system while you’re riding makes for one less thing to do at the stops. And always have at least one more bottle in your pack somewhere for emergencies. Like if someone runs out of gas/breaks down/etc. and you’re standing around for a long time in the hot sun. But of course that never happens to us old iron riders...