Monday, November 17, 2014

7 Things to Know Before Crossing a Desert

     Whether it's the scenic views, the quiet roads, or simply the most direct route to your next destination, deserts provide a riding experience unlike any other. However, deserts are far from safe, and can be life threatening. Before including a desert in your next trip, there are a few things to understand about this harsh environment:

1. A successful trip through the desert should at no point leave you thirsty
     Battling the sun and 100+ degree weather will drain your body of fluids faster than your brain can detect. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, lightheadedness, and sleepiness. Pull over immediately if you feel any of these symptoms. You will be surprised how much you drink. By the time you actually feel thirsty, your body will be in the process of shutting down,

2. Avoid drinking... water?
     Water isn't the only thing your body loses in the heat. When you lose volumes of sweat, your body is also being starved of electrolytes. Electrolyte imbalance can be just as dangerous as dehydration, so remember to drink Gatorade or Powerade instead.

3. You will drink more water than you think
     I originally thought that two 16 ounce water bottles could hold enough gatorade to last me gas station to gas station. I was going through 72 ounces of water an hour; more than twice that amount. Make sure to pack extra bottles, or bring a camelback hydration system with you if possible.

4. You may or may not feel the heat
     It may seem counter intuitive that being hit with warmer-than-body winds on your motorcycle will cool you off. However, in order for your sweat to change from a liquid to a gas, it takes additional energy. Depending on your speed, this energy will either come from your body or the wind.

5. Try the Mojave Desert
     Cell phone service in the Mojave, like most deserts in the U.S., is very limited. However, most major highways in California have call boxes stationed every few miles. I-40 is no exception. If you break down there and there are no passing motorists, these call boxes may be your savior.

6. Try riding early in the morning or late in the evening.
     High temperatures peak between 11 am and 5 pm. Try to plan your trip around these hours if you are feeling safety conscious. Most motorcyclists ride before and after these hours, so based on the time of year, you may not be alone.

7. Passing motorcyclists know the dangers of the desert
     I pulled off to the side of the highway to take some pictures in the Mojave. Every motorcyclist that saw me slowed down before I gave them the "OK" signal. They know the dangers, and won't leave you out to dry.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Experience Owning a Moped

     I was about sixteen when I first started getting interested in motorcycles. I had just spent all of my money on a car, so I had no cash to spend on a motorcycle. I also wasn’t allowed to have one, since my dad told me they were dangerous. I did some research and found that I could purchase a bicycle engine kit for $200. It came with a gas tank, the motor, chain, and all attachments needed to convert a bicycle into a moped. Without much thought, I had made the purchase. I didn't even have a bicycle.
     My friend David notified me of a bicycle at my high school that had been abandoned. It had been locked to one of the bike racks for almost a year, and the tires were deflated and the chain was starting to rust away. We decided to do the right thing and breathe new life into this bicycle, so we brought it home.
     When the package arrived, I opened the box and immediately began working on attaching the engine to my bike. It was simple enough to put together, but getting the moped working was a different story. When the clutch worked, the carburetor flooded the engine. When the carburetor worked, the chain tensioner fell off. The parts were cheaply made, and nothing worked reliably.
     However, during the six months that I was able to have the moped (mostly) working, it was deadly. The clutch didn't work, so I had to start pedaling with the engine engaged. This also meant that I couldn't stop. This put me in a ditch a few times. The moped also had a habit of catching on fire.
     My moped days officially ended when I was riding, and the rear tire deflated and wrapped itself around the wheel spokes. I managed to cut the tire off using a Swiss army knife, but I still had to get home. I rode that moped without a rear tire, and drifted every turn. I was on one of the final stretches of road when the lack of grip on the pavement forced me off the side of the road at 20 mph. I was injured, but I still had to push the moped a few more miles back home. Never again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to Pack for a Motorcycle Trip

     I read a ton of articles on how to pack for a motorcycle trip before going on my coast to coast expedition. The main issue I had was that these articles were particular to the rider, the kind of bike they had, and the type of trip(s) they were taking. I've taken a few smaller trips to places like St. Louis from my home in New Albany since that major journey, and I will attempt to clear up any confusion for new riders facing their first trip and keep information as basic as possible.


The Motorcycle

     A common misconception among new riders is the idea that they need a purpose built touring bike to go on a long distance trip. The only important requirements for a distance motorcycle are that it is reasonably comfortable, in great mechanical condition (also parts are easy to find), and preferably can take the highway. Having said that, each motorcycle has its own set of limitations. A 250cc Honda Rebel isn’t going to provide the same level of comfort or luggage space as a 1,800cc Honda Goldwing, yet both motorcycles are just as capable of crossing the United States.

To Camp or Not to Camp

     Camping provides many advantages to an adventure motorcyclist. It is cheaper, more fun, and gives the rider a more observable feeling of location change. It does have some drawbacks, however. It is much more difficult to sleep in a tent, and camping supplies take up precious space on a motorcycle.
     Hotels provide far more amenities than any campsite, but do not provide the same thrill that is experienced with camping. Hotels under the same brand feel exactly the same in each location, but campsites make one intimately aware of the change in geography.


     My entire journey was pressed because I had to make it home in time for school and my sister’s graduation. More time equals fewer miles each day, which in turn means less fatigue. With more time, one can also enjoy more sights along the way. There are other smaller but equally important advantages to having more time as well. I was forced to eat whatever I could find at gas stations because in many instances, I didn’t have the time to stop at a restaurant and eat real food. This became a major issue since the gas station diet lacks nutrients, which contributes to fatigue.

     For any motorcyclist who is constrained by time and travels over 200 miles a day, it is important that he observes various, simple techniques for warding off fatigue. Plenty of sleep is needed for obvious reasons, but frequent breaks are equally important. One can expect to take twice as long to reach a destination as his GPS indicates. This is simply the nature of riding a physically challenging vehicle where the rider is open to the elements. I knew when I needed a break because my backside would start to go numb.


     Having durable equipment is extremely important. Make sure your bags are waterproof, because it is more than likely that you will go through rain. Remember: don't take anything you can purchase later. There is no sense taking something you don't need hundreds of miles. Based on the type of bike you have and your budget, I have outlined equipment to consider before taking your trip.

Items marked with * can be bought at Their equipment is more expensive, but second to none.

Life support system

     I'm talking about basic equipment that you need during your long distance trip. Water, Food, GPS/maps, spare clothes and toiletries. This should account for the standard rider on a multi-week trip travelling non stop. Adjust according to your needs.


  • Two water bottles full of gatorade (16oz)
  • Some small snacks
  • 2 jeans (can be reworn)
  • 2 long sleeve shirts (can be reworn)
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs of long johns
  • Leather or protective jacket (hopefully water resistant)
  • Sweater to wear under jacket
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, shampoo (conditioner), shaver, wet wipes (for cleaning visor)
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toolkit


  • Camelback water bladder (50oz or more) + water tube*
  • Gatorade mix
  • Food for 1/2 a day
  • 3 jeans (can be reworn)
  • 4 long sleeve shirts (can be reworn)
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • Bathing suit
  • Leather or protective jacket (hopefully water resistant)
  • Heated jacket (avoid battery operated ones, go for the warmer ones that run on your bike's battery)
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, shampoo (conditioner), shaver, wet wipes (for cleaning visor, first aid kit)
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toolkit
  • 1.25 gallon auxiliary fuel tank (you'll be surprised how handy it is, as well as how safe you'll feel)


     If you choose to camp, which I would highly recommend you do, these are things you will need:


  • 1 person tent
  • Very warm sleeping bag
  • Flashlight (or phone flash)
  • compact towel*
  • Blow up pillow or stuff sack*


  • 2 person tent
  • Very warm sleeping bag
  • Flashlight
  • compact towel*
  • Blow up pillow or stuff sack*
  • Auxiliary fuel doubles as lighter fluid
  • Compact air mattress*
     Avoid purchasing micro stoves, plates, cutlery, and any other camping food supplies if you plan to travel within the United States. I've never found them practical to use when high calorie fast food restaurants are so plentiful, even in remote areas.

Important Information on GPS Devices

     If you have a great sense of navigation and use maps, and can travel even when it gets dark and you can't read the map; more power to you. If you have a GPS device charging on your bike's battery, then what I'm about to tell you is extremely important. If you use a purpose built device like a Garmin, the maps are preloaded onto your device. This means as long as you have satellite coverage (which is pretty much everywhere), you will have directions. While it may seem space saving to use your smartphone instead, smartphones require a 3G signal to load the maps and satellite coverage to plot your location. Smartphones don't actually store the maps. This means that if you are in an area that has no 3G coverage, you won't be able to use the GPS function. If you are on a long trip, don't be surprised if you rack up extra data costs from using your smartphone as a GPS during your journey.

Other Important Tidbits

  • Don’t overexert yourself. Arriving late to your destination is better than not arriving at all. 
  • If at all possible, avoid using a backpack. I can think of nothing worse than being weighed down by a heavy backpack when riding hundreds of miles a day 
  • Staying hydrated and well fed is especially important. Most of the time when I got tired on my motorcycle, it was because I didn’t get enough to eat or drink. Overeating is also something to avoid. If one consumes too much food, his body will require more energy to process the food, which will take away from his energy available for riding. 
  • Talk to people. At the very least, people are happy to share life experiences with you that will keep you entertained. At most, you will learn something new which could help you on your journey (fellow motorcyclists can tell you touring trick, locals can tell you good places to eat). Also, if you are travelling alone, you are at the mercy of strangers if you are in a jam. 
  • Never, ever, ever, ignore a problem with your motorcycle. Get it fixed immediately. You don’t want to permanently damage your motorcycle or risk it becoming unreliable. 
  • Fellow motorcyclists will look out for you. If you have been riding motorcycles for a long time you know exactly what I’m talking about. They are also the easiest group of people to start conversations with because you associate with them. Sometimes they are even open to favors.