Tips for Long-Distance Riding to Sturgis

Going the distance to Sturgis

Rain is just one hazard to consider on a tour.

Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Unlike local riding, long distance motorcycle rides are a major undertaking if you want them to be enjoyable. You can throw a leg over the saddle and just go, but that doesn’t mean you should. If you want to enjoy being in the wind in the Black Hills (or anywhere else) on a long trip, both you and your bike may want to be properly prepared for the trip.

Unless you want to end up doing this on the side of a road somewhere.

Photo: Hot Bike Staff

Prep Your Bike

Obviously you don’t want your scoot breaking down along the way. Not being able to ride, on a ride, isn’t riding. You’ll want to inspect your bike for warning signs before starting your trip and correct them as needed. Our good friend Joel Felty of Headwinds and Moto Camp fame has a handy-dandy checklist at his website of what to look for before you start your run:


___ Master Cylinder, Front: Check Level

___ Master Cylinder, Rear: Check Level

___ Brake Pad, Front: Check wear, both inner and outer pad

___ Brake Pad, Rear: Check wear, both inner and outer pad


___ Engine oil: Check level

___ Transmission oil: Check level

___ Primary chain/Clutch oil: Check level

___ Primary chain: Check chain tensioner adjustment

___ Clutch lever: Properly adjusted


___ Throttle Cable: Check that it’s smooth and doesn’t stick

___ Fuel: Is your tank full?

___ Hoses: Check for cracks or leaks


___ Tires: Measure tread wear, tread must be a minimum 3/32” (at riders discretion)

___ Tire pressure: Inflate with bike fully loaded


___ Headlights: Check high and low-beam

___ Taillights

___ Brake Lights

___ Running Lights

___ Turn Signals

___ Spotlights

Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road.

Courtesy of South Dakota Dept of Tourism

Run (with) What Ya Brung

The bike’s been inspected and it’s ready to go. Now let’s get it packed with all the stuff you’ll want to have on-hand for a multi-day trip to the Black Hills. A tool kit, sunscreen, and rain gear are obvious but just to make sure you don’t have too many bad surprises, here’s another basic list of items for you to consider taking with you:

__Cell phone charger

__Rainsuit, rain gloves, rain boots



__Drinking water

__First aid kit


__Road map (you won’t have cell coverage everywhere)

__Toothpaste and brush





__Snack food

__Eye drops

__Glasses cleaner



Iron Butt Association: Marathon Motorcycling Wisdom

Courtesy of Iron Butt Association

Who would know better about long-distance riding than the Iron Butt Association? Dedicated to endurance road riding, the IBA has over 50,000 members worldwide. Membership is earned through completing certain long-distance riding achievements like the Iron Butt Rally which is 11 days and 11,000 miles. Here are just some of their tips for marathon motorcycling. You’ll find even more on their website. The following list is their intellectual property and is used with their written permission.

1. Know your limits and plan your trip around them.
If the longest ride you have ever taken is 300 miles in a day, don’t plan a trip with a string of endless 500-mile days. Iron Butt Association surveys also warn of an important trend in long-distance trip planning (see Chart A). Discounting weather or other problems; after an initial mileage peak on days one and two, daily average mileage will steadily drop during trip days three to seven. On day seven of a trip, the typical long-distance rider will comfortably ride about 65% of the average daily mileage that they would book on a two day trip. If the pros have this type of mileage attrition rate, would you plan on any less?

Also include large easy-to-cut loops into your trip plan. If you do get behind schedule, this is the easiest way to skip part of your trip without ruining the rest of it.
Whether you are capable of riding 300 miles per day, or 1,000, the ability to make miles tends to decrease as the length of the trip increases. The most severe loss is in days 3 through 7, where Iron Butt types then level out to about 65% of their peak capacity.

2. Prepare your motorcycle before the trip. With vacation time in short supply, why would you waste time during a trip to have your tires replaced? It is often cheaper to replace tires and chains at home rather than squeezing the few remaining miles from them to only find that they are not available. Additionally, quality motorcycle oils can go the distance. It is not unheard of Iron Butt types grinding away 10,000 or more miles between oil changes. Running hours between oil changes and work load means more than miles. A motorcycle ridden around town will need more frequent changes than one used on a long trip.

3. Avoid adding accessories or doing maintenance immediately before a trip. If it can be avoided, don’t use a trip as a test bed for a new exciting accessory. This is particularly true for electrical system farkles. It’s asking for trouble to install new auxiliary lights or perform other mission-critical electrical modifications right before a rally. This leaves no time to thoroughly exercise the system for proper behavior before having to depend on them during a long night ride.

And don’t forget, even the best mechanic can make a mistake. Try and avoid picking up your motorcycle and heading out directly on a 10,000 mile trip. A trip is also not the best time to try out that new rainsuit, helmet or packing technique!

4. Pack wisely; keep personal supplies handy. While many riders use a tank bag, what they pack in them is not always well thought out. Sunscreen, skin lotions, eye cleaner, eye lubricant, a flashlight, a tire gauge, maps and other essentials should all be kept in a handy location. If these items are not on-hand when you need them, you won’t use them. That can lead to costly mistakes like missing a road because you didn’t want to find your map or roasting your face and then facing painful sunburn for days into a trip (ever try wearing a helmet over a sun-burnt head? – do it once and you will never forget to pack the sunscreen where it is handy).

On the other hand, things like registration and insurance papers should be kept in a secure water tight area of the motorcycle. Assuming you probably will only need these items while talking to the Law, having them stowed away gives you time to talk to the officer and convince him you are human and not some crazed-biker—that could work to your advantage.

5. Be ready before you leave, don’t waste time shopping on the road. The same rules that applies to your motorcycle should apply to your riding gear and essentials. Maintain a checklist of items to carry and then check it before you leave. Buying toothpaste at 7-11 is no big deal, but having to shop around for a sweater or swimsuit or specialty medicines that you left at home can eat up valuable riding or rest time.

6. Learn how to avoid boredom. Long rides usually mean riding across areas you might not consider prime riding spots. To some riders U.S. 50 across Nevada is a beautiful ride. To a canyon carver it can be a long, hot, boring, dull highway to hell. For times like this, carrying a tape player with your favorite music can prove invaluable. 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!

7. Join a towing service! Break downs happen and there is nothing like being stuck with no one to turn to for help. MTS, AMA, Cross-Country motor club, some insurance companies and some auto clubs have plans that will tow you out of trouble. This is not a matter of just money (the cost of the plan versus the risk of the cost of a later tow), these clubs have contracted with tow companies around the U.S. Skip the insurance and you can spend hours burning up the phone looking for a tow company. Pay a little now or pay a lot later in the form of money and wasted trip time.

8. Learn to stop to go faster. On the surface this tip may not make sense, but the successful long-distance rider uses this strategy to their advantage. Since each rider is different, no one can predict a comfortable speed average for every rider. What is important is to know what speed your internal riding clock runs by and when your speed falls below that average, take time out and get some serious rest. Wasting time on coffee stops or milling about gas stations is time that could be better spent in a comfortable room sleeping or even better, taking a walk to stretch tired and sore muscles and get some oxygen pumping back into your brain.

9. Put on your rainsuit before it rains! If you have less than a half tank of gas, why not stop, fill-up and put on your suit all in one, quick, safe stop? Whether you take the fill-up advice or not, we strongly recommend you avoid putting your rainsuit on along side the road. The dangers are too numerous to outline, but think about this when planning to dodge the rain under an overpass; do you really want to be standing just three feet (or about an arms length) from traffic zooming by at 60 mph and up? And if it is raining, do you want to be standing that close to drivers half-blinded by the rain themselves? And keep in mind that some of those drivers will be looking for a covered place of their own to wait out a hard rain—just like the place you are putting on your rainsuit.

10. Stay hydrated! While your bike might have a fuel gauge, unfortunately, your body does not have a simple hydration gauge – by the time you are thirsty, you have already started on the road to dehydration.

11. Get gas before you need it. You only have to run out of gas one time, or take a five-mile detour in search of gas to blow the time you saved by not stopping. When gas is handy, stop and get it!

That having been said, keep in mind that gas stops can be a major time-sink if not managed properly. While wasting five minutes loitering at the fuel pump might not be to detrimental on multi-day events, it can be devastating on 24-hour rides, where maintaining a certain minimum average speed is critical. Whenever possible, always use “pay-at-the-pump” service stations. And have more than one credit card handy, in case your financial institution’s automated systems “shut down” your card for unusually heavy use.

12. Carry aspirin for aches and pains. Note: While aspirin enjoys an almost cult-like following in the riding community (riders claim it alleviates a variety of pains and helps prevent muscle spasms), it is important to remember to consult your physician for side-effects related to its use.

For example, aspirin can lower your body’s core temperature. So those riders choosing to use it for aches along the way should be aware they may be cooling themselves down as well. Additionally, aspirin acts as an anti-coagulant (something to worry about should you crash and suffer wounds that cause severe bleeding). Some brands of aspirin contain caffeine (it is sometimes added to help the aspirin take effect more quickly). A quick review of active ingredients on the packaging will let you know if caffeine is part of the formula.

13. When riding back roads, be extra cautious when crossing county lines! In many states, road maintenance is the responsibility of the county. That means every fifty miles or so you may be dealing with different pavement mixes and different engineers ideas of what is a good design. After crossing a county or state line, take notice of subtle signs of how the local road department operates. Has the pavement gone from asphalt to concrete? Are the turns well marked? Do they use decreasing radius turns? Are road repairs done with rubber sealer (the kind that flexes slightly when hot, which can cause some riders to panic if they are not used to a motorcycle moving around underneath them when leaned over), gravel or other hazardous methods? Is vegetation trimmed back from the side of the road? Do fences exist to keep animals on the sidelines?
Find out how the locals do it before you get the surprise of your life!

14. Do you want to live? Stay away from trucks! Truck drivers hate having anyone follow them. When you are behind a truck, you become a liability. Instead of paying attention to the road, a trucker will start worrying about the people on their tailgate. From a bikers standpoint, it is not uncommon for a truck tire to explode. 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!”

Least you think this is all great theory but will never happen to you, this real-life incident of the forces involved with truck tires comes from the June 3, 1997 Chicago Sun-Times titled “Teen dies when wheel fly off truck…” Two wheels broke loose from an 18-wheel semi-trailer truck on the Eisenhower Expressway…killing an 18-year-old youth. One wheel rolled up and over a concrete barrier and struck the sport utility vehicle in which the teen was sitting in the front passenger seat.

15. Carry a flat repair kit and know how to use it! The majority of tubeless tires punctures can be repaired in just a few minutes! There is no excuse for not carrying a repair kit, but even more importantly, you should know how to use it. Practice at home on an old tire so you are not trying to figure the process out on the side of the road! While tube-type tires are more of a hassle, once your learn how to patch a tube, it can be done a lot faster than trying to arrange a tow.

Further, you should periodically inspect your tire repair kit to ensure the glue has not leaked out. If your kit has CO2 cartridges as its means of inflation, do you know how many cartridges it will take to inflate your tire to a safe level? Find out before you hit the road!

EPIC-id USB Emergency ID band

Photo: Hot Bike Staff

EPIC-id USB Emergency ID band

As an old biker once told me, “It’s not if, it’s when” in regard to crashing on a motorbike. The bad thing is he never told me any sort of degree of severity I would suffer bodily during this occurrence. I guess I will just have to wait to find out. Well, when and if it does happen, I will be ahead of the curve with the EPIC-id. It’s a waterproof USB emergency information bracelet that is constructed from a comfortable silicone band and a durable stainless-steel clasp that has all of your emergency info cleverly embedded into it. It is both PC and Mac compatible, and it takes mere minutes to set up via your computer with all the needed info to save your life in an emergency.

It goes like this: You insert one side of the bracelet into the USB port of your computer and click on the EPIC-id button, which appears on your computer’s desktop. Then you fill in the blanks by privately providing the bracelet’s interface with your list of personal emergency contacts, doctor info, the meds you are on, and any sort of allergies or aversions you may have. You can even change and update it with information like a DNR order, donor information, and requests for clergy in case shit really hits the fan when you hit the ground.

For another $15 you can get a stainless-steel external personalized ID tag that simply mounts to the bracelet with a simple five lines of easily readable text for those first responders without iPads and laptops.

I have been wearing the EPIC-id for a while now both in and out of the saddle. And although nobody has had to use it yet, for the little amount of money the EPIC-id costs and the amount of benefit it carries in one simple device, I don’t know why anyone who rides shouldn’t be wearing one every time they are in the wind.

Hope to see you here in the Black Hills!

Courtesy of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally




Iron Butt Association

Get the latest updates on what Sturgis has planned for the rally at the official website and keep an eye on our Events page too.