Touring on motorcycles is what pumps every biker with the sense of freedom, the freedom to feel the wind blazing past his/her helmet, the endurance to sustain the battle of heat, chill and rain. Touring is something beyond commuting. Commuting helps a biker to gain the skills, knowledge and experience which is in fact the prerequisite for touring. Long rides on motorcycles is not only about deciding the destination and understanding the map, Its lot more than that. Experts say that the first long tour for anyone should be as a pillion. I have done many rides as pillion with my father before hitting the road as a rider. Being a pillion lets you experience almost the same discomfort, fatigue, body aches as the rider feels, except for the fact that the control is in the rider’s hand. Along with enjoying the views and the clean black tarmac colliding with the horizon, a pillion should be aware of everything the rider encounters during the ride. To brush up the basic riding skills is what makes a rider, a better tourer and that can be best experienced and done when you start as a pillion. Thereafter, depending upon your confidence and skill, venturing alone is fine. So here goes the 10 useful mantras which you should keep in mind before hitting the road.
1. PREPARING YOUR MOTORCYCLE :
The first thing is to know your motorcycle well, because this is what will take you to the destination without any hastle. Wash the bike properly and get your bike pre-checked. The major components under check should be –
- The control cables (Clutch, brake, choke and throttle).
- Tyres ( Tubeless tyres are better than Tube type as it is easier to repair punctures, but should not be a problem if you are capable of repairing the tube type one).
- Brakes – Check the disc pads and the brake shoes.
- Alignment of the handle bars (with side mirrors on), forks.
- Engine oils & Brake oil.
- General nuts & bolts.
- Fill up the tank up to around 85 % of the fuel tank capacity.
ESSENTIALS – WHAT TO CARRY :
Following are the required essentials that a tourer should always cross check before starting the ride
- Valid documents - PUC, Insurance & Registration.
- Riding gears - people think adversely (as show offs) about these riding gears which plays their part in the event of a crash well and then only we get to know their importance. The riding gears to be carried along includes - riding jacket (rain proof) with guards, riding pants ( knee guards as substitute), shoes (Preferable boots), Gloves, Balaclava and a good full faced clean (Free from fungus and the sweat smell) Helmet.
- Saddle bag (and bungee cords to tie them tightly) to carry all the luggage items, always remember to keep the saddle bags light and balanced as too much weight can make your bike slide when attempting to brake hard (Because of movement of centre of gravity).
- First aid kit - Bandage - 2 rolls, Cotton-1, Crepe Bandage-1, Antiseptic liquid-1, Soframycin or Betadine ointment-1, Pain Killers and other medicines. These might take some of your space in the saddle bag but are in my must keep list.
- Repair tools – Tool box, puncture repair kit and foot air pump.
3. KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND PLAN YOUR RIDE ACCORDINGLY
When was the last time when you rode for more than, lets say, 300 kms or more in a day. Never try to override while on long tours on motorcycles. It is advisable to ride in the comfort zone and to avoid over excitement, which may tend to take its toll the next day you ride. As stated by IBA (The iron butt association) Whether you are capable of riding 300 kms or 1300 kms in a day, the ability to make miles tends to decrease as the length of the trip increases. The tendency to ride more not only makes you tired at the end of the day but also it may take its toll on the motorcycle too. So, Plan your ride well as in how many kms to cover in a day, when to take stops (100-200kms in a stretch is fine for Indian roads), where to stay. This will make your trip a memorable one rather than being a butt breaking ride.
4. FORGET RIDING ON HIGH SPEEDS.
Riding on high speeds are not advisable. Not because our parents and the billboards and hoardings on the road say so, but because it can make your motorcycle giving up on you. It is good to use any motorcycle upto 80% of its peak performance and the bike will never give up. For Example – If the top speed of the bike is 100 kph, ride it below 80 kph on long tours and it will stay with you for a reasonable long time. Because it’s the upper 20% limit which takes too much load on the bike and where it loses life and reliability. Also never ride faster than you can stop.
5. USE TECHNOLOGY WHEN AVAILABLE- KEEP A TRACKING DEVICE.
A tracking device or a GPS enabled phone will make your ride comfy and to get the knowhow of the route ahead. This also helps in documenting your ride. It also lets you know about the value added services such as roadside assistance and emergency services. The most important part being to keep your family and friends informed always. They should know the your whereabouts which is an invaluable source of peace of mind for both you and those who care about you. Helps them in tracking your location in case of emergencies. These devices can be a cell based system or a satellite based system( for remote locations).
6. COMMON HEALTH ISSUES
As discussed earlier that long riding needs immense concentration and skills. But it has its limitations as well. Some of the health related issues which almost every rider encounter are:
Heat strokes and sun strokes : When out riding in sun even with the helmet on and prolonged exposure to sun leads to heat strokes. The symptoms are dizziness, mild headaches, fatigue, and unconsciousness. To avoid these a rider needs to keep himself/herself well hydrated after at short intervals. One should always keep himself covered and seek a cool place for rest.
2 Dehydration : Our body does not have the dehydration guage and it does not signals it before we are thirsty. As we are on the road, our body starts towards dehydration same as the fuel to our bike. The lack of water can causes mental and physical fatigue leading to soreness, cramping and headaches. Whether you feel thirsty or not, drink water at regular intervals, even in winters when you might not feel thirsty. Use of packed bottled water is strongly recommended.
Body Pains : Long riding whether on good tarmacs or broken roads takes its toll on the rider’s back, wrists, neck and shoulders. To be frank these pains cannot be eliminated completely as it remains till we ride but can be relieved upto some extent by providing proper cushioned seats, proper riding postures and good physical fitness levels. Exercise daily in order to be a heathy rider. The major area to take the effect is the buttock. The friction between the clothing and the skin and also the lack of ventilation to the groin area leads to chaffing. This can be eliminated by using long underwears made of absorbent fabrics like cotton, partial use of some antiseptic ointments on the skin folds. Avoid garments with thick clothes. Frequent breaks also helps here.
7. GAS / FUEL MANAGEMENT :
During regular use of bike, you should be knowing how faulty is your fuel guage. Always keep a tab on the mileage to be sure how far you can go. Always keep an eye on the fuel guage while riding. Prepare and plan your ride according to the stops and where to refuel. Carry a litre of extra fuel with you which might help in case you are out of gas. The mileage of the bike gets increased on highways by 3-5 km/l which should never be taken as a sense of complacency during long rides. Remember you are riding a machine which may act adversely anytime. Refuel your bike before you reach the edge of reserve mark.
8. STAY AWAY FROM TRUCKS TO STAY ALIVE :
Iron Butt veteran and professional truck driver Mary Sue Johnson warns, "A blowout can blast off the truck's heavy mudflap with the force of a bowling ball going 60 m.p.h." Suzy goes on to warn that should the truck run over tailpipe or muffler in the road, you probably won't see it until too late leading to disaster." Additionally, if a trucker has to get on the brakes hard because of a of something in the road or someone has cut them off, (it happens to me once a day or more) AND you aren't alert back there, you will hit the trailer - it happens all the time!". Truck drivers hate anyone following them. When you are behind a truck, you become a liability. Instead of paying attention to the road the truck driver tends to concentrate on who is at its tail gate. One accident and my experience says - maintain a distance of around 50 metres from the truck. Look at the width of the road and the speed of the truck. If the truck is driving at around 50-60 kmph, look for the chance to overtake from right and with a gap of 3-5 metres from the truck. Don’t forget to look at the tarmac condition and any vehicle coming from behind. Don’t ever hurry in doing so.
9. KNOW WHEN TO STOP :
I was behind a truck while returning from Rishikesh. I was not even aware that I was trying to overtake the truck from the left (indecision) just because there was a complete blackout (temptation to close your eyes for a second or two) and I was down with the truck tyres passing just 10 cm off my head. Lesson learnt : as soon as you are tempted to close your eyes even for a second find the nearest safe place and take a nap or rest. Other symptoms, that might have been the cause for that accident, are inability to maintain a desired speed. Indecision, can’t decide to stop for gas or continue, can’t decide what turn to take are all the symptoms of fatigue. If you find yourself slowing down and constantly having to speed back up, you are ready to fall asleep. Its better to be late than to reach never. Carrying apples when you ride is a good idea. A n apple keeps you awake for at least 40 mins and is good for long rides.
10. LEARN TO AVOID BOREDOM :
Long rides usually mean riding across areas you might not consider prime riding spots. To some riders, ride from Chandigarh to shimla and on is a beautiful one, but from Delhi to Chandigarh it can be a long, hot boring, dull highway to hell. For times like this, Keep chewing something, sing on your own, talk to yourself, do commentary about the current live road scenario. Some of the other tricks of the trade are to stock up your tank bag with a supply of tart candies that you can munch on while riding. A sour lemon drop will shock your senses and keep you going another twenty miles!
These are my 10 commandments for having a safe and memorable long ride. Adding more to this is always welcomed by the readers. So signing off and wishing all you riders a safe and a happy ride always. Cheers to motorcycling. Ride long, Ride hard.
References : Xbhp Magazine, Iron Butt Association .