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Cross-Canada Tour - Planning for a Motorcycle Road Trip
The biker's bible! I read this from cover to cover several times. The best book on becoming and staying a safe rider. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, and definitely well worth the money to anyone planning an extended cruise.
New 2012 edition of this second great book by David Hough. Another great read for motorcyclists everywhere. Equivalent to many years of road experience! Stuff I picked up from both these books has saved my butt several times.
Planning a Road Trip
Planning an extended motorcycle trip should take some time. For me, a person who had never owned a motorcycle in their life, it took about a year to plan my first trip across Canada and back through the states. During the winter, I read many books on the excitement of heading for the horizon on two wheels as opposed to driving. People with thousands of kilometers under their belts wrote about the wind blowing through their hair (I'm not sure about this one since helmets are mandatory in most states and provinces!, the fun of meeting many more folks when on a bike then when traveling in a more conventional vehicle and the smells of the countryside being so much more "in your face."
As a rookie biker that didn't even yet have a license, the first thing I did was to enroll in a beginner motorcycle rider training course to prepare myself for the exam. It is common for new motorcyclists to learn from their friends but this is probably not the best way to learn about the most current information available. And many old dogs getting back into riding after a long hiatus often think they know it all and don’t really need to take a course. After taking one of the British Columbia Safety Council Motorcycle Training courses, I can safely say that that is the way to go. The Canada Safety Council provides both beginner and advanced courses in many locations across the country. I believe my training saved me on at least a couple of occasions because of some of the instinctive responses that were drilled into me. With some quick surfing of the net, it is easy to find a similar program in many other parts of the world.
Even for experienced bikers, a refresher course is a good investment before a lengthy road trip, especially if you have never had any training. You learn a lot of skills that you might not normally think about. Many of the old-timers in our course had several myths shattered during the motorcycle rider training program.
Once I had some training under my belt, it was time to look for a bike. After doing my research and trying out a few at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show, I finally decided on a Kawasaki Nomad 1500. I found a used one and had it towed to my home until I was actually able to ride it! It was in my price range and was also a bike that enabled me to put both my feet down while sitting; this is something that almost everyone said was important, especially for a rookie.
In hindsight, I think it was a good choice. When going on any long cruise it is important that the seat is comfortable and wide enough for good support. The used bike already had a custom Mustang seat and back rest, which satisfied these requirements. The Nomad also had two large hard saddlebags that could hold our stuff along with a couple of pegs up front that gave me the ability to stretch out my legs whenever I felt the need We invested in a couple of custom-fitted removable bags for the hard saddlebags so our luggage could easily be removed at the end of the day. These were not a lot of extras but certainly important ones for cruising.
So for those of you out there who have never ridden or who just started at a ripe old age like myself, it is possible. I had no problem getting used to the big bike but it did take time. I also had lots of local biker friends who helped me out with lots of timely advice along the way. And a girlfriend who was an experienced passenger with lots of patience. She became a little tired of going through my back at every stop sign and light for the first month or so. The idea of smooth braking took awhile but it did happen eventually.
The sky's the limit for what you can spend on clothing. Again it is a toss-up of safety vs. comfort vs. price. We soon found that the world of bikers is divided into two groups; the leathers and the synthetics. We fit into the former because 1) we both felt safer with a layer of cowhide between us and the road, and 2) we just plain loved leather. I ended up with a Joe Rocket vented leather jacket and my passenger got into the fringed leather. We also planned on wearing chaps for most of the trip.
Draggin' Jeans are a great company that supplies super-protcetive Kevlar shirts and jeans along with many other products for riding. I figured if it is used for bulletproof vests, it must also offer pretty good protection in a shirt. We brought along a couple of the shirts but left the jeans at home. We didn't have a lot of space and jeans just take up too much room. I opted for a couple of cheap pairs of light, zip-off pants that could easily be converted to shorts. Other than that I brought a couple of long sleeve shirts and a few T’s. And socks and underwear of course.
We knew if we weren't wearing the jackets and chaps, they would have to be stored on top of our other luggage somehow. When we did get to the baking hot weather in the south, we actually did bungee them behind Nancy and only wore out Kevlar shirts. It got them out of our way and provided more support for her back. This brings me to the next tip; bring along a few extra bungee cords!
Our camping equipment consisted of an old four person tent, lightweight sleeping bags and self-inflating air mattresses and pillows. The sleeping stuff went into a dry bag with room to spare. Finally, we packed cooking gear, pots and pans, a one-burner stove, thin, ultra-absorbent towels, and a little non-perishable food in a suitcase covered with a garbage bag. Bad idea as we found out later since it decided to rain for most of our trip across the country. We attached the small propane tank for the stove to the middle of the handlebars. And that was about it. No GPS system, no extra parts or spare lightbulbs, not even a tool kit. We were rookies and proud of it! And we were off on a 12,000 kilometer journey.
From the reading I have done and riders we have come across during our travels, it seems that many bikers take way more stuff for sometimes much shorter trips. We actually ran across people who had huge, complete tool kits strapped to their bikes. And many others were pulling trailers loaded to the hilt. “To each their own”, but we have always preferred to travel as lightly as possible. We have enjoyed many great road trips since that first one and have pretty much taken the same amount each time. Even now, when we take off on a five week holiday without the motorcycle, we rarely have more than a couple of very small bags.
Looking back at this trip, two things that would have been nice to have that we didn't were a GPS and a sound system. The GPS would have come in handy to help in navigating through cities and back country roads. The two-way sound system would have prevented a lot of yelling and misunderstanding, as well as a source of background music!
(to be continued)