What I Learned On My Cross-Country Summer Ride

Riding Tips: Key things to remember that will make traveling by motorcycle a safe and pleasurable adventure.

road trips, riding tips, travel, summer rides
The Cooks, about to hit the road out of Albuquerque. Solitude can be great, but company is better.©Motorcyclist

This summer I got to make the trip I’ve dreamed about for years: a literal cross-country on two wheels. I love to travel, but the day job sometimes limits my trips to jaunts up and down the California coast or just keeps me tethered to the office. (That’s what I keep telling myself.) Over a lot of years on motorcycles, I’ve eventually learned the keys to making these treks safe and pleasurable. Here’s what has worked for me.

Hydrate like crazy. Seems obvious, right? But living in a mild climate, I sometimes forget to pack my CamelBak and end up paying the price. This time, I kept it full of ice throughout the trip. It's amazing how a quick swig of really cold water can make a 90-degree day seem a lot less sticky. Staying hydrated, I tend to finish the day feeling less fatigued and less likely to be suffering the "road headache."

Medications at hand. Speaking of headaches, I've learned to bring a small bag packed with a prefabricated hiker's first aid kit along with an assortment of pain relievers, sunscreen, and allergy medicines. Over the course of the trip, I used them all. My motto: If you have them handy, you'll use 'em.

"Early starts are the way to go during the summer—beat the heat and the traffic."

Be kind to yourself. I made an effort to eat well and moderate alcohol consumption on this trip. As a result, I woke every morning feeling fresh and ready for more riding. On that note, early starts are the way to go during the summer—beat the heat and the traffic.

Shorten legs later in the day. As fatigue sets in, be wary of pushing too hard. Shorten up the legs between fill-ups and getting coffee.

Big trips aren't where you test new gear. I know it's tempting to buy a new jacket or helmet thinking how much better they'll make your tour, and I've done it myself. In fact, I did it again on this trip, electing to turn a side trip to the Twisted Throttle headquarters in Rhode Island into the acquisition of the Macna Chili summer jacket.

After looking at the weather forecasts for the trip, I decided to ship home the gear I was wearing for the BMW S1000XR product launch north of Toronto. That kit was chosen because I knew it was going to be cool and possibly wet for those couple of days, but I also saw that the weather was warming quickly along the southern route I’d chosen. I’m still waiting for the one piece of gear that’s comfortable in ambient temps of 90 degrees that’s also useful when it’s 40 and raining. Could be awhile.

I’d hoped the combination of the Macna’s mesh chassis and the rain over-layer I was packing would be ideal for the generally good, warm weather I was expecting along with the rain you’re likely to get in the summer. More than that, though, I was rolling the dice that the jacket would fit well and be comfortable over the course of days. I lucked out. The jacket performed flawlessly after a day or so of break-in. But everything else I wore came from my go-to pile, including my well-worn Shoei Neotec, genuinely all-day-comfortable (and waterproof) Sidi Armada boots, and two sets of gloves, one vented, one waterproof.

It's more fun when it's more than one. I rediscovered this as soon as I met my wife in Albuquerque. Not only was it desirable to slow the pace and shorten the days, but the trip benefitted from it. We were able to take side trips and wait out the weather without anything like time stress. In fact, when thunderstorms cut across our path near Pie Town, New Mexico (not a made-up name), my wife and I got to sit and watch the rain, sip coffee, and eat a slice of fresh blueberry pie. Which, after all, is what summer vacation is all about.