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Long Distance Motorcycle Travel – How to Prevent Fatigue

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Question: When on a long distance, cross country ride, what are your strategy for sitting in the saddle for so long? How do you try to keep your butt and legs from getting too sore?

Answer:

When I am talking long distances, I am talking 600 or more miles a day. Often over 1,000 miles, day after day. If riding back roads, the miles would be less, but generally I am talking 14 or more hours in the saddle. My strategy for sitting in the saddle for so long is to just keep doing it for as long as I can, as often as I can. I suppose this is not exactly the answer you are looking for.

There are some things that I do, and a number of things that other riders do to make the days better and more fun. It is more than just what you do while riding. It is how your bike is set up and what you wear as well.

First, things that you can DO include moving around a lot. Change your seating position. Stretch your legs. Stretch your arms. Stand up on the pegs. Move your wrists and ankles to the limits slowly, turning and twisting. Stretch your calves. Stretch your neck. Work your fingers. Almost anything you do will help. I find that I am often more limber after long distance riding than on normal days because I have a lot of time to stretch. Use your imagination. Just make sure that what you do is done as safely as possible.

You also want to get the bike as comfortable as possible. This generally means better seats. There are a number or seat manufacturers available. The best ones will custom make a seat to fit your particular body shape and preferences. As I am too cheap to have gone this route, I will not make recommendations, although the Russell Day Long seat (www.day-long.com) is very popular among Long Distance Riders. Sometimes a sheepskin cover can do wonders. I sometimes use a Bead Rider (www.beadrider.com) seat cover, which is similar to the beaded seat covers popular with New York City cab drivers, but shaped to fit your bike. I find it allows better air flow under your butt, and changes the pressure points. It also prevents the rain from puddling up and seeping into seams in your riding suit. Some riders have made these from cheap Wally World car beaded seats. Some riders will hand shape the foam on their seats, or create their own seats.

Handlebar position is important as is the position of controls. Sometimes just the slightest change in angle can be the difference between comfort and numb hands. I had a device similar to what is called a wrist rest on one bike. This just gives you a place to rest the heal of your hand and keep the throttle in position. It worked well at it’s intended purpose. This just changed the position of my hand in the slightest. One finger was going numb. Once I took it off, the feeling came back. Look up carpal tunnel syndrome if you want to learn how much damage you can do with improper positioning of your hands. Some bikes allow for repositioning of the handlebars, but not all. Some also allow the levers and switches to be repositioned. If your bike does not allow for adjustment, there may be products available that will allow for it.

Being able to take your hands off the controls from time to time is very important. Some bikes are available with optional cruise control, most are not. There are some aftermarket cruise controls, plus some people have created their own. If you are interested, do a search for your bike. Someone may have instructions on how to do it available on the net. Few bikes come with locking throttles anymore, but there are a number of aftermarket products available. Vista Cruise is my personal favorite. I just like the simplicity and the ease of use. The fact that it is fairly cheap helps. I have used Throttle Meister (www.throttlemeister.com) and found it to be of excellent quality and function, but i prefer the Vista Cruise. The Vista Cruise takes some creativity to install on some bikes though.

How to sit in the saddle while riding across continents

Foot pegs and foot controls can also be repositioned on some bikes, but not on others . Again, there may be products available to help you reposition them. As for foot position, there are many ways to put alternate foot pegs on a bike. Often called Highway Pegs, they allow you to reposition your feet such that your legs are usually straighter than normal. You generally can’t use your foot controls when your feet are on the highway pegs, so caution is required here. I often use the highway pegs to stretch my calves when riding.

Back rests can help relieve a weak back by providing support. I prefer to just ride a lot to build up the muscles. If you want a back rest, they are often available with custom seats or from aftermarket manufacturers. A cheaper route (you see a trend here?), if you are riding solo is to use a sleeping bag or other luggage strapped behind you. I have installed 5 gallon fuel cells behind me, and have used 5 gallon plastic fuel cans.

What you wear can affect how fatigued you get as well. A good helmet that fits well is important. The quieter the better. Ear plugs help a LOT. It is amazing how much fatigue wind noise creates. In general these will not impair you ability to hear traffic. In fact, it tends to make it better. After riding for a period of time with no plugs, your ears become desensitized to sound which makes it hard to hear anything. The ear plugs reduce the level so that your ears do not become overwhelmed, allowing you to hear cars and sirens etc.

Although a good pair of sunglasses will help with the glare, having a darkly tinted visor is even better. This keeps the sun off your face. On severely hot sunny days, it can make you feel much cooler also.

Wearing a good riding suit is important. Not only will a good suit help in a crash, it will help you with fatigue caused by the environment. Rain protection is obvious, but also sun and heat. In a hot sunny environment, especially a dry environment, a suit will keep the wind and sun from drying you out. Riding in a T-Shirt in the desert is a great way to get heat stroke and die. A good suit will have enough air flow to cool you, but control it enough to prevent your skin from becoming so dry it no longer cools you. In more humid environments a mesh suit might be better, although I have never really liked them. This allows air through all over yet still provides reasonable protection. I personally use an Aerostich Roadcrafter two piece suit (www.aerostich.com). Looks like a snowmobile suit to some people, but has great ventilation as well as weather protection. This is one place I am not cheap.

Wearing jeans under a suit is not always comfortable. There are special undergarments available such as Under Armor or LD Comfort Shorts (ldcomfort.com). Wearing these things gets a great reaction from EMT’s after a crash. At least in my experience. I just use some spandex like exercise shorts because, well, they are cheaper. They certainly are not as good as LD Comfort, but….. The main goal here is to have something against your skin that breaths and does not have seams anywhere that your butt contacts the seat. A seam, like that on your basic tighty whitey cotton underwear will create a raw sore that will take forever to heal. The LD Comfort Shorts have two layers to keep friction down.

Baby powder, Gold Bond Powder and even Anti Monkey Butt powder can help reduce friction and reduce rashes, although there is some question as to whether anything with corn starch in it should be used in warm moist areas I have tried some of these and personally did not like them.

Dehydration, as I mentioned before, can be a killer. If you get dehydrated, you WILL lose your ability to ride safely and to use good judgment. If you are riding long distance in almost any weather, hot or cold, you should be drinking water continuously. You do not need to drink a lot if you are not losing a lot, but you need to keep drinking. Small sips over a long period of time is the best way. If you stop and have a big drink of water, you tend to piss it out quickly and do not get as much benefit out of it. You also need enough electrolytes (salt). I have seen people get very sick hiking by drinking a ton of water but ingesting NO salt. For most of us, our diet has more than enough salt, but if you are eating only fruits and no processed foods it could be a concern. Gatorade and other electrolyte laden sports drinks are good, but I have been told by medical people that most of these have too high of a concentration of salt to take without also drinking water. I have used a number of strategies for hydration depending on the bike. I have attached multiple one gallon insulated drink coolers to my bikes with a hose running to where I can reach it and take a drink. I have done the same with one liter water bottles. My current setup is a couple of Platypus soft plastic bottles with hoses and bite valves in my tank bag. These are made for hiking, but allow me to carry 6 liters of water when I want, without taking up space when I don’t need so much water. Your body can only process water so fast. If you are in a high water loss situation and you get behind, you can get in trouble. Riding across the deserts one day I drank two gallons of water and it was still not enough. That was before I started using proper riding gear.

My first statement though, holds. You need to get out there and ride a lot to be able to ride a lot. Your butt gets used to it, your arm, leg and back muscles get used to it. Your brain gets used to it. I would never recommend for anyone to just go out and try a thousand mile day if they never have done a long day. It takes time to both get to know your limits and to stretch them.

Getting a little off the subject of the initial question (I think I did that a long time ago) long distance riding requires special considerations to your health, both mental and physical. Most LD riders DO NOT DRINK COFFEE and generally stop long before doing a long ride. Well, at least not caffeinated coffee. Same goes with sodas. The ups and downs of caffeine, and to a lesser extent sugar, can give you drowsy periods. Not getting enough sleep, obviously, can cause this as well, but so can not getting the right kind of sleep. On a typical non LD riding day, I can sleep for 6 or 8 hours and not feel rested because my sleep is not good. It is interrupted, not deep enough, and not complete. On LD riding trips, I can get a SOLID 4 hours 10 minute sleep and feel great. The reason this works, is my sleep cycle is 2 hours 5 minutes, or so. After a long day, I will still feel plenty awake. When I lay down, I get myself relaxed and I fall asleep quickly. 2 hours and 5 minutes later I wake up, look at the clock and go back to sleep. Another 2 hours and 5 minutes later I wake up, ready to go without an alarm. I suppose I could get into diet, exercise and psychic phenomenon, but I think you can figure out where that would go.

Bob has been traveling long distances on motorcycles for longer than I have been alive, to ask him questions about motorcycle travel go to Ask Motorcycle Travel Questions.

Bob riding somewhere in the world

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