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Why Can't I Do Long Distance?

Blog Date - 22 March 2018

Some people seem to be able to ride mile after mile, hour after hour and day after day. I know of riders who'll joyfully cover 500 miles a day for a couple of weeks on their touring holidays. I've read Stephen Cooper's antics of massive miles on super scooters (Spanish Butt) and witnessed riders leaving and returning on a UK 1,000 mile Iron Butt Rally. 

A very tired motorcyclist still wearing his bike gear and helmet sleeps on a table
After 1,000 miles this rider was ready for a rest.

As for myself? I'm happy to cover 100 to 150 miles in a day. 200 miles give or take is my comfort limit although I regularly ride over 250 due to logistical necessity. As a younger man I managed 550 miles once but I was slaughtered that night and the following day. 

What gives? Am I a wimp, a lightweight, a rank amateur, do I lack commitment and staying power? I certainly used to think so and I used to make myself quite miserable trying to prove to myself and others that I was not a big softie but a genuine roughty toughty badass biker.

Ren in hi-viz and bike gear looking not very manly or tough
Yeah, I've got this butch tough manly biker thing covered...right?

I used to think it was the bike I was riding. If only the bars were a bit more upright, if only the footpegs were a bit further back, if only the seat were better padded and if only the tank was a bit narrower. 

There is no doubt some motorcycles are more ergonomically friendly for my body shape. I'm finding the CB500X rather suits me comfort wise but still after 70 miles I need a break and after 280 miles I am thankful for a comfy chair and a hot cuppa. Yes - the seating position makes a difference but it's not the be-all and end-all.

Ren sat on his CB500X
The 500 seems to be about right for Ren shaped people.

With the hindsight of 28 years and perhaps half a million miles I've come to the conclusion it's me. I'm just not cut out for sitting still for long periods of time. 

If I'm watching a film at home I fidget in the chair from time to time. When I'm sleeping I'll change sides often. When I'm working at my desk I need to get up and move around regularly. I don't consider any of this a problem, I don't have restless leg syndrome. I sleep well enough and I like my inability to remain still, it keeps me active and engaged. 

I also tend to get bored quite easily too. 

All this and maybe some other things affect my ability to sit on a saddle for hour after hour. It's too easy for my to become stiff and it's too easy for me to become bored and lose concentration. 

So what am I to do? I am who I am and I am finding it is easier to work around who I am rather than to try and change who I am. Rather than planning an 800 mile blast through France I've plumped to take the ferry to Spain this year. Rather than riding all the way up to Glencoe in one day (which I have done many times before) I opted to split the journey last year. This made the whole experience that much more relaxing and enjoyable.

Sharon smiles from within the tent on the Ayrshire coast
Sharon seemed happy to break the journey north up too.

If you are wheelchair bound no-one would expect you to walk up Ben Nevis but that should not stop you from finding solutions as to how you might achieve exploring the UK's biggest mountain. Humans are both adaptable and ingenious, we are at our best when we apply these things positively (and our worst when applied negatively).

I am not disabled. I have the use of my body and my mind and having spent time incapacitated after an accident I am keenly aware how lucky I am. I'm just not very good at very long distance motorcycling, it's hardly a serious problem is it. I am still learning the best ways to work around it, that's all.

Ren wearing his bike gear while paddling in the water at Rhossili beach
I have a fairly good life overall.

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Reader's Comments

Bob said :-
I'm with you on this one.
I have covered lots of miles in a day before and I think the secret is simply "great speed". My FJ1200 would eat European trips and come back for more. Covering 300 miles in a day isn't difficult if your speed is northwards of 90MPH, if you get to Germany and sit at 110-120MPH then it's even easier.
It's about time in the saddle, if you're on a small bike on back roads, 150 miles is a full days ride, whereas on an FJ1200 in Germany it's an hour and a bit!
On my XR125, 80 odd miles of mixed single track, B road and trails is enough, on the BMW 200 miles in day blasting round North Wales is possible and still enjoyable.
I don't see the point of doing big miles just so that I can boast that I've done them - nobody's bothered at the end of the day.
22/3/2018 1:11:00 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Maybe this was prompted by my suggestion of the National Rally?

I certainly don't think any less of people for not doing huge mileages, but must say that the NR is a once a year event and worth (in my opinion) putting some effort in. For the record, I'm not an iron butt type by any means and as some of you know like my comfort. However, 500 miles in 24 hours on a one-off occasion can be surprisingly satisfying, if tiring. I completed the 5 rallies I rode in on a 20-year old (at the beginning) Norton Commando and avoided motorways completely so can't quite agree with Bob on this one. It's not about boasting but about the personal challenge and the memories which after well over 20 years for me are still fresh.

In the days when I did a continental tour every year I would expect to cover 200 - 250 miles a day, again without setting a tyre on motorways. I have no interest at all in sitting for hour after hour at ton-plus speeds and much prefer a steady 60 on French N and D roads. A reasonably early start, morning coffee after 100 miles or so, leisurely lunch after another 50 then finding a cosy little hotel by late afternoon see the miles roll by very pleasantly and offer the opportunity to see the countryside and explore those out of the way places.

It's not for everyone of course, and these days I find 150 miles in a day quite enough. But I am knocking on 70 years old.......
22/3/2018 4:01:13 PM UTC
Chris Bell said :-
I had to get up 15 times whilst reading this!.
22/3/2018 5:22:12 PM UTC
Henrik said :-
I feel priviledged, I did read it all, start to end, without even a blink with an eyes, or other silly escapes :-)

Guess my longest trip was around 450 miles, without brake, I could do that as my KLE500 is very comfy and upright to drive

My old GS500 was torture, already after 100 miles my legs would die from lack of blod-circulation, due to folding my body together pn rhe toy-bike
22/3/2018 6:56:24 PM UTC
Pocketpete said :-
My bikes been tucked away over winter but yesterday decided to visit my daughter in York. Door to door 86 miles.

It wasn't too cold despite a bit off snow still on the ground and over the pennies.

By the time I got there my backside was really sore.

I did Manchester to wigton on my Inazuma. 140miles and hardly noticed the trip.

I always liked the inazuma seat very wide very soft and comfy more armchair like. Makes a massive difference. My poor old honda I struggle to get to 100miles before I have to stand up and have a walk around.

I was looking for a replacement seat or a second hand one that I could alter by adding some memory foam or gel foam to. Not found one yet.
23/3/2018 8:00:35 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I have been pondering this post for quite a while Ian but yes your comments on the chit chat page prompted me to actually finish the post.

What strikes me is how different we all are. Pocketpete is struggling with the 500 but I think it's fine. Chris obviously has ants in his pants while Henrik is totally chilled.

We have no problem accepting how different we all look on the outside but we expect everyone to be the same as ourselves on the inside.
24/3/2018 5:46:32 AM UTC
Chris bell said :-
Ren, I recently commented to my wife "how come sitting in front of a laptop for half an hour my legs then feel like they've done a days work?" doesn't make sense but sitting at a drum kit for a similar duration doesn't have the same e/affect (very good stool, crappy chair maybe, etc).Any way 200 miles would be a very long distance to me.Think I just got bitten again.
24/3/2018 2:51:19 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
HA! Cheers Chris. Maybe you should consider meditation and ant powder? Sitting in the lotus position for 8 hours solid while chanting Buddhist prayers ought to make you a calmer person. Or see you institutionalised.

26/3/2018 8:44:11 AM UTC
Chris Bell said :-
Ren, I Really did Laugh at that reply.Cheers.
26/3/2018 6:23:57 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Phew! Got away with it.
26/3/2018 8:34:41 PM UTC
Phil said :-
I can only manage around 100 miles a day as come evening time I always seem to have a banging headache if I've been riding that day(I do wear good ear plugs btw on every ride). Maybe it's the long concentration thing, or that I don't wear my glasses whereas I do if I drive(one eye is good, other is a bit out of focus), I dunno. But I could never do these long holiday journeys a lot of bikers set out to do.

29/3/2018 10:06:45 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
That sucks Phil.

I don't know if a motorcycle holiday would be your thing but if 100 miles a day is your limit you can still get out and see some fabulous places on two wheels. It's a case of managing your goals and expectations that's all.

In the usual 2 week holiday that most working folks can manage there are riders out there who'd think little of a trip to Poland or Romania and back in that time. While I'm sure it's physically possible, for myself it wouldn't be a pleasure it would be a test of endurance.

As such I manage my trips. On our exploration of South Wales there were a couple of 150 mile days but the rest were well within 100 miles. Those "real" adventure types who've been to Mongolia and Peru might scoff and that's fine - but - Sharon and I really enjoyed our mini adventure and that is all that matters in the end.

Of course I'd like to visit places much farther afield but I realise if I am to do this I'll have to take much more time. In the meantime there's no point moping around worrying about it, I'll enjoy what I can when I can.
30/3/2018 7:57:44 AM UTC
Doug said :-
I'm happier in the sub 250 club, and likewise usually aim for 100-150 a day. I don't need to play speed or mileage Top Trumps anymore, although I do like a decent MPG figure :-)
3/4/2018 5:47:40 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Ah Doug - mpg figures, be still my beating heart. I dream of endless miles on nothing more than a thimble of fuel.

I did play top trumps for speed and distance and ridiculous antics. I'm much happier now although I fear I'm becoming an old man. Still, I'm happiest when I'm being a grumpy miserable curmudgeon.
3/4/2018 9:25:32 PM UTC
Tim said :-
I think Phil said he is getting headaches when riding distance. Just a suggestion but it may well be dehydration. I read something the other day about the speed you dehydrate on bikes it us amazing,of course tea and coffee stops won't help , water only. I get headaches very often when using chainsaws all day.
27/1/2019 10:37:42 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I daresay you're onto something there Tim. While I'm not convinced hydration is the ONLY reason it is an often overlooked part of it. We have also on occasion had Sharon get hungry and that can cause concentration problems too.

However...TEA!! Yes tea and coffee are diuretics but they "put in" more water than they take out. I live on tea and I don't believe I'm dehydrated. I think as riders we need to rest, rehydrate and look after our bodies much more actively because we travel in a harsher environment than those of car drivers. Eat, drink (non alcoholic if riding) and be merry.
28/1/2019 7:29:55 AM UTC
NigelS said :-
I certainly don't have a problem with dehydration, rather the opposite. Even a small cuppa first thing in the morning and I have to make frequent 'pit' stops which are a nuisance if trying to cover distance. I cruise at a steady 50 mph on my 125 (probably 60 on the Vespa GTV) and cover 120-130 miles in a day but its my butt that really suffers. So I bought the small Airhawk (actually the pillion one) and now my mileage increases to 175+ miles. I don't do journeys but I like to go up to the Peak District where the six-fingered lads live and generally tool around the little lanes and the mileage soon racks up. Its only when I'm back on A roads homeward bound when one is sat in one position for long periods that I begin to ache .

28/1/2019 8:26:03 AM UTC
Upt'North said :-
I think that riding a bike over long distances for many days is no different to walking long distances for a week. It's all about preparation, but having said that we are all different.
I have walked some of Scotland's long distance paths, which would be about 100 miles over 5 or 6 days, would I do it tomorrow, hell no, after a couple of months of prep, maybe.
Just the same as a good bike trip, over the last 8 years I have done maybe half a dozen 3 to 4000 mile trips over a suitable period and some of those days were 400 mile plus legs. But you don't do 400 miles everyday and although the journey is important, for me it's also just as important to have days off and enjoy your surroundings. Afterall, isn't that why we ride.
It's important to remember as well that doing 400 miles can sometimes be easier than doing 100, 100 miles of the M6, M62 and M60 would leave any of us tatored and in demand of a mug of char.
I also have another theory, I supported Port Vale for many years, so got used to sitting motion less for 2 hours at a time.
28/1/2019 9:25:11 AM UTC
Tim said :-
I am fully in with you on the tea front, I am obsessed with the stuff.Great point about the food as well, mind you with the amount of cake we eat on journeys perhaps we never notice it. Our group is small but called the "Bike Group of Cakeiness" rides are determined by tea and cake stops. However I still end up with headaches over long distance, I guess the air drying eventually overtakes input in my case. I am not sure how I will cope if i eventually head for the Elefantentreffen, intravenous perhaps !
28/1/2019 9:36:01 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Oh Upt'North - I actually laughed and I don't like laughing. Stop it.

Ride fit. Sharon and I will notice after a winter of short local rides to avoid perpetual hypothermia we can't simply hop onto the bikes and cover 200 miles comfortably. As you say you would not expect to turn up at a half marathon having never run more than 500 yards and expect to complete it easily. The more you ride the more you can ride.

Seats help. Bike ergonomics help. Personal fitness helps. Fluids help. Rest stops help. Regular long rides help. Not supporting ANY football team must surely help. We are all unique too so what works for one may not work for another.

Tatored. Blimey I con'st tell thy's a proper norvenur.
28/1/2019 9:41:15 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Tim - "Bike Group of Cakeiness" now that sounds like a very civilised group to be a part of. While cake may not be "in vogue" due to its high sugar content, lack of fibre and general all around bad for your healthyness it is still an important part of a life well lived. I can see you all sipping tea from China cups with your little pinkies stuck out, eating delicate cakes with petite forks and discussing the merits of synthetic oils.
28/1/2019 10:20:00 AM UTC
Tim said :-
Crickey!! Have you met us then ! Description is almost perfect. If I can I will add an image of youngest member (my youngest daughter) measureing her hand against giant cake in Douglas at the TT.

28/1/2019 10:30:09 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Right enough now Tim! I'm gonna end up going to my local tea room at this rate. Cake. Mmmmmmmm...
28/1/2019 5:07:27 PM UTC

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