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The lure and romance of long-distance motorcycling are irresistible. The sense of fulfilment derived from the experience of seeing new places, meeting new people and making memories for a lifetime is something that has forever enticed travellers to leave the confines of their daily life and venture out… That, in addition to the feeling of freedom and the sense of adventure when riding the open road, is inherent to those long motorcycle rides.
Text: Sandeep Goswami (Old Fox)
Rule 0: While riding, always wear a helmet… Always!
Long-distance motorcycling comprises of two distinct entities. ‘Long-distance’ and ‘motorcycling’. Motorcycling is pretty absolute and anyone who rides a motorcycle is a motorcyclist by definition. But ‘Long Distance’ is hugely relative. To some, a 100 kms would be long-distance while to others even 800kms a day would be pretty-much usual. The perceived ‘long’ in this arises from quite a few elements, majorly being 1) mindset/attitude 2) prior experience of distance travel 3) state of one’s physical fitness 4) confidence about one’s riding skill levels 4) confidence in the reliability of one’s machine 6) availability of like-minded company etc, all not necessarily in that order.
Through the points detailed below, we shall put forth for you a repertoire of suggestions, advice, pointers towards essential skillsets for long distance motorcycling and ways and means of improving the skills you already carry, to a high potential. The idea is to make your long-distance rides a safe and pleasurable experience. Come…..share the high road with xBhp and Castrol POWER1.
1. Don’t get your bike serviced, fixed for a fault or add accessories “immediately” before the ride. Instead, get these things done a few days earlier so that you get to ride the bike around long enough for remaining or new faults to show up. A loose electrical connection, mounting bolt or spongy brakes will show up within a day or two of riding. Let it happen while you’re still home. To get your bike serviced by reliable & trained technicians, you can take your bike to a nearby Castrol Bike Point.
2. Pre-trip checks should include: 1) brake pads/shoes and brake oil 2) drive chain 3) oil (and coolant where applicable) 4) lights 5) battery 6) spark plug 7) control cables (throttle, clutch, choke and brake) 8) clutch 9) air filter 10) suspension components (front fork and rear damper) 11) tyres 12) general nuts and bolts 13) PUC validity 14) Insurance validity 15) Registration certificate.
3. Be aware of your own experience and limitations. Long-distance riding is as much about riding skills as about being able to physically endure the long hours on the saddle. Being fit helps in stretching your fatigue threshold. If you’ve not done more than 200 kms a day ever before, don’t plan a 1000 km round trip in 3 days. Give yourself time, space and opportunity to learn and get comfortable before pushing for those really long rides. Even nature respects progressive growth. Also, do not forget that the engine of your motorcycle is strained just as much during those long jaunts. It needs proper protection and care. Castrol POWER1 CRUISE does just that ensuring consistent performance over long distances.
4. Luggage is synonymous with travel and on motorcycles, it means panniers or saddlebags. Mount them properly or tie them firmly (or both) depending on what you have and most importantly, keep them as light as possible. It is important because too much weight so far from the centre of gravity of the bike gives it the kind of leverage you’d thoroughly dislike in a panic stop or with a rear-wheel slide. The weight behind will act like a pendulum and tend to swing the bike sideways when you least want it to. In a nutshell, carry only the essentials and carry them tight.
5. Protect yourself from the cold and dry wind. The best way of keeping the cold wind from robbing you of your precious body heat is to dress in a combination of warm layers and wind-proofs. The layers give you two advantages; 1)Layers trap air between them and such dry air is the best thermal insulator (it’s trapped air that makes those wooly sweaters so warm). And 2) layers allow you to control your dress-up needs. If you feel hot, you can take a layer off. Wear one huge jacket and either you feel hot underneath or freeze without it.
6. Wear your rain suit before it starts raining. The view on the open road usually is wide enough for you to be able to see the certainty heading into rain ahead. Use the new GoreTex treated rain suits. They are rain repellent, don’t smell like rubber and allow the fabric to breathe, unlike the rubberized rain suits. There is one more thing which needs just as much, if not more, care as you when riding in the rain; the chain of your motorcycle. The mud and slush contribute to the build-up of gunk. We prefer the Castrol Chain Lube Racing to protect our motorcycles’ chains from the ill-effects of those kinds of riding conditions.
7. Be aware of your motorcycle’s fuel efficiency. During regular use of the bike, see how accurate or inaccurate the fuel gauge is. Keep a tab on the mileage, not just with the point of saving money but also to be aware of how far you can get on a tank full. Also, make it a habit to keep your motorcycle well maintained. Change the engine oil at regular intervals. A good quality engine oil of the right grade, like the ones from the Castrol POWER1 range, can significantly improve the mileage of a motorcycle.
8. Keep time, speed and distance in perspective. This is about avoiding unnecessary speeding in the guise of covering distance quickly. A 10 kph difference in average speed over 8 hours gets you there early by half an hour or so. This, in simple terms, means that doing 100 kph instead of 80 kph will get you quicker to your destination 400 kms away by 30 mins. Think of the associated strain on both you and the bike along with the higher risk at higher speeds is worth it.
9. Avoid stuffing yourself with food during the ride. Overeating will make you sluggish, sleepy (the digestion takes the lion’s share of the body’s blood circulation and while riding you can’t just afford that) and sitting crouched on a sporty bike becomes rather uncomfortable with an over-filled stomach.
10. Ride on your side of the road when you ride the twisties. Keeping to your side gives you lots of margin for safety and others, lots of margins for errors. People can do irresponsible things like overtaking on blind curves and your safety here is in direct proportion to the amount of road you leave with them to lay their recklessness on.
11. Tubeless tyres are your best bet on a long trip. They are getting more and more popular these day and all for good reasons. They rarely if ever deflate suddenly, are easy to fix in the field and can be run with puncturing debris stuck in the treads by periodically topping up the tyre pressure. Even then, do carry a tubeless tyre repair kit along with a means of inflating the tyre with you and fix the puncture when it happens.
12. If your bike is shod with tubed tyres, always carry a spare tube even if you have puncture patches. Before hitting the road, check the expiry of those puncture patches and adhesive. In case of sudden deflation of a tyre while riding at speed, never brake the punctured wheel. The tyre will jump the rim and you get thrown off the bike.
13. As a ritual, check engine oil, brakes, control cables, chain tension and lights each day before starting. Engine oil level can easily be overlooked during a long trip and if ignored, it can spell disaster for your motorcycle. Apart from its usual job, engine oil also helps the engine with heat management which is paramount during those long jaunts. We have done our fair share of long rides and our choice, Castrol POWER1, has always made sure that the engines of our motorcycles were being properly pampered while we focussed on the road ahead.
14. Crosswinds are a very real threat. When riding in a strong crosswind, crouch to make yourself as small a target for the wind as possible. Tuck in your arms, narrow your shoulders, bend your back, slide back on the seat to get your head close to the tank and grab the tank with your knees. In short, shrink. And turn into putty. Relax your body and retain a firm yet the resilient relationship with the bike. Let your body move a bit with every gust and absorb its energy on its own without shaking up the bike. And watch for sudden changes in the wind force due to static (trees, houses) and moving (cars, trucks, buses) windbreaks. They stop the wind as you pass them and it comes back in force suddenly when you are past them.
15. Puddles are fun only when you stay upright! When riding through deep water that submerges the exhaust pipe, keep the bike in first gear and those RPM’s up. If the engine stops, water will enter the tailpipe and maybe enter the engine. Do not attempt to re-start the engine as the water inside can severely damage it.
16. Always study the road surface. A change in surface conditions is as vital as a change either in traffic or weather. The road surface can change quite suddenly, going by the kind of road maintenance done on our roads. For example, excess tar in the tarmac mix precipitates to the surface during hot weather, goes gooey and can be very slippery even when slightly wet.
17. Descend on a positive throttle. Downshift and coast downhill on trailing throttle on the straights, using engine braking to control speed. Keep that entry speed into turns low so that you get through them on a positive throttle. Trailing throttle on a downhill corner puts a disconcertingly high load on the front tyre and can lead to a slide. DO NOT COAST DOWNHILL WITH THE BIKE IN NEUTRAL AND ENGINE SWITCHED OFF.
18. Slush will be an important part of your on-road adventures when you ride long distance in India. Broken roads in rains, remnants of landslides in mountains, absent roads at places or just a leftover from severe waterlogging in the past. Slush is slippery and slimy, not too good for balance on a bike. For tackling slush, look for a path used by heavy vehicles. Get down into first gear, use a partial clutch to control wheel-spin/wheel jamming, stick those feet out like out-riggers and ride slowly through the patch.
19. Riding in the snow; almost similar to riding in slush but with even less friction/traction from the wheels. Really deep snow requires special ‘metal-studded’ tyres. A few inches deep can be negotiated with any tyres when mixed with tons of patience. The tyre does tend to dig into the soft snow and gets you some semblance of grip. A smaller contact patch will put greater weight per unit area and garner better grip. Riding on ice, on the other hand, is mostly about faith and prayer. Just keep the bike upright, handlebar straight, feet spread out, throttle inputs zero, brakes forgotten and roll through the area with a prayer on your lips. Seriously!
20. Riding in the sand can be a tricky affair. Drop tyre pressures by up to 40% (the idea here is to improve tyre floatation i.e. its ability to ride on top of the sand through increasing the contact patch), keep the bike in low gears and steer straight. In sand, always remember that the wheels have a tendency to dig in, so when coming to a halt, do so gently or the sand piles up ahead of the front wheel making the subsequent pick-up difficult. Predictably enough, all of this puts a lot of stress on the engine and even more so during summers. Make sure that the engine oil that you use is fit to fight through all of that revving and the subsequent heat while still retaining its viscosity to reduce the friction and therefore, the wear and tear. The right grade engine oil from the Castrol POWER1 range can work wonders in keeping your motorcycle running smoothly and elongating the engine life.
21. A pillion brings about a lot of changes in the rules of riding. Define the speed and distance between breaks by what the pillion is comfortable with rather than by your own needs. Braking performance is degraded when carrying a passenger, mainly because the added weight lengthens the stopping distance. Same with cornering. The extra weight takes up suspension travel and makes the bike less responsive to steering inputs. So take it easy when tow-up and extend those safety margins.
22. Make sure that your tyres should have a minimum of 3mm tread left on them. Even though our law enforcement agencies do not check for worn-out tyres, it is imperative in the interest of safety to have tyres in an acceptable condition. 3mm should be the limit because you don’t expect to change the tyre en route and a 2000-3000km round trip with fast tarmac travel can use up the middle tread of a tyre pretty quickly. By the time you get back, the tyre will be close to replacement limits.
23. Accelerate briskly through the gears to build up inertia and speed. The cumulative effect of sluggish acceleration, esp. each time you brake and then speed up for overtaking, becomes substantial at the end of a long day on the road. This is where big bikes make travel quicker. They accelerate from slow to cruising in a fraction of the time our regular bikes take. Even more so if fed with Castrol POWER1 RACING as it ensures crisp and precise throttle response and #UltimateAcceleration. Imagine saving this time over hundreds of instances during a typical day. You end up saving time without even attempting to speed up.
24. Riding a superbike long-distance: Know your bike’s range and fill ‘er up before you reach the grey area of the estimated range. Most litre-class superbikes don’t go much beyond 200 kms on a full tank. Start looking for a fuel bunk at around 175 kms. You’ll at least need premium fuel so might have to miss out a couple of pumps before you get the fuel you want.
25. Group riding is more fun… and more complex! When riding in a group, ensure that the group has riders of roughly similar skill levels. And define group etiquette in the sense that the slowest and least skilled rider’s comfort level shall define the group’s speed and riding schedule. Group travel needs more planning, lots of co-ordination and is eventually somewhat more time consuming on the road than solo travel. Don’t ride in groups larger than 5-6 riders. If more than that number are travelling, split them into separate groups, each with its own leader and sweeper.
Finally, Be curious enough to learn about the nuances and complexities of long-distance travel on motorcycles. Use the internet to the fullest. Become active members of on-line clubs and interact on forums like xbhp.com where you can learn an immense amount just by following inputs of experienced riders. Long-distance riding is a wonderful sport, a great de-stressor and a wonderful means of self-fulfilment. Go ride the open road….the horizon awaits your touch! Ride long and safe.