Motorcycle Touring- the Ultimate Beginner's Guide

Motorcycle Touring- the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Thinking of going on an adventure with your motorcycle? Want to know what you need to do and plan before you set off? Don’t worry- here’s everything you need to know about motorcycle touring and how to plan your next trip.

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What is Motorcycle Touring?

Simply put, motorcycle touring is getting on your motorbike and going for ride, usually with at least one overnight stop. There are differing opinions about what is a ‘tour’ and what’s just a ‘trip’ but, personally, I feel anything which involves taking gear on your bike and a stay somewhere new can be called a tour. It doesn’t matter whether you tour alone, in a group or with your partner- it all counts.

Some websites claim that you need to ride overseas, or in a different country, in order to be ‘motorcycle touring’ but, honestly, I think that’s crap. After all, there are some fantastic roads to ride all over the UK and the act of packing up your bike and taking all your gear with you is exactly the same, no matter the destination.

How long is a motorcycle tour?

Also, it doesn’t matter how LONG the tour is. Some people go for a weekend, others set off and still haven’t returned after two years! You don’t need to quit your job and travel full-time (although that’s exactly what I did!)

Plenty of people plan their motorcycle adventures around working full-time, family life and all the other commitments they have. Do whatever works for you.

Is it motorcycle touring if you tow your bike somewhere?

We spend a lot of our time exploring Europe with a motorcycle camper van which pulls our two adventure bikes on a trailer. We love this method of travel but, honestly, I’m not sure that it’s REAL motorcycle touring. I think you need to leave and arrive somewhere on your motorbike, whilst carrying kit, for it to be a ‘tour’.

For example, when we park up the motorhome in a country (like Norway or Italy), pack up the motorcycles and set off for a few days- THAT then becomes the tour.

I guess it can be summed up as being ‘self-sufficient’ on your motorcycle. After all, if you carry all your gear with you, you have the freedom to go anywhere the road might take you. And yes, that feeling is utterly addictive. 🙂

Can beginners go motorcycle touring?

Absolutely! The beautiful thing about motorcycling is that your experience level matters very little- we all can ride the same roads and have similar adventures.

Of course, your skill levels will differ, but getting out there and doing it is one of my top tips for beginner riders to build confidence.

Just make sure your motorbike is road worthy, you have appropriate gear and you ride within your abilities- especially if you’re heading to the mountains or riding in bad weather. Also, let someone know your route plan- just in case you need some assistance.

Can girls go touring on a motorcycle?

YES! Girls can (and do!) go on motorcycle adventures every single day. Your gender is totally irrelevant to where and what you can do on a motorcycle. Even better, with a helmet on, nobody knows you’re a girl anyway!

Just make sure your bike is well balanced and ideally you should be able to pick it up when fully laden (this applies to guys too!)

RELATED: Looking for gift ideas for a female biker chick? Here are some of the BEST ideas for her

What Motorcycle is best for touring?

Ahhhh, the eternal question- what is the best motorcycle for touring? There is no ‘right’ answer to this, just like there’s no right answer to what car is best. A lot of it is personal preference.

You do NOT need a ‘big’ motorcycle, or a new one, or an off-roader. However, some things to consider when choosing a bike for long-term riding are:

  • Can you safely ride the motorcycle while it’s laden with gear?
  • Can you get at least one, but preferably both feet on the floor when stopped?
  • Is the bike road-worthy?
  • Is it possible to fit luggage to the motorcycle? (for long rides, you’ll find that more comfortable than a backpack)
  • Is the riding position comfortable for a long ride? Do you get back, neck, wrist, leg ache?
motorcycle touring bikes
Our motorcycle tourers

What motorbike do we use for touring?

We started motorcycle touring using Triumph Scramblers- and we still use them now. We LOVE them- the position is comfortable and fairly upright, it’s easy to attach luggage and they sound awesome. We’ve now had 3 of them and we’re still really happy with them as touring bikes. No, I don’t feel as badass on them as I do on my zx6r, but it’s a totally different types of bike.

Can you tour on a sports bike?

Absolutely. You can tour on whatever motorcycle you can get. Just bear in mind the location and amount of riding you’re planning to do. A few days in the Alps is totally different from a round-the-world tour or a Paris-Dakar race. Similarly, taking an old classic motorcycle might be cool, but will it survive the journey or need lots of spare parts which are going to be hard to source or carry? Pick a bike that works for the journey you want to do.

Can you tour on a small motorcycle?

Yes… as long as it’s not too small for your trip. If you’re only going away for a very short period, pretty much any bike will be capable of taking you and a backpack.

However, if you’re planning on circling the world, or going for thousands of miles, you’ll probably want something with a bit bigger engine so that it can take you AND all your gear. Bigger engines are also generally better for longer trips as they are designed for that sort of use.

What gear do you need for motorcycle touring?

gear needed for motorcycle touring
What gear is needed for motorcycle touring?

Many websites and magazines will insist you need a ridiculous amount of gear. The truth is that, whilst there are some things you MUST carry, the rest will depend on where you are planning to go.

Riding in Southern Spain will need totally different requirements to riding in Norway, or the west coast USA.

Essential motorcycle touring gear

You MUST have the following:

One of the biggest problems with needing to carry all your kit is what do you do if you are going to a mixture of environments? For example, if you are touring the UK on your bike in summer, you’ll probably want summer riding gear (I wear a lightweight jacket, summer gloves and moto leggings), PLUS wet weather gear (because it always rains in the UK!)

You can get a waterproof oversuit, which is easier to carry on your bike instead of a totally different set of waterproofs.

Other essential/ useful things to carry when motorcycle touring

As well as clothing, we’ve found these things are extremely useful on a motorbike trip.

There are, of course, lots of other motorcycle accessories we recommend while touring, to make your life a little easier. If you are planning a long trip, these make excellent gift ideas for motorbikers– just share the list with friends and family. 🙂

Don’t forget to do your motorcycle maintenance checks before you leave- grab your FREE motorcycle maintenance checklist here

How do you plan a motorcycle trip?

When planning your motorcycle trip, there are a few things to think about.

  • How long do you have?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • Who is going with you?
  • What is the weather likely to be?

How long do you have for your trip?

It’s very common (we know, because we’ve done it!) for people to try to cram too much into a trip. To start, don’t try to travel too far. If you only have one week, you’re unlikely to be able to ride all the way to Norway and back to the UK.

Where do you want to go?

Start by figuring out where you want to explore, then decide if it’s realistic in the time you have available. If you’re not sure on a destination, decide if you want to do mountains, or sunshine, or something specific to help narrow down your options.

What’s the budget?

The further you ride, the more fuel you’ll need to buy. Also, if you plan to ride in a country with tolls, you’ll need to account for those.

In the same way, if you’re not motorcycle camping and are staying in hotels/ B & Bs, the more nights you go for, the more it will cost in accommodation, food and sightseeing.

You need to plan for the following:

  • Fuel
  • Tolls/ Vignettes
  • Visas if applicable
  • Ferry/ tunnel costs
  • Shipping motorcycle if required
  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Activities
  • Souvenirs
  • Breakdown/ Insurance costs
Motorcycle John oGroats Scotland- Bikergirl Life
Us touring with our daughter- we often need to stop more regularly

Who is going with you?

Are you travelling with a pillion? Taking a child? Taking a dog (yep, we do this but only on short day trips- not long tours.) This is going to affect how many miles you can ride in a day- which will affect how far you can go.

Also, if you’re travelling with a newer rider or anyone with a smaller bike, they are likely to be a little slower than you, so you’ll need to plan for their speed.

What will the weather likely be?

If you’re motorcycle touring at any time other than summer, you’ll need to allow for days of rain, strong winds and maybe even snow.

Heck, we visited Norway for 3 weeks in July- and it rained for all apart from 3 days! So don’t expect to be able to ride at full speed for the entire journey. You might even need to allow for wet weather days and keep your plans flexible so you can choose to stay in bed if the weather is that bad!

Also, don’t underestimate the toll riding on hot days will have on your body. You’re likely to need more fluids, which will require more rest stops and also you’re likely to be more tired at the end of each day.

What are the roads going to be like?

It’s important to consider what the roads will be like. Heck, if you’re travelling to a third world country you might not even have ‘roads’ at all.

But even if you’re planning on staying in the UK, Europe or USA you need to think about the types of roads you’ll be riding. Motorway miles might be boring, but you’ll get to your destination area much more quickly than if you take the back roads the entire way. Having said that, I hate motorway riding, so I’ll always try and plan our trips to account for a slower pace. That’s often how we discovered these amazing motorcycle roads in Europe.

How to navigate on a motorcycle

Navigating on a motorbike is tough without a map. Many people use their phone, and that works fine, but it will use your phone battery, which can be a problem if you get into trouble.

Instead, invest in a proper motorcycle sat nav OR take a backup power source for your phone so you can top up the power.

Where will you stay?

The cheapest option when motorcycle touring is to wild camp with a tent. This is possible in many places, particularly if you are far from civilisation.

However, after a long day riding, do you REALLY want to pitch a tent? Especially if you’re tired/ cold/ wet? How will you dry your gear? How will you make food?

If all that sounds terrifying and far too much like hard work, use hotels/ B & Bs. You can book these in advance if you wish, but remember that for every one you book, you are then locked in to making that stop. So if you see something you’d like to explore, or you have a breakdown or problem, you’re on a deadline.

And if you miss one stop, the rest of the trip is likely to be a problem too. That’s why many motorcycle tourers make it up as they go- finding places on the move. This is great, but remember you’ll need to stop a little earlier to give yourself time to find somewhere to stay.

Where is the best place to go touring on a motorcycle?

Ohhh, tough question. We’ve spent most of the past few years exploring Europe by motorcycle. We’ve also had the pleasure of riding to Key West in Florida (that was epic!) and we’ve booked in to do part of Route 66 and the Grand Canyon in 2022. So far, here are some of our favourite motorcycling roads in Europe.

If you’d like to know more about touring in a particular country, you might find these posts useful:

We’ll add more specific guides to motorcycle touring as we get time to create them!

Motorcycle touring- More tips and tricks

Here are some other things to remember/ consider:

  • Being able to do your own motorcycle checks and basic maintenance on the road is essential.
  • If solo motorcycle touring, be sure to share your location on ‘Find a Friend’ so someone close can track you
  • Carry snacks and water- just in case
  • DON’T plan to ride everyday. Allow time to explore and enjoy the adventure. As a rule, one day off for every 3 riding.
  • If you have a motorcycle sat nav, make sure you carry power supply.
  • Take a balaclava/ neck gaiter- it will help keep the wind off your neck which will help you feel warmer when temperatures drop. (If you’re looking for a gift for a female motorcycle rider, these are a perfect present idea.)
  • Arrange your luggage so that it’s balanced, but also so that you put the things most frequently needed near the top/ easily accessible so you don’t need to take your luggage off every time you stop. Also, keep your passport/ wallet/ essentials in a small back so you can take it with you into a rest stop/ cafe instead of leaving it on your bike.

Motorcycle touring complete guide- everything you need to plan your motorbike travel have an epic motorcycle touring road trip
Motorcycle touring complete guide- everything you need to plan your motorbike travel have an epic motorcycle touring road trip

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