3 Real Safe Riding Tips for a Long Ride from Fellow Bikers

Posted by Lisa DiFalco on

Sarah Snake

Sarah Williamson takes a 270 degree turn on her 2008 Harley Davidson FXCWC, or Rocker C, at 'Edwards Corner', a section of 'The Snake' portion of Mulholland Hwy in Los Angeles County.


Now is the time for taking that long ride to Washington, D.C, Sturgis, S.D. and other rallies across the country. While some may say that there is little difference between planning a long distance ride and going for a shorter run, riders believe differently. We sent an invitation out to Harley riders asking what tips they follow and would suggest for fellow bikers going on a long trip.

Give Your Ride Some Loving Care

Women are becoming a larger segment of Harley-Davidson owners in recent years. We were blessed to have Sarah Williamson, a biking enthusiast with over 40 years of riding under her belt, share her experiences when it comes to bike maintenance and setting yourself up for a comfortable ride. She explained:

“It really comes down to where the rubber meets the road. I prefer to start the trip with fresh tires. The first priority is to make sure you get good traction in all conditions. I don't go cheap on tires. I buy the best tires I can for my bike. It's not worth saving $100 if I go down due to loss of contact with the road. I will put the new tires on my bike a couple of weeks before the trip so I can break them in a little.

‘Get all of your maintenance done before the trip. Change all of the necessary fluids. Is everything tight? Do a ‘once over’ and check all nuts and bolts. Check electrical connections. What are the most common parts known to fail on your bike? This is particularly important when riding older bikes. About ten years ago I rode a 25 year old bike from coast to coast and back again. After researching the bike, I had a small box of spare parts, mostly electronic, and sure enough, my bike broke down 3 or 4 times during the trip and I had the spare part handy. I was also fortunate to be riding with a mechanic.

‘Comfort is key. The seat might be adequate for day rides, but when you are on the bike 10 to 20 days in a row it can become your nemesis. Add some extra comfort and you will not regret it. Changing your feet position is very helpful in warding off cramps, fatigue, etc. My bike had a crash bar so I put highway pegs on the inside as well as outside of the bar. I also put foam on top of the highway bar so I could stretch out. Even the passenger bars get used on a long trip. I use a tank bag with a clear weather proof pouch for my route instructions or map. Even a cell phone with GPS can go in the pouch and stay safe and dry. Inside the tank bag will be sun screen, snacks, wallet, etc. I found that red vines can be eaten even with a full face helmet. For the guys, don't ride with your wallet in your hip pocket. It will tweak your spine and give you discomfort over the long haul. I had a sissy bar on my bike and all of my clothing was in a duffle bag bungeed to the bar. I was able to lean back into it quite comfortably. It was like riding a Lazy Boy cross-country. A sleeping bag would also be good at that spot. Another bag bungeed to the back of the sissy bar and resting on the luggage rack contained all of my hard items.”

Do everything you can to ensure that both you and your bike can handle a long ride and give yourself the tools and resources necessary to make the most of the trip despite any situations that may arise. Plan for whatever may come down the road, including changing weather conditions, and know your bike and how she responds.

Avoid Giving In to Peer Pressure

This is not high school and riders should be aware of their own limits and put their own needs first. If you do not feel comfortable riding with the pack, hang back and go at your own pace. Scott Banks started riding 20 years ago and has worked on his own vehicles since he was “old enough to hold the wrenches.” Scott shared:

“[The] best advice I can give is to ride your own ride. Don’t let others dictate your speed, or allow them to pick a route that compromises your confidence level. [It’s] always better to arrive at the end of the pack, than to not arrive at all.

‘This applies whether riding solo, or in a group. Other drivers can easily crowd you and traffic conditions can cause you to do dumb things. Riding in a group, even more so, as the leader of the pack will tend to run at the skill level they possess, not always what the other riders are capable of.”

This is excellent advice for those relatively new to riding and keeping company with others during a long trip to a rally or special motorcycle event. Know what you are capable of and adjust to what your body needs rather than trying to keep pace with more experienced riders or by being urged on by traffic conditions when riding solo on a higher speed road.

Address Fatigue

Even riders with a number of long rides under their belt can testify to the need to properly deal with potential fatigue. James Leatherwood, a Harley rider who got his first bike and title in ’84, took his first long solo ride in ’87 and will be making his way from Key West to Coldfoot, Alaska this year to participate in Scott’s Ride to the Arctic Circle, benefiting at-risk youth at the Methodist Home, said:

“Decide before you set out what kind of ride you're doing. Getting home after vacation (5-600 miles in a day, or more - straight shot on the interstate) is a whole lot different than a leisurely week through the national parks. Want to do an Iron Butt/SaddleSore 1000? Hydrate the day before, eat light, and take enough time at each gas stop to pee, drink, and snack.

‘Probably the biggest thing is to prepare/train for it, just like you would for a 10k or marathon. If you've never spent more than a couple hours in the saddle, taking off for a high-speed multiday trip is probably going to leave you hating your bike.”

Avoiding fatigue means more than not becoming saddle sore and giving your body enough breaks and time to recuperate. Fatigue can also impact how easily and quickly you respond to issues on the road and with your bike. It is hard to stay alert and vigilant to road hazards when riding 3 or 4 hours and feeling ‘hypnotized’ by the road. Frequent breaks and taking time out to check over the condition of a bike helps to mentally shift gears a bit and renew energy levels before heading back out. In addition, some may choose to save money and sleep rough. A good night’s sleep and a hot shower can do much to restore mind and body. It is important to give your body the sleep it needs to be fully aware the following day. As for alternatives to motels, Sarah shared:

“If you are going to camp, locate the campgrounds ahead of time. Sure, you can be Billy BadAss and ‘rough it’ on the side of the road or a rustic site, but at the end of the day a hot shower goes a long way. I look for KOA's as they have everything you need and are coast to coast. I always plan at least a couple of motel nights just to have some relief with a good bed.”

Get the shut-eye you need to make the most out of every moment. Stop and look around. The United States is a big, beautiful country to enjoy. Take in the sights, sounds and tastes at big cities and small, rural communities. Kick back and absorb the wide-open expanse that lays before you as you ride through the heartland of America.

James Salt Flats

James Leatherwood stopping off at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah’s famed measured mile and site of World’s land-speed record runs.


Stay Safe on Every Ride

It can be the first time you are riding out. Don’t let it be your last. A few safe riding precautions can make the difference between making it to your destination or ending up on the side of the road. Before and during a long trip, stay on top of DTCs and maintenance issues. Diagnostica provides Harley owners with their own personal diagnostic tool to view diagnostic trouble codes and real-time system parameters anytime and anywhere. Contact a friendly associate at Diagnostica for more details on the world’s first personal diagnostic tool for Harleys today.


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Image Credits

Images: Sarah Williamson/James Leatherwood

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