If you’re someone who loves to test your grit, tenacity, and willingness to tolerate misery, you might feel temptation stirring within whenever you see “Iron Butt Association” patches and plate frames while out riding. They did it – they persevered for a distance most call insane – but, can you? Does that very question embolden your resolve to meet the challenge? If so, it’s important to remember that claiming one of the highest achievements in motorcycling is mostly about planning, not just hammering out as many miles as you can.
Solid planning is more than just what route to take, but also what clothing to wear, staying updated on weather, keeping gear dry, food decisions, maintenance preparedness, and more. To help make your attempt less miserable and more momentous, we’ve compiled a list of essential items for riding your first Iron Butt in 2021.
What is an Iron Butt ride?
The Iron Butt Association is an organization that’s now 75,000+ members, all dedicated to safe, long-distance motorcycle riding not just in the United States but worldwide. To get certified as an Iron Butt member, you must follow their three-step certification process:
- Choose a safe route and plan your ride.
- Collect and track receipts along the way that verify time and location.
- Copy and submit all documentation, along with dues for your chosen certification package.
Because safety is the organization’s primary concern, pre-registration isn’t required. Their goal is flexibility in deciding the best day(s) for your ride, considering the weather, your motorcycle, and your mental preparedness.
For most people attempting their first Iron Butt certification, the SaddleSore 1000 (1,000 miles in less than 24 hours) or the Bun Burner 1500 (1,500 miles in less than 36 hours) are popular choices. When making your decision, keep in mind that if you go the 1,500-mile route, you can certify for the 1000 in the same trip, earning you two certifications (and serious bragging rights).
Riders who complete the 1000 or 1500 receive an Iron Butt certificate, an Iron Butt Association pin, and a plastic license plate frame with the "Iron Butt Association - World's Toughest Riders" logo.
When considering what items are essential for completing an Iron Butt SaddleSore 1000, it’s best to think about each aspect of the ride and what principles govern whether those aspects run smoothly. There’s documentation, food, route, ride intel, clothing, motorcycle maintenance, and where to sleep. If you’re camping instead of staying in hotels, that adds even more items to account for.
One of the top considerations is how you’ll maintain your ride documentation because, without these documents, you can’t get your ride certified. The rest of your ride could have been perfect, but lacking the required documentation renders your claim useless (at least for the Iron Butt Association certification).
How much documentation is required to certify your Iron Butt ride? Here are the (numerous) requirements:
- Stops longer than 30 minutes require a log entry. Each extended stop log entry needs to detail the approximate length of the stop or start/end times.
- Meals that take longer than 30 minutes are considered rest stops, and getting a receipt for this is ideal.
- Miscellaneous stops, such as in rest areas, don’t offer a means of getting a receipt, so you must account for these in your log.
- You must stop at least once every 350 miles for gas, regardless of fuel capacity.
- Each gas stop requires a log entry including the following information: date, time, time zone, location, and odometer reading.
- A photo of the receipt showing all necessary details next to your odometer reading.
The first consideration for all this documentation is where to stop for gas and breaks, as some places provide receipts that will pass for certification and some don’t. Your ride will technically begin (and end) at the first (and last) location of a computer-generated receipt, so plan accordingly. Do you really want to start your trip off by filling up without getting a proper receipt? You can use your GPS to locate gas stations along the route and call them ahead of the trip to verify their receipts print off everything you’ll need.
Once you determine where to get your documentation, you’ll want a secure, dry method of storage that’s easily accessible, preferably even with riding gloves on. If you’re someone who likes sticking to a tight budget, you can go with something super basic, like a gallon-sized freezer storage bag with a prominent zipper. Because these only come in multi-packs, you’ll have more bags for storing other items like food, visor cleaning cloths, wallet, or camera gear.
If you want the ultimate in waterproof durability and easy access to dry storage for receipts, a waterproof tank bag like THIS ONE by Givi provides waterproof zippered access to a pocket that’s perfectly-sized for receipts and other small documents. There’s also a clear waterproof pouch you can fit an iPad into, providing fast access to important intel like weather maps. With 20 liters of total capacity and a shoulder strap for off-bike transport, a tank bag like this one is a worthwhile investment when you consider the time it saves and the number of purposes it can serve.
Hate the idea of possibly having your documentation called into question? Using a satellite-based automatic tracking device like THIS ONE by Spot can be a total game-changer. The Spot provides tracking anywhere in the world and integrates with Spotwalla.com, a free web-based service that automatically provides updates for anyone following your trip, even without cell phone service. You can also use Spotwalla without a Spot tracker by installing the SWConnect App for iPhone, but it won’t be updated if you’re out of cell service range (unlike with the Spot).
Riding for 1,000 miles in under 24 hours means you’ll likely encounter a wide range of temperatures. The key to staying comfortable for the whole ride comes down to strategic layering.
Vests are one of the best tools to add to your clothing lineup, both heated for colder rides or cooled for hot rides. If your route is during the summer and you’ll be crossing the desert, combining a cooling vest with a mesh riding jacket is the ultimate for keeping cool. If you’ll run into colder temps on your ride, wearing a heated vest under a windproof riding jacket provides ultimate control over your core temperature.
Aside from a versatile vest, it’s helpful to wear a sweat-wicking base-layer like Patagonia’s CapileneⓇ lineup when riding in cooler temps. Patagonia makes it easy to optimize your layering by offering their base-layers in multiple different weights to match how cold it will be. CapileneⓇ Air is the lightest, suitable for summer nights, while Capilene Thermal is the heaviest, suitable for deep-winter backpacking. Cost depends on weight, so going with their middleweight option will work for most riders down to temps in the 30’s when wearing a windproof jacket and heated vest combo.
Rain gear is another essential item you’ll want to pack in an easily accessible place, and you should always put it on at first sight of potential rain. Once your clothes get wet, putting on rain gear over them only traps in moisture that can create major discomfort on a long ride. It’s absolutely critical to keep dry when you’re facing many hours in the saddle.
Motorcycle Maintenance Essentials
When it comes to maintenance, being sure that certain items have at least double the miles of your Iron Butt ride is a good rule of thumb to use:
- Oil and Oil Filter
These are the items that will cause the most trouble for you, from both a “stranded by the road” risk factor as well as a “pain in the butt to find” factor when out on your ride. Just try getting a rear tire for a Ducati in the mountains of North Carolina – it’s not happening!
Being sure these items have at least double the miles needed to complete your ride gives you the peace of mind that you won’t have major mechanical failures that could cause an accident or leave you broken down in the worst place.
Once these items (as well as normal routine maintenance) are buttoned-down, it’s good to prepare for anything that might arise while you’re out on your trip. Having a quality, bike-specific toolkit like THIS ONE for BMW bikes, made by CruzTools. A bike-specific kit will include any strange-sized wrenches, like the 34mm one needed for some BMW motorcycles. Keeping these on-hand can really save you in a pinch when the only shop around doesn’t service your brand of bike (because of the weird tools needed). They’ll be much more inclined to help you if you at least have the proper tools available.
Other crucial maintenance items to keep on hand include:
- Tire repair kit and pump
- Extra fuel in a motorcycle-specific fuel canister
- Gear Ties, zip ties, duct tape, and electrical tape
- Spare fuses, small wire nuts, one foot of 14-gauge wire
- Chain lube and dielectric grease
Food and Hydration Essentials
Probably the simplest and most utilitarian option for hydration is wearing a hydration pack designed for mountain biking, like the Wingnut Three Point Zero Hydration Pack. Providing 13 liters of storage capacity, a 3-liter water bladder, and cinch-cord lashing to stow extra clothing layers, this pack has plenty of room to store frequent-access items like wallet, keys, food, caffeinated electrolyte tablets, small tools, and maintenance items. If your bike doesn’t have much storage space or you’re running without cases, a large-capacity hydration pack like this one can organize the necessities comfortably all day long.
Keeping healthy snacks easily at hand is also a good idea. Eating well provides clean, stable energy that keeps your mind alert and reflexes sharp. Steer clear of foods rich in refined sugars and highly-caffeinated beverages, as these can create a roller coaster of energy levels, which is less than ideal when you’re on two wheels. Staying hydrated, especially in hot climates, is crucial, and electrolyte tablets are a good idea in the desert, where your body can get depleted quickly. Store a small water bottle in your pack to mix the electrolyte tabs in, as they only need to be mixed in 16 ounces of water.
Weather Awareness Essentials
Being ever-aware of your riding environment is a core principle of safe motorcycle riding. When riding in coastal areas or mountainous regions that can have volatile weather patterns, having a way to view weather maps on the fly can make the difference between major delays or dry comfort. To stay updated regularly, the Rokform lineup of motorcycle phone mounts can keep your smartphone in reach to access real-time weather maps, so you’re never caught by surprise.
These small items make a big difference when forgotten, so keep them quickly accessible in your top-case, tank bag, or hydration pack:
- Skin lotion
- Eye drops
- Visor/glasses wipes
- Tire pressure gauge
- Paper backup maps where cell service is bad
And remember, breakdowns aren’t impossible, so having a backup plan for the worst-case scenario can set your mind at ease. Some insurance companies offer roadside assistance and towing, and so do a handful of auto clubs. And be sure you’ll actually be covered where your route will be taking you if you’re venturing to more remote areas.
Plan and Organize for Success
As you can see, accomplishing your first Iron Butt ride certification is more about planning and being highly organized than just crushing huge miles as fast as you can. There are a ton of forums and resources out there for planning every aspect of your first Iron Butt ride, so take some time to read the advice of other riders. Riding huge miles can present unique situations, so preparing yourself as much as possible before your big ride will ensure earning your first Iron Butt certification is exciting and enjoyable. Now go make it happen!