How to ride long distance

The loneliness of the long-distance rider

By Alan Dowds

RIDING long distances on a bike isn't for everyone. Plenty of us are content with using bikes for short blasts on a weekend, trackdays, and the odd longer ride in the summer. On the other hand, the rise of the adventure rider shows that lots of folk like nothing more than piling on the miles day after day.

So if you're looking to develop one of those iron butts, or have your first mega ride ahead of you, here's our selection of top tips for marvellous mega-mile munching…

1 Plan

If you've never ridden 500 miles in a day before, it's worth building up rather than just diving in at the deep end. Consider dragging a mate along – it's more fun than on your own. And if you're thinking about taking a pillion, they need to do some training too. A thousand-mile day on the back of a bike is most folk's idea of hell, so they'll need to be tough.


It’s true to say that people have done massive tours on all sorts of bikes. Nick Sanders famously took the first Yamaha R1 round the world, and people regularly do Land's End to John O'Groats on 50cc mopeds. But the right bike can make life much easier. We're not saying everyone needs a Gold Wing to do more than 50 miles a day, but a sport-tourer or adventure bike will generally be better than a naked bike. A bit of wind and weather protection will let you stay in the saddle longer before you get weary, and a relaxed, comfy riding position will improve your mood too.



A taller screen may improve the air flow over your head, heated grips will keep your digits toasty, and stuff like a sat-nav, intercom and music/radio helps pass the hours. If you're really keen, stuff like gel-seat pads or inflatable cushions will give your arse an easier time.

Obviously, make sure your tyres, chain, brakes and service intervals can cope with your planned trip. There's not much point heading out on a 3k ride to Bulgaria and back if your tyres only have a thousand miles of tread left and your chain is on the last adjustment notch. If you're going to be travelling far enough to need a new tyre, make sure they'll be available where you're going. Shipping tyres and parts out in advance may make sense.

In terms of riding gear, you need to be warm if it's cold and cool if it's hot, so plan accordingly. If you'll be riding in day and night, a helmet with a built-in sun visor makes a lot of sense.




Piling on a load of miles in a day is harder than it looks. First of all, if you *must* get somewhere a long way away in one day, you need to stick to fast roads – motorways or dual carriageways. Taking the twisty scenic route sounds like the better choice – and if you have the time, get to it. But doing 800 miles in a day really needs an average speed of 70-80mph, and you'll only get that on a motorway. Spending half the day blasting up and down mountains, while only covering a hundred miles, will put a lot of pressure on later.

It’s tempting to dawdle at each fuel stop. Have a coffee and a fag, browse the service station produce, check your emails and Facebook. But if you've got miles to make, you need iron discipline. Stop at the petrol station only rather than the main services, one rider fills up, one goes for a piss and pays. Everyone else pisses, then you leave. If you must, grab a drink and snack. Once you have the miles you need in the bag, then you can have a longer break. Maybe.

Speed is the other temptation. The tradeoff is simple: go faster, and you use more fuel. So the time you make up by sitting at 120 on the autobahn for a tank of gas is cancelled out because you have two more fuel stops than if you sat at 90.

Keep an eye on the mpg readout if you have one, and amuse yourself as you ride along with some mental arithmetic on time, speed, distance, fuel range…


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