While blogs are generally more conversational than instructional, this particular blog is intentionally instructional. This blog is about long trip gear, group riding formation and group riding communications.
LONG TRIP GEAR
I’ve already admitted that I’m a gearhead so any excuse to buy gear, I’m “in”. Going on a multi-day ride is a really great excuse to buy gear!
One thing I must admit about my gear is that it’s quite expensive. However, I purchased 90% of it in the USA (which made it dramatically cheaper than in Canada, even with the different currency exchange rate). Pre-pandemic, I’d be in the USA at least twice per year so I would get gear from Revzilla, Sierra BMW and/or Amazon delivered to the hotel/home at which I was staying, in advance of my arrival. That saved the duty I’d pay if I had the items delivered to my door in Toronto. I’ve also purchased and sold gear on Kijiji. Another option I’ve used to buy/sell gear is Re-Gear in Oshawa, Ontario. Re-Gear gives you very little money for your gear but it’s great for purchasing lightly used gear at a really good price (that’s why they give you so little for your gear). The primary site I use for new Canadian gear is Fortnine. They have great gear and fast delivery; they just also have high prices.
(a) Must-Have Long Trip Gear for You
As a general rule, I only buy women-specific motorcycle gear. There are now enough women riders around that there’s really no excuse for a company to not offer a women’s line. The sad fact is that while most of the major motorcycle gear companies do offer women’s gear, the variety is slim and the options are few – whereas there is A LOT of gear for men. Regardless, as you can see in the below pic, everything fits – that’s because everything I’m wearing was made for a woman’s body.
#1 – Armoured Touring Jacket
It’s critical to have proper gear to reduce the extent of your injuries in the event of a crash. Armour refers to the hard protective insert in motorcycle outerwear. Most jackets have armour at the elbows and at the back (to protect your spine) at the very least. If you’re riding in the summer, it’s ideal to have a mesh jacket with zip-in/out inserts. I have a couple such jackets. My Olympia Airglide has a water-resistant insert plus a thermal insert. My BMW Airflow has a waterproof thermal insert. Both are great jackets for summer riding.
#2 – Cooling Vest
By the time I did the bike trip in Africa (featured in future blogs) in which I’m pictured above, I had already done the brutally hot Tail of the Dragon Trip (Blog #3). I knew there just had to be a better way, and there was – cooling vests! The vest is meant to be worn under a mesh jacket and relies on trademarked HyperKewl fabric that absorbs and slowly releases water through evaporation. When the vest is wet or damp, the HyperKewl system locks in the moisture and stores it for up to eight hours, providing a 6 to 12 °C temperature reduction for the wearer. It also (magically, in my view) keeps your clothes dry. It was a life saver in Africa! The BMW cooling vest was approx. $150 but it’s pretty much the best $150 I’ve ever spent! If you’re going to be highway riding in hot weather, I highly recommend a cooling vest.
#3 – Armoured Riding Pants
For me, pants with armour at the knee and padding at the hips are essential for highway riding. I have two pairs of riding pants: REV’IT mesh pants and BMW GS-Dry waterproof touring pants (part of my BMW GS Dry pants and jacket suit). The mesh pants have been a godsend when riding in hot weather. Having full ventilation with full armour is great. The touring pants are particularly helpful in cold and/or wet riding conditions. Because of the armour, riding pants take-up a lot of room at a time when you’re really trying to pack as efficiently as possible (a motorcycle trip). As a result, I don’t always take both pants on my trips – almost invariably, at some point in the trip, I deeply regret having left whichever pair I left behind.
#4 – Touring or Adventure Riding Boots – As with all motorbike gear, you have to be crash-conscious when you shop for boots too. I used to have Triumph touring boots but upgraded to Sidi Adventure 2 GORE-TEX® for the Africa trip. I now use them for all of my long trips and for any trip that has me on the highway for at least one-hour. They are very comfortable and were so pretty much “out of the box”. The one unfortunate things about these particular boots is that they squeak – quite noticeably. My squeaky boots have provided no end of entertainment for my trip-mates. That’s the only thing that keeps me from whole-heartedly endorsing them. Whatever boots you choose (touring or adventure, squeaky or silent), make sure they’re reinforced at the ankle and that they provide protection for at least half-way up your shin (the higher the better). A stiff sole also helps when you’re spending hours on your bike – it can take the pressure of the pedals off your feet.
Full-Face/Modular Helmet – A full face helmet not only provides full cradling of the head, but also it reduces the impact (literally) of riding into an insect when travelling at high speeds. Bugs may seem harmless, but when you’re travelling 100 km/h and you hit one flying towards you the impact could cause an accident if you’re not wearing a visor. Now, I have a women-specific Schuberth C3 Pro modular helmet. A modular helmet is essentially a full-face helmet that flips-up for ease of donning or removal. Buying a helmet is all about fit; if your helmet doesn’t fit you correctly, it will not protect you as it should. That’s why I buy women-specific helmets. Where possible, purchase your helmet in person and not online. I highly recommend that you buy a helmet with a built-in sun visor. That way, there’s no need to stop if the sun unexpectedly starts or stops shining.
Highway Grade Riding Gloves
But sure to purchase gloves that fully cover your wrists when you’re buying gloves for a long trip. The short gloves are great for in-city riding but they don’t provide sufficient coverage for highway riding. I have a few pairs of waterproof, breathable touring gloves. My BMW GS Dry gloves (below) are a great leather/textile enduro glove with GORE-TEX® Gore Grip. They’re made from double-thickness leather and abrasion-resistant fabric and also feature a soft knuckle protector. My favourite feature is the built-in rubber wiper (on the left index finger) which allows you to wipe your visor in rain or fog.
(b) Must-Have Long Trip Gear for Your Bike
#1 – Saddlebags: I have SW-Motech Blaze saddlebags. They’re nylon so they’re light and they expand as needed. On long trips I use the waterproof interior bags that came with them. They are also low/no maintenance. They have bike-specific attachments, so I had to buy a new set when I switched from my Bonneville to my R nineT. I fit a lot in each saddlebag. The great thing about the interior bags is that at the end of a long day’s ride, I need only take the interior bag into the hotel with me.
#2 & #4 – Tail Bag & Tank Bag: Like my saddlebags, my CorTech tail bag and tank bag are nylon. So, they’re light and they expand as needed too. The tank bag is great for holding your phone, wallet and other essentials (like snacks!). Many are magnetic allowing for quick removal heading into a restaurant, etc. on your trip. Unfortunately, the tank of my BMW is not metal so my original, magnetic tank bag was not usable. I had to purchase a new tank bag that affixes with clips. It holds a lot. Both the tank bag and the tail bag were really smart purchases.
#3 – Seat Pad: For any long trip you need some sort of cushioning for the seat. Standard bike seats are fine for commuting and running errands. However, you need more cushioning to spend hours per day for many days in a row on your bike. I bought an AirHawk inflatable seat pad – it’s considered one of the best cushioning systems out there. As you’ll see below, it has a rubber “Air Cells” that you blow into through a valve. Then, you simply cover it with the nylon cover provided. I tend to top-it-up every morning on my trips. I quite love my AirHawk. Others swear by their sheepskin pads. It doesn’t matter what you use, just use something.
#5 – Touring Windscreen
In truth, some might argue that a windscreen is a “nice-to-have” and not a “must-have”. Indeed, one of the women I typically do long trips with doesn’t have a windscreen on her Bonneville T-120 so it’s not critical. So, if you’re able to withstand the constant winds of highway riding, then maybe you don’t need one. Admittedly, I didn’t have to purchase the most striking windscreen I could find – that just sorta happened…
GROUP RIDING FORMATION
Group riding is a learned skill. When I was learning to ride a motorcycle (as chronicled in Just Do It! [Blog #1]), I took the Rider Training Institute’s Roadworthy course – much of which provided practical group riding experience. I was glad to have had that experience when I first did a road trip with friends.
When riding in a group of at least three, the most critical riders are the lead rider and the tail rider. The lead rider rides with the welfare of the group in mind, pointing out hazards, and calculating whether the entire group can safely do whatever s/he is wanting to do (e.g. change lanes, make it through a light, etc.). The tail rider has the whole group in front of them and is also concerned with the safety of the group. If the tail sees that the lead wants to change lanes, the tail rider moves into the lane first to block cars from getting in between riders. Then, one-by-one, the group moves into the new lane, starting with the lead. Once the the vehicle or hazard has been passed, the riders return to the original lane led by the lead rider.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s (MSF) Guide to Group Riding is an excellent resource. It explains the staggered group rider formation (below).
Regarding the staggered riding formation, the MSF states:
“The staggered riding formation allows a proper space cushion between motorcycles so that each rider has enough time and space to maneuver and react to hazards. The leader rides in the left third of the lane, while the next rider stays at least one second behind in the right third of the lane; the rest of the group follows the same pattern.
A single-file formation with a minimum 2-second following distance is preferred on a curvy road, under conditions of poor visibility or poor road surfaces, entering/leaving highways, or other situations where an increased space cushion or maneuvering room is needed.”
Another exception to the staggered formation occurs at a red light. At that point, the riders should stack themselves in pairs. This is a courtesy to car drivers as the staggered formation would unnecessarily consume too much of the road, reducing the likelihood of cars further behind the group also making a green light before it turns red again. When the light does turn green, the bike riders resume their staggered formation.
Having a plan, ensuring you have a trustworthy leader, ensuring everyone has a general sense of the route and ensuring the lead rider and the tail rider have a good understanding of each other are all keys to a successful group ride.
COMMUNICATION BETWEEN RIDERS
Communication between riders is truly critical to a successful group ride, particularly a multi-day ride. The MSF’s Guide to Group Riding provides a number of hand signals for group members to learn and use.
I must confess that in my group of friends, our signals are no where near as sophisticated or complex as the above. In particular, we have one critical signal: tapping your head. That signal means you need to pull over at the next stop – whether you need a bio-break, a rest or something to eat or drink. It’s important that the lead rider is aware of the head-tapping to know to pull over at the first opportunity.
Our group also makes use of a motorcycle intercom system. We all have a Cardo intercom system and, in theory, we all should be able to connect with each other. Well, including our 2019 trip to the Gaspé, the core group of us has travelled over 10,000 kms together. In over 10,000 kms, it’s never worked for all of us to be connected at the same time – never.
Since the system runs through our helmets, we have to be wearing our helmets to check the system and “pair” our systems. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to find us, helmet-clad, indoors or out, walking around asking – like a Verizon commercial – “can you hear me now?” Those humiliating moments aside when the intercom system works, it’s great! For everyone else, that is… In our years of riding together, mine has actually never worked properly.
I purchased my Cardo system when I purchased my helmet – from a company in Italy. Turns-out, my system isn’t compatible with the North American version. As a result, my system is great for playing my music from my iPhone; however, I can’t really connect with the group in a meaningful manner. Hence, every trip we do, I’m in the middle of the riding formation since without the intercom system I can neither lead or tail the ride. So, while I miss-out on the clever repartee between our group members, I get to listen to some great tunes!
4 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Long, Group Ride but Were Afraid to Ask!”
Thank you for sharing. Loving your blog!!
Thanks so much, Sharon – so glad you enjoyed it!
I’m looking forward to reading about your next adventure.
Thank you Cathy
Thanks for checking-out my blog, Paula!