Tour Planning

1. Basic Questions

  1. How long do we want our ride to be (2-3 days, 7 days, 2 weeks,…)?
  2. Will it be a solo ride, a ride with a pillion, or a group ride?
  3. What do we want to ‘accomplish’ with this ride (sight seeing, sporty riding, etc)?
  4. Do we want to do a loop, with sleep-overs in different places, or do we want to stay in a central location and do day trips? In the latter case, do we ride there, or ship/trailer?
  5. Do we want to stay in hotels, or camp?
  6. Do we want to make reservations ahead of time, or just “drop in”?
  7. What is a comfortable daily time, respectively mileage, allowance?

2.1. Motorcycle Readiness

Before we start any trip, we need to first decide a few basics – independent of any specifics regarding the route, etc…

How we answer these questions will determine the how of our route planning!

Before we go on the road for an extended period, we must ensure that we and, especially, our motorbike are ready for it. Firstly, is the bike current in its maintenance needs and are all the time-/mileage-limited replaceable items good to go?

For example, let’s say your tour is a total of 2,360 miles. Your bike needs service every 6,000 miles and is currently clocking in at 16,938 miles. In this case, you will hit your “service required” mileage in 1,062 miles; if you just go on your tour and service the bike afterwards, you’ll be almost 1,300 miles over the recommended service interval. That may be ok, or you might want to just ‘preemptively’ have the service performed early. On really long tours, you may have to plan for a service (or at least fluids change) while you are on your tour – obviously, this latter option requires pre-planning…

Another consideration is tire wear. Just like with service, you need to assess whether your current tires will survive the projected tour distance. One important variable to keep in mind is differing road surfaces in the different states, and how they can affect tire wear. On my K1600GT, I was mostly using Michelin Pilot Road tires (3 and 4). Around my home state of Iowa, a rear tire would typically last between 5,500 and 6,000 miles. Riding in the Western sates, CA, NV, AZ, etc, the road surfaces seem to be more ‘abrasive’ and my tires would start needing replacing between 5,200 and 5,700 miles. Like with the service considerations, our options for the tires are to “preemptively” put on a new set, or set up an in-tour tire change appointment – again, this typically requires pre-planning. I strongly advise against trying to ‘squeeze’ more mileage than typical out of the tires. In my experience, once the tire wear hits a certain point, it ‘accelerates,’ and you may find that you are riding on the steel innards of your tire much sooner than you expected. So, please, plan your tire management ahead of time.

Clearly, both before and while on tour, you should keep a close eye on your fluids, tire pressures, and tire wear. I keep a little book where I track my tread depth (and a visual oil level check) daily while on tour (usually before I leave for the day’s route). I will also periodically check the Tire Pressure Monitor readings throughout the day’s ride, as well as make sure the electronic oil level indication shows “OK”.

Remember the old mnemonic introduced by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation? TCLOCK (Tires/Wheels; Controls; Lights; Oil; Chassis; Kickstand – I actually use ‘TCLOCS’ since I prefer the term sidestand…)? Both getting ready for your tour, and while on your tour, practice TCLOCK every morning before you start your day’s ride – just like no good pilot would ever take an airplane for a flight before a thorough preflight check, neither should you take that motorcycle on the road without that ‘pre-ride’ check, and TCLOCK is a good way to remember the steps.

2.2 Rider Readiness

With the motorbike ready, we must not forget the rider… Hitting the road for multiple days of 7+ hours riding a motorcycle can tax even the fittest of riders. Typical ‘problem areas’ are the knees, the lower back, the shoulder area, and potentially the bum (there is a whole industry of after market seat makers trying to help you with the latter…)

So, how do you get your body ready for a long tour? I recommend using some dumbbells and start exercising the areas you typically have trouble with. To really help, you should start these exercises at least a month before you go on your tour – or even better, make them part of a “couple of times weekly” routine for good. You do not need anything heavier than 5 pounds and can pick two up for under $35…

For the back, try the ‘wide row’, ‘dead lift’, ‘stiff-legged dead lift’, and the ‘back fly.’ The shoulders benefit from the ‘Back Supported Palms-In Shoulder Press’, ‘Seated Palms-In Alternated Shoulder Press’, ‘Seated Shoulder Press’, and ‘Seated Shoulder Press.’ For the knees, I have found the ‘squat’, ‘reverse’, ‘stationary’, and ‘side lunge’, and the ‘dumbbell swing through’ to work well.

As far as the bum is concerned, I have tried the after market route a couple of times, and I know a bunch of guys who swear by the ‘Russell Daylong‘ seats. Personally, I tried one of those, and it got in the way of my corner riding, so I have lately been sticking to the OEM saddles. What has worked for me (better than spending $$ on after market seats) is shifting my position on the seat every 10-15 minutes. Not only does that seem to avoid the pressure points, which will eventually start to hurt, it also helps with the knees, since the whole leg position shifts as well. On the curvier days, I naturally shift around in the saddle to properly set the center of gravity for the bike, and I have found those days to not “create” bum sore…

As we’ll see below, how you plan your route can also help you minimize aches and pains: Add a shorter day (less than 5 hours on the road) every 2-3 ‘normal’ days, and get off the bike when you stop for photographs, gas, etc. Just walking around for a bit ‘recharges’ your body and you will feel refreshed and good to go for another couple of hours. At gas stops, don’t forget to re-hydrate; I also often will eat a granola or power bar and relieve the bladder during these stops…

And, of course, Ibuprofen is your friend – when taken appropriately and not for an extended period of time. Remember to read the label and stick to the recommended dosage; you should not take more than 800mg per dose, and you should not take more than 3200mg per day (4 maximum doses).

Finally, avoid (excessive) alcohol in the evenings and get a good night’s sleep. One beer, or a glass of wine, with a meal is fine, but having a six pack with the buds will impact your next day’s ride! Use earplugs if you have to.

3. Route Planning

With steps 1 and 2 complete, we can turn our attention to the specifics of our route. We know where we want to ride, for how many days, for how long each day, whether we ride solo, with friends, and/or with a pillion, camp or stay at hotels, etc.

By way of example, let me walk you through my thinking when I was planning my April 2015 Tour to New Mexico and Arizona earlier this year.

Besides the general area, I research fun and scenic roads on forums, sites like Butler Motorcycle Maps in hardcopy or in electronic form (subscription required),, Google Earth and Google Maps (satellite imagery), or by just asking fellow riders who either live in the area or have ridden in the area. This way, I typically compile a list of prospect roads to include in my route for the ride. Note that this is an iterative process: I will add, remove, and modify my prospect list frequently…

Once I have a good list of prospects, I look for my “starting point.” For some rides, the “starting point” will be my home, and ‘getting there’ is and integral part of the tour; for some, like in this case, I consider the ‘getting there’ part just a means to an end; the really fun part of the ride will start from the “starting point.”

For my April tour, from home to the starting point I choose the quickest route, interstates and major highways. For some rides, I will trailer the bike to the starting point, instead of putting “dead miles” on it. In this particular case, I chose ‘Truth of Consequences’ in New Mexico as my starting point.

I use a Macintosh laptop as my primary computer, so my choices of mapping software are a little more restricted than Windows users’. My primary routing tool is Garmin Basecamp, although I also use Google Maps on occasion. The advantage of using Basecamp is of course that I can transfer my routes directly to my GPS device (a BMW Navigator V at this time.)

Windows users have the option of using Garmin MapSource in addition to Basecamp. Since I do not have access to a Windows environment at this time, I cannot provide guidance as to how to create routes with this tool. Maybe in the future, I will have an opportunity to install Windows and create a routing tutorial using that program.

At the end of the day, though, I believe that the tool we use to create the routes is secondary to the process of creating the route. Since “showing” is easier than describing, here is a short screen capture video showing how I create my routes in Basecamp. I apologize for sounding a bit ‘raspy’ and coughing occasionally, but I caught a cold and have a hard time ‘kicking it’…

Let's assume we have now planned our next tour in this way. This one will take me through Nebraska and South Dakota to Wyoming and Montana, then down to Utah and Colorado, before returning back home to Iowa.

Day One: Home to Chadron, NE. Nothing earth shattering here, but I will start the tour out by cruising through the Loess Hills of W. Iowa.

Day Two: Chadron, NE to Sheridan, WY. Starting out via the Black Hills of W. South Dakota, then on to Sheridan.

Day Three: Sheridan, WY to Jackson Hole, WY. Chose fun roads using the Butler Motorcycle Maps Online and specifically wanted to ride Beartooth and Chied Joseph highways. Hopefully Yellowstone won’t be too congested…

Day Four: Jackson Hole, WY to Cedar City, UT. Just a straight shot down…

Day Five: Cedar City, UT to Durango, CO. I love Utah! And I have all the great roads part of this route.

Day Six: Durango, CO to Leadville, CO. My staples riding Colorado. Million Dollar Highway (550; red Mountain Pass), 92, 133, 82 (through Aspen and Independence Pass).

Day 7: Leadville, CO to Golden, CO (West). This one may be a bit too ambitious; lots of shortening opportunities, though, so we’ll see. Off via 91, then up via 32 and down again via 7, 72, and 119 to 103 and then up 5 (Mount Evans, weather and time permitting).

Day 8: Golden, CO back home. Slabbing it for this one.

4. Weather

After creating the routes, one of the most critical external factors affecting a motorcycle trip is the weather.

Some trips are organized by others (e.g. motorcycle rally) and we have no control over the timing, so we have to “live” with the weather we get. Other trips are ours to plan and organize, so we have control over at least the timing, allowing us at least to try to time the tour for the best weather probability possible.

I typically will start my final tour planning by looking at the almanac/climate data (or historic weather record) of the places I want to ride through. Let’s look at my Summer 2015 trip I have just finished planning: My route will take me via Chadron, NE through the Black Hills to Sheridan, WY, then via Beartooth and Chief Joseph to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole.

Looking at Chadron, I see that the average high/low/precipitation in June, July, August is 81F/53F/2.63″, 89F/60F/2.13″, 88F/58F/1.65″, respectively. Besides these averages, I can also check the historic data by year and month for a specific day, if I so choose (second tab, “History”). I note these averages and then check the next major area/location where I think weather might be a critical factor – in this case Beartooth (212) and Chief Joseph (296) highways.

Looking at the area map, I see that the closest larger towns around there are Red Lodge, MT, Cooke City, MT and Cody, WY. Analyzing the climate data for these, I can determine the averages for those locations (June, July, and August) and note them as well (they are all available by searching the US Climate Data web site…)

Disregarding other obligations, let’s assume my choice for the timing of this tour is limited to June, July, or August – with equal preference (typically there would be other factors favoring certain times, of course.) Comparing the climate data for the various places I will ride through, it looks like the most amount of precipitation (on average) will be in June, with July and August materially less wet. Considering the fact that this tour will also take me well above 10,000 feet through the mountains (both in WY/MT, as well as in CO), I decide to target mid to late August for this tour.

Once the general timing has been decided, I will make reservations at the hotels I plan to stay at. About 25-30 days before my planned departure date, I will start looking at the large-scale weather patterns across the US in general, as well as the area I plan to ride. I use aviation weather prognostic charts for this, using the Aviation Weather Charts web site. The surface analysis charts in particular are very helpful, since they can be pulled up from 12h prognosis to 8 days prognosis.

As the departure day of our tour nears, we take a look at the overall weather patterns and picture across the country, and check the local forecasts for key locations on our route – typically next day and following day – to get a general understanding of what to expect, weather-wise, while on tour.

On the 36h prognostic chart, we see that the rain is all well South of our planned tour route: Looks like showers from New Mexico via Texas, all the way up to New York, and some rain from Indiana into New England and down into Virginia. The remaining prognostic charts continue to paint a picture of (mostly) “clear skies” for the trip route. The convective charts show the same picture as well, with nothing severe predicted for where we’ll be riding, but the occasional possible thunderstorm or -shower. Checking the local weather forecasts for the same locations as yesterday (Chadron, Spearfish, Gillette, Sheridan, Red Lodge, Cody, and Jackson) confirms this – I leave this to the reader to confirm :)…

Good to go!

We also get ourselves and our motorbike ready for the trip – eating healthy and getting a good night’s sleep before the start of the ride, and using TCLOCS. Using a checklist helps make sure we don’t forget anything important!

I like to travel light, using modern fabrics that I can wash in the hotel room sink in the evening, if needed, and then put back on the next morning. My choice of first layer is Under Armour HeatGear and ColdGear. For a summer tour like this, I typically take HeatGear “Fitted Shorts” for each day, and then use HeatGear “long johns” and t-shirts. For a 9-day tour, I typically take 3 or 4 of each, since I can easily clean them, if I need to. Considering that I will ride above 10,000 feet, I also take a fleece sweater I can wear over the HeatGear as a middle layer. I ‘top’ it off with my Rukka Airman jacket and AirVision pants, both sporting a Goretex liner (for more detail, see my review of this suit…)

I make sure I have fresh batteries in all the devices that need them (e.g. my SPoT tracker), and pack all the charging cables and other accessories I need for the various electronic devices I plan on taking (camera, BMW Communication System, etc.) In a pinch, batteries are usually available from gas stations, or a Walmart or Walgreens…

I also take the Basecamp routes and transfer them to the GPS device. In doing so, after loading them, I will check each day’s route and compare the map picture on the GPS to the picture I see in Basecamp, and make sure the total mileage displays between Basecamp and the GPS device are ‘in the ballpark’ (i.e. within 2-5 miles.)

After all this is complete, I use the “Road Trip Planner” on Weather Underground’s WunderMap to get an indication of the weather along my day’s route. Note that, just like in Basecamp or Google Maps, let the site calculate a route for you (after you set the departure, including departure time, and destination), then drag the route to match your actually planned route. The site will provide the forecasts for your estimated arrival time at selected spots along your route (zoom in for more granular forecasts, if needed,) giving you a good indication of what actually to expect when you ride it.

Clicking on a weather icon along the route will open a pop-up with more detail on the weather forecast at that location.


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