Backroads or Interstate?

I get this question a lot relating to the motorcycle trips I plan…

Like for many of us, riding Interstates is expedient, but also often quite boring. For my personal tours, I usually will ride Interstates to get to where I want to have fun, or see the sights, on the motorcycle. As a general rule, I calculate my overall average speed riding Intestates as 65mph (note that this includes stops, like refueling, re-hydration and relief, quick snacks, etc. This way, in a 12-hour riding day, I can typically cover between 750 and 800 miles.

On two lane roads on the other hand, I usually get an overall average between 45mph and 50mph (depending on the amount of towns I have to go through, or local traffic I encounter, e.g.), thus covering anywhere from 540 to 600 miles in that same 12-hour period.

While 200 miles may not seem like much, it will add up quickly, especially when doing a cross-country trip – e.g. from Western Iowa to California, which is typically close to 1550 miles one way: Using non-Interstate routes for this will take me three days to get there; while Interstate riding will get me there in two days.

Of course, sometimes it’s not just “getting there.” In those situations, I typically will us a hybrid approach. Since I love riding Colorado and Utah, I will sometimes add a day to my to and/or from trips going to California, riding the backroads in those states. I may ride I-80 and I-76/I-70 into Colorado, then get off into the mountains and ‘play around; there for a day, before hitting I-70 again and continuing on to California. On my way back, I may go via I-15 to Utah, the ‘zig-zag’ through there, possibly with some Western Colorado fun thrown in, before joining I-70 again to head home…

This way, I maximize my fun on these rides, while still getting to where I ‘ultimately’ want to go (usually meeting up with other riders) in good time.

For some folks, though, the journey is part of the fun of the trip, and many will – on purpose – ride the smaller side roads instead of Interstates. In the end, we just need to decide what the most important aspects of a particular ride are for every one of us individually, and plan accordingly.


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