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Sue Bush
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"Iron Butts" On "Iron Horses"

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, July 16, 2006

Champlain Valley Vermont Chapter Harley Owners Group 2006 Director Michael Mitchell and his Harley-Davidson motorcycle were part of a July 15 "Iron Butt" ride.
They called it an "iron butt" run.

600 Miles In 12 Hours

About a dozen members of the Champlain Valley Vermont Chapter Harley Owners Group [HOG] thundered into a Pownal, Vt. Route 7 convenience store parking lot and rolled up to the gas pumps at about 9:20 a.m. July 15 for a human-and-machine fuel stop; petrol for the bikes and caffeine for most of the riders.

Dave Brown and his 1998 Harley-Davidson Fatboy motorcycle fueled up in Pownal, Vt..Brown energized with a beverage, the bike filled up with gasoline.
The group left Essex Junction, Vt. at 6:15 a.m. with a goal of covering about 600 miles in about 12 hours. Also dubbed a "four corner run," the planned route meant a ride south on Route 7 into Massachusetts, where Route 2 was to be followed east to the Greenfield area. The riders then planned to pick up Route 91 north into the Brattleboro, Vt. area and continue riding north to the Vermont towns of Canaan and Alburgh before returning to Essex Junction.

Despite ride length, motorcycle fuel costs were unlikely to empty any rider wallet. Most of the motorcycles were enjoying a 45 mile-per-gallon efficiency.

The rhyme and reason of the ride was "just to be riding and on our bikes," said 2006 CVHOG Director Michael Mitchell.

Rides And Rallies Generate Revenues

The freedom of the road, as experienced by those who ride Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagles, Fatboys, Sportsters, and other models, or who climb aboard Honda Gold Wings or bikes made by a host of other manufacturers such as Buell, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Ducati, means riding the highways surrounded not by metal and glass but by nature.

The motorcycle industry delivers a generous boost to local economies; rides most often include fuel and meal stops. Restaurants may play host to 20, 30, or more riders engaged in a particular run.

Organized rides also generate a tremendous amount of income for non-profit organizations. Locally, the yearly Fall Run has raised thousands of dollars for Shriners-operated hospitals in Springfield and Boston, and many clubs and motorcycle groups organize toy runs that benefit children during the holiday season.

Kim Drury and her 2006 Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle motorcycle.

Motorcycle rallies bring people and revenue to communities. Large rallies, such as a week-long Americade event held at Lake George, N.Y. during June, can generate enormous amounts of publicity as well. Mitchell once organized a rally that lured riders to Vermont's north country.

"I hosted a rally in 2004 that brought about 600 bikes to North Burlington," he said.

A Safe Ride

Safety on the road is a major consideration for motorcyclists. Even large motorcycles are smaller than most four-wheeled vehicles and car and truck drivers may have problems seeing bikes.

Closed windows, the hum of an air-conditioner and a loud vehicle sound system may create a literal sound barrier between a vehicle driver and the roar and rumble of a motorcycle engine.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has posted the following on a MSF "quick tips" Internet web site: "Give yourself space. People driving cars often just don't see motorcycles. Even when drivers do see you, chances are they've never been on a motorcycle and can't properly judge your speed."

Riders get ready to resume another leg of an "iron butt" run organized by the Champlain Valley Vermont Chapter Harley Owners Group.
The site offers numerous strategies for motorcycle road safety.

Safety measures include riding with the motorcycle headlight on day and night, flashing the brake light when preparing to slow down or stop, selecting and wearing an industry approved helmet, protective eyewear [mandatory by law in some states] and heavy protective clothing, preferably a leather jacket and chaps.

"Remember, the only thing between you and the road is your protective gear," the site states.

The site also recommended riders ride in the section of a travel lane that affords the most visibility. Group ride safety advice includes planning for large rides at pre-ride meetings. Group rides should include a lead rider and a "sweep" rider, who follows behind the group. Only experienced riders should be assigned to "lead" and "sweep" positions.

A staggered riding formation is preferred to a side-by-side formation, according to the MSF information. And road conditions may dictate a single file ride.

"A single-file formation is preferred on a curvy road, under conditions of poor visibility or poor road surfaces, entering/leaving highways, or other situations where an increased space cushion or maneuvering room is needed," the site advises.

Cell phones, first-aid kits and full tool kits are also recommended, and many rides utilize trucks and trailers so that any motorcycle break-down situations can be handled quickly.

Advice For Car and Truck Drivers

The MSF also has advice for car and truck drivers.

"Because of its small size, a motorcycle can easily be hidden in a car's blind spots [door/roof/pillars] or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car. Take an extra minute to thoroughly check traffic, whether you're changing lanes or turning at intersections," states the site.

Another suggestion is "motorcyclists often slow down by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance, say three or four seconds. At intersections, predict that a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning."

The Invisibility Factor

What may be the best advice for car and truck drivers who share the roadways with motorcyclists is "When a motorcycle is in motion, don't think of it as a motorcycle; think of it as a person."

And motorcyclists are usually well-served by following this advice "Drive as though you are invisible."

In many cases, a ride of many miles puts riders on unfamiliar highways. Ride organizers often gather a small group prior to a scheduled event to cover the route and seek out any potential risks or areas that may require specific driving strategies.

Members of the Champlain Valley contingent try to ride along the southern Vermont region about twice a year, said Mitchell.

"It's a nice ride."

Additional information about the Champlain Valley Vermont Chapter Harley Owner's Group may be acquired at a Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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