If you don’t have one already, make a packing list of everything you’ll need for your body and your bike. Start the list days or weeks in advance and keep checking it and honing it, adding things you’ve forgotten and scratching off things you don’t need after all (and keep the list for the next trip).
Talk to the group and consolidate common items (e.g. tools, first aid kits, etc.) so we’re not carrying twelve cans of chain lube and no band-aids.
Remember that unless we’re riding to Afghanistan, we’re not riding to Afghanistan—we can always stop in a town and pick something up (within reason, not four times a day), so don’t pack your entire life. If your bags are too full they’ll take longer to pack every morning, and more time packing means less time riding.
Check the health of your chain, see what’s left on your tires and brake pads, look up your last oil change—make sure you’re covered for the X,000 miles we’re about to ride, or that you have a plan in place to change tires or oil along the way.
No major modifications! Fix problems, replace consumables, but don’t add new gadgets and doodads, especially if they can affect the performance or reliability of your bike. For example, don’t wire up a new lighting system or remap your ECU the night before a big trip—you’re just asking for trouble, and if you have trouble, we all have trouble.
Know your bike. What’s the range—distance to reserve and distance to empty? Is it carbureted, and are you prepared to ride at high altitude for stretches? Does it always make that noise when it idles?
Know your body. Have you been riding much lately? Are you physically prepared to ride all day, every day, for several days on end? Are you coming down with something, or do you have any new aches or pains that may hinder your ability to ride long distances safely?
Ride your bike! Get out and ride some local roads for at least an hour or two, at least a couple of weeks before the big trip. Shake off the proverbial cobwebs. Pay attention to how the bike feels, to any weird rattles or noises—make sure everything feels right, and do it while you still have enough time to order parts and fix anything that’s wonky. And make sure you feel safe, comfortable, and confident riding. If you’re having oh-shit moments just putting around town, you’re not ready to be riding in a group for thousands of miles.
Don’t procrastinate! Prep early and prep often. Local shops don’t carry much in the way of parts these days, and it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks for motorcycle parts to arrive from online vendors. Don’t wait until the last minute and be stuck at home with a broken bike.
Sharing is Caring 👯♂
Before setting off, be sure to trade emergency contact info with the group, so someone can contact your spouse, parents, etc. if you are unable to for any reason.
While you’re at it, be sure to write down any important information/phone numbers on paper somewhere, in case your phone dies or is lost/broken.
Share your location via your smartphone—Google Maps app lets you share your current location from both Android and iPhone for a predetermined period of time and then politely expires. Share your location with your fellow riders and set it to last the length of the trip in case you get separated.
Always Carry 🔑🍫☂
Extra Key(s)—Do NOT leave home without an extra motorcycle key and extra key(s) to any bike/disc locks, and any lockable luggage somewhere on your person that can’t be lost or left behind (e.g. zipped in a jacket pocket). Nothing ruins a trip like accidentally dropping your only key down a storm grate in BFE and not having a spare.
Papers, please—Your current, clean drivers license, insurance, and registration. If you’re traveling abroad (even Mexico and Canada) be sure to have a valid passport.
Water—You don’t know how much you’re sweating when wind is constantly blowing over you, even if it’s not that warm out. Carry and drink more water than you think you need to. If you’re sweating a lot, be sure to replenish salts/electrolytes with sports drinks. Supermarkets and Amazon sells powder packets you can mix with water on the fly, so you don’t have to carry ten gallons of gatorade or blow a paycheck at every gas station.
Snacks—We may stop for breakfast OR lunch, but probably not both, and once in a while we may need to skip a meal or two to make up time. Be sure to pack plenty of high-protein snacks like energy bars, trail mix, jerky, etc. to keep yourself awake and alert and not hangry at your fellow riders. If you happen to be a diabetic, kosher, vegan, gluten-free, hemophiliac, left-handed albino, be sure to pack food that suits your health and lifestyle needs, just in case you can’t find something suitable on the road. Not every greasy truck stop in Idaho offers halal quinoa at all hours of the day.
Layers & Rain Gear—It should go without saying that it can get cold at night, even in very hot climates, and we could potentially change climates a few times in a day as we climb over passes and roll through valleys. Be prepared for anything, including rain—the only hard-stops are snow, ice, and tornados, everything else we suit up and chug through. If there’s any chance of extended cold (<50°F) riding, you’re going to want to invest in a heated vest—trust me.
Never Carry? (WINK) 🔫 🌿💉
If you are the type that enjoys recreational drug use, traveling with a firearm, or trafficking child slaves in your saddlebags, make sure the other riders in the group are cool with whatever you might be carrying.
Laws and attitudes regarding drugs can vary greatly as you cross city/county/state lines. For example, in Colorado, marijuana is totally legal for recreational use. Thirty miles away in Texas, marijuana laws are still heavily enforced and penalties are draconian. Read up on the states you’ll be riding through and make an educated decision as to what you (and your traveling partners) are willing to risk getting busted with.
If you’ve established that your riding partners are cool with your tankbag full of crystal meth, ride and behave accordingly, and don’t give LEOs a reason to search you! A little speeding is fine—you’ll get a ticket and go on your way—but don’t do triple-digits, double the speed limit, wheelie down Main Street, or ride without current, complete paperwork. Even if you’re not suspected of a serious/violent crime, your person, bike, and luggage will be searched upon impound for reckless driving, and it doesn’t take much for a cop to call something reckless.
If you’re riding into/through another country, be all the more diligent about local laws as they pertain what you’ve got on your person and your bike. Make sure any prescriptions are in original bottles labeled with your name as it appears on your ID. Read up on weapons laws (even defensive weapons like pepper spray) and driving laws/requirements, and make sure you don’t ride anywhere in ignorance and end up in more trouble than you bargained for.
Ride Your Own Ride 🏍
It’s a motorcycling cliche for a reason: it’s solid advice. Don’t ever ride over your head (or your health) to keep up with the pack. No two riders travel at exactly the same pace, and we don’t always feel in tip-top shape. If you accept that and adjust we’ll all be happy. If you hold people back (or crash trying to keep up), we’ll all be miserable.
If you’re not feeling 100%, let the leader know, and then slow down and fall back—the leader will never take a turn without stopping to wait for you, so continue to ride straight at intersections until you catch up.
If you ARE feeling in-the-zone and want to ride ahead of the leader, either ask to lead, or find out where the next turn is before you zoom on ahead. Then, zoom on ahead.
Play Well With Others 💃🕺
On the flip side, don’t pester faster riders to slow down for you, and definitely don’t pressure slower riders to step up the pace (and risk crashing). Work out an agreement for the next rest/gas break and meet up there. That way, everyone gets to ride the pace at which they’re happy and comfortable, and the fast folks get a few more minutes to rest at the next stop while the less-fast folks catch up.
Be predictable. Don’t make crazy, sudden turns, allow for a comfortable buffer between bikes, and try to make smooth, logical movements. If you’re leading, don’t keep the route a secret—share your turns and your destinations with everyone to the best of your ability so no one’s in the dark and frustrated or concerned.
Don’t make stupid passesto keep up. In the twisties, opportunities to pass slow vehicles can often only safely accommodate one or two bikes. If you’re the third rider back (or fourth, or fifth), don’t push yourself into a late pass and end up on the wrong side of the road around a turn or approaching a blind hill. It’s not worth it—wait for the next safe opportunity, however long it takes. We won’t leave you behind.
KSU by 8am ⏰ (or some other predetermined time)
You can (1) choose to sleep in until 7:59 or you can (2) get up early and grab a bubble-bath and a nine-course breakfast, but you can’t do both, princess. Take your pick, and beready to go, bro.
KSU means “kickstands up.” It does not mean “I just have to pack up a few more things” or “lemme just smoke twelve more cigarettes” or “I’ll be off the phone in a few minutes.” It means your bike is packed, you’re sitting on it with your helmet and gloves on, your engine is running and warmed up, and you’re ready to roll.
If you think 8am (or whatever time the group chooses) is far too early/late to hit the road, let’s discuss before we leave and work out a earlier/later schedule while we’re planning the route from the comfort of home. Don’t drag ass and hold the ride back, and don’t rush people if you arbitrarily want to leave earlier than the agreed-upon departure time.
Agreeing on a stop-time is equally important—if you think you’ve only got an hour to go but your buddy is looking forward to another few hundred miles, you’re gonna have a bad time.
We’re all tired, we’re all hot, we’re all sore, and we all complain about it. Feel free to complain too, but do it in the spirit of companionship and remember that no one else has it any easier than you do.
Don’t STFU! 🤢
If you have even the slightest safety concerns about your health, speak up to your fellow rider(s):
If it’s hot outside and you feel oddly cold, or cold outside and you feel oddly hot
If you feel dizzy, light-headed, nauseous, or disoriented
If you’re seriously having trouble staying awake (i.e. “I’m falling asleep,” not “I’m tired”)
If you have any abnormally acute pain that’s affecting your ability to ride (i.e. “I need to get to a doctor,” not “my back is sore”)
Most importantly: SET EXPECTATIONS 😎
If you’re unsure of anything we haven’t covered here, talk about it with your group. If you ARE sure everything, talk about it again anyway.
Some people like to ride 14-hour days with no breaks and are still ready for more. Other riders think 100 miles is a long ride and would stop at noon to lounge by the pool. Talk to the group, ask questions if you’re unsure about what to expect, and make sure you’re all on the same page.
The less ambiguity the group has about the route, the start/stop/break schedule, the destinations, and the priorities, the less conflict we’ll have to work out on the road when we’re tired and hot and less willing to compromise, and the more fun we’ll all have over the course of the trip.
Ziad is a visual designer and front-end web developer with a degree in Economics. Wait, what?
Based in beautiful Oakland, California, he currently works full-time as creative director, lead designer, and cat herder for his own freelance agency, Feral Creative Colony.
In addition to design, his interests include literary fiction, music, motorcycles, photography, travel, cats, and serial commas.