10 steps to high-mileage heaven

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Ever raced down the motorway and stopped for fuel, only to watch in befuddlement as a lorry whirs past… the same lorry you passed two hours ago? Philip Weston, Jon Cox and Gordon Sears are that lorry: the long-distance, mile-munching kings of the road – The Iron Butt riders

With more than one million road miles between them, these guys share their wisdom on going the distance

By the time we’ve fuelled up, had our fix and later tucked the bike away in the garage, these chaps will be in some far flung corner of Europe sipping a Turkish coffee. The Iron Butt
Association is dedicated to safe, long-distance endurance motorcycle riding and their members cover seemingly ridiculous mileages for fun. So to learn how to keep going for longer we’ve tracked down the President of the UK IBA, Philip Weston (the only man to have done 3000 miles in the UK in two days) and two big-mile members Gordon Sears and John Cox for an insight into their hard-earned wisdom. Here’s how to rack up your numbers and just keep on going for mile after mile.  


1 Recognise fatigue

“One of the most important aspects of long-distance riding is recognising when you’re tired – and then stopping. It’s not about pushing through, it’s the opposite. Stopping will let you ride for longer. Everybody has different signals so it’s about noticing yours, but the most common ones to look out for are slowing down, a wavering average speed, missing turnings and eventually wandering across lanes. Take note and take a rest.” PW 

2 Getting rest

“Rest more to go further. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour clock running at the back of your brain which regulates sleep patterns. It suggests that if you sleep for up to one hour then your body won’t fall into a deep sleep. If you go over the one hour mark then you’ll fall into a deep sleep and need four-five hours and gain nothing. People have different times of the day where they’re more naturally tired. For me it’s before sunrise and mid-afternoon. I like to start riding when the sun is coming up as the tiredness just disappears. That way I could ride through the night, sleep for one hour before sunrise and then get going. It’s about understanding your rhythm and finding the times when you’re tired. Everything is down to personal experience and after riding more you’ll pick it up. I like to stop for two hours, take one hour’s sleep and eat, drink and relax for the other. Everyone is different though.” PW

3 Food for thought

“I never eat a big meal when riding; it takes time to digest and makes me tired. My top snack is a dry breakfast bar and I avoid caffeine too, otherwise you can become dependent and need one in the morning and throughout the day. The most important thing is water. I have a gallon strapped to the bike and run a tube so I can sip on it throughout the day. On a long ride, especially with the windblast, you can get dehydrated very quickly.” PW 

4 Staying warm and fancy pants

“Staying warm is crucial, but how you do that is up to you. I use a Gerbing heated jacket with variable temperature controller. I find it’s better than thermals because you can quickly regulate your core temperature. If I’m wearing thermals and the temperature drops then I’ll get cold unless I put even more on, which becomes bulky and restricts movement. Instead I just turn my controller up a notch. Heated grips are a must too. However, the Finnish IBA riders are regularly out in extremely cold temperatures and prefer thermals as they can’t risk getting an electrical failure and freezing!” GS

“I wear fancy LD Comfort underwear which has no seams. I have the shirt, helmet liner and pants. It’s all doubled sided and feels dry even when wet. It keeps the body comfortable and takes away any pressure points. Perfect!” PW 

5 Route planning

“I’m always concentrating on the ride and spend time working out average speed, where I’m going and where to rest as I’ve usually got a rally deadline to keep to so have to keep an eye on my schedule. When on a rally it’s about picking an efficient route and getting back on time, so the mind is constantly calculating. Some people listen to the radio and others solve mental problems. It’s also a good idea to keep your body awake when you are riding big distances too – I tend to do the chicken dance for that.” PW

6 Get used to it

“We train over time to build up these big miles so I wouldn’t advise just getting out there and trying to knock 1000 miles out in a day. The more you do it, the less intimidating it becomes and the easier it gets. People say they couldn’t do it, but they definitely could. Try doing 300 in a day and then add a little more each time you go. You’ll also quickly become more tuned into your own body and mind and notice your tired spots quicker.” GS

7 Avoid the numb bum

“Making your bike comfortable is incredibly important. Some people use standard seats, gel pads, beads, AirHawks or whatever else works. I use a Russell Daylong seat. When you’re in the saddle your weight goes down through the base of your spine and into two boney bits in the pelvis, which become uncomfortable first. Gel pads help spread that load, while my seat goes further forward and supports the thighs, taking the weight off the spine and distributing it more evenly.” GS

8 Don’t forget to enjoy the ride

“The secret is that you have to enjoy it, and to do that you need to listen to your body. If you’re thinking ‘Oh, I’ve got a really long way to go, how am I going to cover all these miles?’ then you’re doing something wrong. There’s no rush, if your knees ache – stop, rest, plod on again and the miles will disappear. I stop when I feel like it and for however long I want. That’s why we ride alone; I personally wouldn’t recommend doing it with other people because we’re all at different levels. Eventually, you’ll know when you’ve had enough and take breaks, you’ll build up to the big miles safely, and this will become a way of life.” JC 

9 Choosing the right bike

“You can do big miles on any bike you like. Everybody is different, so just take the bike that suits you. People often think of Iron Butt riders on Gold Wings, but that wouldn’t suit me, I’d fall off! You want something you love riding and that’s what’s important.” JC

10 Preparation is king

“The last thing you want to do when trying to cover big distance is stop for fuel every hour and lose valuable time. I fitted an extra four-gallon fuel tank on the back seat and plumbed it into the fuel pump, it’s relatively easy to do and safer than carrying a jerry can. It boosts the range up to 400 miles. But my favourite modifications are my extra cruiser foot pegs. I fitted those to the sump-guard so I could stretch my legs out – lovely!” JC

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