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The Grand Motorcycle Tour: Preparing for a couple months on the road

Bill Stermer
November 17, 2009
Filed under Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel, Touring and Rallies

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(This article was published in the August 2006 issue of American Rider.)

As we get older we think of retiring, of taking it easy, of finally enjoying the fruits of our labors. Or, in these economic times, perhaps we’ve been laid off and want to take a few months (with part of our nest egg) and see the country. Or maybe it’s just time to go get on the road. I’ve personally given some thought to the idea of taking a couple months for a Grand Tour of the United States and Canada, and since I’ve written books on motorcycle touring (now out of print), I’d like to offer some strategies for planning such a tour.

First of all, each person’s needs and wants will be different, so please consider this article as simply an example, an approach to planning such a tour, with a sample packing list attached. Your trip will be different. By Grand Tour I mean an uninterrupted motorcycle trip of several months that covers thousands of miles. Let’s assume that our rider lives in the United States and wants to take two to three months to cover the U.S., Canada, and possibly Mexico.

Weather factors:
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment and don’t mind riding on slick roads, your trip will be dependent on the prevailing weather patterns. While obviously the weather varies day to day and year to year, I would not plan to start your Grand Tour into the northern states or Canada until at least May. Likewise, consider Mexico for the spring to early summer; avoid the heat there in July and August.

Time and mileage considerations:
How far you can ride in a day is a personal consideration. In my younger days when I had to get somewhere fast I considered several consecutive 500-mile days as acceptable, and once did a grueling 700-mile day. By design, our Grand Tour will be a leisurely affair, with no days over 300 miles unless we really have to be somewhere. We’ll shoot for a daily average travel mileage (when not staying in an area to visit) of 200-250 miles. Remember, if you’re riding the highway and averaging 50 mph, that’s only four to five hours per day on the road.

Okay, let’s do a little figuring. Let’s say I want to leave in late May and ride from my home in Southern California up into Victoria, British Columbia, across to Jasper and Banff National Parks, down into the U.S. to visit Glacier National Park, across Montana and Wyoming then over to my birth state of Michigan. There I’ll visit my sister and old friends awhile, then on to Virginia to visit a buddy, back across to Colorado to see my cousin, followed by some leisurely mountain riding. I would return home across Idaho and Oregon in early August to avoid the summer desert heat, and ride home along the coast. The trip would consume approximately eight to 10 weeks. Now, is this practical?

By checking a road atlas, I note the following straight-line mileages. I have rounded them up to the nearest 50 miles for neatness’ sake:
Los Angeles/Vancouver .2,400
Vancouver/Detroit 2,500
Detroit/Norfolk 750
Norfolk/Denver 1,800
Denver/Portland 1,250
Portland/Los Angeles 1,000
Total 9,700 miles

Because my route will be meandering and not by the shortest, straightest line, I’ll add another 15 percent to my mileage figure and call it an even 11,000 miles. Is this practical within two months? Divide 11,000 miles by 200 miles per day average, and come up with 55 days. Eight weeks is 56 days, which is right on the money. To allow time for visiting, I’m going to need to add two to three weeks. Or, I can up my daily mileage to 250, which will drop my travel time from 55 to 44 days. Always plan to use more rather than less money, time, and miles.

Route planning based on rallies and events, friends and points of interest:
Here’s where things get tricky. The above circuit is based on a lazy, no-schedule approach to touring. However, what if you want to take in Laconia, Sturgis, a HOG club rally or the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days on your ride? Generally, your friends and family will be willing to accommodate you and your schedule, but rallies and such events wait for no man—or woman. Introducing a hard schedule into your trip invites problems if you want an easy-going, laid-back pace. To avoid disappointment, I suggest making reservations and planning your schedule to put yourself within striking distance of the rally a day or two early.

Money considerations:
What will your tour cost? Your basic daily expenses are food, fuel and lodging, with occasional mechanical expenses for tires, oil changes and tune-ups. Depending on your food requirements, whether you’re traveling solo or two-up, and whether you’ll primarily eat in restaurants or cook in camp, here are some considerations. A solo rider eating basic meals in restaurants can probably get away with spending $5-10 for breakfast, $10-15 for lunch and $10-20 for dinner, for a range of $25 to $45 per day. Let’s figure an average of $35 per day per person.

Depending on your bike and riding style, 40-50 miles per gallon should be a reasonable estimate while on tour. An 11,000-mile tour would require about 220 to 275 gallons of fuel. Multiply that figure by the average cost of fuel you expect on your trip.

Lodging is the big killer, and unless you camp it will likely be your largest expense of the trip. Figure that amount based upon your lodging preference, but if you stay with friends and family that will somewhat lessen the blow.

Solo vs. two-up:
When I was considering marriage years ago, I was told, “Two can live as cheaply as one.” To a certain extent, that’s true on tour. While taking a passenger may double your food budget, it will have much less of an effect upon your fuel, lodging and maintenance expenses. Two can ride nearly as cheaply as one.

Packing for the Tour:
Here’s a general packing list I have used for years. Tailor it to your specific needs. Have a great trip!

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