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Doing 1,000 Miles In 24 Hours
A self-correcting problem?

By: James R. Davis

Touring the country on two-wheels is a pleasure. Seeing the sights, meeting the locals, experiencing the diversity of cultures that exist only a few hundred miles away from where you normally hang your hat - these are part of what "quality of life" means to those of us that regularly hit the roads with our motorcycles.

Note that most of those things require that you actually get off your motorcycle from time to time. But there are people who really put mileage on their motorcycles, in as little time as possible - and honestly feel as if that is what constitutes "quality of life" for them. Some do both kinds of distance riding described above.

This article may well read like a slam at one of those kinds of people. Instead, it is merely a reflection of my biases and an attempt to put into perspective some sobering realities about traveling long distances with the hope that the reader will at least know what he is facing if he decides to participate.

From my experience on the roads I have concluded that automobiles tend to average about 60 MPH on long trips while motorcyclists tend to average about 45 MPH even though while actually moving both may travel in excess of 70 MPH. Note that this includes all the time they are actually trying to make progress going from one place to another and includes pit stops of all kinds. What it does not include is the time from the last stop of the day until the vehicles resume their travels the next day.

In other words, if you wanted to average 600 miles per day on a multi-day trip, it is quite likely that you will be riding more than 13 hours each day. In the case of a 700 mile day it will be more like 16 hours. Assuming you have weather problems or other road conditions to have to deal with, it is possible to take upwards of 20 hours to do 700 miles in a single day.

It turns out that most experienced riders I know can rather easily do a 13-hour day on the road, but very few of them could do 20 (or even 16). But after a few 13-hour days you will be exhausted. Indeed, studies have shown that even experienced long-distance riders find that after the second day of riding their endurance begins to fail and they are only able to accomplish about 65% as long a ride on their seventh day as they averaged during their first two days out. Therein lies my concern - endurance.

Even the driver of a cage is essentially a passenger as compared to a motorcycle rider. It is not unfair to argue that one rides in a car and "drives" a motorcycle. And it takes far more skill and alertness to handle a motorcycle. After 16 hours of riding a motorcycle, at least mental alertness has become history for most of us.

Still, at least for the first day or two this pace is accomplishable - many of us have done it, enjoyed it, and lived to tell others about it.

But I am posting this message for those of you that have not done it and are considering your first long trip. I would like to suggest that you arrange your itinerary so that you average something closer to 350-400 miles per day rather than 600. Further, that you make the early days on the road the longer ones. Besides being easier and safer for all concerned, this pace gives you plenty of time to visit the sights you encounter, and to meet the locals.

There is an infamous award that is well known amongst those of us on two-wheels. It is called the "Iron-Butt Award" (some call it the "Lead-Butt Award".) This is provided in exchange for proof that you have traveled 1,000 miles in any one 24-hour period while on the roads. Like motorcycle racing on the public roads, this "event" tends to be a self-correcting problem and therefore, in my opinion, should be avoided like the plague by most motorcyclists. It seems to me that there is nothing macho about flashing that award around. Rather, it is like advertising and being proud about having done something stupid. [Quick note to those that think I just called all who have earned such an award "stupid"; I did not. I said that doing 1,000 miles in 24 hours is stupid. Not all those that have done so are mentally deficient, by any means. I am not stupid but I have done more than a few stupid things in my life.]

The Iron Butt Association®, a group that sponsors such events, is actually a very safety-oriented group. They preach the good word, and they do all that they can to encourage safe practices during the rides. They strongly advocate proper conditioning of the riders, proper attention to the mechanical condition of their motorcycles, respect for speed laws, etc. They even make available (at least they used to) rather valuable tips to everyone who might want to do some long distance rides. Unfortunately, because some people can handle doing 1,000 miles in 24 hours does not in any way mean that most can.

I once laid out a tour to cover 23 States in 21 days. It averaged about 350 miles per day. I cannot image, frankly, wanting to even see a motorcycle for a week after such a trip. I will not plan a tour like that again, but it was satisfying to know it could be done.

I think most of us who have some experience with our motorcycles can handle a number of such days in a row just fine. I think that nobody can handle even one 1,000-mile day safely, despite months of preparation and training, and the fact that most who try manage to survive. Many motorcyclists, it should be understood, cannot do even 350 miles in a single 24 hour period - safely!

[One little tip for anyone contemplating a LONG tour: if you can droop your elbows while you ride, you will find that your wrists and forearms will not be anywhere near as sore or tired as they would be otherwise. If your bike is designed such that you must lean forward and essentially straight-arm the grips, you will have fatigue problems very early on into your trip.]

Anyway, let's go back to the idea of doing 1,000 miles in 24-hours. It is certainly doable, as you only have to average about 42 MPH (including pit stops) to do so. Assuming you can average 50 MPH, you could do it in a "mere" 20 hours.

So, people who really want to earn that award often go to extraordinary efforts to increase their average speeds including, for example, cutting down the number of required pit stops by about half by carrying additional fuel with them in auxiliary tanks. Now if you could legally drive at 100 MPH, and neither you nor your motorcycle were forced to make any stops, you could earn the award in only 10 hours. But the reality is that you will average closer to 50 MPH if you try it. That means about 20 hours.

I don't believe anyone is sufficiently alert after riding their motorcycle for 20 hours to constitute being other than a hazard to themselves and those around them.

Though it is no doubt a rush to accomplish this feat (1,000 miles in 24 hours), that is not the same as saying it is worthwhile - or safe to try. Truckers have laws that proscribe the number of hours and miles they can legally drive on our highways. Wonder why? [It was reported that the "winner" of the 1999 Iron-Butt run claimed to have been hallucinating towards the end of his ride.]

I have done my share of long tours and have certainly done over 600 miles in a single day. I knew, despite decades of experience preceding that effort that I was not sufficiently alert towards the end to constitute being other than a moving hazard. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of pride in having accomplished (actually, at the time, of having survived) that effort. In retrospect, it was not very smart nor was it safe - and I knew it at the time.

If, for whatever reason, you get yourself involved in an accident while trying to earn the Iron-Butt Award you will have no excuse if somebody (other than you) dies as a result. Pride in the "accomplishment" quickly turns to life-long guilt.

If it is imperative for someone to reach 1,000 miles (or more) in a 24 hour period of time, then it is my opinion that it be done in a controlled environment. Why not rent a race track, for example?

Copyright ® 1992 - 2021 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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