Chen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Let me start off by acknowledging that the title for this post is an obvious nod to one of my favorite travel books:  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  The book examines a number of deep life questions through the lens of a motorcycle road trip taken by the narrator and his son.  In this post, however, we’re focusing on one rider’s personal experience while taking his first major multi-state motorcycle road trip.  Our narrator is one of my road trip planning clients, Garrison Chen.  As it turned out, he needed to perform a little bit of roadside motorcycle maintenance himself!

Taking a Motorcycle Road Trip

Garrison reached out to me in the spring of 2020, right before COVID quarantines hit and the pandemic exploded.  As a soon-to-be graduating senior, Garrison – like many of us at that stage in life – was dreaming of different ways that he could hit the road on his own to celebrate graduation.  He and two of his friends had recently purchased motorcycles, so the means of transportation for their celebratory road trip was obvious!

three friends prepare to leave for a multi state motorcycle road trip on dual sport motorcycles
Garrison and his friends prepare to embark on their motorcycle adventure!

Starting at his hometown in central Arizona, Garrison and friends decided to head to Littleton Colorado to visit a friend.  After corresponding at length and building a great route for them to follow, they started taking smaller rides to build up the skills and stamina required to take a road trip of this length on their bikes.  Over the ensuing weeks, they took longer and longer trips, and as is always the case in life, it was soon time to embark on their grand adventure!

Similar to the interview-style post with Melinda about her solo journey cross country, once Garrison returned from his trip, I sent him a list of questions to review and answer.  Just like Melinda, Garrison happily agreed!  He provided a bunch of pictures and videos from his trip, and has stayed in contact with me ever since to help get this post published!

For those of you doing the mental math… yes, it’s been a bit of time between when Garrison took the trip, and when I’m (finally) getting around to publishing this post!  Between the various COVID related interruptions, my own road trip adventures, a cross country move, and quitting my job in insurance to focus on road trip planning and blogging full time… You might say that the past couple years have been quite the whirlwind for me!

How do I prepare for a motorcycle road trip

One of the biggest questions that Garrison and I spent a lot of time addressing in our initial correspondence was the header for this section:  How to best prepare for an interstate motorcycle road trip?!  As a relatively new rider, Garrison had minimal experience in taking long trips on his bike.  This meant that we had a lot to discuss, and I ultimately had a lot of insight and information to share with him!

three dual sport adventure motorcycles sit in front of the welcome to Colorado state sign

After chatting in depth about Garrison’s skills and riding experience, I provided him with a handful of tips and suggestions on ways that he could improve his riding skills and prepare for what he might face on a road trip.  In addition to reviewing information about what gear to pack (see below), we discussed skills that he might need, plus ways that he can learn and practice those skills.  In addition to the obvious – being able to ride your bike safely – some of the things that we discussed are:

  1. How to compactly pack your gear in a balanced manner (to prevent overloading one side of the bike)
  2. How to practice and prepare for long days of riding
  3. How to build up riding endurance
  4. How to gain the riding skills needed for the various terrains you might face
  5. How to find campsites suitable for riders
  6. How long your trip would take – including how long you should expect to be able to ride each day
  7. How prepare for the event of various “worst case” scenarios

If you’ve never taken a motorcycle road trip before, I strongly recommend that you reach out to me directly, either via email or by completing the trip planning request form with some details about your adventure.  I’ll work with you directly, the same way I did with Garrison, to help give you the skills required to put your nerves at ease and your fears to rest!

What should I pack for a motorcycle road trip

As it turned out, many of those insights, equipment and gear discussions, and other emails we exchanged turned into a separate blog post that addresses many of the things you need to do and gear you need to pack for your trip.  That blog post directly addresses all of the various things that you should pack for a motorcycle road trip.

Rather than duplicate efforts and repost a lot of the same information, I’ll just share a few of the various pieces of equipment that we discussed and I recommended.

Motorcycle Road Trip Gear

A man in yellow waterproof motorcycle gear sits on his dual sport adventure motorcycle parked in the middle of a two lane back road surrounded by snowy fields and dismal grey weather in the background
The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Garrison and his Motorcycle

Garrison’s Motorcycle Road Trip Adventure

Now that we’ve covered the background of Garrison’s road trip, it’s time to hear from the man himself!  Garrison’s trip was a pretty wild one, to say the least, and I really, really enjoyed working with him.  Like several of my other road trip planning clients, I have come to consider Garrison a friend – and now that he’s stationed here in my home state of California, we might finally have the chance to ride together!

Regardless, let’s read what Garrison had to write about his motorcycle adventure!

  1. Let’s start off with an easy one – what prompted you to start riding motorcycles?  When I turned 16 I got my drivers license, but at the time getting a car was not in my budget.  After several long talks trying to convince my parents, I somehow managed to convince them to get me a Moped instead.  It was the cheaper and more fuel efficient option, and from there my love of two wheeled vehicles grew.  I eventually saved up enough in the next 6 months to get my first motorcycle.
  2. What kind of motorcycle are you riding?  Why did you pick that bike?  Currently I’m riding a 2019 Triumph Street Twin.  My dad and I both loved the classic style of the bike, and we were able to get it for a great price so we decided to go 50/50 on it.  Although it’s not a perfect bike for long road trips, it was a great daily commuter.
  3. Why did you decide to take a road trip on a motorcycle?  When I was in high school, I started a club with my best friends called Bike Club.  We bought these 90cc two stroke engines that could be mounted on bicycles and we took them on a road trip.  From that, I found a love for being on the road on my motorcycle.  Something about actually being exposed to the environment was such a different experience from being in a car! 
  4. Have you taken any multi-state road trips before?  What did you enjoy about those experiences, and what would you change?  I’ve taken a couple family road trips to California, but the first solo road trip I ever did was with my best friends, from Arizona to Colorado.  We were not really prepared for how strenuous it would be, but we pushed through and enjoyed every moment of it.  The wide variety of scenery – going from the cactus-filled deserts of Arizona to the beautiful mountains topped with luscious trees in Colorado – mean that every moment was breathtaking.  The only thing I would change about our experience was the amount of time we had.  We gave ourselves only two days to ride from Arizona to Colorado, and we just didn’t have enough time to stop and take in the local area as much as I would have liked.
  5. Where did you go on your motorcycle trip?  What time of year did you travel?   We did a loop:  starting in Arizona, going through New Mexico, then up to Colorado through the Rockies.  Then we went west into Utah, and back down south to Arizona.  We planned the trip for early September, as we did not want it to be too hot or cold.
  6. What were your favorite experiences?  I think my favorite experience was when we were just heading out.  I remember it was around 6 in the morning on the first day.  We were on this mountain road and I remember seeing the morning fog over the town at the base of the mountain.  And it just hit me … this trip that me and my buddies started planning back in high school was finally happening!  We had numerous setbacks and spent many days planning for the trip and the moment it hit me that we were finally on our way was…  absolutely the best feeling in the world!  You have to experience it yourself to fully understand it.
  7. What was your least favorite part?  I think the worst part of the trip, funny enough, is also the part of the trip I talk about the most.  I remember a couple nights before we were scheduled to leave, my friend in Colorado shot me a text telling me that there was going to be an early snowstorm coming in.  That instantly sent my friends and I into panic mode.  We had to cut our trip a couple days short and make a plan.  We ended up settling on leaving at 7pm the night before the snowstorm was going to hit.  We rode through the night and ended up getting to our hotel at 1am.  When we checked our phones, the snow had just begun to fall in Denver so luckily we missed it.  But on the second day of our escape from Colorado, we were heading through a mountain pass when the dreaded snowstorm caught up to us.  Initially it was just heavy rain, which soaked through our gear, but when we got higher in altitude it turned into snow.  All of us were freezing, even in our gear.  It was honestly the most miserable thing I have ever gone through in my life. We rode through the snow for what felt like HOURS until we made it to the small town of Norwood, where we quickly found a small inn and decided to call it a night. 
  8. Was this your first road trip on a motorcycle?  If yes – what did you learn about riding from the experience?  If no – how did this trip differ from your previous bike trips?   This was not my first road trip.  When I got my first motorcycle, it was a cheap 250cc motorcycle.  My friend and I both got the same model, and we decided to take it to Tucson Arizona for the weekend.  Usually the trip takes about 2 hours in a car, but because the max speed of our bikes was about 50mph, it took us way longer.  We also had to take a bunch of back roads to get there.  The biggest difference between that road trip and this one was our bikes and gear.  At the time we just wore jeans, work boots, a thick jacket and packed all our gear into our backpack.  But on the Colorado trip, we all had new more powerful motorcycles which could handle longer highway stretches.  We were also better equipped with proper motorcycle gear and luggage. 
  9. How do you like taking a road trip on a motorcycle vs in a car?  What did you like better about each option?  I think a road trip on a motorcycle vs a car is kinda like watching the school play vs being in the school play.  On a motorcycle, I think you’re more involved with everything that’s going on.  The smell of the pine trees, or the dry heat of the desert just envelope you… where as in a car, you’re in a nice enclosed air conditioned space traveling through, not really experiencing all that there is around you.  I think both options have their benefits.  But if given the time and option, I would definitely ride a motorcycle. 
  10. When you have time to take another road trip, will it be in your car or on your bike, and why?  I think if given the time, I would most likely take my motorcycle.  Something about packing light, only the essentials, and hitting the road is just… So relaxing!  I put on some music and jam to it while enjoying the scenery, what else could I ask for??
  11. What were your expectations for the motorcycle trip before it began?  How did the trip meet, exceed, or not match up with your expectations?   I had really high expectations for the trip even before it started.  I had been dreaming of the day where I go on a multi state trip with my buddies and this was a dream come true.  All of us had a blast and it exceeded my expectations in every way! 
  12. Did your expectations or goals change while you were on the road trip?  If yes, how or why?   For the majority of the trip the goal was the same, which was to just have fun.  But when we found out it was going to snow, our goals became getting home safe.  We didn’t want to take the same route we took going to Colorado, because we wanted to see more and didn’t know when we would have an opportunity to do the trip again.  
  13. What was your favorite destination?  Why?  My favorite destination on the trip was probably Pikes Peak.  The road heading to the summit and the view from the top was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.  
  14. What was your least favorite?  Why?  I don’t think I have a least favorite spot!  Everywhere we went, there were either nice people or an amazing view.  We were very lucky!
  15. Where did you stay overnight on your motorcycle road trip?  What did you do for food & drinks?   We originally had planned to stay at BLM camp sites to and from Colorado, and we stayed at my friend’s Aunt’s house in Denver. But on the way back from Colorado to Arizona, we stayed in motels to escape the rain and snow.  As for food… While we were on the road, we each packed dehydrated food and snacks for breakfast and dinner.  For lunch, it was whatever the locals recommended.
  16. Did you try any new foods or cuisines on your trip?  Tell us about that experience as well.  I didn’t really try any new cuisines, but I did go to the Buckhorn Exchange and we got Rocky Mountain Oysters and some elk and quail. It was definitely a unique experience, and the décor and history of the restaurant was really unique.  
  17. How did you choose what gear and clothing to pack?  How did being on a motorcycle affect what you packed?  I bought these waterproof luggage bags for my motorcycle.  We had already packed clothes, tools, camping gear and plenty of snacks.  As for the gear we wore:  We all wore a helmets, jacket, pants, gloves and boots.  We already had all the gear we needed, and to figure out what else to pack, we watched a lot of YouTube videos.  
  18. What were some of the challenges you faced on your motorcycle road trip, and how did you work through them?  Besides the snow and rain, I think the biggest challenge was how tiring it was to ride 11 hours a day.  Our butts and wrists were sore, so we made stops every 100 or so miles and stretched.  We also had those energy gels and lots of water to keep us energized and not falling asleep.  The last thing we want is to fall asleep while riding.  
  19. Did you have any strange experiences, encounters, or meet any unusual people on your trip?  Tell us about them!  We met a lot of people on our trip, and all of them were friendly.  We ran into plenty of other crazy motorcycle riders and we would always get to chatting.  One that stands out was this couple we met at a gas station while it was pouring rain.  We were chatting about our trip, and we mentioned the route we were gonna take.  It was already snowing super heavily on that road, and was pretty dangerous.  They ended up suggesting a different route which was lower in elevation and hadn’t started snowing at the time.  We barely survived on the route with way less snow so I don’t know if we would have survived on the other road!  
  20. What did you learn during your trip:  about traveling, about our country, about yourself?   I think when on road trips, especially on motorcycles, I have a lot of time with just myself.  It gives me time to just ponder about life and enjoy the feeling of being on the road.  It’s always calming.  
  21. If you could take this trip over again, would you, and why?  What would you do the same, and what would you do differently?  I think I would give myself more time to explore the smaller cities I traveled through and visit more attractions.  I remember we didn’t have enough time to visit the Petrified Forest in Arizona or the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.  As for things I wouldn’t change, it would definitely be the buddies I traveled with.  We have done so much stuff together since high school, its hard to imagine going on a motorcycle trip with anyone else.  
  22. Do you have any future motorcycle road trips in the works, or are you dreaming about any?  Tell us about them!  Of course I’d love to go on a 50 state road trip, or a world tour one day.  But as it is right now, I don’t have the time or money.  I recently got a sport bike and I’m planning on taking it to track days.  
  23. If someone asks you for advice about taking a motorcycle road trip, what would you tell them?  I think the most important thing it to take your time to learn to ride properly and just have fun, motorcycles are an absolute blast to ride even if its just around town. 
  24. What was the most useful piece of advice you got before your trip?  I think all the info that Scott gave me right as I was starting out was by far the most useful.  Even to this day when going on trips, I still use the resources he showed me while we were working on my plans!  
  25. What’s one thing that you want everyone to know about your motorcycle road trip?  I think if there’s anything, it is that… even with all the stuff that went wrong on the trip, from the flat tires to the snow storm… I would do anything to relive those 10 days!  It’s definitely cemented itself as one of the best things that I’ve ever done!

Plan a Motorcycle Road Trip

WHEW!!   What an incredible adventure Garrison had!  Now that you’ve read through all of his insights and advice… what do you think?!  Would you be willing to attempt a multi-state motorcycle road trip?  Does the excitement that’s evident in Garrison’s answers spur you into action?

If you would like to get some help building a plan for your road trip – whether on a motorcycle or any other form of vehicle – just know that Take Back Roads is here to help!   Take Back Roads offers a number of different resources to help you build the perfect road trip!  Review the links below to find out more about how we can help you to build your perfect trip.

  1. Road Trip Resources
  2. Road Trip Planning Service
  3. How to Take a Road Trip on Back Roads
  4. Road Trip Tips & Tricks
  5. The Best Back Road in Each State
  6. How to Camp for Free
  7. Driving Cross Country – the best routes, the best destinations
  8. Driving Music – a Road Trip Playlist

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