How To

Pondering A Saddlesore 1,000

I used to enjoy the bachelor life, a flexible contractor's work schedule, and plenty of time to take long weekend or week-long bike trips. Now that I'm happily married, have a full time job, and just bought a house, life's going great, but I don't have nearly as much time to ride as I used to. I gain back some time by commuting when I can, but I don't see a return to Cape Breton Island in my immediate future. That's why I'm pondering an IronButt SaddleSore 1,000.

The concept is simple – 1,000 miles in 24 hours. The trick is in the execution. If you’re one of the few still watching the new version of Top Gear, you probably cheered like I did when Matt LeBlanc chose a 1989 Honda Goldwing instead of a cheap car for their cheap car challenge to Venice, Italy in this week’s episode. But aside from the ridiculousness of not being able to cook a gourmet meal on the road, I thought they accurately demonstrated why even one of the best bikes for covering distance quickly doesn’t cover it as fast or as comfortably as a car. Its limited fuel range requires more frequent stops, and although LeBlanc was dressed well and only complained about the cold a little, the elements take a toll on a rider that his comrades in the Jaguar, Audi, and train didn’t suffer. Top Gear didn’t even get into the other issues of long distance riding – hydration, fatigue, the poor lighting that many bikes have… Being a car show I don’t fault them for that, but the issues remain valid. While most drivers could cover 1,000 miles in a day if they had to, it’s a pretty big deal for a motorcycle.

Matt LeBlanc Honda Goldwing

This makes it like a mountain begging to be climbed for some riders. That led to the Iron Butt Association beginning to certify long distance rides starting in 1993. Today they certify many long distance rides in addition to the SaddleSore 1,000. Since one can undertake one of these rides anytime, anywhere, they require a fair amount of documentation to prove that you actually completed the ride you claim to have done. But once you do, you’re certified, and no one will argue about whether you really did it or not.

I’ve never been a hard core put-down-the-miles kind of rider. Like many, I prefer tackling the twisties and having an enjoyable experience rather than a mad dash from point A to point B. Some of my trips over long weekends haven’t even covered 1,000 miles in total. But it does seem like one way to get a whole lot of riding done in a short period of time, which is appealing. Plus there’s the question of whether I can pull off this milestone ride or not. There’s only one way to find out.

I tend to overthink and over analyze everything. I’ve done a lot of reading, both on the Iron Butt Association web site and from others who have done the ride themselves. Here’s what I think will work for me.

The Route

SaddleSore 1000 route

Good planning is key to a successful ride. One of the biggest questions is what route to take. With 1,000 miles to cover there are endless possibilities. Since the purpose is to cover the miles, interstates and other superslabs are the easiest way to go. Some say it’s too easy, but screw that on a first attempt. Doing the math tells me that covering 1,000 miles in 24 hours requires an average overall speed of 41.7 mph. If you take interstates allowing 65, 70, or more, you’ll quickly put extra time in the bank to cash in later for fuel stops, rest stops, and to finish in less than 24 hours so you can catch up on some sleep.

I live in New England, which is a beautiful area but tricky for a ride like this. I’m blocked by an ocean to the east and south, and the Canadian border to the north. While I have a passport and have crossed the border on a bike before, I feel it’s an unnecessary time sink when you’re trying to cover the distance, plus a risk of excessive delay and missing the mark through no fault of your own. That leaves west. Southwest heads straight to New York City, which is yet another major roadblock, so that’s out. Northwest there aren’t very many interstates, none to make a loop out of, and then there’s that pesky international border again. But I-90 will take me as far due west as I want to go. And there’s a Kwik-Fill station barely across the PA border that’s just over 500 miles from home. Out there and back will give me the mileage I need.

One problem that plagued Matt LeBlanc was a shorter fuel range than the cars. My Honda PC800 has a 4.2 gallon tank. I checked the model’s reported gas mileage on Fuelly, which shows most people getting around 44 mpg – some better, some worse. That gives me a maximum range of 185 miles between stops if I push it. While I’d have nothing against carrying an extra gallon gas can in case I run out, the documentation requires time stamped gas station receipts to prove you covered the mileage you did. An undocumented gallon of gas could throw that off. Fortunately, the New York State Thruway has well established travel plazas at known locations along the way. With additional stops near home to start and finish, in western MA for my second and second-to-last tank, and the Kwik Fill in PA, I calculated that I can make the trip on three tanks of gas in each direction. The longest leg would be 148 miles, well within the limits of my range even if my gas mileage drops to 35 mpg, lower than I get even in city riding. The Googles say that my route will take 15 hours, 20 minutes, not including stops. That gives me nearly nine hours I can spend off the bike and still make the deadline.

The Strategy

karting

In go-karting, I’ve always been a better endurance racer than the short sprint races. I’m not the fastest driver out there, but I can put down lap after lap at 95%. If the faster guy gives it 102% and wipes out, I win. Similarly, when I did courier work, I learned that the key to making timely deliveries wasn’t to achieve the highest speed, but to make the best progress. Speeding was frowned on, of course, but if I could just keep on keeping on, medium speed and steady would win the race.

You can see this every day on the highway. There’s always “that guy” who finds a gap in traffic, charges ahead faster than everyone else, then gets stuck behind slower people until they can work they way back into the fastest moving lane – usually several cars behind where he started. “That guy” definitely achieved the highest speed, but by holding tight in the fastest moving lane, you put distance on him.

This seems the best strategy for a long distance ride as well. My pace will probably be slower than the highway portion of my commute. Even with a fairing and windshield, the elements can get to you, and the difference between 70 and 80mph is far greater than the difference between 25 and 35. Also, getting pulled over for speeding eats a chunk of time you’d rather spend on the bike.

traffic

Traffic sucks, so it’s best to do this when there won’t be much – a weekend, and not a holiday weekend. Also, though I’ve made significant improvements to my forward lighting, I’ll want to have as much daylight as possible for my ride. That means doing the ride sometime around the Summer Solstice which is… um… two days ago. Whoops. But still, maximizing daylight will maximize safety, and allow you to ride faster than at night for longer.

Another important consideration is that you don’t want to have a face full of sun for several hours of your ride. That means not riding east at sunrise, or west as sunset. Geography actually helps me here, forcing me to ride with my back to the sun at pretty much all times.

And although my gas stops could certainly be a quick NASCAR style splash ‘n’ dash without ever dismounting the bike, I’ll likely take those opportunities to get off the bike, stretch, and walk around a bit. There’s no prize for finishing in 16 hours instead of 17, and while I don’t want to push it to a point where I’m actually sleepy, regular short breaks will probably keep me going longer.

The Equipment

IMG_3727_rfd

Since it’s my only bike, I’ll be doing this on my Honda PC800. I bought it already well equipped for touring, with a Givi top trunk, Bill Mayer seat, and Clearview windshield (which I modified with my Puig clip-on visor, since the previous owner was shorter than me). I lived off this bike for a week when I rode to Cape Breton Island and back. After some trouble and extensive repair a couple of years ago it’s run perfectly ever since. Of course, I’ll want to check the oil, tires, pressure, and all that before taking it 500 miles away from home.

Everything I’ve read tells me that hydration is critical. I suffered from heat exhaustion on a camping trip a few years ago, and I have no wish to ever repeat that experience. I won’t want to pull over to drink, so some kind of hydration system is in order. If it’s easy to use, I’m more likely to use it. Something like a Camelbak is the obvious choice, but I’m not sure I want to carry that weight on my back for 1,000 miles. Maybe I can find a way to attach it to the bike instead.

Tank bag

I typically dislike tank bags, but I’m reconsidering for the sake of a SaddleSore 1,000. I already own one that I haven’t used in years. Its magnetic base is useless on my plastic not-a-gas-tank, but a couple of straps would hold it on. Here I could anything I’d want to reach while riding, like snacks and a water bottle (with a larger jug in the trunk for refills anytime I need them). Documentation could go here too, but it would have to be in a closed compartment so nothing could blow away while I’m grabbing a drink on the fly. There’s a clear map pocket on top where I can put a list of fuel stops for reference.

Though I’ve found using a phone for navigation to be problematic in areas with spotty cell service, it won’t be a problem on this route. I’ve driven most of this trip before using Waze and never had an issue with connectivity. So I’ll use my RAM X-Grip mount for my phone, and program Waze to guide me from fuel stop to fuel stop. That way I won’t forget to stop and run out of gas, plus it’ll answer the proverbial “Are we there yet?” Not to mention the hazard and police alerts. I’ve found the traffic warnings only come up after you’re already stuck in it, which kind of defeats the purpose. Finally, I can share my route with my wife, enabling her to track my progress and reduce how much she’s worrying about me.

Finally, the smallest, cheapest, yet probably most important piece of equipment: earplugs. I don’t use them on my commute, but I use them for any ride with significant time spent at higher speeds with their higher noise level. They don’t block my hearing, just turn the volume down a little bit. I’d argue that at highway speeds I can actually hear better with earplugs than without, because it’s easier to pick up noises other than the wind when it’s not overwhelming your eardrums. This is not only to protect my hearing, but to prevent fatigue as well. I can’t explain it, but hours of loud wind noise can wear you out, even with a helmet that covers your ears and keeps the actual wind out of them. For over 15 consecutive hours in the saddle, I’m going to need them.

The Time

Riding into the sunset
Photo credit: Tom George Arts

Considering that I said I’d prefer to maximize available daylight, it would seem that the time to tackle a SaddleSore 1,000 is now. Am I ready? I need to figure out hydration and a tank bag, plus give the bike a solid once over. With an afternoon’s work I can have the bike and equipment ready. But what about me? I haven’t had time to put in a good solid day on the bike yet this year with everything else going on in my life. Can I reasonably expect to just hop on my bike and ride 1,000 miles?

I’m not sure. I could potentially work up to it – a 300 mile ride one weekend, and a 600 mile ride another. Or I could just go for it, commit myself, and see if I can do it. Worst case, I find a hotel room on the way, check in for the night, and throw the attempt away. Nothing says you have to do it on the first try, and better safe than sorry.

I might just be talking out my ass here. All my planning and preparation might not mean a thing once the kickstand goes up and I’m actually doing it. If you have any advice for me, feel free to leave it in the comments. For now, I’ve done what I can, so all that remains is the final prep work, then giving it a try. Watch here for updates.

6 Comments

  1. Wow, good luck! I think a big part of any long ride (official “endurance” ride or not) is: Know Thyself.

    I have not attempted any kind of tracked, paperworked LD ride because I know how I get when I get overtired, and it’s not pretty or remotely safe. The LD riders all say avoid caffeine, don’t eat big meals on the road or you’ll get logey, fill your gas tank and empty your bladder as simultaneously as possible, and more — there’s tons of information on the internet. Do a ride like this without caffeine, my brain says? Are you actually insane?

    As a friend of mine once said, I like red wine, too; but I do not want to drink it from a hose.

    But it sounds like you’ve had experience with, if not LD riding, at least endurance-y things, so I think you’ll have a better chance at it than I would.

    The only thing that makes me a little nervous is, it sounds like you don’t have a good empirical idea of how many miles your bike gets to a tank. This is very, very important. Go do some tank-to-tank runs before getting up at 3am to do a Saddlesore. Every bike is different, and you need to know yours extremely well!

    Tweet from the road, yo. 🙂

    1. Great advice – thanks!

      The PC800 is infamous for having a particularly pessimistic fuel gauge. Before an SS1k attempt I plan to fill a 1 gallon gas can, stick it in the trunk, do a long superslab loop, and see how far I get before I “run out of gas.” Then I’ll refill from the can and finish the ride.

      I’m also not too proud to bail on the attempt if I become unsafe to ride. I can stop at the nearest “Iron Butt Motel” to snooze a bit, and if I can’t make it in 24 hours safely, so be it. It isn’t worth risking a fatigue related crash for bragging rights and a license plate frame.

      Yeah, no, I can’t skip the caffeine either. I won’t go crazy with it, but they can have my coffee when they pry it from my cold dead hands.

  2. I’ve been contemplating the same exact thing for the past two years.

    I really want to do an IB more than anything and now with the Bandit kitted out, I feel like I really have the bike to do that but…

    The longest I’ve ridden in a day is ~450 and that was challenging enough (well mostly because I went 40 miles the wrong way on the BRP but that’s a different story).

    I have also been thinking “hey maybe do like a 600-650 miler as a warm up?” And also, the route I was thinking of for the IB was obviously pretty much the same as yours because Mass.

    So I propose this….. let’s do a 2/3 or 3/4 one? Together. Less worry on each party since we have a mutual safety net, and frankly, I think it would be a great article for you and this site as I’m sure we’re not the only ones considering this. It’ll give you more time to stop and write down or record notes for the site, and you’ll have a 2nd party opinion, which is something I love reading in reviews/blogs but doesn’t happen as often as it should.

    What say you?

    1. That’s an interesting idea. I’m about to post about how my 300 mile test run last weekend ended badly, with a flat tire, and how I found the whole long superslab trip thing kind of boring.

      But, teaming up changes things. A lot. The safety net, as you say, which I’m sure will make my wife feel better after rescuing me on Sunday. The perspective, and I’m all about trying new ideas and doing what isn’t already being done. The company, which is good. And a slightly shorter distance as a run-up to the real thing, but still farther than either of us have ever gone before.

      I have to patch or replace my front tire first, but my bike is running perfectly, and I now know my max range. Keep in touch if you want – jhughes@rightwristtwist.com .

Leave a Reply