Mileage Monsters

Long-distance motorcycle endurance rallies test both your metal and your mettle.

“I am not giving up. Ain’t happenin’. Uh-uh, no way.” I’m sitting on the curb in a deserted convenience store parking lot on the outskirts of Salt Lake City and staring vacantly at my bug-splattered BMW sport-touring bike. It’s 4 a.m. and I’ve pulled the last trick out of the long-distance motorcycle rider’s toolkit: Good old-fashioned stubbornness.

I’ve felt surprisingly good for most of the 800-plus miles I’ve ridden since yesterday morning, but now I’ve clearly hit the wall. For the past hour I’ve been doing everything I can think of to stay alert—from singing bad pop tunes to doing repeated time-speed-distance calculations in my head—and still I hear the pillow in my hotel room calling my name.

So I’m choking down another Clif bar and thinking to myself “if I can just hold on until the sun comes up, everything will be okay.” Trouble is that big ball of burning gas won’t crest the Wasatch range for another couple of hours, and I need to keep moving if I’m going to rack up the 300 more miles I need to be a finisher in the 24-hour Utah 1088 motorcycle endurance rally.

While organized rallies like the 1088 aren’t the only way to play this long-distance motorcycling game—there are literally dozens of different awards offered by the Iron Butt Association and affiliated organizations that can be earned entirely on your own—they are without question the pinnacle of the sport. That’s because, in addition to requiring that competitors ride a minimum number of miles in a given amount of time, endurance rallies require riders to collect bonus points along the way in something akin to a two-wheeled scavenger hunt.

But before you run out and sign up for an endurance rally, there are a few things you ought to know. First, these are rallies not races. Because the finishing positions are determined by bonus points, your success hinges on wise bonus selection, efficient route planning, and effective use of the available time more than raw speed.

Second, even though many rally vets take these events very seriously, an endurance rally’s friendly competition is only a small part of its attraction. Ask anyone you meet at one of these events and they’ll likely tell you that it’s the chance to blow away preconceived notions of what’s possible on a bike that’s the real challenge here. Add the opportunity to ride some of the country’s most outstanding motorcycling roads and the instant camaraderie between like-minded riders, and you have a combination that can prove downright addictive.

Eventually I managed to revive myself enough to throw my leg over the saddle and set off into the night. Frankly, the next five hours are a blur, but by the time I rolled across the finish line I had a total of 1,130.7 corrected miles and 21,997 bonus points to my credit, a score good enough for 52nd position out of the 65 riders who finished the rally.

But while I’m proud of this modest accomplishment, the plain fact is that those numbers can’t begin to describe the fun I had in the process. Which, come to think of it, is why I can hardly wait to go back and do it all again next year.

Xtrordinary Xtra
Though it might seem counterintuitive, the men and women of the Iron Butt Association are also some of the safest motorcyclists on the road. For example, the 65 riders who finished the Utah 1088 with me rode more than 80,000 miles during that 24-hour period without any incidents worse than a tip-over on a gravel-strewn freeway off-ramp.

Xtrordinary Xtra
If you think riding 1,100 miles in 24 hours is tough, imagine competing in the biennial Iron Butt Rally where riders keep up that pace for 11 days straight.

The Facts
Name: Long-Distance Motorcycle Rallies
Location: Locations across the U.S.
Websites:
www.utah1088.com
www.ironbutt.com

My Advice

  • Endurance rallies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you’re certain to find one to fit your schedule and level of experience. Start by entering a 12- or 24-hour rally to learn the ropes before moving on to multi-day events.
  • You’ll find a calendar of endurance rallies and related long-distance riding events at the Iron Butt Association’s website. While there, check out the useful tips on endurance riding compiled in the IBA’s “Archive of Wisdom.”
  • To learn more about how to set yourself and your bike up for endurance rallies, pick up a copy of Going the Extra Mile: Insider Tips for Long-Distance Motorcycling and Endurance Rallies by Ron Ayres (144 pages, $20, www.whitehorsepress.com).
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions of rally staff and more experienced riders before, during, or after the event. You’ll find most are more than happy to share their hard-won knowledge with newbies.
  • All long-distance motorcyclists need to know, recognize, and act on the warning signs of fatigue. To learn more, check out: www.ride4ever.org/news/fatigue.php.