The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
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The roaring engine, the cool wind, the open road and the endless possibilities ahead, this is what bikers live for. On long road trips, all these inviting elements can become your worst enemies if you’re not well prepared.
Most non-bikers associate motorcycles with speed – some may even go as far as associating it with recklessness. The truth is that most people who own a motorcycle use it for touring, which is all about seeing places at your own pace. For first-timers, riding their motorcycle abroad is a life-changing experience filled with surprises. But all that planning and the stress of staying on track can also prove exhausting. To save yourself some time and hassle, you can join a guided motorcycle tour. But this doesn’t mean you can go unprepared. So check out this article, do your homework, and plan your motorcycle tour like a pro to get the most out of your adventure!
Photo by David Wood
Almost any motorcycle can be used for touring, but there are some that are better than others. Specific models address particular needs, especially for long-distance travel. Large-capacity fuel tanks, a more relaxed upright seating position and windshields are some of the basics of touring motorcycles. Adventure touring motorcycles have high ground clearance making them great for off-road tours as well.
Besides the basic stuff you usually pack when traveling abroad, like passport, cash and credit card, you might want to consider a travel insurance that covers all the risks motorcycling involves. In this high-tech era, we all have a GPS of some sort, at least on our mobile phones, but the old-fashioned map might be a wiser choice. Find one that covers the entire country you plan to visit, plus another map with detailed sections.
Pack a tool kit for emergency repairs and basic maintenance. If it looks like too much load, you can split it between the riders joining the tour. Pack just one set; it will be enough for the whole team.
If you’d like to head halfway round the globe, find an organized motorcycle tour that includes the bike. This way, you can take that road trip through Nepal you’ve always dreamed about without having to ride all the way to get there.
Motorcycle luggage - Photo by fikander
Tail bag, tank bag, saddlebag, decisions, decisions… First-timers might not be happy investing in a full luggage set, and they shouldn’t until they’ve hit the road at least a couple of times and tested enough luggage types to decide which one they feel most comfortable with.
Road-test a fully loaded tank bag near home before buying one or venturing on a long-distance tour. You’ll be surprised to see how much will fit into a small-size tail bag or throw-over saddlebag. Not to mention they are stylish and do not interfere with the rider’s center of gravity. Avoid strapping stuff onto your luggage. Big bags strapped to the backrest might cause the bike to become unstable.
If you plan to camp during your motorcycle tour, side cases will easily fit a sleeping bag and tent. Some choose to pack their stuff in backpacks, but most bikers find this uncomfortable, especially on long rides.
Leave some spare room in your luggage to fit your helmet and jacket when you wish to go for a walk. And make sure your motorcycle luggage is waterproof!
Photo by Dave_S.
When thinking about motorcycle trips, most people picture a badass rider on a classic Harley-Davidson, wearing trashy jeans, a fringe leather jacket and aviator glasses. But the reality is that after riding like this for half an hour you’ll wish you never got on the bike in the first place. You’ll be using tweezers to pick out bugs that got stuck between your teeth and in your ears, and that’s the best-case scenario. Everyone falls off the bike at some point, and appropriate safety gear is all that stands in between you and the pavement.
We all like to look our best, but safety is more important. Helmets are indispensable for all the obvious reasons – more than 4,000 people die in motorcycle crashes each year in the US. Helmets are 34 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.
In case of a crash, the first instinct is to catch our fall with our hands, which is why gloves are the second most important piece of equipment. Our bodies are not adapted to travel faster than 25 mph (40 km/h). Any faster than that and we lose layers of skin and can damage our bones and internal organs if we do not protect ourselves. This is where protective jackets, pants and suits come in. The padding in these suits is what protects you and is called “body armor.” Look for padding that covers as much of your body as possible. Your bike weighs three times more than you do, and your feet will have to support all that weight. You need a serious pair of boots to do the job. Ideally, you’ll want them to be waterproof as well.
Motorcycle Touring in Japan - Photo by cotaro70s
Safety is more important than comfort. On sunny summer days, you might get hot. That’s one of the downsides of motorcycle touring, but under no circumstances should you ditch that protective gear. It is what keeps you alive! Instead, wear a jacket with good ventilation. If you’re the leather-wearing type, then you might want to consider an undersuit for comfort, especially during long rides. Most importantly, pack a waterproof suit. Two-piece waterproofs are practical, as you can choose to wear just the jacket. But in case of heavy rainfall, a one-piece will keep you drier.
Especially when heading out to unfamiliar countries, finding food, places to sleep and fuel in remote areas can be tricky, which is why you must be prepared. Motorcycle tours are a great adventure, and camping by the side of the road and sleeping under the stars adds more excitement. But after a few in the saddle, you will surely appreciate a warm bed and hot shower to get all that dirt and sweat off.
Motorcycle Touring in Japan - Photo by Big Ben in Japan
Some riders prefer to set out early in the morning and cover great distances to get to their favorite roads. This can mean hundreds of miles in a day. It sounds tough, but it can be done, with good planning and discipline. First-timers will probably have a hard time pulling this off, especially when they don’t know the terrain. Experienced riders often know the ins and outs of the route, which allows them to be faster. Keep in mind that by traveling slower you will use less fuel and will not stop for gas as often. Plus, you’ll get the chance to enjoy the view while at it.
In scenic areas, 150 miles (240 km) a day is more than enough.
Motorcycle touring in the Alps - Photo by tommy chheng
Try to stop as often as possible. If there’s anything worth visiting on your way, take a break and see it. You might regret not having stopped. If you are not accustomed to riding for hours in a row, you might want to practice near home. Otherwise, the road will seem too long and you won’t get to enjoy the ride.
Motorcycle tours can be taken up a notch, as there are riders who travel thousands if not hundreds of thousands of miles, embarking on tours that can last for years. The longest motorcycle journey covered 457,000 miles (735,000 km), spanned 10 years and was completed by Emilio Scotto.
Useful Tips & Tricks
Motorcycle Touring in Scotland - Photo by Andrew Bunday
- Wear earplugs to protect your ears from the noise of the road and to avoid fatigue. It can get very noisy inside the helmet, so make sure you pack plenty if you plan to take a long trip.
- Choose a helmet with tinted visor; it is more efficient than sunglasses.
- Pack a lightweight balaclava and neck roll. These will make the helmet feel more comfortable and provide extra insulation in case of cold weather. You can also use the neck roll to protect your mouth and lips from drying.
- Carry a lip balm with you.
- Hide your spare key somewhere on your bike using duct tape, or you can ask a fellow travel companion to keep it safe. You can do the same for them.
- Make sure you’re well hydrated. It helps you stay alert and has a great impact on your general comfort.
- Check your motorcycle each morning before taking off.
- A packable motorcycle cover will keep your bike clean and dry overnight, and will also discourage thieves.
- Eat light for breakfast. Opt for healthy meals during the day. Avoid chain restaurants and try locally-owned places instead, mingle with the locals and dive into the culture of the places you’re visiting.
- Pack a first aid kit and make sure you know how to use it.
- Take something to read for rainy days.
- Make sure your family and friends know your whereabouts. Keep in touch with them and share your photos and stories. This will help you recollect your adventures.
- Last but not least, remember to give yourself some off time. When on long tours, take at least one day off per week and do nothing. This is the ultimate luxury you can grant yourself.
Do you remember the dreams you had as a teenager? How you socked away for years to buy your first bike? You did it all for the adventure and the utter sense of freedom. Now all you have to do is ride. Being well prepared is a recipe for success, but keep in mind that it often takes years of experimenting and overcoming failures to figure out all the tricks.
Are you thinking about embarking on your first motorcycle tour? Or perhaps you are short of ideas for your next one. Look no further! BookMotorcycleTours.com offers both guided and self-guided motorcycle tours in some of the world’s most scenic destinations.