Tomahawk Rally 2021

Earlier this year, having just gotten back from riding to Missouri, I was planning on riding to Key West, FL. It looked like we’d defeated COVID and things were generally looking up. After a rough 2020, I was going to put 10,000mi on the new Challenger in 2021.

Then I got a promotion at work, and the Delta Variant looked to be likely to shut Key West down again, so I was looking for a consolation prize ride. I talked to the usual suspects to see if they were available, and was actually planning a ride to the UP of Michigan again. Harley Mark had never been to the Tomahawk rally, though, and everyone agreed that camping 1 night and some North Woods riding would be great. Me, Harley Mark, and Lefty started making plans.

Of course, we share a chat room with Wingnut Dave, and Wingnut Dave does not have kids and is crazy to boot. Wingnut Dave (in Georgia) says to save him a spot because he’ll be at my door by 3pm Friday. Adding an unnamed friend of Harley Mark, and five dudes crashed in the Fox Valley Friday night before a fantastic Saturday of riding in late September.

New Gear

Most of the gear I’m wearing is quite a few years old, but I seem to keep picking new things up here & there. Having watched way too much DanDanTheFireMan lately, I decided to make a small sacrifice to safety, and got a new Skull Riderz armored flannel.

Harley Mark’s to Bubba’s

I’ve been user Revr to plan rides since the ride to West Virginia earlier this year. Revr is great for finding roads, but shit for copying the route to a different GPS. Until we get Revr integration directly into the infotainment of the major motorcycle brands, be prepared to add a dozen unnecessary way-points to hit the roads you planned on riding.

We stopped by Doc’s Harley Davidson in Shawano, which is a truly nutty place you have to see if you’re ever up here. Live alligators, a pirate ship, and a vintage car museum? Yea, you have to see it.

Highway 55 northwest through Wisconsin is a fantastic road, and very well maintained. In general it was a fantastic day of riding up to Bubba’s Campground to set up camp.

If you are going to go to Tomahawk and have time to ride, hit HWY 107 down to Merrill:

Once we’d ridden to Merrill and back, it was time to eat. If you’ve ever seen my previous camping excursions, you know I basically just have to overdo it. I had packed my soft-side Bison cooler with some fantastic ribeye steaks, some mushrooms, and onions.

Bubba’s Big Party

With our stomachs full, we decided to mosey over to Bubba’s Big Party. I don’t really have pics of this because the bands were cover bands I hadn’t heard of this year, unlike the amazing Little Texas in 2018.

A New Tradition

When we were getting close to Tomahawk, it turned out that Lefty knew some people who had a toy hauler and had a big ole campground marked off. Turns out everywhere we go Lefty knows someone, often to great advantage like the Hank Jr. concert we caught at WI State Fair. We had a big ole fire, all the ice we needed, and company.

In Wisconsin, this rally is often treated as the end of the riding season. Of course, I’m too stubborn for that and me and my fleece-lined Duluth fire hose pants and heated gear keep rolling until it snows. But I have grown to appreciate the beaty of the North Woods and this perfectly fits into a weekend.

I think the Tomahawk fall rally is going to turn into a tradition for us.

Brewtown Rumble 2019

Here I am at the 5th Annual Brewtown Rumble on June 2nd, 2019. What’s the Brewtown Rumble, you ask?

The Brewtown Rumble is a ride-in vintage motorcycle show. It doesn’t matter the make, model or condition of the bike. It just matters that you ride it! Everyone is welcome – riders and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
The Rumble also features live music, a pin-up show, vendors and food from some of Milwaukee’s best cafes, restaurants and food trucks.

Proceeds from the Rumble support the BUILD Moto Mentor Program. Come see the BUILD bikes in person, and see which team wins the BUILD Cup.

The sun is shining, ABATE of Wisconsin has a booth, there’s bikes, beer, food, and music. This is my third time attending the Rumble, and I have to admit I was a bit concerned by the bikes this year. Between years of Momma Tried and the Brewtown Rumble, I’ve already got pics of a lot of the bikes within riding/trailering distance of these Milwaukee events. I tried to take pictures of bikes that I haven’t shown before, but I make no promises.

As I mentioned, my main reason for being here was to help set up and work the ABATE of Wisconsin booth.


We had a lot of traffic and conversation, but something was missing. The same thing that’s always missing: people under 50 signing up to be members. I continue to marvel about the degree to which everyone involved in motorcycling at all is now grappling with the question of how to create the next generation of riders. More on that in a minute, first I had to stop next door and say hi to my Indian Motorcycle friends.


Does Royal Enfield Get it and No One else Does?

Across the street was the Royal Enfield lot. The got themselves a lot of space this year and I had to go check it out.RoyalYard.jpg

I do not get Royal Enfield. They are 1-cylinder bikes that ride funky to me. Who’s their target demographic? Are these retro bikes? Hipster commuter bikes? Bikes for dedicated Anglophiles who can’t get behind Triumph? I walked over and talked to a young lady who turned out to be involved with brand management and marketing for Royal Enfield’s North American headquarters. Within moments it became clear that she could teach things to me and perhaps others in the ABATE of Wisconsin crew.

Since she’s awesome and willing to talk to us, I’m going out of my way not to out her. The bottom line is that Royal Enfield is killing it, growing sales year over year at a time when most brands are struggling to slow down the decline. What have they figured out?

Royal Enfield has a story to tell that’s different from Harley or Indian. I don’t want to fuck up paraphrasing it here, so I’ll save my interpretation of their story for another time after I’ve been able to do more research.

I asked my guide if there were… certain stereotypes that I could guess about RE buyers. Did they also have man-buns, anachronistic curly mustaches, and perhaps have an affinity for mechanical typewriters, Polaroid cameras, and bizarre IPAs? She cut me off “Yes, it’s OK to say it: hipster boys buy these bikes”. These are 1 cylinder bikes with plenty of space around the main components: you can learn to work on these bikes easily. Royal Enfield has “shop days” in dealerships where interested folks can show up on weekend mornings and learn how to wrench on their bikes from certified mechanics: more on this later.

Royal Enfields are also inexpensive: my guide claimed that every single RE bike was under $7,000 and here’s an additional kicker: she claimed the bikes are nearly always naked on the showroom floor. There is no bait-n-switch or upsell where you fall in love with a bike on the dealer floor only to find that the beauty you’ve been talking yourself into buying is sporting thousands of dollars of extra parts. What you see is what you get and they hand you a catalog to make it your own. My guide quoted figures that are all to familiar: Millenials and Gen Z have student loan debt and credit card debt. They are less likely to own homes and start families than their parents and grandparents; their economic outlook is decidedly pessimistic. Being able to get a new bike with a great warranty for under $7k? Royal Enfield may be exploiting a great market niche.

My guide seemed a little confused: maybe thought I was drunk, hitting on her, angling for a photo, or any of the other bullshit that women have to deal with at trade shows. I explained that I was with ABATE of Wisconsin and that the question of reaching younger riders was something of an existential issue for us. I said I would really appreciate it if she had any advice for us.

ABATE of Wisconsin marketing badass Doris was primarily responsible for our being at The Rumble this day, I went back to her and said “You need to meet this individual.” Doris talked to her and this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship: again, I don’t want to “out” anyone but this was a very productive day and I’m grateful.

So what?

When I come to events like this, I’m always energized. I try to figure out how to put into words whatever it is about this motorcycle culture that so captivates us. Those of us who are “into it” often wind up being really into it. It becomes less a thing we do and more who we are. I believe it’s less about the self reliance of wrenching on your own bike, and less about an excuse to drink beer and look at tatooed young people while a loud, obnoxious band plays.

I will talk more about this in the near future, but I believe the Fellowship of Those Who Balance on Two Wheels is simply a strong connection and shared experience, and we have reached a point in American history where those things are rare. No one at work understands why I’d want to ride from Milwaukee to Idaho – at the Brewtown Rumble I can talk to any random person in the crowd and they’ve either done a ride like that, plan to do a ride like that, or wish their knees were healthy enough to do a ride like that. If I talk about wanting to buy an offroad bike so that I can just leave the road, enter a national park, and truly disappear: every single person I talk to at least understands why even if it’s not “for them”.

It’s good to be among one’s people. It’s good to have people, to have a tribe. I used to have trouble making friends, and by most practical definitions I still do. But I do have people. Thanks to technology, I can enter the Internet and come out the other end with a group of fun bikers at a bizarre alien-themed bar in Campbellsport, WI 120 miles from home where the locals at the bar just down the road warned us to only drink from bottles and cans because “Those alien weirdos don’t do their dishes very well”. Me, a guy with all the social skills of a potted plant, could have burgers with Good People™ every single day of the week both during and after riding season. All because there’s something special about this motorcycle culture. Going to an event like the Brewtown Rumble is like a more intense version of “the wave” you get from another biker rolling past you. You are surrounded by your people, and that’s a good thing.

Maybe I’m full of shit. As the creator of This Motorcycle Life points out, there’s a would-be philosopher underneath nearly every motorcycle helmet. Maybe someone else has already said it better.

Of course, it’s a ride-in show and it’s always about the bikes. I don’t think I have taken pics of any of these bikes before, but I also didn’t go back and check.


Mama Tried 2019

It’s hard to believe that two years ago it was more than warm enough to ride to Mama Tried in February. Really, that’s what makes this part of the year in Wisconsin so difficult for me: I’m constantly staring at the extended weather forecast because we could thaw out any day now.

I don’t have a lot to say this year that I didn’t say about the 2018 show. I had various dad duties on Saturday, or I might have gone to the Chicago Motorcycle Show instead.

I did not spring for a press pass this year, so it was cell phone camera only, and I took some monumentally shitty pictures this year. Some people did ride through the snow, good on you guys.

Anyway here’s some bikes.


Tomahawk Fall Ride 2018

On the morning of Saturday, September 15th, 2018 my buddy Corvus and I headed to the Tomahawk Fall Veterans Ride & Rally in Northern Wisconsin.

This event is well known in Wisconsin, but I had avoided this event for years. Firstly: big rallys are not precisely my thing. I ride to be mindful, to think, to smell the world anew with no metal cage in between. To be quiet, to see stars. 4,000 bikers descending on a town that’s home to 3,000 permanent residents is not my usual thing. I had also avoided the event because my Wisconsinites consider the event to mark the end of the riding season. This seems pretty lazy to me: warm weather is brief and precious in Wisconsin, but I also have leather chaps, heated gear, and a touring bike with a fairing. I don’t put the bike away until there’s salt and ice on the roads.

I needed to get away, and to see if there was any chance I’d enjoy the bigger rallies like Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week. So I gave Tomahawk a try and the most popular way to do it seemed to be camping at Bubba’s Big Party.

We Rode Up

Many states suffer from being identified primarily based on a small number of well known areas. New York state is known for New York City, yet get out into the country away from Manhattan and you are in a different universe. So it is with Wisconsin: I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and I think of this state as Milwaukee and Madison and maybe Port Washington. Riding through the North Woods in September, though, I am reminded that less than 200 miles from home lies a world of pine forests, hundreds of lakes, and close-knit tiny towns. Were you to parachute blindfolded into the woods surrounding Tomahawk you’d be forgiven if you guessed you were in Northern Canada, Iowa, or really any remote area.

As we ride North away from Lake Michigan where it’s just slightly cooler during the day (and much cooler at night) the trees have just started turning. Every shoreline is a postcard, or at least a Leinenkugel’s commercial. When I think about buying land to wait out the Zombie Apocalypse (which is totally going to happen), I always think about something a little warmer like Kentucky or North Carolina. Maybe I need to give WI a chance.

Bubba’s Big Party

We arrived at Bubba’s campground and it was an unseasonably warm 90 degrees. Once we found out where to buy wristbands for the party and camping it only took us a few minutes to set up camp. Bubba’s campground is 180 acres and we went to the very outskirts of what was already populated. It may look like we’re camping in the middle of nowhere, but over my shoulder is at least 80 acres of tents and campers of all sizes.

I have slightly augmented my camping gear since I last went motorcycle camping. I have added a Thermacell setup and a heavy tarp. The 20mil 6’x8′ tarp is meant to both cover my tent & sleeping back on the bike but also serve as extra protection above or below in a real rain storm. The thermacell setup is a butane + neurotoxin setup that keeps mosquitoes away from you in a 15′ sphere but is not food safe since it’s blasting chemicals into the air. A 20mil tarp is pretty thick and does not fold easily but after a couple of tries I got my tent and sleeping bag neatly wrapped up in it. Add some Rock Straps to that and my bagger became a camper no problem.

I can’t say enough good about Rock Straps, and man am I spoiled by the amount of bag storage in my Victory Cross Country.


Riding Around

Anyone who’s ever ridden with me knows I’m likely to get us lost. I ride to lose myself which is both a good and a bad thing. Good: sometimes we accidentally find cool shit. Bad: I space out, I miss turns, and with no visual GPS I generally make a mess of things. I had a chance to consider the performance of Corvus’ new 2019 Ultra Limited with the new 114ci Milwaukee Eight in it. Damn, I need to ride one. We sat down at a bar half an hour away in some random direction (West?) and after hanging out a while decided it was time for food.

A bar… somewhere…

We sat down at The Thirsty Giraffe because we’d passed it before and “Ribs, broasted chicken, and prime rib” sounded really good. You can also tell from the road that it’s on a little lake and there was seating out back. Northern Wisconsin in September can really be amazing.


The view from the back deck of The Thirsty Giraffe.

We had a great meal here, especially the broasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. After a meal we checked out the vendors on site at Bubba’s, but I wanted a patch and they were out, so we headed downtown…


Having mostly done research online and word of mouth, I thought Bubbas party was the Tomahawk rally. Uhm, no. There are plenty of private parties during this event, and by all accounts the private parties are the way to stay, but the rally proper is downtown. If you’ve seen one Midwest Rally I suppose you’ve seen them all, but I never get tired of rows of bikes and live music. You can’t beat Northern Wisconsin prices either. Where else can you get get two cans of beer for $5 ?

If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know I try to collect a patch from every trip away from home. It took looking at quite a few vendors to find a Tomahawk 2018 patch and luckily they were also sewing them on there, so I didn’t need to do a drunken sewing job. Corvis decided he was going to start sewing memories on his vest that night. Despite being a life-long biker, he threaded his first mementos on that night.

Back to Bubba’s

We parked the bikes at the campground and headed to Bubba’s big tent. My music tastes are all over the place but I love live music so I had pre-determined I was going to have a good time at this party despite not being familiar with the bands (or so I thought).

The highlight of the night was a group called Little Texas. They were tearing it up, putting on a great old school country/rock show. When the lead singer said “Ok, now we’re going to play this song that was one of our first hits…” they rolled into something I somehow recognized. Sure enough, “What Might Have Been” is a song I grew up with. Wow! Just like you sometimes stumble onto a great watering hole when you get lost on the bike, I went to Tomahawk and stumbled onto a childhood memory from growing up in the South and absorbing my parents’ country music radio station. There was actually another band after Little Texas, and not that they weren’t good performers, but man it had to suck following this act.

I don’t put my bike away after the Tomahawk Fall Ride as many Wisconsinites do, but I’ll make this weekend every year I can swing it.

Heading Home

Since there were bikes coming and going at all hours of the night and I had a dozen cheap/watery beers I naturally didn’t sleep for shit since I was either woken up by baffles or pissing in the woods all night. We packed up fairly early and rode the 200-odd miles home. I came away with a new appreciation for the state I live in, and I got very nostalgic looking at the back of my vest at the Tomahawk 2018 patch I’d had sewed on the night before. I started riding in the late 90’s but I’ve only been collecting patches for a few years; I look at this vest and realize “Holy shit, that’s a lot of fun.” Each patch is a memory that helps me through the cold Wisconsin winters. I’ve got it good, and if things keep going on as they have been I’ll be able to look back and not be ashamed that my life lacked adventure. Get out there and get after it.


Harley Davidson “More Roads” Announcement


Click to watch the video.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: One thousand times yes!

When the Milwaukee Eight debuted last year, one of the lead engineer’s comments was that it was “Like operating on the pope“, referring to the balance of preserving heritage while making incremental improvements. That really stuck in my craw. They left in things that the old schoolers wanted that are not present in the Victory/Indian/Yamaha/Honda motorcycles that are nibbling into their market share. Disadvantages they could easily engineer out if they chose to do so. In my personal experience, the people who didn’t like the new engine were overwhelmingly grey-beards who are not likely to ever buy a new bagger again. Why was Harley listening to people who just weren’t real customers anymore? Are apparel sales more important that the next generation of riders?

Here we see some seriously bold moves from The Motor Company. Yes, the Livewire was previously announced. But we’re adding to it an off road adventure bike! A liquid cooled engine! An engine with small enough displacement to be competitive in markets where even $6k is too much for a new bike.

I have often said that if I had more time for yet another hobby and more riding I’d want an off road adventure bike. The freedom of the open road that I love so much has made me curious about the freedom of the “No road needed just fucking go that-a-way into the forest” kind of adventure and I’m extremely curious to see what the Pan America ends up looking like as a production model.

Revzilla also has a great write up.

It’s possible, even likely, that I don’t wind up buying any of these new bikes. What are the improvements to touring bikes they are teasing? That’s more likely to be my bag(ger). Still, it puts a big smile on my face to see Harley truly getting after it. This looks like a company jumping into the future. Let’s see some shipping models.

Brewtown Rumble 2018

On Sunday, June 3rd, the Roadrunner attended the 4th annual Brewtown Rumble in Milwaukee, WI.

The Brewtown Rumble is a ride-in vintage motorcycle show. It doesn’t matter the make, model or condition of the bike. It just matters that you ride it! Everyone is welcome – riders and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
The Rumble also features live music, a pin-up show, vendors and food from some of Milwaukee’s best cafes, restaurants and food trucks.

This is the type of event that’s just good for the soul. It’s been a shitty winter, and while I’m already 1400miles into the riding season, it still feels like I’m shaking frostbite off. It was a great day, and I got there early to help set up the Abate of Wisconsin booth. Last year this even was up in Pabst Park which is a fine outdoor venue and very “Milwaukee”, but moving to South 5th Street this year was a fine move. In terms of a home base, you could do a lot worse than the Fuel Cafe in Walker’s Point.


In addition to all the vendors and bikes, I found a new friend here today: God’s Outlaw. These guys were playing covers of Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, and Hank Jr – and they sounded good. It sucks going on at 11:45 during a bike show that started at 11, so they didn’t have much of an audience but I’m keeping my eye on these guys. Check their music out on Amazon. Every song these guys played is in my playlist when I’m on my bagger.


I ran into a lot of people I knew, and have ridden with, and that’s an odd feeling. It’s good to have people, to feel like a part of a group. To feel you have something to contribute to a group. As someone who’s been a barely-social-outcast-weirdo his entire life (even among bikers, already a fringe group) it’s beyond strange to run into people I know at an event with thousands of people and hear “Hey, Roadrunner!” randomly while I’m taking pictures. There is a lesson here that I’ll write about more in the future: if you show up, and you do the things, and you’re not an asshole, you will become part of communities.

There’s not too much else to say about events like this. It’s all about the bikes, isn’t it? So many of these bikes are obviously labors of love: carefully maintained machines caressed into staying alive by people who cared. Maybe it’s been their machine for decades, or maybe they have a romantic connection to an engine that’s as old as they are, or maybe they bought a bike from an era they grew up watching racers on.

Maybe it’s just a big smile riding down the road on something that no one else has anything like. Here’s to you, vintage riders! Cheers to the organizers of the Brewtown Rumble for making my day on a Sunday in early June.


Slimy Crud Run Spring 2018

The Slimey Crud Run is a grass roots event that takes place twice a year in South Central Wisconsin.

There are no big ad campaigns, no corporate sponsors, no local or regional newspaper or TV promotions, not even the usual obligatory one-size-promotes-all beer banners with the name of the event emblazoned on a huge blank white spot.

Despite all the makings of what should be an unknown event, the Slimey Crud Café Racer Run in southern Wisconsin is attended twice each year, on the first Sunday in May and October, by riders from all over the country and routinely has participants from at least five states in the upper Midwest.

Its origins are nearly as murky as Stonehenge, dating back to the early Seventies, according to one of its co-founders, former Triumph/Bultaco/Matchless racer and former Triumph dealer Lyall Sharer. From humble beginnings, the event has become an organic thing that thrives on its own energy. At each gathering, it isn’t uncommon for anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 machines to show up.

The Crud Run meanders across the scenic Wisconsin River valley from Pine Bluff in Dane county to Leland in Sauk County. The distance between the villages is less than 30 miles in a straight line, but the road mileage can vary from about 70 to, well, who knows? No specific route is prescribed, so the best way to go depends entirely on your imagination.

Despite the name, the event is not limited to the sheathed-in-plastic sportbike set. In fact, while there’s something for everybody in every class of bike, the event seems much more like a rolling vintage and classic bike show.

I set out to see some bikes, get some miles, and represent ABATE of Wisconsin. Yes sir, thousands of bikes descended on the one-stop-sign towns of Leland and Pine Bluff and it was fantastic.

Representing Abate:


Look ma! Bikers! I would not want to live across the street from the Red Mouse.


I did not go alone. After losing Bart, I started looking for other ways to find people to ride with, and stumbled upon a Meetup group called The Lost Motorcycle Riders of Milwaukee. I’ll write about this at some point in the future, but this turned out to be a great way to find a group.


While there’s no corporate sponsors, a few people do get permission from one of the bars to set up a racing demo station or a brat fry, and of course there are bikes for sale and people looking to be seen.

This year, however, the weather was not cruddy at all. No, this was The Amazing Sunshine run. There are many different ways to get between Leland and Pine Bluff, and you’re encouraged to find your own way. May 6th in Wisconsin there’s still a lot of sand and salt on the roads, but there were plenty of sharp corners and views to make it a fantastic day.

It’s all about the bikes though:

I am reminded that the last SCR I attended was with my fallen brother. I didn’t really think about it during the ride: just the night before and after I got home. Wind therapy still works.

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Planning Multi-Day Group Rides

I’m planning a six day group ride right now, and this will make a few years in a row that I’ve done this. It occurs to me that before, during, and after each trip my friends are sure to thank me for doing the planning. I plan the rides so I have people to go on rides with, not for high fives or to be known as some Exalted Road Captain, but maybe others could benefit from my experience? Here goes: you’re planning a group ride that stretches more than a day and a lot of miles. What do you need to think about?

Use the Tubes

Everything you’re about to read below, I coordinate using email, Facebook, Google hangouts,, whatever. Our lives are too nutty to have a single phone call or in-person meeting and assume everyone will show up on the day of the trip. Make sure everyone has everyone else’s cell numbers and email addresses.

Preview and Circle Back

I tend to start out with a big group of people that I tell I’m planning a trip. This will always be a big initial group because shit happens. Seventeen people saying “Hell yes!” 3 months away will turn into 2 actual travelers by the time the day rolls around. Life happens, people make choices. Additionally, even your friends who’ve never ridden 300 miles in a day will still be pissed if you pass them over for the invite, so invite everyone who would theoretically like the trip, not just those who might actually do it.

I tend to let my friends know vaguely and then tightening it up as time passes:

  1. These are the trips I’m thinking about this summer…
  2. …OK we are doing the Moonshiner 28 in July!
  3. All right I’ve got these dates off work and here’s a potential route, who’s really in?

I like to be at step 3 2-3 months out. Maybe your friends are different, but trekking across the country for 6 days is a lot different than meeting up for a Sunday afternoon bar hopping run. This kind of vacation is highly individualistic and sometimes takes some finessing with the family if one parent is leaving the other one home with the kids and the chores.

Get the Gear if You’re Going To

Gear for YOU is whatever you’re comfortable in. If you don’t mind riding in wet denim, you should be aware that some people do mind very much. Talk about what your rain plan is going to be: wait it out in an underpass, get to a gas station and put on rain gear? Stop and put it on when the radar shows rain ahead? Is everyone OK riding at night? Rain plans are good but what about your “shine” plan? Will your planned gas stops be enough sunscreen for everyone?

Do some people Bluetooth headsets? I’ve ridden a lot of miles without them but maybe I’ll try it some day. Different Bluetooth systems are likely incompatible, and you should experiment before the time has come to put home far behind you. What about tolls? If you’re all leaving from the same area then tolls are a fact of life in a lot of the USA. For me getting around Chicago can be a shitshow so I carry an iPass and I get the people I’m headed south with to get one as well, or I add their plates to my iPass. Parts of Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and others also have tollways. Be ready.

Be Flexible

This is the #1 thing. Weather, humans, tires, and hotels won’t always cooperate. People you know well will act out of character for reasons that aren’t apparent. Be committed to the spirit of the trip, not the agenda you planned out. You can always go another direction, arrive late, leave early, skip a stop, or take a long lunch to keep the group from melting down.

Be ready for something to go wrong. Who’s bike leaks oil? Does someone carry both metric and standard tools? I carry a flat kit and two flashlights. I carry aspirin, a knee brace, an elbow brace, an ACE wrap, and a small towel in case bodies get sore. Depending on what direction I’m going, I carry an Octane Booster as well. Sure, modern v-twins have anti-knock capabilities, but it seems to me that my bike isn’t quite the same (until the next tune up) after running 1,000miles on low octane in South Dakota.

Communicate the Pace

I’m an Iron Butt. That’s part of the life for me, but I don’t expect the same from everyone and I sure as hell don’t look down on anyone who doesn’t push it that far. You need to look at how you’re carving up your precious vacation time and what you’re trying to do vs. what’s realistic. I find a 500 mile day is about perfect when it comes to multi day trips. You cover a lot of ground and you can stop in time to have a relaxed dinner and maybe recover from any aches and pains your body discovered during the day. On the trip I’m planning right now our second day puts us at nearly 700 miles of freeway time. You can avoid a lot of pain and suffering by communicating things like that up front and confidentially: no one wants to bow out in front of a bunch of friends who are gung ho to roll hard.

A lot of us smile the widest on two-lane roads going no more than 55, but you have to balance your desire for two-lane America and family owned gas stations in the middle of nowhere with the size of the country. It’s best to use the freeway system to get close to where you’re going and then slow down and enjoy the curves. I’ve learned this the hard way: just start in Milwaukee and try to get around Chicago with the Harley nav system’s “Avoid highways” setting on. Stoplights every block for hours will suck the good time out of a trip as much as a bad rain.

Don’t just assume everyone in your group is happy to ride 80mph either. Depending on the size of your machine and the gear you’re wearing faster speeds can mean more wind buffeting on your body and you’ll wind up taking longer breaks and losing the minutes you were trying to gain back.  Personally I tend to go about 4 over the speed limit unless I’m in SD and the speed limit is already 80. Just make sure your group knows what to expect so no one is getting frustrated at your slow riding or worried that their riding faster than their experience.

The Pace also includes stopping frequency. Again, someone on a soft tail and used to doing poker runs may have different expectations than the Road Glide and Gold Wing riders they wound up traveling with. At the very least the leaders should be aware of the range of everyone they are traveling with, and expectations of how often you’re stopping. Personally, I have a hard time staying off my throttle and wind up stopping about every 120 miles even if my whole group have big-tanked touring bikes.

Bottom line: make sure everyone knows what they’re getting themselves in to.

Plan the Formation

Every biker I know is comfortable riding staggered formation from gas station to lunch station on a rustic road, but don’t assume  people are comfortable riding side by side in a lane on the freeway. That being said, a tighter ride formation can save a lot of frustration with the cages on a long day of freeway riding. Even if the cars see you, they are likely not familiar with group ride concepts and will try to cut in between bikes if there appears to be a car-sized gap in your formation. Encouraging a little bit tighter formation to discourage misbehaving cages is maybe the one place where I try to get people to ride a little bit out of their comfort zone.

  • At every leg of the trip, make sure there’s a leader (road captain) and tail (sweep). Make sure the sweep understands when it’s appropriate to help block traffic to help riders merge together.
  • Make sure everyone understands the common hand signals as  well as the “tighten up” signal found here.

Plan for & Personalities Activities

You just have to know the group you’re riding with. Who drinks? Who doesn’t? What are the meal expectations? Personally I skip breakfast nearly every day and don’t eat until noon: that won’t work for a lot of people. Who drinks a shitload of coffee and is going to have to stop 80 miles down the road? Which two people are you going to have to warn ahead of time about the other so they don’t get into a political or religious argument and bring everyone down?

Framing the “Personalities” consideration is the activities. Yes, activities. Sure, the whole point of this trip is to ride, but man cannot live entirely on two wheels.

  • Were you planning on hitting a brewery tour or a distillery on the way?
  • Does the group agree about camping vs. hotels for each night of the trip? Are you going to book hotels ahead of time or wing it? If people want to try sharing rooms can they do so without killing each other? (see below)
  • Is one person in the group going to be on their bike itching to ride while everyone else is ordering pancakes inside the greasy spoon?

The down time is an important part of the trip. This has never happened to me, but I can imagine a group being too tired to ride further and yet bored with their surroundings for the evening. I carry some small electronic gadgets to play movies on hotel TVs, some playing cards, and a flask of bourbon just in case things get gloomy. I’ve never really needed to dig into my bag of tricks though: there’s something about riding and sunshine that puts folks into a pretty good mood.

Plan Where You’re Staying, or Agree to Plan not to Plan

From “Communicate the Pace”, above, I like to use the good ole US freeway system to get close to where I’m going before disappearing to the 2-lanes. I tend to plan places to stay in the middle of a trip, but maybe less so on the to-and-from legs. Personally, I’ve lived out of my car for week and have had some of my best sleep in a pile of leaves. I can lean towards pulling over to a rest area and sleeping on a picnic table if need be. Talk with your group about what happens if there’s no room at the inn.

The perfect kind of place to look for is one where you can park your bikes at a hotel and you’re a short walk to food & drink so there’s no getting lost in an unfamiliar town at night after everyone’s had a couple of drinks.

Consider Capturing the Route

I’m going to get in trouble from Mrs. Roadrunner for this one, but here it is: your family might want to hear that you’re OK. They might even want to tell you about the mundane every-day-shit that’s going on back in reality. That sucks. Anything beyond “I’m fine, love you, lookitwouldberudenottodotheseshotsbye” can break the spell of a trip. One compromise I have with my family is that I use a phone app and Spotwalla to track where I’m at. It’s passive, so I don’t have to check in, they can see me rolling and assume a moving bike means a still-alive Roadrunner is making his way in this topsy-turvey world. Later, when I run into my “bar hopping or poker run only” friends, I can watch them weep as they count the number of state lines I crossed on my last adventure. Really, it’s win-win.

Bring a Real Fucking Camera

This is one I wish I’d realized earlier in my journeys. Cell phone cameras are just too fucking decent and convenient, but they are not good, and there’s real value in taking a picture and then moving-the-fuck-on. My daughter is 15 as of the time of this writing and until recently had never held a real camera. After 15 seconds with my basic DSLR she was amazed. “Wow, it takes pictures so fast, and you can zoom the lens in and out!” Truly, not everything is made better being moderner and smaller.

If you can pack it without your bike rattling it to pieces, bring a real camera. They take better pictures, and more importantly: most of them don’t upload to Instagram. Imagine: taking pictures that you will later edit into an album and maybe upload or print after your trip is over. Imagine one less thing to break you out of the magic of the journey. This is what we used to do, and you’d be hard pressed to find a different blogger out there writing about how we used to be less happy than we are in 2018. Something about the character of our lives has changed, and I don’t think being ever-connected to everyone else’s carefully curated narratives about how great their lives are is helping us. Take the pics, post them later.

Don’t break the spell until you have to. If you’re worried about losing memories, take notes on your phone or bring a notebook to write in.

You’re Making Memories, Not Checking Boxes

Just to dive home points already mentioned: be flexible. You never know when someone’s shortcut to a flea market or an off the grid bar will turn out to be either the coolest secret you ever experienced, or the disaster you talk about for years to come. When people go through some uncomfortable shit together they bond over it. Remember that most Americans are really, really good people, and it’s a really safe place to be. Take a chance, take the road less traveled. Be real. You’ll recover from the mosquito bites and the skunky beer. Get out and live a little, be uncomfortable, and tell your kids stories about it.