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Long John Silver on - Riding further than the next latte.

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When I changed from riding an Intruder cruiser to the ST1300 sports tourer, I considered getting a radar detector, however, I figured that a detector might well encourage me to ride faster than the allowable limits and therefore opted an alternative measure of speed control and that was riding off the economy gauge, whereby if the speed rose and the economy dropped, then one was inspired to button off a bit. Ahh the joys of being a tight-arse!

The other major factor that entered into the mix and affected the way I ride was endurance riding. I did my first 1,000 miler in 2006 and since then I have done in the region of 190,000km. That has included: 7 – 1,000milers; 8 – 1,000k'ers; 1 – Southern Cross; 5 – TT2000s and a Mini's Return. Prep rides may be anything from 500km to 1,300km and my 2nd Grand Challenge included a 500km extension to make the 21st GC a 2,100km-in-24hrs event.

Contrary to what I perceive to be a popular misconception, endurance riding isn't about riding at warp speed to achieve long distances as quickly as possible! It is about riding efficiently and minimising stops, because it is far easier to 'save' time rather than to 'make-up' time. The likes of Big Steve and myself are certainly no saints, but I would say that, in general, we are more likely to be found riding within the 'allowable limits' than exceeding them.

The benefits of endurance riding

What started out as a personal challenge led to quantum changes in how I ride and my approach to riding.

Within three months of doing my first Grand Challenge, I had upgraded from the cruiser to a built-for-purpose sport tourer. That took me from a 250km range to a super time saving 500+km range, plus bags, plus electric screen, plus comfort and it could turn corners! And when the lord said “Let there be light”, I could see for effing miles!

Prior to my initiation I was pretty much a 'club' rider, whereby I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the group, following blindly and when I got home, although I knew generally were I had been, I had no idea of the specifics. A trip/tour would be done on main highways and navigation was achieved by reading directions from massive great green signs. Riding at night was rarely away from well lit city streets and motorways and if it did take me out of town, I was still on roads with an abundance of cats-eyes and marker posts and other traffic to mark the way.

My first GC thrust me back 20 years! I had to read teeny-tiny non-reflective yellow street signs over roads I never knew existed, including the Fordell-Hunterville Road in the dark! I didn't know what struck me when I found myself riding alone, on a narrow road, with no markers, on a bike that had the headlight attached to forks which were constantly turning! Not one of the other 120 riders passed me creating huge doubts that I was even on the right road.

The aim for smooth

Endurance riding has led to me striving for smoothness to ride economically and efficiently in an effort to maximise rolling average through a range of conditions and over all sorts of roads. Time on the road racking up km has gone some way to achieving that goal.

My riding style has evolved out of that, as well as by the vagaries of riding an ST1300. I tend to describe the bike as a 'Wolf in Sheeps Clothing', because although they are not known as 'Rocket Ships', STs have loads of torque and are comfortable to ride with minimal gear changes and even when overtaking it is often not necessary to change down unless urgency is required. They handle easily and are quite nimble for a 300kg (dry) machine, so an easy 'roll-off, roll-on' style can be utilised and I have managed to piss-off the odd 'Sprotty' rider that didn't like the thought of a 'Truck' holding them up on the Rimutakas, only to find they couldn't keep up or couldn't get away. The lack of engine braking can sometimes lead to entering corners a little hot and I do have a bad habit of tapping, or caressing the rear in the middle of corners, although this is often not out of necessity but just 'comfort braking'. The weight of the bike means that it is very uneconomical under acceleration and that has encouraged me to try to ride smoother, so when Steve and I are out cruising, we tend to set our pace to the road. For example, we would try to maintain a steady 80-90kph over the Rimutakas with minimal braking, or 90-100kph up and down the Paraparas or through the Awakino Gorge and sitting on the allowable limits of 105-110kph on the main State Highways will usually result in a moving average of 95+kph on a trip.

Speed doesn't do it for me and I much prefer cranking through a set of twisties rather then sitting at 120+kph on some straight highway. The epitome of a jolly good fang in Long John's book would be riding smoothly whilst trying to average 100kph down the Paras!

An Endurance Rider's Guide to the Universe

To ride a 1,000 miles there are several balances that one must strive for:
a) Speed:
Riding too fast will cause fatigue, while riding too slow can cause one to lose concentration. There is an optimum speed (I call it riding in the zone) where one's focus is raised to an optimum level that can be maintained for long periods, in fact, it seems to help in keeping fatigue at bay. Riding in 'the zone' will be at a speed that is in the top 25% of one's comfort zone.
b) Efficiency:
Riding at a speed that makes good progress with minimal braking and easy acceleration is important to avoid fatigue. Being smooth through cornering is key.
c) Economy:
Getting the most out of the tank can reduce the number of stops and help maintain a healthy average speed. You might even be doing your bit to save the planet while you ride inordinate distances for no purpose at all, other than qualifying for a badge to put in your top drawer!
d) Minimising stops:
Turning a 10 minute fuel stop into a 20 minute stop would require riding the next 100km at 120kph to make up the time. It's far easier and safer to be organised and efficient at stops than try to make up time on the road.
e) Planning:
Once again, time spent planning and familiarising one's route and fuel stops avoids wasting time looking at maps when on the road. It also leaves your mind to focus on riding, so you can be more aware and alert to hazards as well as riding smoothly and economically.
f) Preparation:
Time spent on the road conditioning ones mind, body and butt is as important to endurance riding as training is for any sport. Wearing good gear, getting one's body to be comfortable to do 700+km, 1,000km and on to 1,600km at a time is important to reduce discomfort and therefore fatigue. Doing night rides is important when prepping for a 1,600km ride, as one is likely to be riding right through the night! It's not rocket science, you just need to be able to maintain that moving average in wind, rain, darkness, or all of the above.

Riding in the Zone

Have you ever ridden on a track or attended a track day? Or even gone for a social session at the indoor Go Kart track, that wasn't really that social? Pushing one's limits requires high levels of concentration as well as causing one to tense-up and after attending my first 'Training Day' at Manfeild, whereby I only did 145km on the track, I was riding home to Wellington and I have never felt more shattered. Needless to say the next time I attended one of these, we stayed over in Palmy. A half an hour solid at the Go Kart track will also get your heart rate up and go some way to wearing you out. If you are planning to be in the saddle for 8 hours, 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, riding at speeds that elevate your heart rate too high isn't a good plan. Riding ‘In the Zone’ will raise your heart rate just enough to focus your attention on the job at hand and give you an edge that can be held, without wearing you out.

Conversely, I have heard of riders coming off and afterwards said, “I don't know what happened, I was puttering along at 80-90kph and I ran out of road. I know I could have taken that corner at 100+”! Invariably what has happened is that “puttering along” has led to the rider losing focus and before they knew it, it was all over Rover. Once again, if you are planning to be in the saddle for extra long periods, you can't afford a momentary lapse of reason, unless we're talking about listening to the Pink Floyd LP.

The answer is practice. Practice riding on highways within the allowable limits and focus on riding at a constant pace. Think about your riding and what you are doing, maintaining following distances, overtaking, or whatever else it takes to keep your focus. I find that the economy gauge can help if I am on a particularly boring road, or calculating moving average. It's certainly easier to maintain focus when the roads get twisty and in that situation, you need to practice to find what pace you feel comfortable to push, whilst staying in a relaxed frame of mind. That practice will also lead to improving your skill set so you get more comfortable.

I also find music good. If I’m on a motorway or boring straight road I will often be seen tapping and bobbing, but if you asked me what I’d been listening to straight after rocking through the twisties on the likes of Rangiwahia Rd, the chances are I would have no idea? I guess that is about getting into the zone and easing out of it. As the concentration and heartrate go up with the need to focus on the job, non-essential inputs are ignored, but when we ease back, the music can offer a good diversion to prevent boredom.

Oh yes, and I hate getting tickets, not to mention those horrid demerit points!

Achieving efficiency

I thought my riding skills were quite adequate until I found myself thrust into the midst of what I would describe as a group of elite riders. There's nothing worse than riding out of your skin in an effort to keep up with riders who appear to be cruising along effortlessly!

If I'd had half a brain I would have signed up for some advanced rider training and now days one would probably start with a Ride Forever course, but being a silly old fart, I continued to bumble along until I was fortunate that in December 2007 & 2008, the Whanganui Uly's invited me along to a couple of training days at Manfeild under the guidance of Brian Bernard. Doing that training helped me to discover that I had been turning into corners a little early, among other things, and fortunately, riding a very forgiving ST and averaging around 30,000km per year including the endurance rides, eventually led to an improvement in skills, while the distance riding honed the style. Since that time I have endeavoured to do some form of formal training every 1 – 2 years and I continually tend to analyse my own riding.

Along the way, I got into Yank Style Police Rodeo, or Slow Riding on a casual basis and as well as enjoying the challenge, I immediately found there were unexpected benefits. It led to improvements in bike control and confidence and over time I have found it has improved my rhythm on the road.

Basically, riding in a smooth and efficient manner has come from a need (endurance riding), training to achieve the skills and doing the km's on the road to hone the skills. I still don't rate myself as a great rider but I get by.


Economy within itself isn't really a biggy because in most cases, one doesn't find a servo available at the end of one's tank range, but it can mean the difference between making it to the next town, rather than having to fill 100km earlier and ultimately, avoid that extra one or two stops on a ride. Endurance rides generally have quite a large window of time to allow for riders of all skills and bike sizes and types to have sufficient time to complete the event, however, when coupled with other factors like speed and efficiency, it does become part of the mix in achieving the 'complete package'.

Riding economically is achieved by getting up to speed reasonably quickly (using easy acceleration and block changes where possible), then holding that pace by rolling off for corners to ease up with minimal braking, then rolling on to get back up to pace. Depending on the type and size of bike will determine how much gear changing and speed variation is required, or just how economically you can ride, but once again, smooth and economical should help to avoid fatigue.

Maintaining a good moving average

Being organised and minimising stops is a prime factor to most experienced endurance riders, as it is so easy to waste 20 minutes on a fuel stop but with a bit of focus, one can be in, gassed up, relieve oneself, scoff a quick snack, take a slug of water and be out in less than 10 minutes. Same on photo checkpoints. It's so easy to take 5-10 minutes chewing the fat, but an organised stop can be done in 2 minutes, so on a ride like the 2015 TT2000 where we had 44 CPs, there was huge potential to waste 2-5 hours over the weekend, time that could be much better spent in the sack, or having a good feed or two, or maybe a few beers at the end of the day.

As well as being organised and focused on the stops, having a good knowledge of the route means time won't be wasted getting lost and one can focus on riding, which is safer and will also result in a better pace and moving average, without having to speed, although bikers will be bikers from time to time!

Planning is everything!

Familiarise yourself with the route and stops as that removes the stress of uncertainty. For a ride like the North Island 1600, where the route goes up at 7pm on the Friday for a 1pm start on the Saturday, I would put in up to 5 hours planning. For the 2015 TT2000, where the checkpoints were made available via website in July for the ride in February, I started planning in December and probably spent in excess of 50 hours designing our route in MapSource, working out fuel stops for Woody's wee Kermit-range, (Woody rides a green Kawasaki Z1000 that is lucky to do 250km between fuel stops), calculating ETAs, compiling, printing and binding route booklets for our group of four and arranging accommodation. I enjoyed that challenge as much as the ride itself, but most importantly, when we were on the road we only had to think about riding. I had calculated fast and slow ETAs so we were able to assess our progress at each CP and know when we would be stopping for the night. I had planned a relatively tight schedule, so the pace was sometimes frenetic and there was no lingering for photos, but we were all on intercoms so we did have the opportunity to chat along the way.

Even for club rides and most other outings, I now peruse the destination and route prior to the ride, my bike has two LED torches, a tyre repair kit, compressor and first aid kit permanently stowed, I check my tyre pressures and pack my wets, tapes & tie-wraps and maybe extra tools etc the night before so I am prepared on the day and ready to focus on riding.

Preparation and training

Endurance Riders take their sport as seriously as most other top level sportsman and they train. This ticks several boxes.

More riding will generally result in more proficiency so it is easier to maintain a higher pace and still be comfortably riding 'In the Zone'.

More riding will condition the body to do the big km. One doesn't train doing 100 metre dashes if one wants to run a marathon, so if you want to do a 1,000km or a 1,000 miles, you need to do a bit more than the average club ride. Conditioning rides of 700km+ will 'harden up the butt' and when one does come to pushing up the km in an event, they will be more comfortable which will keep one's focus on the job in hand. Distance riders have to start somewhere, but experienced riders will generally know their limits and plan accordingly.

Preparation should also extend to bike, gear and nourishment. How are your tyres and brake pads? Where is the bike in its servicing schedule and how far are you going? For a ride like the NI1600, I get a ‘Super-WoF’ check carried out the week before to ensure I don’t get any surprises at scrutineering. Ensuring one's gear is warm and waterproof results in comfort, which helps keep fatigue at bay. Everyone has their own system and likes for food and drink. Some wear camel-backs, some rely on hits of coffee and V drinks to go with their pies. My preference is to avoid caffeine and sugar on the basis that what goes up, must come down, so I tend to carry 3 or 4 bottles of water which will get a squirt of electrolyte added when I open it. I might pop a multivitamin before the start, then at every stop I will take a slug of water with a nut bar or small banana and by constantly grazing, I don't need to stop for a big feed.

Tools that aid us

There are many tools available these days that assist us when riding and, if used properly, these can vastly enhance the experience.

GPS I used to write notes of each turn and stick them to the dash over the tacho and each page would be a section to the next CP or fuel stop. Getting a GPS meant that I could program the route in and get reminders that a turn was approaching at 1.3km and again at 300 metres. This made life much easier as I didn’t need to think about how far I’d come from the last turn and I didn’t need to worry about slowing to check road names. The GPS also provided me with a more reliable source of music than the MP3s which have short battery lives. Other benefits are: being able to review one's journey; know your moving and rolling averages; your max speed; your distance and ETA to the next turn and final destination. Search out potential fuel stops or other ‘points of interest’ on the fly or if things go wrong.

Intercom These are finally coming down to a price that is affordable for most riders and the quality has lifted to a level that makes them useful. The new Sena 20S has a range of 2km (line of sight) and it can pair to 7 other units for a group intercom. We have started using these and they are great for the lead rider to forewarn others of upcoming hazards; or for riders to abuse the lead when advising if a turn has been missed or to discuss alternative options on the fly, or advise each other of problems (like Woody getting low on fuel, again! Or Steve needing a coffee and a sugar fix, again!) or just chat about things.

Phones The new phones have all sorts of apps and features that can be utilized on motorbikes. On the 2014 NI1600, I was riding with James (a tech geek) and when he took a CP photo, his phone was loading it to Facebook so his friends could monitor his progress, as well as updating our controllers at HQ. Consequently, when we rolled into Z Turangi at about half-past-midnight (0034hrs to be precise) that night, Ann strolled over to me as I filled and said, “You’re 4 minutes late!” There are now apps like Glympse, that provide real-time tracking.

All these things are making riding easier and freeing us up to focus on riding.

Endurance riding pushes my buttons and ticks my boxes. I rediscovered that New Zealand has a fantastic network of minor roads that are a delight to travel on a motorcycle and I've ridden most of New Zealand's great roads more than once, I rediscovered street signs and learned to note where I had been and then I was able to revisit those roads or incorporate them as diversions to make getting places more interesting, it's improved my skills, I've met some great people. I've blasted through the Mangamukas and over Mt Hercules and up Mt Messenger, I've ridden through the worst wind and rain one could imagine, I've frozen my butt off, I've ridden along 6” deep wheel ruts in hail turned to solid ice and come off, I've slipped about on wet goat tracks at 3 in the morning and made it through, I've offed avoiding another riding who overcooked going into a corner and struggled on through the after affects of the adrenaline surge, I've survived a tank-slapper in the Catlins and a two wheel drift through a river of cowshit flowing across the highway north of Dargaville. Hmmmm. Maybe you should think twice before trying endurance riding?

Some links:
More links here:
And here:

1 & 2. Finishing the 2007 Grand Challenge with Dougie after riding through a dreadful stormy night. Brett (Hitcher) once described this as, “Nothing beats that "been there, done that, my piles are bleeding" look of relief at the end of a GC.”
3. Finishing the 2007 GC Extension after doing an additional 500km in westerly winds up to 150kph, totally shattered and totally elated that I’d ‘Knocked the Bastard Off’! (only 4 of the 111 starters completed the extension)
4. The spoils of war for Endurance riders.
5. The results of off-roading
6. The current beast
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  1. rustyrobot's Avatar
    Thanks for that, what a great read. I can see your passion for endurance riding, and I think some others might even get the bug from what you've written there.

    It's definitely something that's in my future... once I've packed the kids up and out in to the world. That is - if we are still allowed to command our own vehicles at that point.

    Cheers for taking the time to write it!
  2. whatastoner's Avatar
    Great read John. So you guys use Sena s20's then. Must look into that. See you at the NI 1600 this year or maybe before.
  3. biggo's Avatar
    Great Read John. Some great tips I will use while planning for this years NI1600 .