Test your riding endurance in an Iron Butt Rally
The Iron Butt Association is dedicated to the pursuit of safe, long-distance motorcycling.
Sure, most of us have done extended days on the bike, but to class yourself as a genuine 'Iron Butter' you must complete one of the club’s 'Certified Rides'.
The entry-level is the Saddlesore 1000, which demands that tough-reared riders endure 1000 miles in 24 hours.
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Like anyone who’s done a bit of touring, I’m no stranger to 500-mile days, but how much harder would double the distance be? I sign myself up and coerce MCN’s Ali to tag along too.
After plotting a route with 150 miles between stops (hopefully within the range of Ali’s Yamaha Tracer 9 GT and the BMW F900XR I was riding) we set off from Peterborough services at 8am on a clear Monday morning.
The initial leg up the A1 was a bit of a slog and it wasn’t until the Scottish border, some 300 miles and five hours in, that we had the chance to enjoy some open road.
After a pit stop near Edinburgh, we rode west to Glasgow on the M8, then turned to head back south on the M74. I felt a touch of sleepiness creep in as we approached the English border, but we’d agreed to stop off for a brew at the 'first house in Scotland' so I dropped behind Ali to follow her in.
It was only when we pulled up to find the café closed that I realised I’d begun to lose track of time; all that mattered was the satnav’s final ETA and the F900’s trip reading, both of which were indicating there was a long way yet to go.
With the mountains of the Lake District on our right and the setting sun to the left, the views from the M6 were sublime and took us happily to Keele services, just beyond the halfway point at 586 miles.
It was dark when we got going again and that introduced a whole new level of concentration, not least when the roadworks began near Birmingham. As the lanes narrowed, filtering became impossible and when we ground to a halt among a wall of wagons I started to question the rationale behind what we were doing.
South of Brum the traffic thinned, but the relentless road cones were providing a hypnotic distraction to my tiring eyes. Signs on the overhead gantries warned of closures on the M5 ahead, so just past Bristol we swung into the service area for a rethink.
It was a good thing too as my speed had started to become a tad erratic - opting not to use the cruise control so that I stayed 'involved', I found that I was unintentionally speeding up and had to keep knocking it back down, surely a sign that I needed a break to regroup.
Rather than head for the south coast as per the original plan, we agreed to cross the Severn Bridge into Wales, then backtrack on the M4 towards London. This was easier said than done as the whole motorway network appeared to be undergoing maintenance in the early hours and navigating detours became a task worthy of the Krypton Factor.
We eventually managed to get to the M25 via the A34 and M40, then shot up the M1 and onto the A421. Our last stop back at Beaconsfield had my trip at 919 miles - we were getting tantalisingly close.
Daylight crept across the sky and with it a sense of relief that my world was no longer defined by headlights in the darkness, but the feeling was short lived as a dew-laden mist boiled up from the surrounding fields, forcing us to drop the pace.
Thankfully it cleared for our final run up the A1 and we pulled into Peterborough services bathed in golden light, with two hours to spare and 1005.3 miles on the F900’s display (the Tracer was showing around 70 more, having clocked up an extra 10 per 150 miles).
Riding through the night can instil a tremendous sense of victory when the morning comes and with the magic 1k milestone passed I was feeling pretty pleased.
I was tired, but it was nowhere near the exhaustion I’d expected. It won’t suit everyone, and was undoubtedly tough, but would I do it again? Almost definitely.
The expert view: Phil Weston, President of the Iron Butt Association UK
Philip loves the challenge of long-distance rides and has spent the last decade participating in rallies all over the globe. He thinks nothing of riding 1000 miles for a spot of lunch, regularly tours the UK, takes trips to Europe and has even taken a quick hop to the USA to complete the US Iron Butt Rally.
He reckons there are a lot of benefits from taking on an Iron Butt challenge: "You get an amazing sense of achievement in completing an Iron Butt ride and you’ll learn a lot about yourself doing it, both in terms of what you’re capable of and how to look after yourself on the road.
"It’s a great way to learn about route planning, body management, improve your riding skills and to ride great roads you would have never ridden. You’ll see things in a way you haven’t seen them before and get to experience a host of different conditions, be it changes in weather, daylight or traffic.
"It is a test of endurance, but the best advice I can give to anyone is to stop for a break when you need it."
Now it's your turn
If you’re not used to big miles, build up to it. Get a 500-mile ride under your belt, then maybe a 750, to get an idea of what your body needs as much as your bike.
In order to get your ride verified, you’ll need to apply for a certificate from the Iron Butt Association.
They offer a wide range of challenges to work up to, but their entry level challenge is the Saddlesore 1000, which requires you to take photos of receipts from each turning point (this could be for fuel, food or whatever) alongside your odo reading. Visit: www.ironbutt.co.uk now.