How do you explain a ride like the Iron Butt Rally to people? Ride, activity, challenge or opportunity the Iron Butt is a phenomenon few people have hardly heard of and most don’t care about. In the early 1990s I really wanted to ride in this grand challenge. I was raised on movies like Convoy, Cannonball and Gumball Rally. Yet high speed hijinks is not the Iron Butt Rally. As a kid my parents did predicted log boating events. Without a clock, but with a map and compass they would try and hit certain marks (a mark is a point between two stationary objects) at certain times. An observer watched and the person hitting marks the closest to their predicted time would win. Speed didn’t matter. What did matter was skill in execution of specific tasks at specific times.
The Iron Butt Rally is akin to that concept of execution. My average speed wasn’t very high but I maintained that average. Much like I tell my kids about their grades in school the key is to not make mistakes. You can’t possibly make it up if you even make one error. Getting stopped by a police officer or crashing would end your ability to compete and getting caught being stupid would likely get you kicked out of the rally. So, there is another unexpected aspect to the Iron Butt Rally we can call “grace in execution.” This is about lessons learned and what did and didn’t work.
The picture below is my 2013 Iron Butt Rally route. It should give you some idea of where I went and some of the conditions I experienced. Since it was July in North America my route shows me going through the hottest areas of the country and never going towards the cooler areas. If you’re going to ride the Iron Butt Rally you should really make sure it is the hottest, dryest, and most exhausting set of routes you select.
Before the rally I made some routing predictions and discussed some routing practices that I utilize. I’ve tried to lay out some metrics for how I performed. I was able to take away from the scoring table every bonus point I asked for. Thus, I have no errors in my averages. That isn’t the case for everybody and they can look at losses over time and even analyze if those losses go up or down over the course of the rally. In my case every point is a point I went after. If it isn’t there I wasn’t smart enough to even try. The following tables are what I predicted and what I actually rode during the rally. The question to answer then is what if I had rode more competitively. This is classic monday morning quarterbacking and woulda, coulda, shoulda type thinking. The fact is that even if I rode at my 100 percent level I wouldn’t have done that much better. I’m just not as good as some of those top tier riders.
What I predicted
|Leg||Hours||Avg MPH||Distance||Base Route||Base Hours||Difference|
What I rode
|Leg||My Miles||My Points||My Average MPH||My Points Per Mile|
|10280||60776||Avg 43.8||Avg 5.9|
What if I rode more competitive?
My “competitive” leg 1 route would have produced 15175 points for 2445 miles requiring an average of 31 miles per hour. That is about 6.2 points per mile and double what I accomplished on my dash to Key West which required nearly a 25% higher average speed. This is obviously significantly off the pace of the top 25 or so competitors. I need to look at my routing plan on leg 1 (which I haven’t done yet) and figure out where I went so horribly wrong. If my competitive route would have been 1000 points off the target that isn’t very good. The extremely low 31 mile per hour pace is a good indicator. Somebody I talked about this with said that I would have been way better rested, had more points, and I was a fool for not doing this route. That’s what we call a friend I guess.
My “competitive” leg 2 route would have produced 25050 points for 3121 miles requiring an average of 52 miles per hour but it would have been at a much more risky route. If I did this route and didn’t fail at any one point I would have averaged 8.02 points per mile. I would have been at extreme risk of screwing up the competitive route and tossing a lot of points off the table. This happened to one of the elite riders. I’m more risk averse (toward losing points) and in this case that means I’m less competitive.
I think I rode my competitive third leg with 33593 points for 4317 miles requiring an average of 44 miles per hour. That was a great target and a great efficiency rating of 7.8 points per mile. I think I really pushed myself without getting stupid on Leg 3, but many people did much better than my meager effort. Once again I’m not an elite rider in this group. It’s kind of like an Air Force Academy cadet. You take somebody from the top 1 percent of a high school graduating class and a bunch of similar people and toss them into college together. Suddenly all those top of the class student have suddenly become mediocre. The Iron Butt Rally has a tendency to level the playing field the same way. Unlike Jake Lamotta I don’t think I could be a contender. Thus, I just get to have fun.
So if I had ridden more competitive I would have had around 73K points which would have barely got me into the top 25 in points and I would have ridden around 9883 miles. That is about 7.47 points per mile. In other words, I would have placed 20 places higher, ridden nearly 400 fewer miles and gotten 13K more points. This is why there are experts at this stuff and I’m not one of them.
Consider the points per mile for
- Derek Dickson 7.8 points per mile (1st place)
- Josh Mountain 6.9 points per mile (2nd place)
- John Coons 7 points per mile (10th place)
- Bob Lilley 5.1 points per mile (30th place)
Points per mile is a nice way to see how efficient your routing schema is, but I think I’ve shown that it has nothing to do with the competitive nature. There is a much more interesting way of evaluating efficiency because we have built in metric from the rally masters to do the evaluation. Points per hour makes much more sense on the strategy of harvesting bonus locations in a timely manner. It speaks more to the efficiency of the riders and is correlated to placement. For the 2013 Iron Butt Rally Points/236.
- Derek Dickson points per hour 392 points per hour average
- Josh Mountain points per hour 381 points per hour average
- John Coons points per hour 345 points per hour average
- Bob Lilley points per hour 293 points per hour average
- Sam Liles points per hour 257 points per hour average
How about using the rest bonus as a yard stick?
Let’s take two examples Derek Dickson and me and examine the leg points per hour average. The overall rally average is nice to know but the points schema changed over the course of the rally. Specifically we have a rest bonus that represents a particular number of points per hour that the rally master is suggesting. The leg rest bonuses were:
- Leg 1 rest bonus is 240 points per hour (up to 8 hours)
- Leg 2 rest bonus is 360 points per hour (up to 8 hours)
- Leg 3 rest bonus is 480 points per hour (up to 8 hours)
That gives a stick to say if you are below that number you are falling behind and if you are above that number you are taxing yourself points per hour for taking the rest bonus. Consider the first place finisher Derek Dickson:
- Leg 1 at 264 points per hour average
- Leg 2 at 445 points per hour average
- Leg 3 at 460 points per hour average
In leg 1, and 2 Derek was making more points per hour than the rest bonus afforded. He easily could keep swooping points over the leg and beaten his score for resting. Now, without seeing the scoring sheet and comparing it to the number of bonuses we can’t know if it was even possible for him to keep gathering bonuses. Each route and leg had unique attributes that might make skipping a rest bonus impossible and thus negatively impacting the overall average. My assumption is that he took some or all of his rest bonus and collected the tracking and call in bonuses which both represent zero miles traveled for some number of hours worth of points.
- Leg 1 at 141 points per hour average
- Leg 2 at 270 points per hour average
- Leg 3 at 341 points per hour average
Consider my case near the bottom of the pack and you get a much more important lesson. Other than stop scheduling and timing my rest bonus was imperative as part of my planning. On Leg 3 I had to give up some time on a rest bonus or miss getting another much larger bonus but I was trading off between the bonuses at that point not the overall leg value. The basic lesson looking at my points was that I should always take the maximum rest bonus and I would be banking points per hour.
So I coulda, woulda, shoulda, is a part of what is going on here, but it is also evaluating my performance against the elite peer group. I’m ok with the performance I turned in when balanced against smiles per mile. I spent a metric ass bucketload of money on this rally. Starting with acquisition of a bike and ending up with around $1300 in gas, well over a $1000 in hotels, tires $600 (oil change and service too), fees, and farkles. In dollars per fun I did pretty damn good. When a bystander told me I should do something I politely told them when they were paying the freight in cash, sweat, and time they could decide what they should do. It’s the rally masters rally, the ride masters architecture, and a work of art created by each rider. As an artist I’m more of an Edvard Munch than Rembrandt, or Botticelli. So with all those time and resources what worked?
Accessories that I found worked excellent were fairly numerous. I really like the integrated nature of the J&M CB radio with integrated audio for my GPS and cell phone. This particular unit gets panned by riders because of the abysmal performance on transmitting. I don’t use it that way very often. I usually listen and if I’m talking to somebody they are fairly close by and I can see them. Just listening I picked up on road closures and lane closures pretty quick. I used the CB portion to talk to several truckers as I either warned them I was an itty bitty bike about to pass them, or told them I was hiding in their wind shadow. Which once I told them what I was doing they chatted for quite some time. By the way if it is really windy (over 60mph cross winds in say Iowa) hiding in the wind shadow of a semi-truck (behind not beside) is a great way to get through bad stuff. It is fraught with risk and your imminent doom and destruction if you screw up.
I also really liked how my GPS branded as the BMW Navigator IV but based on the Garmin Zumo 660 worked. In the configuration I used it for during the Iron Butt Rally it worked flawlessly. It gave me a few crazy routes (see Pikes Peak) but otherwise technically it was a superlative tool for routing in my use case. This completely surprises me because on the original mount found on my BMW K1600 GTL is sucks dirty pond scum and is useless. It can’t produce enough sound to be heard at highway speed. Yes on the K16GTL I have adjusted all of the particular audio adjustments that are possible. I have adjusted, cajoled and investigated the issue of the GPS on the K16GTL and it still sucks. So, if the J&M system is the same on both bikes (it is), and the GPS is the same on both bikes (it is), and it the only difference is the bike it must be some kind of shitty engineering on the K16GTL that makes the GPS suck so much. I was able to adjust the angle on the GS/A so it was way more visible than on the K16GTL so even that is better.
My favorite accessory isn’t one that most people would consider. The seat bag I bought from Touratech allowed me to expand and contract my luggage space quite a bit. I carried my bike cover, a tripod in case I lost my towel, and a six pack of Amy and Brian’s Coconut water. The bag expands quite a bit, but I didn’t need all the space as I was traveling very light. I was able to use the top of the bag to dry clothes, gloves, and odd pieces from time to time. My electric liner spent some time in the bag. Some of the things I liked about it was that I could remove the seat and bag at the same time. It basically was attached to the seat so there were no issues. When the bag was fully expanded it worked also as a poor but functional backrest.
Another big win was the tires I chose. The Michelin Pilot Road 3 Trails were put on before I left on the rally, rode the entire 10,284 miles, then were rode home with some side trips. Call it 500 miles to and from plus another 500 miles in side trips. Call total mileage on these tires 12K miles. I am VERY happy with the tires. When I got back to my dealer a month after having them put on we all were amazed. The best part is the tires to replace them were on sale and I got a great deal on the install.
Click on any of the tire images to bring up a gallery view, and then click on any image to get a closer look.
Some things you should notice between the differences of new and old is that the tire flattened out. I spent most of my time on the Interstate so that is to be expected. No complaining about the chicken stripes on the tire. I was riding a rally and I’m pretty proud of the twisties I did find. I had zero flats, zero issues, and great tire wear out of these tires. I did have some air leakage I detected over the course of the rally. Not enough to break out the tire pump but enough to notice. The tires were a big win for me against a set of conditions that would be hard to duplicate. I rode in severe rain, across coral in Key West, off road at a few bonus locations, many thousands of high speed Interstate, and in extreme heat over 110f. I’m very pleased.
What broke or didn’t perform?
I had a few things that were not up to my requirements or simply didn’t make the grade. People aren’t going to be happy with my first example and I’m sure there will be complaints that I’m calling their baby ugly. Up front, I like Andy Goldfine, and my RoadCrafter circa 1999 is still like new after 100ks of miles. In fact I loved my RoadCrafter so much with all the leaky crotch, seeping seams, and general mayhem of those early RoadCrafters I bought a Darien. Brand new for Christmas this last year (2012) I was gifted by my wife a new Hi-Viz Darien and pair of Darien pants. So people will scream about Andy serving motorcycling, Aerostich as an icon, but my copy of their product isn’t up to significant use.
The jacket has about 30K miles on it in all weather. I’ve been wearing it pretty much exclusively since I got it at New Years. A couple of my trips I wore my Roadcrafter and I’ve only only done about 40K miles so far this year. The jacket as in the picture below was washed and waterproofed as per Aerostich instructions before the Iron Butt Rally. It won’t come clean, and it is starting to show significant wear. Many people have discussed the Hi-Viz fabric preponderance to get dirty and stay dirty so I’m not to much worried about it.
The dirt issues though at particular points around the jacket illuminate the wear points. Here in the following picture a point is wore by the neck ring on the helmet. The material in the picture below can be seen to abrade. This could be caused by an incorrect fit, but I think it is more likely a symptom the coat billowing. Though I can’t see it while I’m riding, but that square is where the back pad attaches and it may be pushing the coat up into the helmet. I’m fairly sure that I’m fat, but I’m also pretty sure that I’m not that hunchbacked.
Another wear point can be seen at the bottom of the jacket. The wear points aren’t functionally going to cause problems but they are indicative of points to watch for future wear.
Inside the jacket it is getting much worse. There are points at the belt line that the internal liner is pilling and apparently wearing through.
At one point it definitely is wearing through. As the photograph shows below. In context these are small items of wear on a piece of apparel. A piece of apparel that with the liner costs $700 for the jacket alone. Include the Darien pants at around $300 and you have a thousand dollar suit. A suit that is costed at the top of the market, and the quality is an indicator how well I spent my money. People are fans of the Aerostich product line but I’m less impressed with this iteration of the product.
I also bought the Elk Skin ropers with conductive thread from Aerostich. The thread in the fingers is there so you can use an iPhone or other type of tablet. I had been wanting these gloves for quite some time. The picture of the time worn, many mile, version of these in the Aerostich catalog suggest a long loving life of service. The gloves are comfortable. They soak up water faster than a sponge. And, they are coming apart at the seams. The sewn in thread on one finger is nearly unusable because the finger leather has worn rotated. The “haters” will say why not just roll your finger over? Maybe they will say, “Hey why you need to use a phone?” I use my phone as my second GPS and a notepad. In fact it is also my weather station, and provides traffic updates.
The issue is the thread is literally wearing out. Since the thread is on the pad of the thumb and fingers it is at a wear point of maximum use. The thumb on my motorcycles is the turn signal switch and cancel switch for both hands (BMW old style), and high, low, auxiliary lights on the left hand.
The index finger gets used extensively for the one finger application of the front brake and two fingers for the clutch
The gloves are still serviceable but are rapidly deteriorating. It was starting to look so bad that I picked up a replacement set of gloves during the Iron Butt Rally so if the fingers finally let go (seams, stitching or leather failed) I would have something to wear. I made it through the rally using these gloves but I don’t know how long they are going to last. Whether just appearance issues or actual functional issues they are not inspiring confidence.
I expect to catch some hell, but I tried to give the best indication and evidence I can of the experience I had from different items I used on the Iron Butt Rally. We are as riders banned from having sponsors so every penny I spent on bike, prep, fees, gas, hotel, and food came out of my pocket. I got zero compensation from any motorcycle group or manufacturer. The people who love Aerostich products are going to complain but I can only offer the evidence of a product that did not meet up with my previous experiences. This is stuff I spent MY money on.
In the interest of full disclosure I had started noticing these issues with the Darien prior to the rally itself. It was so bad that when I went to order my wife a Darien and they said it would take six to eight weeks to get one for her (though it was listed as in stock) my wife said skip it. She didn’t want to get something that after only a few months (this was in early April) started looking dingy that fast. This was similar to how she ordered my Darien in Late November for Christmas delivery but it didn’t arrive until after News Years. In her case ordering mine, the Darien showed as in stock but then she was told it would be six to eight weeks. So, I fully accept that I was predisposed to find fault and have tried to keep that in mind as I wrote my criticisms. I have tried to offer up evidence and photographic proof but fully expect to be vilified. I can only say I won’t be replacing Darien or RoadCrafter from Aerostich. I will likely be selling it a premium to one of the Aerostich faithful.
I’ve added a Key West sticker, an I <3 Ardys sticker, and a 14,114 sticker for Pikes Peak. Oh, and that very hard won, you can’t buy it only earn it, Iron Butt Rally Plate Backer. I’m very happy with this sourced license plate backer I picked up at the end of the rally. In the end I’ll refer to it as an indicator of my most fun accessory.