The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
by Octavia Drughi
March 23, 2017
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, like driver’s license, 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 region 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.
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!
When thinking about motorcycle trips, most people picture a bad ass 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.
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 under suit 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 area, 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.
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, 150-200 miles a day is more than enough. 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, spanned 10 years and was completed by Emilio Scotto.
Useful Tips & Tricks
- 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.
Suggestions for Packing
Packing for success on a long distance ride involves the right gear for the right situation.
- ATGATT – Prepare for every climate and weather condition you expect to ride through during your journey. Hot can turn to cold quickly, so you need to be prepared to change clothing. Wear base layers under your motorcycle gear to adjust to fluctuating temperatures. Invest in synthetics where you can as cotton tends to be heavy and doesn’t wick away sweat easily.
- Rain Gear – You may not think you’ll need it, but better safe than sorry! Roll up your rain gear and keep it ready to go.
- Personal Identification – Keep your wallet and cell phone in a place where it’s quickly accessible. Always carry a few dollars in the local currency to pay tolls or for any purchases that do not accept a credit or debit card. Your license, registration, proof of insurance, and medical information documents needs to be close by in case you are pulled over or in an event of an accident. Don’t forget your passport if you’re planning on traveling internationally!
- Protective Eyewear – Carry a spare set of contacts or glasses if you need corrective eyewear for vision. Consider packing a separate visor to adjust to the changes in lighting, possibly a dark, tinted one for daytime and a clear visor for nighttime riding.
- Protective Balms – Sunscreen or lip balm with SPF is helpful in reducing the chance of wind and sunburn.
- Earplugs – Wear earplugs every day to reduce fatigue from wind noise. Wind noise can cause headaches from the constant static noise heard from inside the helmet. You can have custom-made earplugs made or simply pick up a pack of disposable ones so you can wear a fresh set every day on the ride.
- Extra Toiletries – Carry anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, pain or regular medications, bug repellent, first-aid kit, soaps, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, female sanitary items (if applicable), toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, grooming supplies, a spare washcloth, etc.
- Tool Kit – Carry a small toolkit for emergency repairs or adjustments. A crescent wrench, small locking pliers, a simple socket set, a small flashlight, a multi-tool with screwdrivers and picks, an Allen wrench set, tire repair kit(s) with inflator and gauge, bungee cords, and a set of jumper cables can all find uses on a long ride.
- Extra Parts – You may want to carry a few of the common-sized fasteners used on the motorcycle, a roll of duct tape, some electrical wire, baling wire, cable ties, cotter pins, spare replacement bulbs, and extra fuses just in case.
- Fuel – Depending on where you’re headed, gas stations may be limited. They make small auxiliary fuel tanks that can be added safely to your equipment to extend your fuel range if you run short.
- Cleaning Supplies – Bring a travel-sized simple spray cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth to keep your helmet visor and motorcycle windscreens clean while on the road. Avoid paper towels for cleaning as they can cause micros scratches on your surfaces.
- Hydration Packs – Consider wearing a hydration pack or carry small bottles of water in a tank bag to keep you hydrated during long hours of riding.
- Snacks – Pack small snacks such as trail mix or protein bars in case you get hungry on the road (or buy them along the way).
- Plastic bags – Plastic bags are a cheap alternative to keep things organized and dry. Use a permanent marker to document the contents of the bag and include the weight so that you can balance the weight on your motorcycle.
- Camping Equipment – If you intend on camping along your long distance journey, consider packing a flashlight, candles or a lantern, extra batteries, lighter or matches, sleeping bag with air mattress, tent, ground cloth, collapsible chair, eating utensils, a cook stove, and something to cut with (small knife or saw). And most importantly, never forget your toilet paper!
Additional Safety Tips
- Get plenty of rest – Don’t rely on caffeine to keep you going through the day. Rest up and listen to your body. If you’re tired, pull over.
- Stay healthy by putting in good nutrients – Have a good, balanced meal before and after your ride and drink plenty of water and eat healthy snacks throughout the day. Load up on protein and fiber for breakfast to prepare for your long journey ahead.
- Don’t speed – The adventure you’re on is more of a marathon than a sprint. Losing an hour or so in one day isn’t a big deal, but getting pulled over while speeding will delay you even more.
- Get an early start on your ride each morning – Riding in traffic is unpleasant, so opt to start early to beat the crowds and the heat. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch the sunrise each day!
- Take a lot of breaks – The human mind does best when it stays focused for 45-minutes followed by a 15-minute break. Stop every so often for a certain amount of miles to stretch, relax, eat, and drink. Check out the local scenery; you just might learn some new history at a rest stop with a map. Refresh your energy and relax your body. Do some stretches; the best long distance riders practice yoga, so do these simple stretches at each stop to stay ready to ride.
- Be flexible with your itinerary – Traffic can vary by the hour, as well as the weather. Plan for the unexpected with the right gear for the ride and utilize your GPS to keep you up-to-date on route changes.
For Your Motorcycle:
- Check your oil and fuel levels on your rest stop – It takes an extra minute to check your motorcycle at a stop. Don’t let a leak leave you stranded.
- Carry an extra key – Believe it or not, things do get lost on a long trip, including your motorcycle keys. Be mindful of where you store the spare, as thieves can go rustling through your belongings.
Perform a thorough T-CLOCS inspection each morning:
- Tires and Wheels
- Lights and Electrics
- Oil and Other Fluids
Know your fuel range – Don’t assume each town has a gas station. Be aware of how many miles you can ride on a tank of gasoline, how many gallons your tank should hold at fill up, and how to calculate your miles per gallon every tank. It will allow you to plan ahead for the next stop and won’t leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere at night.
A long distance motorcycle ride is a challenge for your mind and body with a huge reward for completion. Planning ahead and preparation is the key to getting off on the right path. Follow these steps for an enjoyable ride, and finish strong! While we have provided a lot of information for you, your motorcycle, and the journey itself, we’ve also made a simple checklist to assist you in packing for your adventure ahead. Be sure to download it to help you prepare for the ride of your life. Happy riding!