I Left My Harp in Sam Frank's Disco
July 24, 2008 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm riding my motorcycle from Tallahassee, Florida, to San Francisco, California, in about three weeks. Any advice?

I know I can find lots of general info on cross-country motorcycle trips from Google (and I have), but I thought tips from the hive-mind might be more interesting and specific to my route.

Details: I'm riding my 2002 Suzuki GS500, taking two saddle bags and a backpack, a tent and a sleeping bag. I'll be traveling in a more or less straight line north from Tallahassee to Nashville, then heading west through Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Las Vegas before tipping north a little through Yosemite and the coast. Any advice about things to see along this line of travel, campsites, dangers, gas concerns or whatever will be appreciated, as will advice about what to pack (or what NOT to pack).

This'll be a one-way trip as I'm quitting my job and using the time between employers to take a little breathing room and make a new home in California (I'm shipping the bulk of my belongings out there). Still, I'd like the trip to take about two weeks and be as inexpensive as possible, though I'm open to deviating from the planned route a bit for something really fantastic.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Pecinpah to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
You may have already done so, but you can tap into a vast reservoir of motorcycle-specific knowledge on forums like advrider and all the many others.
posted by Forktine at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nope, didn't know about that. Thanks!
posted by Pecinpah at 7:49 AM on July 24, 2008

Dryer lint is lightweight and great for starting fires. Also, BMW MC owner's club publishes a book (The Anonymous Book) of fellow riders throughout the country who are available for coffee, beds in a pinch, tools, a place to sleep, etc. Not sure if Suzuki has anything similar, but it would be a great resource to have on such a long trip.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:30 AM on July 24, 2008

Take all of your old worn out clothes with you. Instead of carrying an increasing amount of dirty laundry with you, discard it piece by dirty piece along the way. THis works best with underwear, socks, and shirts. Invest in quality raingear. Get one of those gel cushions to keep your butt from getting too numb.

Make frequent stops and don't push yourself to do too many miles in one day to stay sharp. Having a exhaustion induced accident would be a drag.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:55 AM on July 24, 2008

Make sure your bike is in good shape, especially the tires. Have an emergency tirerepair kit.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:24 AM on July 24, 2008

Last year I drove from Las Vegas to Cortez, CO just to see the ruins at Mesa Verde N.P., and i wasn't disappointed. Ducked through Zion N.P. too and found its beauty to rival Yosemite. I recommend this northern line to L.V. over going though Kingman.
posted by yort at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2008

Wet weather gear. Cuz once your feet and legs get wet you're miserable for the rest of the day. If you don't have gear, plastic bags worn between two layers of socks work. If you get cold and wet you'll get clever enough to figure it out, though...

Have a great time. Beware of idiots in the eighth hour of your day.
posted by lothar at 10:26 AM on July 24, 2008

You're gonna hate that backpack, if you put much in it, before you get to Nashville. On a long trip, a tank bag is 10x as useful and comfortable (there are much nicer ones if you can spend more money). Depending on what you pack, one really nice thing you can do with a tank bag is lay forward on it, taking all the pressure off your hands, butt and back. Also, a tank bag gets weight forward, which is important when you're packing a light bike like a GS500 with saddlebags, and a tent roll. It's also great to be able to fold a map for the next 200 miles of your route, and have it right there, for consultation underneath the clear vinyl top cover.

As for sights, a bit to the east of I-65, in the northeast corner of Alabama, near Ft. Payne, is the largest canyon east of the Mississippi. Little River Canyon National Preserve is worth the detour (would add about 4 hours Interstate driving via 1-59 and I-24 through Chattanooga to Nashville) but really worth it. The 13 mile Canyon Rim Drive is fun on a bike, and you can also see nearby (about 8 miles from the start of the Canyon) Desoto Falls State Park. There are camping facilities around the area.
posted by paulsc at 10:37 AM on July 24, 2008

This makes a difference - don't wear regular cotton briefs. Those little hems on the leg holes will become VERY noticeable after a couple of hours in the seat. When I ride long distance, I wear bicycle shorts underneath, and it makes a huge difference. One other way that helps is that it makes it easier for your backside to slide around a very tiny bit when you go over bumps. During the course of an all day ride, it really helps. And especially on a GS500 seat, which is not made for cross-country touring. I've done several 500+ mile days on a Nighthawk 250, so I have a pretty good idea of what a long day is like on a small bike's stock seat. (You might want to look into an Airhawk cushion.)

One thing that is very important, especially in the deserts you'll be crossing - stay hydrated and carry plenty of water. I've found that a tank bag can usually hold a decent sized hydration pack bladder.

Don't push your fuel. Once you get out west, fuel stations can get few and far between. For me it's not uncommon to hit stretches that are 60-80 miles with no available fuel. Know how far you can get on a tank and know where you can find fuel. If you're passing a gas station and you're in doubt, fill up.

Take a couple of Advil each morning before you set out. It helps.

Check into AMA (American Motorcycle Association) membership, and look into their Motow service. It could really make things a lot easier for you if you have a problem with the bike.

If you're getting near Santa Fe, I recommend you check the city out. I recommend the Rancheros de Santa Fe campground. They're friendly, hot showers are always nice, and if you really don't feel like pitching a tent you can nab one of their cabins.

Passing by the Grand Canyon? If so, it's mandatory. Take the entire East Rim drive and stop at the overlooks. A lot less crowded than the main visitor center. And if you really have some time, so the North Rim instead.

A motorcycle trip is always a memorable experience. My longest have been four days, and I would LOVE to do a three week run. Good luck, and have fun!
posted by azpenguin at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2008

You might want to invest in some special clothes for the stretch west from Arkansas till California. You need protection just in case, but you also need ventilation. It's going to be hotter than a snake's rear end in a west Texas privy.

Oh, and one cool place to drive that hasn't been mentioned:

Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. It's just half and hour east-northeast of Las Vegas, NV but it is A-mazing to drive through! Especially on a bike. Holy crap it will be hot, but it will be worth it if you're down there anyway.

Promise me you will go there.
posted by crazy finger at 12:44 PM on July 24, 2008

Water. You're coming through some pretty big deserts in some really hot times of the year. The weather reports are claiming that Vegas won't be over 105 when you're riding, but you should probably be safe and assume that it may get to 110.

Riding in those kinds of temps is a unique experience. Since you're from Florida I'd guess you already ride in the heat. However, the humidity level is so low across a lot of the area you're travelling through that you might end up needing more water than you're used to.
posted by krisak at 1:05 PM on July 24, 2008

I suggest a Camelbak or its equivalent. Out west in the heat, you cannot drink water fast enough. Pack good raingear with you; it can literally be a lifesaver if you get wet & chilled. Quick-dry clothing, like UnderArmour, will keep your skin dry and also dry overnight in a tent or hotel room (cotton won't). Some Anti Monkey Butt Powder or Gold Bond is a good thing to have. A digital camera (and a ziploc to store it in, in case of rain).

And a big +1 on Forktine's suggestion of advrider; I'm workerant there too. Feel free to mefi mail me for more; I ride a lot and have done some petty epic trips.
posted by workerant at 1:56 PM on July 24, 2008

- In-ear headphones + MP3 player, blocks the noise of wind and provides good quality sound without having to blast the volume. Or alternatively, if you don't think that's safe, foam earplugs so you don't have to subject your ears to blasting wind.

- A textile jacket + inner liner to keep you cool or warm in the desert miles. Leather in the desert sounds like hell.

- Lycra skull cap. Makes the helmet feel nice, keeps your hair from bunching up and pressing against the helmet, and keeps your helmet from smelling stinky. Easily washable.

- Nthing the tank bag. They make magnetic ones that can come off when you go to stores, get gas, eat. You can also get one with a clear layer on top to put maps.

- Throttle-lock/cruise control/cramp buster.

- Adjust your pegs and handlebars for optimal long-term comfort.

- Flip-up modular hemlet.

- Tank-mounted camera mount + camera. Looks like you're going to go through some cool places, and it would be great to have footage. Here are some options.

- Check out Pashnit.com for a motorcycle rider's guide to epic California roads. PM me if you want to see the membership pages.
posted by sonicbloom at 2:23 PM on July 24, 2008

Have you been on long rides before? If not, don't start with a transcontinental ride. Have you been on long rides with this bike? I personally wouldn't want to ride a sports bike for several hours a day for days on end. Are you able and willing to check out the bike every morning?

You have about three weeks before you leave, so I suggest you do a little test run. Pack everything you plan to take on the big trip, including the backpack and tent, and ride for a couple of days. You'll have time to make adjustments before the big ride.
posted by spork at 2:34 PM on July 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the suggestions! I'm taking notes of this stuff to put in my 'ride book' (a log of the trip I'll be keeping).

crazy finger, I promise I will go through the Valley of Fire - thanks for the tip!.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2008

Good advice so far. I'm not a huge tourer, but have made a few trips in the ~3000 mile range.

Definately do not try wearing a back pack the whole way. If you take one, find someway to attach it to the bike (bungee it to a sissy bar or luggage rack if you have the room). Tank bag is the way to go for all the reasons paulsc mentions. The laminated folding maps (rand macnally EasyFinder's for example) work really well in the tank bag pocket.

If you have plenty of time, heading a little east on the first leg up and going though the corner of GA, NC, SC, and TN is a great place to ride.

A gps is handy too of course. Even one of the small hand held ones stuck in the top of the tank bag is enough to answer the "where the &*%$ am I?" questions when they will pop up.

Agreed on bringing mostly disposable clothes. Your never gonna be more than a half day or so from somewhere to pickup t-shirts/socks/etc if you really need them.

Gas can get really sparse out west, especially if you off the interstates. I've gone ~100 miles between gas stations before in the midwest.
posted by alikins at 3:41 PM on July 24, 2008

Good advice all the way around.

My one bit I can add is for when you get to San Francisco. Don't park your motorcycle on the sidewalks, it'll garner you a whopping $100 ticket faster than you can believe.

Oh yeah, one other thing, if you are prone to cramping (as I sometimes am) you might want to supplement with some potassium pills to help cut down on it. There's almost nothing worse than being stuck in traffic on a motorcycle with cramping up hips, believe me!
posted by fenriq at 7:27 AM on July 25, 2008

In Amarillo, see Cadillac Ranch.
posted by hootch at 2:53 PM on July 31, 2008

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