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Getting Ready to Ride in Montana

Getting Ready to Ride in Montana

For more information on the 2021 Rally in Great Falls, visit the rally website and check out the Rally FAQ. The Rally takes place at the Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls, Montana, from 24-27 June 2021.

We’re all more or less fonts of information when it comes to riding in our own states. I can tell you all about where to ride in Virginia and when for the best experience and the best pie, but I’ve never been to Montana. What’s more, I don’t know anybody who actually lives in Montana, so like many of you, I’m stuck either riding in ignorant and finding out when I get there or doing some research.

Since I chose research, I figured it’s a good idea to share the info with you so we can all benefit. Consider this your BMW Owners News version of “let me Google that for you!”

Great Falls’ population of about 59,000 people has remained steady in the recent past; the city’s median age is about 38 years old, so it’s a fairly young city. The top industries by workforce are healthcare, social assistance, retail and hospitality, which includes both hotels and restaurants. Tourism is big business in Great Falls, with both summer and winter tourism having their own attraction. The MOA is coming to town at the beginning of the best summer weather, so make your reservations early rather than waiting until you get to town.

For somebody living on the east coast, Montana might as well be in Canada. I always assumed it snows there year-round, but it turns out that while there is almost always a small chance of snow in Montana’s higher elevations even in July, it’s downright pleasant most of the summer. Our rally is scheduled right at the beginning of Montana’s “hot season,” and according to WeatherSpark, the average temperature in Great Falls peaks 86°F in late July. Around the time we’ll all be there, the average high is more like 76-78°F, with average lows of 51-54°F. Of course, these are averages, so there could be significant variations in both the high and low temperatures throughout the week, and elevation makes a big difference.

Because I have to ride across some fairly hot regions of the US on my way to Great Falls, I’ll primarily be dressed for summer riding. I’ll be bringing along the liner for my mesh jacket, as well as a sweatshirt or other insulating layer, base layers appropriate for hot weather, and my electric jacket liner. In a pinch, I know I can put on my rain gear for additional insulation—rain gear can keep you quite warm if you wear it under your other riding gear. I’ll be bringing both summer gloves and gloves suitable for colder weather and relying on my bike’s heated grips to pick up the slack. A couple pairs of warm socks will go in my duffel bag as well; between them and my typical waterproof boots, my feet should be fine. I’ll plan on either wearing my layers or bringing another light jacket—and at least one pair of pants as well—for when I’m off the bike. Having a pair of shoes or sandals so you’re not stuck walking around in your motorcycle boots for three or four days is also a good idea.

Great Falls enjoys low relative humidity. This sounds great, but I know from personal experience cool and dry conditions can mask signs of dehydration, so I’ll be toting along a reusable water bottle in addition to my motorcycle gear. A Camelbak-style bladder might be a good option for some folks. Nobody wants to end up in the emergency room with an IV drip while they’re on vacation!

It may seem like a small thing, but I’ll also add Great Falls to the saved places in my favorite weather app on my smartphone. Along with the MOA Anonymous app, that should carry me through most of my time in Montana. I’ll add Big Sky Motorsports—the only BMW Motorrad dealership in Montana—to the saved places on my GPS unit and in Google Maps on my phone. You can visit them in person at 2315 South Ave W in Missoula, or online at bigskymotorsports.com; Missoula is about 165 miles west of Great Falls. There are five other dealers within 500 miles of Great Falls, including one in Canada.

One thing I thought I knew about Montana was their statewide 80 MPH speed limit. Turns out I was only mostly correct on that; the law applies to interstate highways (such as I-15, which runs north-south past Great Falls) outside urban centers of 50,000 people or more—so Great Falls qualifies. The interstate highway speed limit in urban centers of that size drops to 65 MPH within city limits. On all other public highways in Montana, the speed limit is 70 MPH during the day and 65 MPH at night. These speed limits are, of course, subject to suitable conditions, so use your best judgment if conditions are less than ideal. Reckless driving in Montana is defined by state law as “[operating] a vehicle in willful…disregard for the safety of persons or property,” so it may not be terribly difficult to get a ticket for reckless driving if you are in excess of posted speed limits.

All motorcycles in Montana must have a headlight on at all times, and it must illuminate the road for at least 500 feet ahead of the bike. Motorcycles are required to have unmodified mufflers, taillights/stop lights, reflectors, at least one rear view mirror and at least one brake. Riding in national parks requires spark arrestors on the exhaust system. Turn signals are not required, but if they’re on the bike they have to function. Add in foot pegs for passengers (if present), a horn audible for at least 200 feet and a license plate light and you’re road legal in Montana. It’s legal to ride side-by-side, but no more than two wide.

You may have heard that Montana legalized lane splitting, also known as filtering. This is true, but the law doesn't go into effect until after the Rally, so no filtering for you during the rally!

Motorcycle insurance is not required, and helmets—but not eye protection—are only required for riders under 18 years old. The MOA recommends you use a proper helmet at all times to prevent injury, and cannot be held liable should you be injured while attending the rally. When it comes to crashes and collisions, Montana is an at-fault state, which means the person determined by authorities to be at fault has to pay for everything—damage, injuries, all of it. Montana might not require you to have insurance, but common sense says it’s a good idea.

Because the nearest BMW dealership is over 100 miles from Great Falls, it’s a good idea to make sure your bike is prepped for a long ride. While you can certainly get a new set of tires put on your bike at the rally, if you’re getting close on those tired tires, you can put a new set on before you leave. Service your bike’s basics; change the engine, transmission and final drive oils and the engine oil and air filters at a minimum. Give your bike a thorough once-over and test ride any new accessories or luggage you’ve added for your rally ride. Because many of the roads leading to Great Falls are long, straight and high speed, it’s a good idea to check slightly more in-depth things like brake pads, wheel bearings, steering head bearings and fuel filters.

With a little preparation, your rides to, at and home from the rally in Great Falls can be comfortable and trouble-free.

BMW Motorrad Dealers <500 Miles from Great Falls

  • W        Big Sky Motorsports, Missoula MT (165 miles)
  • W        BMW Motorcycles of Spokane, Spokane WA (200 miles)
  • W        Mac’s Cycle, Clarkston WA (220 miles)
  • W        BMW Motorcycles Prosser, Prosser WA (365 miles)
  • N         Blackfoot Motorrad, Calgary AB CAN (440 miles)
  • SW      BMW Motorcycles of Boise, Boise ID (480 miles)

Even farther, but possibly on the way!

  • N         Argyll Motorrad, Edmonton AB CAN (590 miles)
  • SE       Sturgis Motorsports, Sturgis SD (635 miles)

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