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July 7, 2009

Motorcycle Touring Part 2

Nick Diaz

Summertime is motorcycle touring time. This year I’m headed for West Virginia, (heaven, not “almost…”), in late July, to meet with a bunch of friends from far and wide. Two weeks later I’m headed for northwestern Ohio for a high school reunion.


As you can guess by now, both trips will be mostly on “invisible roads.” I’m convinced that West Virginia roads were designed by perverse people who rode, or always wanted to ride, motorcycles. Try finding two consecutive miles of straights in West Virginia. Why are about a dozen people riding to West Virginia, from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and goodness knows where else, converging on the heart of the Mountain State? You guessed it – for the roads.


That answer is difficult for anyone who doesn’t ride motorcycles, or at least drive sports cars, to understand. I hope that, by the end of this series, you will understand what some of us crazies on two wheels do, and why we do it.


Traversing West Virginia on my way to southeastern Ohio is another version of heaven. The roads in that part of Ohio are perfect for a rider looking for good roads. From southeastern Ohio, diagonally across to the northwestern corner, I expect to find lots of good roads. So, it takes me two or perhaps three days to go from my house to the Ohio-Indiana line – no big deal.


I also expect to find well-meaning folks at diners and gas stations to direct me to the nearest Interstate. I will politely thank them, and, privately, I’ll head back to my invisible roads.


Dealing with Weather


This section talks about the general principles of dealing with different weather conditions, covering hot, cold, and rain. I also recommend a wide variety of clothing options to help deal with these conditions.


As your budget allows, you may own a variety of motorcycle clothing. For day trips, you can take just that perfect piece of clothing for conditions on that particular day. On tour you won't have this luxury. You'll need to carry with you all the gear you'll need for whatever conditions you encounter. If conditions change, and what you need is not somewhere on the bike, you're stuck; or you’ll be looking for the first Wally World.


When I tour, I bring gear for temperatures between 25°F and 110°F and assume that it could be raining continuously (as in 24 hours a day). I do this no matter where I'm going and no matter what the time of year. It may seem silly to bring an electrically heated vest when touring in western North Carolina in July, but that's what I do. I seldom have taken a trip where I didn't use every piece of riding clothing that I brought at least once. You can't bring every piece of gear that you own, so you need to make sure that the gear you do bring is as flexible as possible.




I always wear a full face helmet. It is warmer when it's cold, and shades more of your face from the sun when it's hot. Always ride with the face shield down. When someone rides with the face shield up, it's usually because it's hot out and they’re in search of ventilation. If ventilation is inadequate, it's because of poor helmet design, or there's low speed or turbulent air flow around the helmet. Poor air flow is, in turn, caused by a combination of bike aerodynamics and helmet position.


Riding with the face shield open does not solve the fundamental problem and adds a new one; you're now more vulnerable to hard flying objects. If you have a ventilation problem, you should get a helmet with better ventilation or a bike with better air flow around the helmet. Note that if it's hot enough, you will sweat in your helmet. You can't eliminate sweating. If the sweat drips on your glasses or face shield, the helmet liner is inadequate – or out of position – or the helmet is too large. Either fix the liner or get a proper helmet.


Helmets can acquire a nasty aroma after a two-week tour in hot weather. If the helmet liner is not removable, you can get rid of some of the nasty odors by stuffing the inside with crumpled newspaper when you're not using it. You can also sprinkle the liner with baking soda. The problem with this is that you really need a vacuum cleaner to remove the baking soda before you wear the helmet. If it really stinks it may take several weeks of the newspaper treatment to get rid of the odor, so you'll just have to live with the odor until you get home. At home I always have newspaper in the helmet when it's sitting on the shelf.


Fabreze helps, too!


I trust that no one who reads this will ever fall for the nonsense, in the name of “personal freedom,” spewed by the anti-helmet crowd. Wearing a helmet, a properly fitting full-face, sets you free to enjoy life on two wheels.


Wear ear plugs. They really help reduce fatigue. I’m in my 60’s, and I like music too much to risk not hearing it. Many varieties of earplugs are available; I get mine at Wal-Mart, in the field sports department. The mechanical, wind, and road noise emanating from a moving motorcycle is numbing and deafening. I wear ear plugs 100% of the time; a full-face helmet and ear plugs contain those extraneous white noises very effectively, yet I can hear all the noise I need to hear for my safety (including the cop’s siren behind me.)




Typical question: “What do you do if it rains?”


Usually this question is phrased using the coordinating conjunction “if” rather than “when.” It’s going to rain. That’s what rain suits are for; I prefer two-piece suits. I dislike rain and wearing rain suits. No one should expect to be out on the road on two wheels, for several days or weeks at a time, without rain.


So, if it rains, we deal with it. We slow down a bit, with gradual, controlled braking and turning. The biggest downside of riding in the rain is becoming more tired and/or colder, sooner than later.


Next time, food, shelter, and security while on the road. Any questions about motorcycle touring, contact me at


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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