There are few things more exciting in life than checking something off your bucket list. One of the big ones on my list was to take a long destination ride on my bike through the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina and Tennessee.
I had done a few day trips here and there, which totaled a couple hundred miles, but this would be my longest journey yet at 700-miles just one way. I had to make sure I was sufficiently prepared, and if you’re heading on a long trip yourself sometime soon, here are some good guidelines to get you started:
Make sure your bike is ride-ready. This isn’t a ride around the block where you’ll be able to push your bike back home if something goes wrong. First and foremost, you need to do a full inspection of your bike, from top to bottom. Re-check the torque specs of all the critical bolts and nuts. Are your tires in good shape? Are you due for an oil change? Are you due for a maintenance inspection? Do all your lights and indicators work properly? Its imperative you get all those things done before you go on your ride, not after.
Do you have the right gear for the ride? Sure, most people might have the jacket, helmet and gloves, but there’s way more to gear than just that. You need to think about the temperatures and climate you’re going to be riding in. I was leaving very early in the morning for my ride, and the temperature was in the 50’s. It was also the beginning of June, and by the middle of the day, it would be somewhere in the 80’s. I not only wore weather resistant riding pants that had good ventilation, but I wore thermal underwear as well, and in addition to my jacket, I wore a fleece mid layer and a wicking breathable base layer. The key is layering up properly with the ability to remove whatever you don’t need. I also brought a couple different pairs of gloves with me so I could change them out during the day as it got warmer. Big Tip: When you pack any of your gear that you might be switching out during your ride, make sure you pack it at the top so it’s the easiest to get out.
Create a plan if riding with others. On our ride, there were a total of 4 people riding together. This is much more challenging than just riding by yourself somewhere. You need to consider many different things, the majority of which are stops. You have fueling stops, restroom stops, and stretching stops. If everyone you ride with has the same bike, you will probably be on the same fueling schedule. However, this is almost never the case, and some people need to stop for gas sooner than others. Make sure you plot on the map, based on assumed mileage of the smaller tanks, where the gas stations will be along the way. The people with bigger tanks can just top their tanks off as they stop for the others. You might be riding with some people who have smaller bladders or people who have fatiguing joints that might also need to stop more often. Obviously, when you stop for gas, you can also stretch and use the rest room. However, the average bike can last at least 2-3 hours of riding before needing to fill up. That’s a long time to be seated in one position.
One of the most important parts of the ride is technology. When you are riding a with a group, no matter how short or long the ride, communication is key. Having communicators on the helmets to talk to each other is probably one of the greatest assets you could have. Instead of flashing your lights or waving your arms to get one of the other riders’ attention, all you have to do is talk. You can let the group know if you need to stop for any of the reasons mentioned above. Or, you can just talk to have a conversation. Riding 700 miles is a daunting task in itself, but its also quite boring when the road is straight, and you are humming your favorite song to yourself. What’s nice about communication devices is that you can switch from talking to your buddies, to listening to music, or hearing directions from the maps you have set up on your phone or GPS unit. Before you go on your ride, make sure all your electronics are fully charged up. Also, don’t forget any of your charging cables that go with your devices so you can keep them charged when you get to your destination.
Plan, plan and plan. Plan for everything and nothing. Pack a first aid kit in case there’s an emergency on the road. Pack a tool kit if you need maintenance on the road. Call the hotel, motel, or Airbnb that you’re staying at to confirm your reservation and make another reservation as backup. The last thing you want to do is show up at your destination tired and dirty with nowhere to stay. It’s not like you have a car where you can sleep in the back seat if necessary. Take an actual map in case your technology fails. Pack extra money in a couple places in case you lose your wallet. Give your travel itinerary to friends or family so they know to check in from time to time and make sure you are on the same schedule you planned out. But mostly, plan to have the best time of your life!
I had an amazing time on my trip to the “Tail.” There were ups and downs, accidents, and mother nature doing her worst. There were aches, pains, but still tons of smiles. I took some of the most amazing pictures when I was there, and the actual “Tail of the Dragon” was exactly as described. I had the perfect experience because I prepared for the trip by following the steps laid out in this article. If this is also on your bucket list, I highly recommend checking it off as soon as you have the opportunity.
Alexander Demsky is a motorcycle enthusiast and Category Director at MOTORCYCLEiD.com, an online retailer offering the greatest selection of motorcycle gear, parts and accessories.