It is the fate of all of us to end up on the scrap heap, one way or another, whether we be machinery or people. That thought was reinforced when I came across a new piece of trash on one of my dog walks, someone's formerly treasured ride in the mangroves. I wondered why anyone would disassemble a scooter and toss out the carcass as though it were merely a fish skeleton but I took this as an Awful Warning and reminded myself I am not ready to go out to pasture jut yet. Thanks to good genes and lately tons of sweaty exercise I am feeling quite well thank you, strong and surprisingly fit which is as well as I plan to ride to Canada next week. Unlike this poor scooter which is never to be ridden again:
You can check out their web page for details but the Iron Butt Association is one of those groups that I was pleased to join despite the fact they were quite willing to have me for a member. I made a couple of rides a decade ago and enjoy membership number 39,523 in an organization that now boasts more than 60,000 riders. The idea is to cover a long distance in limited time and do it safely all while recording each step of the way to prove you did it. Then you get a licence plate holder "Toughest Rider In The World" (very funny) and a certificate, but only when you have satisfied their volunteer examiners that you completed the ride you claimed. Everything is documented by the rider during the ride as you can see I was ready for my 2010 ride to the Catskill Mountains of New York. I carried my paperwork in the top box and signed off each stop during the 36 hours I spent in the saddle:
I put the gas station receipts and any restaurant or store receipts in the envelope and numbered them with each stop to prove I was there. This is the extract from my first ride, a 1000 mile "Saddlesore" in 24 hours the basic Iron Butt qualifier to Lake City and back, completed in a leisurely 21 hours:
That was on my 900cc Triumph Bonneville and now I want to try completing 1500 miles in 36 hours all the way to Niagara Falls. I plan to leave Saturday morning at ten and arrive in Niagara, New York (not Canada!) before ten pm Sunday. This time I won't be riding my late lamented Triumph but instead my new to me 200 cc Burgman scooter. Which fact makes this trip an adventure on a machine viewed as a beginner bike or merely a city commuter. I want to see how well the scooter performs on freeways and in hills and how much I enjoy riding what has turned out to be in fact my perfect commuter bike. In the land where cubic capacity rules all choices, and size makes a man manly, my choice of ride may seem eccentric or effete, but it is in a sense a quest to seek out my motorcycling origins. The Burgman is actually a sensible machine, with a wind tunnel tested windshield, large seat, easy controls, ample storage and long foot boards in a seating position protected from the weather. What it has in common with my first rides forty years ago is it has a small engine .
My first two motorcycles in the mid 70s were fire engine red Italian 350cc sportbikes and I rode them all over Europe and North Africa with luggage lashed to them and me crouched over them full of youthful bravado and joy. These days I see solid citizens riding huge machines with all the latest technology disdainful of "small" motorcycles never mind scooters which are beneath consideration as travel machines. Yet when I was a youngster when motorcycle touring was becoming popular among the middle classes everyone rode what they had and they had fun. A modern rider would look at my 1974 MV Agusta 350, a push rod air cooled twin with drum brakes and ask themselves who in their right mind would go touring on this? I did, happily! I knew no better...and it cost me less than half a million lire lightly used.
The question becomes why do an Iron Butt at all? For me the answer is simple: I like a challenge and this effort pushes me far out of the Keys and in a hurry. I leave Saturday morning and by Sunday night I'm peering into Canada I hope. Great, right? Well, think of it as kinetic energy with the Iron Butt ride hauling me in a hurry to the top of a very steep slide. After I get to the top all I have to do is let go and slide gracefully back down to Key West...and I plan to take four days touring to do that part of the program! Monday morning with the Iron Butt complete, the paperwork and receipts properly mailed in the stamped envelope I took with me, I have no more obligations to the world or anyone else. I ride for me and me alone. There I am: let loose on North America with all 18 horsepower of Suzuki bliss with no one to answer to. That's worth an Iron Butt right there. With any luck I will have decent weather in August and so I have planned a zig zag ride home visiting friends as I go.
I have bought a mounting kit for my new iPhone 8 because even though the Iron Butt ride up is all Interstates necessary to maintain a high average speed,and easy to track, the way back will require me to insert the "Avoid Highways" option in my Google maps. I plan a meandering ride across Pennsylvania to see Steve and Virginia to meet Eric and then South Carolina to make an overnight stop Wednesday in Savannah before returning to Florida Thursday for lunch with Bill in Jacksonville. I am really hoping this will be a fun way to explore the Burgman's capacity for all sorts of touring, fast and slow, mountainous and not. The phone will make touring easy, I use it in the car on all trips, but on the Burgman it will ride on this unobtrusive clip showing me the way.
All of this riding involves getting ready, making the scooter a tourer and me a long distance rider. I am confident I have put in enough miles since March to learn the scooter's foibles which are: none. So now I am busy checking the few additions I have purchased specifically for the ride. The phone holder was a big one as I have never previously had a navigator mounted on the bike. God knows why not, they are brilliant devices. The Quad Lock is sleek and clean and comes with a waterproof cover for the phone. $100. ka-ching!
Tire sealer to reduce the chance of a flat. $12, and there is enough in one bottle for two applications. I should ride with this stuff all the time, so this is another reason to appreciate the Iron Butt program as it forces you to make sensible preparation decisions good for daily riding. ADVRider forum members who ride off road swear by this stuff. I will also carry a puncture repair kit and an electric air pump, just in case.
In my cavernous under seat storage I will carry my waterproof Frogg Toggs and a bag of street clothes as you have to look respectable when you are out in the world. Nowaays self standing underwear is a memory of ill laundered youth so I feel an obligation to carry some spares.
I also bought a tail bag ($70 ka-ching!) to put my camera and my man purse and some water and some snacks and make them easily accessible...
When I park the scooter I can easily unstrap it, take it by the handle and walk into the hotel with it. Its said to be rain resistant but I will line it with a garbage bag to keep the contents extra dry.
In addition the bag has some bungees on top and I'm thinking of carrying a peace-of-mind bottle of gas there. Sometimes on these Iron Butt rides you are tempted to push just a little bit further before stopping (unless you are in pee agony...) and this 30 oz bottle will give me an extra 20 miles with careful riding if I run the 2.8 gallon scooter tank dry. I ran the Bonneville dry on my first Iron Butt and it took some quick thinking and sloshing the fuel tank to get the engine started and into a gas station.
So that's the plan: leave from home just before ten, get my first gas receipt up the road which will give me my official start time and then ride to the Turnpike as fast as I can, where I shall settle in to ride I-95 from Fort Pierce, I-26 from Charleston, I-77 through Columbia and Charlotte to Wytheville, Virginia. Then US Highway 19 at Beckley West Virginia, then take I-79 to Pittsburgh and Erie, and I-90 to Buffalo and I-190 to Niagara. Piece of cake...Hoping for few road works and no accidents...I am a funny guy, because there will be all sorts of unexpected nonsense along the way and I know it already.My friend Webb who intelligently limits himself to driving sailboats says he's worried for me dealing with other drivers. He has a point, but like him on the water I shall rely on my experience and common sense and hope for the best. The thing is I am looking forward to this madness as much as Webb is looking forward to casting off and going sailing on the dangerous deep blue sea. Weird people, we are considering we could stay home and watch Netflix..
For an opposing view there is this essay by a rather splendid American writer who lives in Wales, one Chris Cope. He's a pretty good novelist and I support his motorcycle page with money, but he is an idiot when it comes to the Iron Butt, he rode in the cold and rain and fog of a Scottish summer:
Doing an Iron Butt Ride was Utterly Pointless.