Motorcycle Grand Touring
By Liz Smith

“Where do you want to ride today?”

“I don’t know – how about the Chatsworth loop?”

This was a common exchange between my husband and me when we had a few spare hours on a nice day to indulge in a spontaneous motorcycle ride. And while the Chatsworth loop takes us through a lovely part of the Pine Barrens, I don’t want to ride there EVERY time. This is where AMA Grand Tours come in.

For those uninitiated in the workings of AMA Grand Tours, they work like this: An AMA chartered club or the AMA itself sets up a series of guidelines for qualifying destinations for a Grand Tour. Usually it’s a bit of wordplay – for example, the “Time Spent Behind Bars” Grand Tour specified jails as their destinations; the H2O Grand Tour specified towns and counties with certain water-related words in their names (such as Ocean County, Lakewood and so on). The sponsoring organization sets the timeframe for completion and the minimum (and sometimes maximum) number of destinations to be submitted. Motorcyclists who want to participate send in a check for the entry fee (usually a nominal sum) and a signed release. Usually they then receive in the mail a banner or placard with an entry number, a starter’s pin, and complete criteria for completing the tour. At that point it’s up to the motorcyclist to select destinations that meet the tour’s criteria and plan their rides to visit these destinations. A photo is taken with the bike, the entry placard/banner, and some type of sign identifying the destination visited. Sound difficult? It’s not really, once you get the hang of it.

I find Grand Tours enjoyable to participate in for a host of reasons – not the least of which is the opportunity to ride to destinations I have never been to – and would have no reason to visit other than the fact that they meet the criteria for a qualifying destination in whatever Grand Tour I’m participating in this season. In the past four years I’ve participated in seven Grand Tours including the following:

• America Wanderings Seeking Cities Having International Twins (AWSCHIT – 2002)
• North American Grand Tour of Historical Landmarks and Sites (2003)
• Lincoln Highway Grand Tour (2004)
• H2O Grand Tour (2005)
• Up Down and All Around Grand Tour (2005)
• Polar Bear Grand Tour (2004-2005 and 2005-2006)

Along the way I’ve learned my way around a great deal of the state of New Jersey, and even a little bit of neighboring states. I’ve also found some unexpected and delightful surprises that I’ve made it a point to return to on my “own time” – such as taking a sail on the oyster schooner (and registered historical landmark) A. J. Meerwald (www.ajmeerwald.org).

So are Grand Tours something you would like to try? How do you complete a Grand Tour? Which one should you sign up for? Here are some guidelines that have worked for me and helped maximize my enjoyment of AMA Grand Tours. These guidelines primarily apply to tours other than the Polar Bear Grand Tour since Polar Bear destinations are scheduled for specific dates.

1. Determine What You Can Commit To

First, determine your capabilities. How much time and energy do you have to spare for riding a Grand Tour? Can you travel out of state, or are you limited to shorter trips? Do you intend to plan your vacation time around your Grand Tour, or do you plan on only taking day trips during weekends? Do you ride only in warmer weather or are you willing to bundle up and ride through the winter?

Once you answer these questions, go and take a look at the Grand Tours available. Visit the AMA home page (www.ama-cycle.org) then click on “Road” under the “Riding” menu. After that, click on “The AMA Premier Touring Series”. On this page you’ll find a host of rallies, district tours, gypsy tours and Grand Tours. The Grand Tours are near the bottom of the page. Keep checking back as this page is updated frequently with new info.

2. Choose a Grand Tour That Fits You

Now how do you figure out which tour is right for you? Under the listing for each tour there’s usually a link to the sponsor’s web page with detailed information on the tour. Click on the links for the tours that look interesting and check out the criteria for completion. How well does each tour mesh with your schedule and capability constraints? What kinds of prizes are being awarded for finishing first? Is anything being awarded for just completing the tour, such as a pin, patch or t-shirt? I’m always looking for something I can pin or sew onto my Spokes-Women colors. If you can’t find enough information on the sponsor’s web site (such as, are digital photos permitted?) there is always an email contact listed for obtaining more info on the Grand Tour.

Another thing you will want to do in order to determine if a tour is “do-able” for you is to make a list of the nearest destinations that meet the tour’s criteria. If you’re looking for certain town names, the easiest way to do this is to get a map of the state (one you don’t mind marking up) and search the index for acceptable municipality names – or if you can find a list of your state’s municipalities online this is useful, too. The internet is a terrific way to find lists of other destinations such as historical landmarks. You can use any of the free search engines such as Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), Google (www.google.com), or Dogpile (www.dogpile.com) to search for these lists.

You need to realize, however, that just because a name is listed on a map of your state it isn’t necessarily a recognized municipality. One way to verify that the name is a recognized municipality and not just an “area” is to visit the US Postal Service web site (www.usps.com) and use the post office locator. If the USPS doesn’t recognize it, chances are you won’t be able to find an official town sign. Any of the mapping utilities such as Mapquest (www.mapquest.com) or Google Maps (maps.google.com) are helpful in locating destinations and determining how to get to them.

3. Get Organized

Okay, you’ve determined which tour you want to participate in, you’ve sent in your entry fee and waiver, and you’ve received your entry banner or placard. Now how do you go about scheduling your rides to complete the tour? Go back to that map you’ve marked up and pick a group of destinations in one area that you can reach within your allotted time for a given ride (whether it’s a day trip or longer). See if you can find specific addresses for your destinations (if they are post offices or municipal buildings, for example) in advance of your trip. Using good – and I by that I mean current and detailed – maps or an online mapping utility, plan a route that visits each of these destinations. You can either print out a route or jot down some directions on a sheet of paper. You might find it handy to copy your list of destinations into a spreadsheet program and add in addresses and other pertinent information (such as the type of destination you’re looking for – post office, municipal building or something else). You can highlight rows on the spreadsheet as you complete destinations.

4. Get Out There and Ride!

At the beginning of the trip and at each intermediate destination review the directions to the next destination. If you’re riding with a another motorcyclist make sure you review the directions to the next destination with them, too, letting them know at what point you’ll be slowing down to search for an address and possibly making a sudden turn in an unfamiliar area. If the directions are particularly convoluted (yes, I ride in New Jersey where there’s a state law prohibiting a road from continuing in the same direction for more than 50 feet) you can jot them on one or both of your side mirrors with a china marker or slip them into a map pocket on your tankbag if you have one. It’s a good idea, especially if you are riding with someone else who might not be as keen on completing the tour as you are, to have a contingency plan that allows you to cut short the day’s ride at any given time due to heat and humidity, rainstorms, or anything else that would prevent you from enjoying your ride to the fullest. You can always pick up those curtailed destinations another day – perhaps you can work them in with some additional destinations.

Most if not all Grand Tours require a photo as proof of your ride to a destination. You’ll need to take a picture that includes your bike, some sort of official sign with the destination name and your entry placard/banner (if required). A digital camera is really handy for this since you can immediately review a shot to make sure it includes all the required components, is in focus and all the signage is legible (not too much glare or shadow).

5. Compile and Submit Your Results

After each ride it’s a good idea to upload your photos to the computer (if you’re using a digital camera). It’s useful to put them all into a separate folder just for the Grand Tour you’re participating in. You can also rename the photo files to the names of the destinations pictured within. These steps will save you a lot of effort when you complete the tour – and there’s always a deadline that you will need to meet to qualify as a finisher in the Grand Tour.

Once you’ve completed all your rides and uploaded all your photos to the computer you’ll need to print them out for submission. Be as organized and detailed as you can in your submission – think of the judges who need to review the many pictures in many entries they receive.

When you print your photos you may need to adjust a few of them with a photo editing program to make the signage legible in the printed copy. What you can easily read online doesn’t always show up as well in print. Most digital cameras come with basic photo editing software that allows you to touch up the brightness and contrast. If something is still a little hard to see, draw an arrow pointing to it and jot down some text indicating what it is supposed to be.

I use the “anal retentive” strategy when compiling and printing my entry photos – each destination photo is printed on a separate sheet of paper and has as a header the tour name and my entry number. On the bottom of the sheet is the destination number and the name of the destination. I include the name of the state if appropriate for the tour. All these are three-hole punched then bound in a plastic report cover with fasteners. A label is affixed to the front with my entry number, name and address. Why go to all this trouble? For two reasons: I figure the easier I can make the judges’ jobs, the more likely they are to rule in my favor on a questionable or poorly signed destination. Secondly, I like to keep the bound report to share with others after the tour is over.

Which brings me to another point: if you would like your entry returned to you after judging most organizations are happy to do so – just make sure you include a polite note requesting this and a large self addressed envelope with sufficient postage along with your entry.

And very importantly, get your entry in by the specified deadline – you don’t want to go to a lot of work producing a terrific entry only to have it disqualified because it’s late.

6. Most Of All, Have Fun!

There will very likely be times when you misjudge your ability to complete a tour or some personal or work emergencies arise that prevent you from completing a tour. Don’t beat yourself up over this, it happens. Just enjoy the portions of the tour you were able to participate in and chalk it up to experience. When you do complete a tour it’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

I have gotten tremendous enjoyment from my participation in the AMA Grand Tours, not to mention an incredible collection of New Jersey county maps. I’ve also ridden to destinations in every county in the state in the process and learned an incredible amount of information about the state I now call home.

Oh, by the way, I was asked – did I ever find the Changewater post office? The club members who were on that ride with me wondered (along with me) if the town or post office in fact exists… I can tell you without question that not only does it exist but it has a fascinating story associated with it. Next month I’ll tell you about Finding Changewater.

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