If it’s done right, a long motorcycle tour will give you an incredible feeling of freedom, excitement and adventure. Here are 16 tips that can help make sure you have a great time on the road.
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I’ve learned a few things during my years of riding across India, and these tips are based on my experiences. They might not be applicable to every situation, but if you’re planning your first (or even fifth) motorcycle tour, I guarantee that you’ll find some of them useful.
1. Know your bike’s capabilities
Being familiar with your bike will go a long way in making sure you have an enjoyable ride. Know what your bike’s capable of—and what it isn’t—and you won’t be caught unawares. If you know and trust your machine, you’ll be able to pay better attention to the road and your surroundings. And if you’re planning on using an unfamiliar bike, make sure you get to know it for at least a week or two before taking it out on the highway.
2. Get your bike into top condition
Long riding hours can be tough on your bike, so make sure it’s serviced and in top condition before your tour. That way, the chances of it giving you trouble in the middle of nowhere will be lower. It’s also important to tell your mechanic where you’re going; he or she may need to make adjustments based on things like road conditions or altitude. Once your machine is serviced, ride it around for a day or before you head out on your tour. Mechanics are human too, and you don’t want to be stranded just because of something yours forgot to do.
3. Get to know the basic workings of your bike
In case your bike does give you trouble, knowing the basics of how it works might save you a lot of bother. You’ll probably find a mechanic soon enough, but knowing something simple like how to change a spark plug might just save you an hour of looking around for help. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Carry some basic spare parts
Whether your bike trouble is something you can fix yourself, or something that needs an expert, it’s always useful to carry a set of spares. Depending on your bike, you might want to carry a spare spark plug, clutch cable, accelerator (throttle) cable, air filter and chain link. Your mechanic should be able to give you a good idea of what to take along, based on your bike. You might also want to carry a spare set of tyre tubes and a pump. If you get a flat, the pump could help you limp along to the next repair shop. And when you’re there, it might just be quicker to put in a new tube instead of repairing the damaged one.
You, the rider
5. Know your strengths and weaknesses
Having a realistic idea of your capabilities, your endurance levels and your limitations will go a long way staying safe and on schedule. It might seem like you’ll be sitting down and relaxing the entire time, but riding for long hours is exhausting—both physically and mentally. And being aware of your weaknesses—a difficulty with corners, for example—can help you compensate. If you’re not sure how you’ll do on a really long tour, it might help to do a few short day trips first.
6. Wear safety gear
I’m a firm believer in wearing safety gear on long tours (beyond just the basic helmet), and the more the better. But in reality, there’s only so much gear you can wear before you turn into a tank. Still, I think everyone going on a long motorcycle tour should invest in an armoured jacket (that has back, elbow and shoulder armour), riding gloves, knee guards and sturdy boots. Yes, safety gear is expensive, but it’s like insurance: you’ll miss it if you don’t have it when you need it.
Check out my recommendations for gear at the end of this post.
7. Ride by the book
No matter how much safety gear you wear, though, you can still get hurt on a motorcycle. That’s why it’s important to ride carefully and by the book. Speeds on the highway are much higher than in cities, and because of that, you have much less reaction time. So make sure you give yourself plenty of room to manoeuver, and plenty of time to react. And stay alert to potentially dangerous situations so you can avoid them before they happen. You might even want to practice braking at high speeds, and entirely avoid riding at night.
Check out these tips for safe riding. Don’t worry if the amount of information seems overwhelming; take it slow and absorb what you can.
8. Pack right
If you’re going on a long tour, you’ll have to pack some stuff besides spares. That means some spare clothes, a toothbrush and things like that. You’ll have to avoid the temptation of over-packing, though. Think about how your stuff is going to fit on your bike, and how much you can reasonably take. And if you’re thinking, ‘I’ll just wear a backpack,’ that’s not a good idea. A backpack full of stuff will put strain on your back and shoulders, and you’ll really feel that after a few hours’ riding. A better idea would be to strap it to your back seat some bungee cords. Or even better, invest in a pair of saddlebags.
Your riding plan
9. Figure out the route, and carry a map
It’s easy to decide ‘I’ll ride from point A to point B’, but the route might not be that straightforward. Taking a good look at a map before you head out will give you a good idea of where you might need to turn off. And carrying that map will help you stay on track if ever you’re in doubt. Of course, you can always use GPS, but make sure it doesn’t distract you while you’re riding. Another good idea is to try and research road conditions before you leave. Hitting an unexpected bad patch of road isn’t fun, and can throw you off your schedule.
10. Plan your stops
Giving yourself enough time to rest is important during a long tour. It’s no fun riding when you’re dead tired, and it’s not safe either. So plan how you’ll take breaks before you start your ride. Some like to take a quick break every hour, while others break for longer after every 100 kilometres. Decide what works for you, but make sure you rest enough. While checking your route, you might also find some nice places to stop along the way, like a viewpoint or a place to eat. It’ll also give you an idea of where you can top up your tank. Factor these into your schedule so you stay on track.
11. Keep your timeframe realistic
There are lots of things that’ll decide how long you take on a particular stretch. It’s tempting to say ‘the stretch is 60 kilometres long, so if I ride at 60 kmph, I’ll do it in one hour’. In reality, road conditions, visibility, the number of stops, how tired you are and your average speed will all affect how long you’ll take. For example, anyone riding regularly in India will quickly realize that, despite riding at a speed of 80 kmph, they usually only manage to cover 50 kilometres in an hour. So keeping a realistic timeframe will also help keep your schedule on track.
12. Include some buffer time in your schedule
Planning a tight riding schedule is a risky business. Over 15 years of riding, I’ve found that things almost never go exactly according to plan. So it’s always a good idea to include at least an hour or two of buffer time in your plan. That’s not just in case something goes wrong. What if you discover a hidden waterfall and you’re itching to take a dip, but your hotel won’t keep your room for you if you get there late?
13. Stay flexible
It’s good to have a plan for your ride, but your plan shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. Sometimes, the world has its own plans, so being flexible will help you have a good time anyway. So what if you can’t ride the last leg of your route because of bad weather? Maybe there’s an alternative stretch you can ride that might be just as fun.
Plan for emergencies
14. Pack a basic first-aid kit
If you happen to have a minor bump or spill, you’ll be thankful that you packed a first-aid kit. Even a little elbow scrape can turn really annoying after a few hours of chafing inside a jacket. So take along some basic things like band-aids, disinfectant, cotton, gauze and pain medicine, just in case.
15. Identify some local emergency contacts
Emergencies never announce themselves, so it’s good to be ready. And though you can always call the usual emergency numbers, having a few local contacts can be very useful. With their on-the-ground knowledge, locals can give you the best advice for your situation. It’s also a good idea to nominate a ‘home base’ contact back home with whom you can check in from time to time, and who can do some emergency coordination, if needed.
16. Tell other people your schedule
We’ve all seen movies where people get in trouble and can’t be helped because no one knows where they are. Don’t let that be you. Make sure at least three or four people know your schedule, and approximately where you plan to be at any given time. That way, in case you lose contact, they’ll know where to start looking to make sure you’re OK.
Plan ahead, ride safe and have fun!
Lots of the things I’ve written here might make it seem like going on a motorcycle tour is scary and dangerous. The truth is, it is. But it’s also extremely fulfilling. According to me, you can’t ever feel the same sense of freedom in a car that you do on a bike. And that’s worth a little risk. That risk needs to be mitigated as far as possible, though, if you want to have a good time. So plan ahead, ride safe and make sure you have fun on your awesome motorcycle tour!
Safety gear recommendations
Here are some recommendations for gear that I’ve used and liked.
- Helmet: MT Mugello
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Alter Ego
- Gloves: Cramster Raven
- Elbow guards: Cramster REDSETGO
- Knee guards: Spartan ASPIDA bionics
- Riding boots: Exustar SBT130