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Friday, January 27, 2023

The finer Point(s) of touring

Not too long ago I got a message that pointed out that some of the travel stories I write for Inside Motorcycles may not be within reach of many riders due to the length of the trips or the perceived expense. I’ve always thought that I’ve spaced out the month-long monster trips with long-weekend mini-adventures that stick closer to home. Maybe the big trips stick out in people’s minds for just that reason – they are big trips that seem out of reach or unrealistic.

Mention was made of expensive motorcycles and healthy bank accounts. It could just be different priorities. Thankfully, over the dozen years I’ve been writing for the magazine, three editors have been happy with my submissions no matter the scale, so I can take some solace in that.

While a lot of my travels are hotel-based (especially the big-distance ones where time is of the essence, or when my wife is along; she works hard and deserves to be spoiled while on vacation), I have also written about numerous camping trips.

Camping is one way to keep the cost down when touring.

Speaking of camping trips, my first motorcycle camping adventure was in 1981 when two buddies and I rode down to California and back over the course of 16 days. Because setting up and tearing down tents and cooking meals takes time, we averaged just 340 KM per day, yet we got to California and back with two of us on Honda CX500s. A big bike isn’t necessary. Nowadays, if I want to ride to California, I can be there in two days, at legal speeds, straddling one night in a hotel. It’s the old time is money trade-off. I’m a different rider than I was in 1981 but I have every confidence I could get there in two days on the CX.

So, the points of lodging and size of bike have been addressed. What else can be done to bring motorcycle travel inline with more riders and get some points in the process?

Nearing the end of a 5,400 km, two-week ride to/from California in 1981. 500 cc was enough!

When I pack for a motorcycle adventure, I pack a lot of plastic. I’m not talking just about credit cards. I’m talking about Points Cards, Membership Cards, Discount Cards, etc., that all help reduce the cost of motorcycle tours.

As seen in the opening picture, some of my discount cards are for gas. The Esso Extra card is soon to be replaced by the PC Optimum card but it will still get a discount at the pump at Esso or Mobil. The black FOB is an ESSO SpeedPass for quick “tap and go” fueling. If you have one, great, if not, a new SmartPhone App is the replacement. While, as far as I know, Pilot stations aren’t in Canada yet, the Flying J brand has arrived. This card will get discounts and build-up points and is handy to have for cross-border travel when that becomes a reality again.

Looking a little out of place here is my Royal Bank Visa card. However, when used at a Petro Canada pump in conjunction with my Petro Points card, I get three cents off per liter of fuel as well as accumulating points for future purchases. The Air Miles card will get deals and discounts at Shell. Finally, my Costco membership allows me to fill up with Costco gas which has been running as much as 12 cents per litre cheaper than other stations in Edmonton lately.

Another bunch of cards that I have in my possession will get me discounted rates and or build points and rewards at hotels. Most of the hotel chains also have a SmartPhone App that I use to book rooms easily, any time during the day while on a ride. An example of the benefits of belonging to these clubs; Choice Hotels give me a $5 Tim Hortons card every time I check in from Sunday to Thursday.

Hotel memberships and other programs enhance your travels.

The AMA Auto Club membership can be used in conjunction with many of the hotel cards for discounts as well as discounts at other businesses. Towing is an especially big benefit if a rider is to experience a breakdown on a trip, just make sure your level of coverage provides motorcycle benefits. The NEXUS card is a boon at the border as there are many crossings with NEXUS specific lanes that get you across the border quicker. At $50 for five years, getting a NEXUS card is some of the best use of your vacation dollars.

Finally, here’s a picture of a Toll Road Transponder, something that folks in the Toronto area and even Nova Scotia may also be familiar with. With one of these you can sail through toll stations without slowing down in many instances. Scanners will recognize the transponder and charge your account, often at a discounted rate, when you enter/exit a toll section. I have the E-ZPass, issued by New York State, plus an Illinois I-Pass. These two systems are inter-connected so either pass will work to pay the toll in each other’s area (17 States and parts of Florida), which covers most of the NE USA. There are the Peach Pass, SunPass, PikePass, TxTag and many other transponders you could get depending on where you would do most of your riding.

Toll road transponders keep the wheels rolling, often at a discount.

Whenever you are going on a trip it is wise to check if there are toll roads and be prepared. One thing I have done when heading east is to prepare for the Cobequid Pass, for example, and have the $4 toll in a ziplock bag in a handy jacket or tankbag pocket so I can easily hand over the fare and get the receipt returned in the plastic bag in case it is raining. Again, little tricks like this help to keep the wheels rolling which makes good use of your vacation time.
There are likely many more programs and available discount offers out there. Of course, one of the best ways to cut down on your travel expenses is to have a travel companion who you can share the room cost with. The point of it all is to join all that you can since you never know when you may need a service and what may be available. You might as well get some benefits.

  • From R. Bruce Thomas

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