Motorcycle Travel By Chaptering
Chap·ter·ing (chap’-ter-ing) v. 1. To tour cross-country, intermittently, by motorcycle. 2. Completing a series of small road trips that, when combined, are a significant excursion. 3. Storing a motorcycle and gear at varied destinations then returning periodically for more adventure.
Touring by motorcycle is the perfect way to cover a lot of country and really experience it at the same time. Most motorcyclists only fantasize about epic road trips like crossing the U.S., riding from Alaska to South America, exploring all 50 states, or even completing a round-the-world expedition. So what keeps us from taking our own epic road trip? Two things mainly:
Your Life. Major tours can take weeks or months to complete. Who can afford both the time and money to take off like that?
Your Butt. Yep. Logging hundreds of miles and six or seven hours in the saddle, day after day, eventually gets old.
So how do we spend our precious vacation time and three-day weekends? Instead of going great distances to visit faraway lands, riders often limit their touring to smaller loops—starting and finishing in their own driveway. The result? After a few short years, they’ve seen every road, in every direction, within a 500-mile radius.
One solution is to travel to exotic places and sign up for guided tours. Another is to rent a motorcycle (about $130 per day) and take an extra day or two the next time your job takes you to a distant conference. We have enjoyed both of these strategies. But recently, we’ve discovered another way to tour. We call it Chaptering.
It’s pretty simple really. Ride as far as you want. Find a storage unit near the airport. Leave the bike and all your gear. Walk or take a taxi to the airport and fly home. Then as soon as you’re able, fly back and repeat.
We live in Northwest Washington and have been chaptering since 2009. We began by tramping up and down the West Coast. Then, in the fall of 2011, we launched what we expect will be a five-year expedition to circumnavigate the entire U.S.
Like many motorcyclists, we prefer not to over plan, often setting-out with just a change of clothes and a credit card. Chaptering is more successful, however, when you put a bit of thought into it. Here are a few factors to consider.
South for the winter—Living in the northern states, we find that working the bike south in the fall extends our riding season to year-round. Splitting our vacation time over the year allows for shorter trips and also creates opportunities to visit different parts of the country during the best season for that region.
Cheap airlines and their hubs—All travelers know their home airport and the airlines that fly there. Studying where these airlines’ hub cities are, and the best time of the year (i.e. cheapest) to fly to those hubs, can help with planning when and where your next chapter will take you.
Great roads—There are three factors that make up a great motorcycle road: the roadway, scenery and amenities. It also helps if the road takes you in the general direction you are heading. There are many websites that compile and rank motorcycle roads; the one we use most is Motorcycle Roads (motorcycleroads.com). It’s also helpful to use the general mapping software on your favorite web browser (just remember to check the “avoid highways” box). And of course, the way to find the very best roads is to ask locals or fellow riders along the way.
Our personal book of two-wheeled adventure remains unfinished, with only seven chapters that began in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2009 (see map). Right now, the bike is patiently waiting for us in New Orleans, Louisiana. We’ll ride several more chapters through the southern states and up the eastern seaboard before returning home via the Great Lakes and our country’s northern states. But the ending has yet to be written. Who knows? A plot twist could easily find our bike in the lonely hold of a freighter making its way across the Atlantic.
How to Travel
Knowing how many days we have to get to the drop-off city and how long we prefer to spend in the saddle each day, along the way we will choose to speed through some regions and spend more time exploring others. This practice has led to another concept we call Looping.
When we reach a destination that is rich in culture, scenery and great roads, Looping lets us explore the area in depth. We just find a spot to call home for a night or three and spend a couple days riding loops from there. With a “home base” identified, we can leave our gear there and have even more time to ride and explore. Find a good spot near a hub airport, and you can spend an entire trip Looping, then ride to the next storage spot late in the trip.
Weather—We have also had to adjust for delays due to severe weather (at least severe enough to require another day in Hot Springs, Arkansas). We build in extra time to allow for the unexpected so we won’t feel pressured to ride in unsafe conditions or when we’re exhausted.
Roadside assistance—Twice now, we’ve had our bacon saved by the roadside assistance service we use. Knowing someone will be there for us when we need help gives us the confidence to head out on those long, lonely runs on remote byways.
Campgrounds—For those tougher, more adventurous riders, this is a great option. Campgrounds are usually in beautiful spots and on roads that riders like to explore…a bit off the beaten path. Camping out does require more gear, but once it’s on the bike, it can be stored between chapters. Some additional planning is needed during peak travel months, as popular parks and campgrounds may have to be booked far in advance to ensure a spot.
Roadside motels—Because we never know how long we are going to want to spend on the bike each day, this is our preferred option and one we use most often. Every small backroad township or community will have a small motel that you may not even find with an Internet search.
KOA cabins—Many motorcyclists have discovered this great resource. Most KOA campgrounds have several cabin options. We usually elect to stay in the more primitive units and have found these to be clean, easy and inexpensive (about $55/night).
Storing the Bike
Self-storage—Our bike and all of our gear fit nicely in a 5×10 locker. Rent for these is about $40-80 per month, often with incentives like “first month free.” It’s a good idea to disconnect the battery for storage. And virtually all self-storage places require that you drain the fuel from the tank. We pack a cheap hand pump with us for this purpose.
Bike shop—We happened upon another storage option when the bike developed a small oil leak while riding through the Badlands in South Dakota. While the leak did not keep us from continuing our current chapter, we made a service appointment in our destination city, St. Louis. While chatting with a mechanic at this motorcycle dealership/service shop in St. Louis, he said they could store the bike for us after they changed out the seal. A perfect solution! We had some routine maintenance done as well, and left the bike in their care until we could return.
What to Leave
Storing our personal things with the bike really helps us to pack light on the plane. We leave our helmets, riding apparel, gloves and rain gear. We also leave maps, water bottles, a set of tools and more. And finally, right before slamming the rolling door closed, we lay everything out on the floor and take a couple pictures to help us remember all the things we left behind.
The question every motorcyclist asks when they learn about Chaptering is…what do you do between trips, back home, without your motorcycle? This is a great question with an equally great answer: You need to have a second bike, of course!
(This article Chaptering was published in the September 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)