Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies Symposium

“Those things that hurt, instruct.” Benjamin Franklin.

Experience is the best teacher, so they say, but learning some things by first-hand, hard experience can be tough, unpleasant and even dangerous. Long-distance motorcycle touring is one such facet of motorcycling where experience—especially if gained from the hard experience of others—is the best teacher.

Long-distance touring often encompasses not just the iron butt aspect of long hours in the saddle, it can and often does include extremes of weather—intense cold, heat, rain, snow, etc.—and misadventures such as flat tires, mechanical failures, navigational nightmares and other assorted unplanned events.

Motorcyclists had a rare opportunity to learn from some very experienced long distance riders this past Sunday (April 30) in Black Earth, Wis. A symposium featuring a panel discussion with audience participation was organized by Carolyn Shaffer, Director of the Black Earth Library.

Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies : Stories from a Panel of Long Distance and Cold Weather Motorcyclists
Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies : Stories from a Panel of Long Distance and Cold Weather Motorcyclists

Officially entitled, “Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies : Stories from a Panel of Long Distance and Cold Weather Motorcyclists,” the stories told and experiences shared provided valuable insights and cautionary tales about everything from the dangers of taking short-cuts to tips on riding gear, to the sheer joy of getting out there, whether on the road or off.

To explain why the panel had a lot to offer on the subject, here are the bios of the panel:

Barb and Peter Egan:  Peter Egan has been a writer for Cycle World magazine since 1978, when the magazine printed his first touring story about a trip in which he and his wife Barbara attempted to reach the West Coast on a Norton.  Needless to say, the bike did not get there, and buses and trains were involved in the completion of the trip.  Since then, they have toured widely in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe and New Zealand.  The Egans live in the country near Stoughton (Wis.) with several cats and dogs, but only four motorcycles at the moment.

Larry Green:  Mr. Green is a rider with a few hundred thousand miles behind him. Longer tours include Alaska (rain), Nova Scotia (rain) , Banff (snow) and Daytona (rain). A veteran of 30 plus Madison Motorcycle Club’s New Year’s Day rides where it has never once rained. His only downfall is currently owning more bikes than his total years of riding.

Becky Kitto:  Becky is from Madison and has worked at Engelhart Motorsports Certified Pre-owned for the past two years. She started riding just over a decade ago, primarily sport bikes. She will be a coaching Real World Street Skills for Motovid.com, a track day and riding school organization this year.  Today she has four bikes in the stable.  Her favorite trip was a southern tour down to Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Carolinas. She is planning a solo trip to New York state this summer with a possible excursion through Canada on the way home.

Sue Rihn:  Sue has over 450,000 documented miles.   When she talks about LD riding, she generally starts with her 48-state ride:  It was for her 55th birthday, when she rode to all 48 states in 2-weeks.  She wrote what she calls an awkward blog about it during the trip:  www.beemerhill.com  which she says isn’t a jewel of literary excellence.  It was really just to keep close friends and family aware of her day-to-day adventures as she rode.

Jeff Underwood: He’s a big guy who rides relentlessly, shunning all comforts and sleeping in ditches on his many highway and dual-sport adventures around the world.  His favorite destinations are the blank spaces on the map.

Steve Webber:  Steve inadvertently became a motorcyclist in 1984 when he acquired a colleague’s 1982 KZ550GPZ with 1,900 miles on it.  Many thousands of miles later, he became a MSF Instructor in 1998 in Maryland and a Rider Coach in 2001.  In 2006, he returned to his hometown of Black Earth, and was again, a MSF Rider Coach at Madison College and Road America from 2007-2011.  He has travelled to Canada and all over the United States; completing a 13,000 mile trip in 40-days in the summer of 2016.

Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies: the audience loved the tales
Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies: the audience loved the tales

With Peter Egan moderating the discussion, the panel opened with the tough question, on what ironically was a cold, rainy day, “If you’re going on a long, wet trip, what should you take?”

Without hesitation, hard-core adventure riding panelist Jeff Underwood responded, “Take a car.” With that launch, the discussion was off and running. Then he followed up with the advice to get good, well-constructed gear, giving his Klim brand riding gear as a crash-tested example.

Sue Rihn gave an unqualified endorsement for the Aerostich Darien jacket, of which she said, “It stays waterproof and when the weather gets warm, it vents well, too.”

Steve Webber added, “Going to the MSF classes I teach on my bike, I get rained on fairly often and I really believe in Gore-tex.”

Barb Egan offered the advice not to buy rain gear on its looks alone saying, “My first rain gear looked good with bright colors, but I got wet a lot.” Husband Peter said the Tourmaster rain gear he has remains pretty waterproof even after a lot of use.

On the economic side of the discussion, Steve Webber said he found Bilt brand rain gear from Cycle Gear works well and is reasonably priced. Apart from rain suits, he said he found that in general, good waterproof boots and gloves can be hard to find.

Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies: speakers
Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies Symposium panel members (L-R): Steve Webber, Larry Green, Becky Kitto, Barb Egan, Peter Egan, Sue Rihn, event organizer Carolyn Shaffer and Jeff Underwood.

Sue Rihn had ridden with Alpinestars boots and in her experience, did not leak.

The discussion shifted to vision and eye protection with photochromatic face shields having the positive quality of self-shading in bright sunlight, but at times being too dark for too long when light levels suddenly fall such as when entering darkly shaded areas or a tunnel. Pinlock-ready face shields, fog-free coatings, fog preventive treatments and home-made adhesive tape or static-cling transparent vinyl sun visors also were discussed (read more about helmet face shield performance standards and features to add to motorcycle helmets).

The panel took on the flip side of bad weather riding, as well, such as when the heat and humidity soar. Underscoring how severe the effects of heat can be, Peter Egan offered his accounts of doing an exhausting road trip to New Orleans in 98 degree heat and 98 percent humidity with Cycle World magazine editor, Mark Hoyer and of the Texas photo shoot in 107 degree heat wearing English tweeds and full vintage leathers aboard a Vincent that convinced Egan he should retire.

The situation was brought near crisis mode when the Vincent stalled out and still in full leather gear and pudding bucket helmet, Egan worked to bump start the bike. He said, “I think I was about six minutes away from having a heat stroke, I felt faint and had to rest in the shade under a tree.”

Becky Kitto described a trip she took to Alabama in 110 degree heat—describing herself as heat intolerant besides. She said one tactic to beat the extreme heat is to soak your riding gear.

Indeed, high heat riding conditions seemed to bring out more cautionary tales and advice on how to handle it than cold, wet conditions did. Everything from mesh riding gear and packing your riding gear’s pockets with ice to carrying a supply of drinking water was covered.

No discussion with a group of motorcyclists can go very long without the subject of crashes coming up. Larry Green got the crowd’s attention telling of a bike-deer collision he had. In the hospital after the crash, the attending doctor recommended an MRI of the head to rule out a traumatic brain injury. Green, feeling nothing that would suggest a serious head injury, refused. Then the doctor went on to relate a story of similar circumstances where the patient declined the exam and was dead from an undetected head injury an hour later. He said he then agreed to the MRI—“And the doctor found out I had no brain.”

Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies: long-distance motorcycling
Iron Butts and Frozen Bodies: Ultimate Motorcycling’s Ron Lieback loves solo cross-country motorcycle trips

The age-old question of preference for solo vs. group riding came up, with the panel being nearly unanimous on preferring solo, two-up riding, or riding with one or two known riding partners to large group riding.

The symposium was enhanced by special hours at the Midwest Microcar Museum and Vintage Cycle Room in Mazomanie, preceding the event. It was timed to be a “warm-up” event for the upcoming Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run.

Note: this event was not organized or sponsored by the Iron Butt Association. For more information on the Iron Butt Association, see: www.ironbutt.com/.