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Common Tread

The totally relaxed rider's guide to motorcycle trips

May 03, 2016

I love working at RevZilla. But I also love not working at RevZilla.

Most of the folks here know that if I’m not at my desk, I'm rolling around the USA, seeing the sights somewhere. (Prob’ly with Mrs. Lemmy and Spurgie. They get the wanderlust, too.) We attacked structuring the perfect trip in "The OCD rider's guide to planning the perfect motorcycle trip." It’s a great article with some really solid ideas on how to plan every aspect of a two-wheeled trip. But what if you're not OCD? What if you're one of us who thinks itineraries are akin to handcuffs?

Here's a different perspective on trip tips. Please note that the lack of the word “plan.”

Give yourself time

group ride
A relaxed schedule, or no schedule at all, gives you time to enjoy the beautiful places you'll see and enjoy time off the bike, as well. Photo by Lance Oliver.
Most of us have to schedule a motorcycle trip into busy lives. Work, family matters, religious and social functions, and other events need to be cleared out. Giving yourself plenty of time — too much, even — is a wonderful way to really relax. A day to unwind at each end of a trip helps, but you can also give yourself time on the trip. A good example is the East Coast Gypsy Run. This is 110 miles from my door to where I put my tent each year. I leave at 8 a.m. We gather friends as we ride, stop into every roadhouse along the way, get lost a million times, take pictures, and generally have a ball. You can have fun on the bike. You can also have fun off it, too.

Have a few bucks socked away

Generally speaking, on the road I am burning through fuel and tolls, eating up tires and oil, paying campground fees and coughing up for hotels, and finding a million other ways to burn through my kid’s college tuition. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re cutting to the bone financially, it can sap a trip of fun. There’s no shame in taking a smaller trip closer to home or downgrading an overnighter into a day trip. Hard trips leave good stories, but that’s about all.

Camping? Hotel? Cabin? With no destination, you're free to pick as you please. Photo by Lemmy.

Don’t have a destination

This flies directly in the face of the first tip from our other trip planning article. (Keep in mind that article has “OCD” in the title.) I’m a proponent of the “See what’s out there” school of touring. If you don’t have somewhere you need to be, how can you ever be late? If you have camping gear with you and you ask around when you start getting sleepy, you usually can choose between camping or hotels. Who wants to make a motorcycle trip feel like work by stressing out over trip details that will probably get derailed anyway?

Open road
If you've got time, you've got time to explore. A relaxed pace makes finding out what lies ahead a lot more tantalizing. Photo by Lemmy.

Stop in and see someone

Contrary to what Ann Landers might tell you, many people enjoy surprise visits. Seeing someone waltz breathlessly into a room with stories of the road and a hint of vagabond about them is often a pleasant surprise for friends or family who you might not ordinarily see. (This is usually a great way to grab a meal, a shower, and a couch to crash on, too, but make sure this is someone who actually loves you, not your third cousin.) If Aunt Ida hasn’t seen you in a bit, you might make her day.

When you break down, you need a mover

I’m talking about U-Haul, of course. If your bike goes kaput on a trip far from home, U-Haul is your new best friend. All you need to do it get to them! They are in business to loan covered trucks with built-in ramps to people who need to travel one way and not necessarily return the vehicle. They're not just great for college seniors moving out — if you ride a bike, they’re also a pretty convenient way out of a breakdown situation. Most retail stores also sell tie-downs, too. Protip: Throw the phone number into your cell phone right now: (800) 528-0361.

Turn off your phone

Flatbilly GPS
That's about the right amount of pre-trip preparation. Photo by Lemmy.
This is a larger philosophical point. I know for the most part, people younger than me are gasping in horror. Those older than me probably are nodding. I know, I know, your phone is your GPS and your music and work might need you blah blah blah. Folks took motorcycle trips for a hundred years with no cell phones, and plenty of people still do. Protip: If you get to a place where your phone doesn’t work, you’re doing it right.

Bring spare gasoline

If you’re doing this whole “wander where you may” type of touring, sometimes things don’t turn out like they should. You probably want to have excess fuel on board in case things get a bit more rural than you expected.

Bring your OCD buddy

You might be annoyed to no end. Then again, you might get him to loosen up. It's still a crapshoot with Spurgie.

Ask any old salt about a beloved motorcycle trip. Ask what the best part was. The answer is never “Planning it all out!”