TIPS FOR LONG TRIPS
by Brian Holm, copyright © 1998 Scoot! Quarterly
I think I know why I was asked to write this article, but I'm not sure I'm the best example. I tend to over-prepare and carry too much stuff; most of my long distance riding is on my P200E, a small amount is on my Super Sport; so take this with a grain of salt, use common sense (or borrow some from an experienced friend) and apply your experience with your regular bike.
If you read Scootering International, or surf Piaggio's web site you've undoubtedly heard of Giorgio Bettinelli. Giorgio is currently at the beginning of a trip around the world on his new Vespa, in one monster trip he's linking his three prior excursions; Rome to Saigon, Anchorage to Tierra Del Fuego, and Sydney to South Africa. I met Giorgio in San Francisco in May '94 during his trip down the Americas. A group took Giorgio out for dinner and drinks and peppered him with questions about his travels. Amazed to learn that Giorgio has relatively few repair skills, and carries few tools and spares, one friend asked "Aren't you worried about breaking down? Hell, I broke down coming across town tonight, what do you do out in the middle of nowhere?" Quickly, smiling, Giorgio replied, "You wait. Someone comes, someone helps. A car, a truck, a camel. An hour, a day. Someone comes, someone helps." Talk about attitude. This guy cruises the planet armed with a guitar, intelligence, and a shitload of internal sunshine. Attitude. I can't say that I travel with as free a spirit, but that positive attitude, that things will just work out, can carry you a long way.
Before you take off for Antarctica, do some riding; especially if you've done major work to the bike. Shake it down, ride it to work every day, take it on a weekend camping trip. Get the bugs out, and get used to time in the saddle. Don't take off on a bike you don't know or trust. Get to know the fuel and oil consumption of the bike so that you can assess your range and plan your trip accordingly. Even if the bike's in top shape, tune it up, tighten it up, and double check the big obvious stuff: Your tires and wheels are in good shape and properly mounted. The suspension's decent, and the exhaust isn't going to fall off. If you're climbing in altitude for relatively short periods don't bother re-jetting, it'll take you more time (and is riskier) to re-jet than the loss of top-end speed will cost you. If you're dropping significantly in altitude (like coming from Denver to San Francisco) be prepared to re-jet, otherwise you'll likely be running too lean.
Can you do the trip on stock grips and a stock seat? Sure, but change the grips unless they're nice original vintage. Get some of those cheap cushy foam ones at any motorcycle accessories shop. (They might even slip on over your stock grips.) They're easy on the hands, require a lighter grip, and they work great with cruise control. (see below) If you've got a little racing seat on there you might consider swapping it with something stock and a bit more comfortable just for the trip; I never could go for the "King and Queen" seat myself, but they look pretty comfy.
Even though you plan to travel only during the day, get your head light(s), tail light and brake light working, turn signals too if you've got 'em. If you have a sealed beam headlight, consider a halogen conversion. If you're sticking with a sealed beam run the switch between high and low during the day (on a P200 this can prevent burn outs.) Know the relevant laws of wherever you plan to ride. As an example, Nevada requires two mirrors, California one; I rode through both with none and got
stopped in Nevada. The cop said if I had one mirror (to go with my California plate) he'd let me off, and followed me to a motorcycle shop to see me make good. Some states restrict bikes on freeways based upon cc's (California), some on horsepower (Nebraska); Colorado and Arizona don't require helmets, but Colorado demands that you wear "eye protection", etc.
Don't beg for trouble, ride a registered bike, and insure it if that's required. You don't want your ride impounded 500 miles from home. Remember that once you cross an international border you lose a great many of your civil rights, caution is the better side of valor. A fun example: To ride on the Autostrada in Italy requires that a bike be 150cc or better. We all had 200cc motors, but Tom Cullen's bike was originally a P125, and it still had that badge on the cowl. An alert Italian border guard noticed the badge, and told us Tom couldn't join us on the Autostrada. After we explained that the motor had been upgraded, the guard requested some certifying proof. We pointed to the "220" on Tom's California registration and were allowed to proceed. The "220' is the adjusted gross weight of the vehicle. Get some maps. Carry a card in your wallet with important phone numbers. Bring a camera.
We are not alone:
If you're not traveling alone make sure that the people you're traveling with are equally well prepared and equipped. You'll wind up pissed off if someone is holding you back, breaking down unnecessarily, limping along with a piece of crap bike that has no business on the road, or gobbling up all of your spares, supplies, and money. Should you help each other out? Sure. But avoid as much trouble as you can before the trip begins.
A good jacket. Something that repels rain, has lots of pockets, and cuts the wind. For those with bucks Aerostitch and Corbin make some heavy Cordura Nylon riding jackets that are excellent in weather, visible, and compare favorably to Kevlar and leather in abrasion tests. In a Nevada hailstorm I was jealous of my buddies wearing these quality jackets.
Helmet. Controversial. "Let those who ride decide." But for me, yes. Here's a simple formula I use to determine the minimum amount of money I'll spend on a helmet: $1 per IQ point, plus $1 per every year of the age you'd like to live to, plus $10 for every prior crash, plus $100 for every dependent child you have at home.
Gloves. They don't have to be expensive, but they should be comfortable, cut the wind, and keep warm in the wet.
Shades. Shades are cool.
Kidney belt. Not absolutely essential, but if I'm doing lots of non-stop freeway (say, 100 miles at a stretch for 300-500 miles total in a day) I prefer to wear one, I think it cuts down on fatigue and soreness. You might not notice the difference after one day, but over the long haul I think it helps. An addition or alternative is a riding position my friend Eric Halladay recommended when I was riding to Colorado one year. Heels on the cowl clips, butt way back on the seat, lean forward with your back perfectly flat (or straight). It gets you low, cutting the wind resistance, but more importantly it really reduces back strain, I use this often.
Ear plugs. I don't use them because they're always eventually uncomfortable for me; but a lot of my friends believe that they do wonders in reducing fatigue induced by hours of noise and vibration.
On the road:
Two words, cruise control. Everyone will tell you (or later ask you) how sore your ass will be. But that's not really the problem. You can shift your butt around, ride on one cheek then the thigh, then the other, etc. But your throttle hand will beg to be flexed, and that right elbow will want to straighten out and relax. Friends, you need "Parker's Patent Pending Cruise Control." Waid "Scooter Daddy" Parker manufactured these for us on the third day of the "Ride of a Lifetime." What a godsend. All it takes is a rubber band and about ten inches of coat hanger to form a clamp with a protruding post around the base of the throttle grip. Twist the throttle, push the post up against the brake lever, and voila! your throttle is held open. The clamp isn't too tight, so to slow down you simply turn the throttle back, it turns inside the clamp. This works especially well with those cheap spongy grips I mentioned earlier. There are some commercial throttle locks for motorcycles,
you might also look at those and see if they'll work on your scooter.
Get off the interstate. The freeway is what gets you there, but you'll most remember the time spent on smaller highways and back roads. You don't have to go off the interstate all the time, but make room in each day for a short leg on the alternate roads. They're scenic, slow paced, less traveled, and you can peer into barns and fields for scooters. Take some pictures, get something to eat, look around; you'll have more to show for your efforts when the trip is over. Enjoy this part of your trip, but watch for speed traps, this is where you'll find them.
Security. Take extra precautions. Lock up the bike. If you're on a big ride it's a long walk home, and losing your bike is certain to ruin the fun. Don't take too many chances or risks far from home. Dropping your bike around the corner from your house, and laying it down 100 miles from the nearest town, are two very different experiences.
"You wait. Someone comes, someone helps." Well, for Giorgio maybe. Me, I joined "Mo-Tow." This service is available to AMA members for $25 per year. In the 48 states they'll tow your bike from anywhere to the nearest repair facility (or just the nearest town if you've got an old scooter and there's no nearby repair facility.) Correspondingly, if you've got a cell phone, bring it. If you're opting for the "wait" method, bring a book.
Oil. I don't want to ignite a debate, so just bring enough of whatever you use (I prefer more expensive oils, but Tim Slagle went 5,325 miles on plain old Castrol 2-stroke, and never changed his plug once.)
One or two of each cable and a couple of spare cable clamps
One of each bulb (except maybe sealed beams, too big.)
A few feet of 14 or 12 gauge wire
Wire ties ("zip ties") and assorted "solderless" electrical connectors
Good spare tire
Diagonal cutting pliers
A decent Phillips head screw driver, and a standard one
Spark plug wrench
Small metric socket or box-end wrench set
Your lucky rag
Advil, Tylenol, whatever
A compact First Aid kit
A bottle of water and some food (even a PowerBar. You might find yourself waiting somewhere.)
Clutch nut tool
Luxury Spares & Tools: (the stuff I sometimes wish I had, but don't always carry)
Extra gas (doesn't have to be some big 'ol can, a quart bottle in the glove box can save you a lot of hassle.)
Extra ignition coil (you never know about these)
Butane soldering iron (and some solder)
Cable pliers ("4th hand tool")
One Cable housing
Air activated hand warmers (Dave Dubiner introduced me to these little packets you can slip into a wet glove or your shoes, available at camping supply stores)
An Oscar Meyer Wienermobile whistle
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