Yes Emily

Yes Emily, girls can ride motorcycles!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I've Learned

It’s Labor Day weekend and there are only two more sleeps until the summer holiday is officially over. My cross continent loop has been filed as a fabulous memory and, looking back today, it seems so long ago that I headed out on my own to cross the USA.

This summer’s journey may be over but there are some things that have stuck with me. I’ve learned some things along the way and for what it’s worth here are my tips, for women especially, touring by motorcycle.

I’ve learned that whatever you pack you’ve packed too much of some things and still managed to forget something. This time I forgot my fork, spoon and knife set. Tip: lay out everything you think you’ll need and then leave 2 t-shirts and a pair of pants behind but remember to take at least 5 pair of underwear and the fork, knife and spoon. For best results, make a list.

I’ve learned it’s better to pack things you can layer (even California gets cold in the morning … and at night). Tip: take a warm fleece - just don’t take a white one. For that matter, if you are going to pack anything white make sure it is hermetically sealed in a plastic zip loc bag because sure as shootin’ (my mother’s expression) if you are going to get 20 minutes of rain in 28.5 days it will be when you are wearing that white T-shirt under your time worn and dusty jacket, need I say anything other than - dirt wicks.

I’ve learned that if you do get caught in a rainfall without rain gear (because I chose to ride without rain gear) your textile riding pants and jacket will dry out nicely overnight in a warm hotel room but your leather gloves will not. Tip: Don’t worry about the gloves because 20 minutes riding next day will dry them out just fine even if they are a bit cold and clammy to start out. I wonder what a leather jacket and chaps would feel like; actually I don’t even want to know?

I’ve learned that motorcyclists everywhere, regardless of their ride, have one thing in common. As soon as they stop and remove the helmet their hands go to their hair. Tip: Wear a modular helmet with a front that flips up so you don’t have to take it off to gas up. If you do take it off, for God’s sake don’t let anyone take your picture until you’ve adjusted your hair.

I’ve learned that if the car coming off the interstate behind you looks like it’s been in a demolition derby chances are there’s a reason why – it’s probably the driver. Tip: make it a habit to do a head check before any turn or lane change because there may be some idiot in a car trying to beat you into the gas station by swerving through the ditch to your right. A head check, even if the way should be clear, can avoid disaster.

I’ve learned that even if you are ahead and in full view of a truck coming off the freeway the truck driver may forget you’re there when he goes to make his wide right turn (out of sight, out of mind!). Tip: remember to ride like you are invisible to other drivers – you are your best defense.

I’ve learned that even if you are not mechanically inclined you can tour by motorcycle safely and happily. Tip: traveling in populated areas means that there are trained mechanics and dealerships nearby or at least within towing distance if needed. The only tools I packed that weren’t included with the bike were a digital tire pressure gauge, a smart phone and CAA card just in case. (To tour in remote areas you might want to have more mechanical savvy than myself.)

I’ve learned that regular bike maintenance including/especially checking your tire pressure and wear is important. Even if the tire looks good at one stop a few days later it may not, especially if you are traveling over hot roads. Tip: There’s always a rider along the way who can recommend a good spot if you do need a tire change or you can use your smart phone or GPS ‘points of interest’ to locate a dealer. I highly recommend making sure your bike is in tip top shape before you start out.

I’ve learned that you can travel 13,000 km spending 28.5 days on the road and do it for under $2500. CAD - gas, food, lodging, tolls and tourist sites included. Tip: Be prepared to camp 85% of the time. Save the motels for days that rain or plan a motel night to begin or end a day when you have or know you have long miles to travel.

I’ve learned that having a general trip itinerary is great so your friends and family at home know where you’ll be (your Mom might be worried). Tip: just don’t over plan. Keep it flexible. Be prepared to stop before you thought you would if it’s pouring rain or there’s a tornado warning in effect or go a little further if it’s just too fabulous a day to stop; plan short ride days and long ride days and mix them up. Check the weather forecast and book ahead one night at a time.

I’ve learned you can travel by yourself and have a blast – stop when you want, where you want. Tip: be street smart, your best defense is common sense. Don’t plan your stops in remote areas plan to stop in the “family camping” spots. They might cost a bit more but they usually have more security (and heated pools). Travelling alone - travel the road more travelled. Stop early rather than later.

I’ve learned that the GPS is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Tip: remember your GPS may have a glitch or two so be prepared with a back up map. If your ‘Garmin Dan’ road seems iffy, it may be. Stop and check the map. If the road isn’t on the map, it may be a road you don’t want to travel by motorcycle.

I’ve learned that if you are, shall we say over a certain age and require glasses to read a map, having the audio on your GPS talk you through traffic in strange cities is a “can’t live without.” Tip: double check that the blue tooth is working before you hit the road.

I’ve learned that being wired to my Garmin by way of an ear piece is a royal pain and a definite hindrance to stopping for a quick photo op but it’s far better than being without audio. Tip: take the instruction book because the GPS blue tooth will stop working and you will have to be wired to the darn thing because you can’t get it working again without the book.

I’ve learned that Busch makes the best canned beans. Tip: take your Leatherman. It opens cans and wine bottles, it has a screwdriver, scissors plus a tool for cleaning your fingernails – what more could a gal ask for?

I’ve learned that you can carry a cowboy hat on a motorcycle from Wyoming to California to Maine and home. Tip: don’t tell your son you’re in cowboy country and he won’t ask you to bring him a cowboy hat.

I’ve learned that there are lots of wonderful places to see, terrific people to talk to and that I can’t wait for next summer's vacation . . . Yes Emily, girls can ride motorcycles!


  1. Excellent write-up....many of these things were experienced by me back in 2004 when I did 27k miles over 42 states solo (age 58). The major differences were that I didn't camp (and back them stuck pretty close to the $100US daily got blown in the NW part of the country...and no GPS.

    I carried my laptop and used Microsoft Street & Trips to route. Each night I'd change my mapping to match what I had done (versus what I had planned) and wrote the next days routing on an index card that got tucked in my tank pouch. I wrote the major intersections/turns on my windshield in grease pencil. LOL!

    Great write-up!!!

  2. Donna the distance you travelled was truly impressive and apparently you did have a GPS, it was just the "Grease Pencil System!" I've had to use the old grease pencil system for many a thing including keeping track of kms travelled on the Suzuki Savage which had no tripmeter.

  3. that sound soooo cool.... i injoy reading that story. you go girl.