“Enjoy The Ride” is the motto for the ChopCult’s community. We want everyone to have a successful trip and reach their destination without any issues. There’s been a surge of new ChopCult members over the past few years and you might have missed this informative article put together by Bill Bryant and ChopCult member “Kuda”. As Bill Bryant stated back in August of 2009; Legendary road warrior "Kuda" shares six tips for keeping old iron (and you) on the road for long trips. Lord knows he's logged his share aboard the venerable murdered-out '49 Panchop, and he's learned a thing or two along the way. Now it's your turn.
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...
Burly sissy and a willy-pete bag
4) Packing your shit
The idea of bringing enough clean clothes for a whole trip is easier than you’d think. Truth is, whatever you put on first thing in the morning is gonna be nasty within hours. Especially when you’re riding in the heat. So there’s no real point when you’re on the road for multiple days to wear clean clothes each morning. Gross, but true. So always pack road clothes and street clothes. Road clothes are tougher (don’t come apart in the wind), darker (to hide grease and dirt stains), and tighter (to avoid that annoying “beating the crap out of yourself” feeling from flapping in the wind.) Save the clean street clothes for when you get where you’re going, just in case there’s someone there you might wanna impress--hey, not every member of the opposite sex is into oily, smelly, grungy biker types. Always pack a few large garbage bags in your pack, compactor bags if you can find them. They don’t take up much room and they have all kinds of great uses, i.e. emergency pack covers/rain gear, boot liners, ditch tents, something to lay on when you’re fixing broken stuff in a nasty parking lot, etc. As for what to pack your shit in, there are as many options as you have imagination, but I’ve never found anything that beats the waterproof duffle bags made for kayaking. Ortlieb drybags are probably the best, but less expensive versions are everywhere. They’re just duffle bags made out of thick nylon/PVC with a roll-top seal. Totally bomb-proof and will keep your stuff dry, plus they can make a handy backrest if you set your bike up right. Get a big enough one and toss your tent, bag, and everything else in it and hit the road knowing your shit will be dry at the end of the day.
Old school analog GPS and a cig lighter for keeping smokes lit and the phone charged
5) What to bring
Here’s where it all goes to hell. Everyone has different needs on the road. I’ve been known to bring only my tool bag, the clothes on my back and a couple trash bags for raingear/sleeping bag/tent. I’ve slept behind dumpsters at truck stops, in ditches, empty barns, wherever. But if I have a choice, I’d rather have a nice dry tent to sleep in. The truth is, when you’re young and dumb you can sleep anywhere, anytime. For a while. But if you’re doin’ it day after day it gets pretty damn old and it starts to get a whole lot less fun. It can even make you start to think things like “why exactly did I decide to do a long ride on an old rigid bike? What the hell was I thinking?!” Dangerous thoughts, those. If we started really thinking about ridin’ old iron long distances where the hell would we end up?! So to me, I take what I think of as an “informed minimalist” view of packing. In other words, only stuff I absolutely need, or absolutely might need. Here’s an example of my last packing list for a nine-day 5,000-mile trip:
Wear: (what I hit the road wearing): Nasty old jeans, thick wool travel socks (good for all weather and help keep my feet from vibrating asleep), tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve T-shirt, and my nasty old steel-toed boots. That way I can strip off layers as it warms up and not have to dig around in my pack to find clothes. Anything that comes off gets bungeed to the pack on the sissy bar.
Pack: leather jacket, small tent, sleeping bag/pad, long johns, spare tank top and T-shirt, spare jeans (nicer ones), a hoodie sweat shirt, socks (one pair for each day: that’s important, or you’ll end up with foot rot that’ll kill any chance for romantic encounters and make your friends hate you), gloves, rain gear (in my case ultra light boot covers, rain pants, jacket, and glove covers, more on that stuff in the Links section), a spare bandana, spray-on sunscreen, a Dopp kit (all the usual toiletries, plus a small PacTowel, tiny bug spray, pharmaceuticals, etc.), an atlas, phone charger (I use a car charger with a 120v adapter, works anywhere), a flask of good single malt Scotch (life really is too short), shorts/bathing suit, pair of flip-flops (the only other foot gear I bring), pair of spare sunglasses/clears, small combo flashlight (road and tent light, also makes a spare headlight in an emergency), a PacTowel, a personal mini-shower (folds up to a little over the size of a pack of cigarettes and doubles as a waterproof stuff-sac), and a mini-stove (Jetboil) for making coffee in the morning and heating a can of stew at night. This last one is invaluable: no worries about where to get that first cup in the morning, and not having to go hunting around strange areas at night to find something to eat is pretty handy, too. Just call me a ditch-side gourmet.
Now I know what you’re thinking: what kind of trailer do I pull behind the panchop to carry this shit in? Actually, everything above fits in an old pair of throw-over saddlebags and one medium waterproof duffle bag, with plenty of room to spare (plus the little tool pouch, of course.) Sounds like a lot, and it is, but I’m ready for just about anything and I’ve only ever been caught out once, when the tappet block screws stripped/backed out and lifted the tappet block out of the case (thanks again to Midnight Mike for snatchin’ me off the road, welding the broken tappet block and helicoiling the screw holes!) Plus I can’t even tell ya how many other folks I’ve helped with the crap I usually bring, so it’s worth some karma points too, I guess.
Proof that form and function can coexist
6) Function vs. Form
When you’re building/fixing your bike, keep an eye out for what you can do to make it more reliable/practical. I’m not talking about welding a bottle opener on there either: while it IS practical, it won’t do much to keep you going down the road (maybe the opposite?). I’m talking about things like sissy bars for strapping your stuff on, removable fender racks, grease fittings on movable parts (like brake and foot clutch levers), that sort of thing. There’s an inherent coolness to something that’s built to actually WORK, not just look cool. Couple things I’ve seen/done to that end: installed zerks on every pivot point on the bike. Installed a quick-change oil fitting on the oil tank--oil changes are no-mess and three minutes tops in the service bay of a kind garage owner. Always run a real headlight, one that’ll actually light the road ahead of you when you’re blasting down that dark road. Run rubber grips. Metal grips might look cool to some, but they don’t do dick for cutting vibrations that’ll numb your greasy paws after a few hundred miles. Look at your wiring: make sure it’s well insulated and routed so it’s not rubbing against something that’ll leave you on fire somewhere. And remember, fuses/breakers are your friend. Those laydown broom handle bars and extended forward controls? Sure, some folks think they look cool. But personally, I like to be able to walk upright after riding 600-700 miles a day. I’m just sayin’ it’s possible to make a bike work and run like it should and still look good. For a given value of good, of course.
There you have it--my Six Pack of useless drivel. If even one person finds my tips the slightest bit useful, if even one less person is not left sitting by the side of the road, if even one person is motivated to pack their shit and hit the long road, then I guess it was all worth it. See you out on the road.
www.aerostich.com Some of the coolest stuff you can buy for bikes. It’s geared towards the BMW crowd, but there’s tons of stuff in there for us too. You can get your waterproof bags, cool tools, emergency rain gear (I use their ultralight pants, boot covers, and glove covers: all three fit in the palm of your hand). And it’s a damn funny read, too.
Windzone.com For those who haven’t assembled their own portable tool set, this is a great kit to kickstart it with. I got one as a gift and I’ve just added and subtracted to it over the last ten years as needed.
newstyleleathers.com Best wrist rest made, period. Snap it on before a long trip and say goodbye to hand cramps, plus it’s like cheap cruise control. Made so it can be moved left or right so you don’t wear a hole in your hand plus you can flick it out of the way if you come up on traffic suddenly. Well made, works great.