One night not long ago, Eric Bennett, Fred Reed, and I were discussing how we all end up getting so busy that we don't have anywhere near as much time to ride as we used to. Well, if we had our way, that was about to change. We checked out a map tacked up on the wall and discussed some likely destinations. Living in California, we had a choice of riding to many different areas, including the mountains, desert, the coast, and pretty much everything in between. We were psyched to go somewhere, but there was still one problem: getting everyone's schedule in sync. From there the conversation quickly turned to taking a shot at a long-distance ride-not a ride of 300, 400, or 500 miles, but one of 1,000 miles. We were talking about the kind of ride you go on more to ride for riding's sake than making it to any particular destination.
Other than myself, the other guys had never ridden even close to 1,000 miles in a day. Anyone who has tried to ride that distance knows what an accomplishment it really is. The rest of you might be thinking, "Why the hell would anyone want to do such a thing?" Well, all I can tell you is that it's about the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment once you've completed a ride like this. As a matter of fact, the last time I made such a ride was on my way home from Sturgis 2004, when I rode from Spearfish, SD, to Las Vegas, NV, in one shot. That trip was in the 1,065-mile range, and as strange as it might seem, that was one of the best, most memorable rides I have ever been on.
With long-distance riding on our minds, we fired up the computer and found the home page for an organization called the Iron Butt Association (IBA; www.ironbutt.com). The group is made up of thousands of riders dedicated to safe, long-distance, endurance motorcycle riding. Based in the United States, the group boasts an international membership upwards of 24,000 individuals.
Becoming a member of the Iron Butt Association is different from most other groups one might contemplate joining. Instead of having to be sponsored by an existing member and voted into a typical organization, membership in the Iron Butt Association is earned by participating in different rides sponsored or approved by the organization. The jewel in the IBA's crown is without a doubt its Iron Butt Rally. This event represents the pinnacle of long-distance riding, as riders must navigate a course taking them more than 11,000 miles in the confines of an 11-day period. The second and more common way to become a member of the IBA is to participate in either the Saddle Sore 1000 (1,000 miles in 24 hours or less), the Bun Burner 1500 (1,500 miles in 36 hours or less), or the Bun Burner Gold (1,500 miles in 24 hours or less). IBA also has other, more challenging rides, which, once completed, allow participants membership in the organization.
It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that we had some decisions made and guidelines in place. First and foremost, we decided this would be an all Harley-Davidson ride. While some friends had other bikes, we decided to stay with Big-Twins from Harley based on their reliability and relative comfort. When compared to a Honda Goldwing, the Harley might not win the comfort crown, but when compared to many other American V-Twins, the Harley takes it hands down. By this point we had an objective and a basic route in mind. We would be attempting to complete both the Saddle Sore 1000 and Bun Burner 1500 concurrently. The IBA allows you to complete the Saddle Sore 1000, then an additional 500 miles in the next 12 hours, thus qualifying for both rides at the same time.
Keeping the group small would be another issue. Our original group had suddenly swollen to 11 riders, more than what we planned on, but we would deal with it. We decided on a route that would take us from SoCal to the outskirts of Albuerque, NM, and back, with a stop for the night as we hit Flagstaff for a second time in the day. We would then get some shut-eye and head back to Cali to complete the Bun Burner 1500.
Things were really starting to come together, but we wanted to be sure we had everything we needed to make the ride a success. Out came Harley's P&A and apparel catalogs. We ordered multiple items that would make the trip easier on the bikes as well as our bodies. Our first concern was for the bikes, especially in regard to maintaining high speeds over a route that consisted of many miles of hot desert landscape.
Items on our list from the P&A catalog included things such as oil coolers to keep temps down and pushbutton gas-door releases to free us from the hassle of fumbling for keys at gas stations. We made sure we all had proper windshields to keep the fatigue factor as low as possible; a Sundowner seat complete with a backrest was also helpful. We also ordered a radar detector, which came in handy when alerting us to the "Boys in Blue" on more than one occasion.
Other items we picked up were H-D's compact tool kit, an emergency drive belt in case someone trashed a belt in the middle of nowhere, and a cable lock to ensure our bikes were still at the hotel when we got up Sunday morning. We even picked up one of Harley's fire extinguishers to bring along, just in case.
As far as outfitting ourselves with Harley gear, we tried out an FXRG carbon-Kevlar-fiber full-face helmet, which worked really well due to its light weight and quiet design. Since we would be riding in a variety of temperatures, we made sure we had outerwear for both hot and cold weather. One combination that worked great was Harley's leather shirt for the hot spots, with one of the company's windproof fleece jackets worn under it when the air got cold. We also tried a variety of Harley chaps and jackets, including a Willie G. leather jacket and a traditional men's race jacket. Other pieces such as men's Mega Conductor boots, waterproof gauntlet gloves, light gloves, and Broady goggles also made for comfortable riding.
So there we were, ready to go. By now our list of riders had dropped to nine, more manageable than 11, but still a bit more than we had hoped for. Shortly before the ride, one of the guys was having a problem with his bike, so we called Harley's press fleet center. They graciously let us borrow a yellow '06 Road Glide for the trip. Now we had finalized our route, including gas, dinner, and hotel stops. We got together for a pre-ride meeting (see sidebar), and then we were ready to go.
Eight of the nine of us (Bob, Eric, Gib, Fuji, John, Fred, Jeff, and myself) met at a gas station in Lakewood, CA, at 2:45 a.m. on Saturday. We hit the road by 3 with a plan to meet Craig at our first gas stop in Lynwood, CA. Just before we pulled off the exit, a bike joined our group. It was Craig-perfect timing. A quick fill-up, and we were off. From there things went well to our next stop in Needles, CA, where things went downhill for Fred (see sidebar). As the day went on, we ended up in two groups, missing each other by about 45 minutes. We stayed in touch by cell phone as we planned to rendezvous in Gallup, NM, for dinner. Prior to arriving, the second group had to pull off and adjust a pushrod that had loosened-no biggie. We hooked up in Gallup, and after eating dinner we attempted to repair a broken kickstand spring. No luck, but nothing a bungee cord couldn't fix. With dinner out of the way, it was time to blaze across the beautiful New Mexico landscape and make it to Rio Puerco, NM, 120 miles to the east. We made it there at 6:30 p.m. local time and still needed to blast 300 miles back to Flagstaff, AZ, and call it a night to qualify for the Saddle Sore 1000. With quick stops in Gallup and Holbrook, AZ, we were on the last leg of our first goal. We pulled into Flagstaff at 10:45 p.m. We did it-1,091miles in less than 24 hours. But we weren't finished yet.
Sunday morning rolled around, and we were on the road by 5:50 a.m. The early hour and elevation made for some cold temps. We had on our cold-weather gear as the day got started, but that didn't last long. By the time we reached Seligman, AZ, a mere 75 miles away, the desert was heating up, and we found ourselves stripping off layers of clothing. The warm sun felt good as we made our way out of Arizona and back into California. When we hit Needles we scarfed down some fast food and got back on the road. Before we knew it, we were back at our final gas stop prior to the last leg of the trip home. We had about 115 miles to go and 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there, barring any unforeseen problems. It looked as if we would get it done. Just over two hours later we were back. We had done it (all but Fred-there's always next time!). When it was all said and done, the group as a whole had a tremendous sense of accomplishment, although a couple of guys thought it was a long way to go just to turn around. Most of the guys agreed that this ride is in your head: Set your mind to it, and you can do it.
Pre-Ride MeetingAnyone who has been on a ride of this magnitude realizes that if you don't have some sort of a game plan, it's tough to attain your final goal. In order to make sure we were all on the same page, we had a meeting of the ride's participants four days prior to the ride. The meeting dealt with all the particulars of the ride. Since we were riding with a large group (nine), it was imperative that we were all knew what the game plan was ahead of time. We discussed all the aspects of the ride, down to even the smallest detail. While we had already chosen a route to follow, we went over each stop and the mileage in between. To save time at our stops, we discussed how we would pull into a gas station and grab as many different pumps as we could. That way we would each have our own receipts in order to document our ride as the IBA requires.
One important item that needed discussion was what to do in case someone broke down. This would be a case of the needs of the group outweighing the needs of the individual. We all agreed that we would pair up and keep an eye on each other, and in the event that someone had a mechanical problem, we would pull over with them try to fix the problem if we could. If we couldn't, we would make sure they were safe and had a tow truck on its way, and we would then be off to catch the rest of the group. In addition, we made sure we all had a good selection of tools scattered all around the bikes, as well as a couple of handfuls of assorted hardware, electrical connectors, wire ties, fuses, flat-fix, compressed-air cartridges, and the like.
While we were at it, we brought up the National Weather Service website and checked the extended forecast for the route. While the prognosticators called for mostly clear skies, we needed to be prepared for mountain thunder showers, which can pop up seemingly out of nowhere. Since our route brought us from the ocean over the mountains, across the sizzling desert, and back up to some higher elevations, then more deserts, we needed to have appropriate gear and be prepared for a wide temperature range.
Maintenance EssentialsWhen it comes to motorcycles, it's easy to become complacent in regard to scheduled maintenance as well as daily and weekly safety checks. As important as these items are for everyday riding, they are even more important when it comes to long-distance endurance riding. These items (as well as all of the scheduled service items) are a must when deciding to hit the road and pile up some serious miles:* Change the engine oil and filter.* Inspect and adjust the primary chain and replace the primary fluid.* Drain and refill the transmission with a high-quality gear oil.* Adjust the rear belt or chain. Lube chain if applicable, and carry a can of lube with you.* Carefully check your tires for wear, damage, or defects and replace them if there is any doubt as to their condition. Maintain the proper air pressure for the load you are carrying.* Repack non-sealed wheel bearings if applicable* Inspect the front and rear suspension for leaks and replace fork oil to the proper level based on scheduled maintenance intervals.* Make sure all your lighting is operating properly. Check the running lights, turn signals, brake light, and headlight for proper operation.
When Things Go WrongI was loaded for bear. Tools to fix tools, tire plugs, an air compressor...hell, I thought I was packed for just about anything. I even had four 1-quart fuel cells with extra gas.
Since we were going to be traveling mostly uphill between Needles and Kingman, we decided a quick splash of gas in Kingman would do the trick. Little did I know that I would never get to see Kingman. About 22 miles out of Needles, the bike felt mushy. I thought I had blown an air line for the rear suspension. One of the guys pulled up alongside and told me that my tire was real low. I slowed down a bit, and the bike got really squirrelly. What a ride! This was when I realized that my tire was flat, not the suspension. I was on the shoulder in the middle of the desert and only 4.5 hours and 285 miles into the ride-great.
A bunch of the guys pulled over. After several failed attempts at plugging the tire and getting it to hold air, we rode back along the shoulder to the last on-ramp we passed. As I attempted to fill the tire from the station's compressor, the air was coming out as fast as I was putting it in. The tire was trashed-no fixing it.
I called AAA, and the rest of the guys took off. The tow truck arrived after about an hour, and we went in search of a motorcycle shop. The next few hours I spent with Clay Fitzgerald, owner of Twisted Metal in Havasu City, AZ. Clay didn't have an 18-inch tire for my Heritage but burned up the phone lines trying to find one anywhere within a 35-mile radius. No luck.
At this point, my last option was to rent a truck and drive home. Off to the rental yard. Ever try to rent a U-Haul with no reservation? That's a story for another day. Even though I had lots of tools, extra gas, and a good assortment of spare parts with me, all I really needed was my cell phone. I'm glad I had reception, my credit card, and tie-downs. Kind of strange sometimes how things work out not always the way you plan. -Fred