In A Tale of Two Test Rides, I talked about riding two 2019 baggers back to back and riding one home. What I didn’t mention is that my buddy Spaz (formerly known as Corvus) came with me because he had never ridden an Indian before and was curious. I’ll let him tell his whole story when he gets his act together and gets his own blog, but to cut to the chase he bought a bronze 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse a few days later. I asked him if he’d submit to a brief interview here.
You rode Harleys for a lot of years. How did you land on Harley? Did you start there or did you ride other bikes first? Did you grow up in a Harley household?
I landed on Harley primarily due to my father. He rode Harley’s when I was young and before he married my mother. He rode a lot with the Hell’s Angels when he lived in California as well. After hearing story after story over the years I think it just set me in a place where I had to eventually land on a Harley. The first bike I owned though was a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Cruiser. Close to a Harley look wise but not what I wanted to land on. It also was the first bike I dumped. I didn’t even make it 24 hours and I crashed the bike.
How important is “Made in America” for you when it comes to motorcycles? How important has it been to you that Harley is a big employer and local icon in the Milwaukee area?
Being a Military Veteran I want to continue to fuel American jobs as best I can. This of course is becoming harder and harder today as more and more manufacturing goes over seas. Being from Wisconsin Harley is sort of part of our culture too so I sort of felt I had to support the home team. I feel the same about Indian which is also manufactured in the US. I do have to say though as of late I am looking more broadly at other manufactures as well.
Talk a little bit about your riding style. Mostly 1up or 2up? Poker runs and bar hopping? Camping? Commuting? Cross-country touring?
I am a bit of a mixed bag as far as riding styles. I used to do a lot of 2up riding until my wife got her license. After that it is mostly 1up unless I put a kid or one of my wife’s friends on the back of the bike. I’ve done a bunch of Poker runs as well as bar hopping. I’ve only really camped once from the motorcycle although I’m yearning to do this a lot more now. I commute as much as I can depending on the weather in Wisconsin. As for Cross Country touring I’ve made several 1000+ trips on my dressers over the years. Primarily only to the East Coast and the South. I’m looking forward to a West Coast trip in the future.
I’ve noticed you do a lot of performance tuning work, what’s the allure of fast cruisers for you? Do you have a similar obsession with fast custom cars?
I am an adrenaline junky in general. I’ve had tuner cars and performance vehicles a lot throughout my life. Once I got into bikes I started messing with them from intake to exhaust to now engine work. My ideal world is to have a bagger that can blow the doors off most crotch rockets. It will take time to get the right setup. Not sure if I’m going super charger or turbo yet :).
Comparing an Indian Chieftain to your batwing-style fairing Harley is a much better comparison than the Road Glide I rode. What differences stood out to you right away between the Chieftain you rode and your Ultra classic when it comes to the ride, handling, power, Infotainment, and engine/exhaust sound?
My first impressions of the Chieftain was that is was more agile right out of the gate. In my stable at home we have not only my Ultra Limited but my wife’s Street Glide as well. We actually swapped bikes a week or so ago so she could try mine. The big difference to me is the leg space and agility. Stock the Indian sounds better than any of the Milwaukee Eight bikes I’ve heard. My wife’s comment when she heard it was “do you even need to put exhaust on it.” My answer of course is yes though… Handling wise as I said earlier the Indian is more agile out of the box. On the Harley navigating a round a bout at speed I tend to scrape my foot boards. I have yet to hit them on the Indian and I take a much faster and tighter turn. On the power front the Indian is not much behind the 114ci motor I have in the Ultra limited. I am about to get my bike back from the 116 upgrade so we will have to see what I think after that. As for the infotainment side the fact that bluetooth works out of the box including when you introduce a bluetooth helmet to the mix is awesome. My Harley you have to spend $300 on a WHIM Module and then buy a HD stamped Sena helmet or headset as you will not get stereo without it. I just found that out and the more I get into this chapter of my riding life the more the HD logo is starting to wear off from me.
You’re jumping right in to customizing your Dark Horse. How has your experience so far been with Indian aftermarket vs. Harley aftermarket.
Right now my primary upgrades I’m doing to the Dark Horse have been Indian certified components. As I’ve started to look for more aftermarket parts it is evident that industry isn’t supplying much still. I hope that changes over time but I can understand why vendors may be reluctant still. Harley Davidson on the other hand has a very large aftermarket industry. There are just so many things you can do to your Harley without needing to by Harley direct parts. I am hoping that the market changes though as I do love this new bike.
What on earth possessed you to add a Chieftain Dark Horse to your garage?
I’m a bit of a spontaneous person. There was something about the feel of the Dark Horse that called to me. The other problem was I couldn’t get the dang Bronze color out of my head. I then thought I could convince myself not to get it by bringing my wife to the dealer to see it. Her comment after seeing the bike was “Well it does look like you…”. That sold it for me. It wasn’t just me but my wife also saw something about that bike. At that point it was just how much stuff can I buy. I do have to give credit to Metro Milwaukee Indian for putting up with me. I came near close and they stuck around to finish off financing and answer all of my questions. I’ve been very pleased with their service so far.
What are your motorcycling plans for the future?
My wife and I are now talking about our new house and how we need a larger stable. We are actually talking about a real stable now so each bike gets it’s own stall. Motorcycles are part of our family. My oldest daughter is now looking to get something soon as well. The big things for me is my boys are big enough to ride on the back so we will be setting out to do some riding and camping with them this summer. I plan to make my first trip to Sturgis as well this year. I’m looking for more adventures and different styles of riding to look into so we will see how that goes.
Wow, it’s been a very crazy month for The RoadRunner, and although I’ve been riding I’ve needed that riding for mental health and have not been writing about it. Don’t worry, I have a lot of words coming as weather cools off in Wisconsin.
As I wrote previously when riding to the Tomahawk Fall Rally, I’ve been appreciating the natural beauty of Wisconsin. Since Mrs. RoadRunner got me a GoPro Hero6 Black for my birthday last month, I’ve been experimenting with mounts and video modes, and I thought the fall leaves in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin would be a great place to take some footage. Make sure you pick the highest video resolution, and watch this:
For a mount, I got the official GoPro suction mount. I hate the way the helmet mounts look (I reserve the right to still use one later) and with a fairing on a bagger handlebar mounts aren’t going to work easily. Once you put this mount on, you realize it’s not going anywhere. I may have… broken the speed limit a bit taking this video and the camera was super secure: rated for up to 155mph.
This was a short video but I hope to do more like this in the future. Enjoy and keep the shiny side up.
In 1995, I bought a pair of Doc Martens boots. Made in England, highest quality, and also a symbol of punk/goth/industrial music fans. This was a tremendous event in my circle of friends: $125 at that time is about a billion dollars today adjusted for inflation. Docs were known to be bulletproof footwear, and built to last forever, a true product of craftsmanship in a world that was already leaning towards cheap alternatives and short-term thinking.
By the end of the 2015 riding season, I had to admit that my Docs were dead. 20 years is not a bad run for your favorite footwear. It would be three years before I could bring myself to replace them. You see, they had succumbed to the pressures of globalization and started assembling their iconic boots overseas. Quality suffered. Their worldwide reputation suffered. Eventually they introduced the “Made in England” series which made it clear to the buyer that the craftsmanship and materials were the same ole same ole.
Interesting thing about breaking in boots: You break in boots by stressing and stretching the leather using your feet. The process works because the boots are made of dead leather, and your feet are made of living tissue. Your feet heal and come back to re-stress the leather. The leather does not heal, so eventually your feet win. It’s good to be alive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: One thousand timesyes!
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.
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.
On Tuesday, July 17th, 2018, an adventure began. Two men left Milwaukee, WI after work and saying goodbye to their families. One of them was a veteran roadtripper and Iron Butt rider, the other had never gone 300 miles in a day. Before they returned home, they would join two other riders, survive mechanical failures, rain, tornadoes, and buffalo.
Day 1 began simply. I had convinced a former co-worker, Wyatt, that it was in his best interest to accompany me to the Tail of the Dragon and Moonshiner 28 for a 5 day trip. Wyatt was in the middle of changing jobs, so I didn’t give it much of a chance that he’d come. I had three veteran rider friends whom I thought would certainly come drop out due to work and health issues. As I mention in Planning Group Rides, the circle-back is key – keep pestering people to see who’s coming.
I met Wyatt in South Milwaukee and we rode to Lisle, IL to meet up with Harley Mark. You may remember him from my last trip to the dragon’s tail. We did this to get around Chicago and try to make the next day an easier trip miles-wise. I’ve never had rider friends not get along, but just in case, we went to a nearby watering hole to get this new friendship started.
Maybe it’s bikers, or maybe it’s just decent people, but despite not having seen Harley Mark for two years, it was no big deal.
We set out with the goal of Maryville, TN – within striking distance of the tail of the dragon, some 577 miles. “Today is the day we earn it“, I told everyone. Someone forgot their new Harley gloves at the gas station and immediately started joking about being “that guy”. We started working on nicknames for the new rider involving gloves and u-turns. Our second mishap involved me fat-fingering google maps and heading to Kankakee, IL instead. I always think of Willie Nelson’s “City of New Orleans” song when I go by. Anyway, we went a little out of our way and this should serve as reminder that letting google think for you comes with hazards. We got back on track and headed towards Indianapolis.
When leading, I (obviously) check my mirrors constantly for the state of traffic and my riding crew. I also gawk, though, and sing along to music. Imagine my surprise when Wyatt comes cruising up to tell us to pull over. He pointed down and his bike was… missing something. His right saddlebag had come off on I-65. Shit.
When it comes to vacation, I’m an optimist. I figured we’ll recover the bag, ride back to the Harley dealer we’d seen 10mi back or so, and have lunch while they fixed it. Not so. Keep in mind, at 75mph by the time something happens, and then you get your group’s attention, more than a mile may have gone by and it was a busy day. As I made a freeway loop from +1 exit to -1 exit from the accident, I found not a Whiskey Amber saddlebag but debris from what had once been a bag. So we road back to see if there was any salvage.
Miraculously, we recovered: a phone bent in half, his ID, his cash, his credit cards, and rain gear. All would come in handy in the future.
As we talked Wyatt into continuing on the trip, we noticed that his left saddlebag was also in danger of falling! We fixed the pins and set out in search of food. I secretly began thinking of nicknames involving lost saddlebags and gloves…
We had all agreed to completely wing it on this trip in terms of food and sleep. One of the great joys of road trips is the random discoveries you make. Looking at a list of nearby restaurants and craving Mexican food, I led to us to “LA Cafe”. It wasn’t Mexican. I peeked in and the hostess saw me and asked “Are you looking for the cycle shop around the corner?” Huh? Looking around, I saw my mistake:
It was a biker bar. Not “The Cafe”, but “The LA Cycle Cafe“. Nice random find for bikers on the road! Good food too!
We found a Verizon store and got Wyatt a new phone. We hit the road. Indiana is, honestly, my least favorite state to ride through. It’s just as boring as Illinoise, but with the addition of (in my opinion) some of the worst drivers east of the rockies and the worst roads. I-65 was, naturally, completely closed north of the city (as it has been on and off for years) which made the I-465 a hot stop-and-go mess. Still better than a day at work.
As I mentioned, the goal was a 577 mile day ending in or around Maryville, TN. By the time we got just around Lexington, KY Wyatt was showing signs of serious fatigue. This was a pretty eventful first roadtrip day for anyone, so we got rooms and crashed right away. There was a “bourbon bar and grill” on the grounds, and a classic car show going on in the parking lot. We did all right.
We were miles from the dragon, but got up early and ready to rock. I had previously arranged to meet Wingnut Dave right at the mouth of the dragon. Wingnut Dave would be riding up from his new place in Georgia, and you may remember him from my Bun Burner Gold trip. Maybe it’s bikers, or maybe it’s just decent people, but despite not having seen Wingnut Dave for a year, it was no big deal. We picked up where we left off.
While waiting in the parking lot at 129 Harley near the West end of the tail of the dragon, I had the first of several fortuitous meetings. I saw two Harleys with 3 digit stickers on their saddlebags. Loaded for camping. Paper directions clipped to their bars. Holy shit! The Hoka Hey is going on right now and did they make this part of the route? Sure enough, I asked and they were two patch holding brothers from an Arizona MC on the Hoka Hey. I didn’t take pics of them or their bikes out of respect, but it was amazing to see a small part of something I’ve been reading about for so long out in the world. The fact that I happened to be wearing my Hoka Hey tanktop that day made me me smile.
We got through the tail of the dragon and regrouped on the other side. I had planned to ride US 129 West to East and East to West, but they were mowing the entire 11 miles and blowing grass all over the road. In my experience riding on grass is like riding on slick snot, so we instead headed to the Moonshiner 28. Not before I met two more Hoka Hey riders, though. One of them saw my shirt and said “Yo! Yo! Yo!” and I enjoyed the hell out of that. See my future article: “Some Day, Hoka Hey!” Again, I didn’t ask for pics out of respect for their time and the vision quest they were on.
We started South Carolina 28 right at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. While I don’t think there’s a single turn as difficult as the switchbacks in the dragon, it’s 103 miles and still very technical. There are parts that are a straight 55mph road, and parts where the road narrows viciously and you’re likely to meet camper trailers in the worst turns. This was the most important part of the trip for me, since I got rained out last year. It did not disappoint. Not only was the riding amazing, but it’s right through an incredible national park with glorious scenery and waterfalls throughout. This is a magical place worth visiting via any transportation.
SC 28 ends in Walhalla. From there, my plan was to see an Oscar Blue’s brewery outpost there, and find a place to stay. Oscar Blue’s did not offer tours, but otherwise was close to what I expected. Tons of taps, a band playing, a custom food truck and of course beers to go.
Get it? Burning ~can~
I found beds that night by randomly looking at a map and picking a place that didn’t sound like a chain. I called the Pines Country Inn and asked what they had. The answer? Mountain views, a bonfire, and a country breakfast cooked by the proprietor’s mother. Inexpensive, local, charming, and awesome: this is the kind of find you hope for when traveling without firm plans.
While they gave us wood, it was wet and starting a fire would be up to us. I was glad I carry a hand axe, a tactical flashlight, emergency fire starting materials, and thermacell with me when I travel. My “just in case we get stranded sleeping at a rest area” kit came in handy.
Finally, on day 3, we had gotten some sleep the night before and there was enough distance from The Saddlebag Incident that everyone was ready to open up and talk in good spirits. Wyatt was named “Lefty” for having only his left saddlebag and I think that’s going to stick.
It’s an important thing for men to be able to talk with other men. We live in a world where men of a certain age still think , or at least were raised to think, that honesty and vulnerability are signs of weakness. This is not to say that any friendly rider wouldn’t be welcome on a trip with me. Sometimes it just takes hundreds of miles and a little adversity to feel comfortable with people. The bond shared by band members, sports teams, or any other group “on the road with a mission” must be similar.
We talked. We talked about our second lucky find in this B&B, about my hilarious packing list that included a packing list and a tactical flashlight.We talked about Wyatt’s newfound understanding of the freedom of the open road. Other stuff. We stayed up too late and drank too much. It was perfect.
My goal for the next day was to start working slowly towards home. A couple of the guys had not seen the Cumberland Gap Tunnel on TN 25E, so I wanted to hit that and then do the Buffalo Trace Distillery tour before stopping at my usual haunt in Shelbyville. We knew there were big storms coming but figured we could beat them. We were wrong.
As we reached Southern Lexington, it was clear that the horizon had turned into a hot mess of weather. Wingnut Dave pulled me over to talk some sense into me. Harley Mark pointed out that he’d seen a Hooters sign a few miles back and the radar seemed to say we could wait it out. We headed back and barely got inside before the sky unleashed hell. Buffalo Trace would have to wait. We spent hours at the restaurant as the weather winded down, and the parade of emergency vehicles ran around afterwards. We bought bourbon nearby. We made hotel reservations nearby.
As we rode towards the hotel, I noticed something. Light pollution is so jarringly ever-present in our cities today that you notice it when every house and street lamp is dark. I knew before we got there the hotel would not have power. I was right. We “had rooms” reserved online that they could not let us in to until they at least had power. We settled in, opened a deck of cards, I started sewing on my Moonshiner 28 patch (the shittiest stitching I’ve ever done), and opened the day’s haul of bourbon. It wasn’t long before I pointed out “Guys, even if power never comes back we can’t possibly ride out of here…”; a bottle of Buffalo Trace was already looking badly used. We were committed. Not long after power came back we had another surprise: a tornado had been spotted a mile away and the hotel manager was herding everyone into the stairwells. So here we are, four drunk bikers passing around bourbon along with crying children and all kinds of families. Eventually the coast was clear, we took a dip in the pool, and then settled into the hotel lobby for cards and more bourbon. We talked again. We stayed up too late. We drank too much. It was perfect.
The morning of Day 5 we parted ways with Wingnut Dave, heading to Buffalo Trace for the early tour. Dave was on the way to the Devil’s Triangle and we had to get home. These partings pain me, since I can only take so much time for motorcycle trips and I don’t know when I’ll see people again. We made it to Buffalo Trade and had a great tour.
I couldn’t help but think (maybe I planned it this way?) that this was a fitting end to the trip, but also a sharp contrast to last year where Four Roses was my consolation prize for missing the Moonshiner 28.
We got absolutely shit on by weather on the way home, but luckily we had saved Lefty’s rain gear from the lost saddlebag. There’s not much else to say. I came home, I hugged my family, and I sat down peaceful and content.
With that, “Moonshiner 28” moves from the “Some day” to “Been there” column on the Rides page. What’s my next adventure? Stay tuned…
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, Meetup.com, 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:
These are the trips I’m thinking about this summer…
…OK we are doing the Moonshiner 28 in July!
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.
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.
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.