I recently had the opportunity (read: time) to go on a 10-day motorcycle trip from Atlanta to Florida with a close friend. I rode my '09 Yamaha FJR1300, and he rode his '07 BMW F650GS. Here's what we learned!
1. Don't take a motorcycle trip to Florida
Our purpose in riding around Florida was primarily to go to Key West. And really, the ride from Miami to the Keys is awesome. The bridges that connect the islands go on for miles (including the infamous 7-mile bridge), and it's pretty cool to look out over the bridge and see miles of beautiful blue water.
But beyond that, Florida sucks for motorcycling. It's hot, the roads are all flat, there are a ton of bugs (particularly around the Everglades), and it has some of the craziest cagers I've ever seen. So pick another place to go riding. I recommend a more mountainous region.
Lesson: Prioritize fun roads on a motorcycle trip over the destination.
2. Bring a spare master link for your chain
This one small part could have saved our trip
Oddly specific advice, you might say. Well that's because we had originally planned to leave Florida for New Orleans, but after the chain on the BMW flew off while we were doing 70 mph down SR27 in the middle of nowhere on a Monday, the rest of our plans got pushed to the wayside. YOU try finding a motorcycle shop open on a Monday afternoon (already a rarity in the powersports industry) that ALSO has the right chain in-stock... We ended up getting a flat bed to return the BMW to Fort Lauderdale where we spent the rest of our trip enjoying the beach.
Lesson: Make sure you have all the tools - especially when they're low weight but high value.
3. Be like water and go with the flow
You can prepare all you want, but on a motorcycle tour, not everything will go as planned. You really have to accept the fact that things won't go the way you want all the time. This was a hard reality to face considering we lost most of our campsite and hostel money since the reservations were largely non-refundable. Lesson learned - plan loosely and try to make reservations only if they are refundable (or be prepared to eat the cost later when your trip gets off track!).
By going with the flow and heading back to Fort Lauderdale, we got to have a lot of experiences we would have missed had we continued towards NOLA. We had probably the best crab cakes I've ever tasted at Rendezvous near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport. We also went jet skiing and deep sea fishing on some very choppy waters - one of which I loved. The other didn't seem to agree with me. I'll let you guess which is which.
Lesson: Don't over-plan routes and nightly stays.
4. Route planning is harder than it seems
During our ride, we wanted to avoid boring highways and stay close to the coast so we'd have a brilliant view of the water while we cruised along the A1A. Sounds great, right? Well turns out you can't even see the water on most of the A1A along the Atlantic coast. The coastline is filled with vegetation or houses or hotels or condos that block your view of the water. So even though we were successful in avoiding the highway, we were still on a flat, boring, Florida road without much to look at.
We also learned that while it's nice to stay off the highway when possible, sometimes it makes more sense to bite the bullet and take the super slab. Our hostel in Miami was on the coast of South Beach which meant traveling through the city to get there. We roasted in the heat and managed to hit (what seemed like) every red light in town. Had we taken the highway through Miami, we probably would have turned that tortuous 45 minutes in the hot sun into 15 minutes of moving quickly to our destination.
All those little yellow and red spots are traffic lights. If we would have taken the highway in, we could have avoided a lot of this.
Lesson: Highways are not always bad. State roads are not always good. It's important to know when to use which road.
5. Gear makes the ride
If your gear ain't right, you'll be hurting. Riding a motorcycle in comfort is hard enough. Riding a motorcycle when you're cold or wet or dripping in sweat from the heat or some combination thereof makes for an awful experience. Your gear must be able to keep you comfortable in all weather conditions.
My mesh tourmaster jacket and pants performed exceptionally in the heat and kept me reasonably cool, but when the rain hit, the rain liners allowed water to run down my pants and into my boots. I was wet the rest of the day even after the clouds cleared up.
Lesson: Gear is the most important part of the trip - don't skimp!
It's true what they say - it's about the journey and not the destination. When motorcycling far from home, it's better to focus on the fun roads than an awesome destination. You have to be prepared for all types of weather and mechanical failures, but you don't have to be prepared with every stop and every hotel along the way. It's better to have a general idea of where you want to go and be flexible in getting there.
Maybe we'll go north on our next trip.