The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring

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The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring

The roar of the wind, the views of the world going by, and the thump of the motorbike engine, the road ahead and you. There is an immense amount of romantic freedom and solitude that travelling by motorbike offers. Even if you’re riding with your buddies, the moment when you’re on the saddle, it’s just you alone with your thoughts. If you’ve always fantasized about travelling the distant places on a motorbike but didn’t know how or couldn’t do it, then read on. Here’s the best beginner’s motorcycle touring guide for you to get you started.

I started touring on motorbikes more than a decade ago. In the beginning, I didn’t even know how to ride a bike. It was just the love of the road and unknown places. In fact, even after buying my motorbike, I couldn’t ride it properly for a year and a half or something. So I let my friends ride it while I was happy being a pillion. However, as time passed by I gained enough skills and confidence and in 2011, I went on my first solo ride to Ladakh. A week after returning from the ride, I resigned from work. And 6 years later, here I am having travelled with my Beauty in Red in the barren lands of Kutch to the mountains and rice paddies of North Vietnam.

So, if you have never ridden a motorbike, but still dream of riding mountains and deserts and everything in between, rest assured, it’ll happen. All you need is to put in efforts

Why go on a long distance motorbiking tour?

The reasons to go on a motorbiking road trip are many. But the biggest of them for me is getting to see a place up close, personal and an opportunity to see a lot more. Where ever in the world you might be, when it comes to travelling we’re always off to famous places, unmissable landmarks and monuments. But there is a whole wide world between your home and let’s say the city you always wanted to visit. When you catch a flight, you miss all that in the blink of an eye. But while road tripping, you have to put long miles behind. And the sights, smells and souls that you experience on your journey are equally incredible. If you’re the one who believes that a journey matters more than the destination, then you should go take a tour on two wheels at least once in your life.

Besides, it helps you in shedding the excess baggage that’s been pulling you down. With a limit on what you can carry on two wheels, you start realising there’s so much that you don’t need. Also, you get to go off the beaten path both literally and figuratively. If you plan your trip well enough you’ll find that you don’t want to end. You’d want to take a detour every time it presents itself.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Go riding for vistas like this

Getting Started

Needless to say, the first thing you need to do is to learn to ride a bike. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know how to ride a bike even when I purchased mine. But slowly I started with riding it around my neighbourhood. Then commuted every day to my office, to visit my friends and short rides out of the city. Learn how to ride, how to break gently, how to brake hard but without crashing. Learn how to manoeuvre in traffic.

And get more confident with a shot of fear that comes over you when some stupid car or truck drivers zips past close to you without giving two hoots about your safety. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to put yourself in that lane. But once in a while there will always be a driver who’ll get too close to your comfort too fast. And it’s scary. Even after years of riding I still get chills down my spine when a bigger vehicle overtakes me too fast and too close from the wrong side. And chances are you will experience the same. All I’m saying is get used to it.

Also get used to long periods of time on the saddle. And always to have eyes on the road without ever getting distracted. You need to prepare yourself mentally and physically for motorcycle touring. So don’t be in a hurry, and take that time until you start feeling confident before you start travelling.

Recommended motorbikes for touring

Well, this goes around a lot. In fact, when I tell random people that I travel by motorbike as much as possible, the first question I get is, “Which bike do you have?” Frankly speaking, it doesn’t matter. I have been riding my Honda Unicorn for the past 10 years now. And when in ‘Nam I had a rusty, put together fake Honda Win with which I went motorbiking in North Vietnam. And I’ve had friends who’ve had worse bikes than mine and yet managed to ride long distances and year.

Of course, some bikes are better than other for touring. If I had money, I’d buy a good cruiser. But then on second thoughts, I might not, because I love my current bike way too much. Also, I don’t think I would be able to handle the weight of such heavyweight motorbikes.

Get a motorbike which you feel comfortable with. I’ve never ridden a horse, but I’ve heard about riders developing a relationship with their steeds. The same goes motorcycles. Buy one which suits your riding style, your pockets and most importantly you.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
My bike that I christened as “Beauty in Red’

Packing for motorcycle touring

Unlike road tripping in your car, motorcycle touring presents a different challenge. You don’t have the luxury of a large car trunk to put all things you don’t need. Therefore you have to pick and choose what you can take with you. My advice is a pair of clothes to wear while riding under all the gear. And 3 pair of clothes for non-riding time.

Also developing a packing system is important. Divide your stuff into two sets. One which you’ll need while riding. Say water, snacks, registration and insurance papers, phone and money. These should be quickly accessible and can go in a small backpack or a tank bag. The second set can be saddle bags – the one you can only access at the end of the day This can be your clothes, toiletries, camping gear or whatever else you think you need only once you’re done riding for the day. You can find more detailed motorcycle touring packing tips here.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Packing Model for Motorcycle Touring

Recommended Gear

While I recommend cutting down on baggage on your motorbiking tour, there’s some that I strongly advise you to have at hand. You might not need them if you are travelling by air, trains, buses or even if you are road tripping in your car. But these are a must when on a ride.

First of all is the riding safety gear. Get a helmet, protective riding jacket, pants, gloves and a good pair of boots. Make sure they’re CE certified. Most countries don’t have any set of safety standards for such gear. But European certifications of CE1 or CE2 are the best. The gear goes through rigorous tests and therefore you can be assured when you crash, the impact on your body will be minimum.

At some stage or the other, everyone falls off a bike. And the safety gear is your best bet against such events. The helmet will keep your head safe. The gloves will protect your palms when you try to catch your fall with your hands. The armour in the jacket will absorb the impact when you hit the tarmac. Something similar goes for riding pants and riding shoes.

However, no safety gear can help you if you don’t ride safely. Don’t take unnecessary risks trying to cut corners or race someone. Remember that you’re not on a GP track nor are you a racer.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Safety Gear is extremely important

Route planning

It’s important to have a plan when you go riding a motorbike for a few days. While visiting cities or popular places, you are assured knowing where to get food, water or a bed for the night. But riding the highways and country roads you don’t have that comfort. Therefore it becomes important that you research well ahead and have a clear idea of your route and all the challenges that’ll come along.

Ask yourself,

  • if there are enough hotels/motels/BnBs/ on your route or will you have to camp a few nights?
  • How frequent are the gas station along the way?
  • Do the locals speak your language?
  • What are the road and weather conditions like? Are there some roadworks going on when you plan to ride? Will it rain or snow or be sunny?
  • Does the highway have proper internet and phone connectivity?

You don’t need to have a day to day plan. But I highly recommend getting to know as much as you can about the area you’ll be riding.

Even if you have a detailed day by day plan, be prepared for something that might not go smoothly. These things happen when on the road. A flat tire on a deserted highway and you’ll realise you’ve lost a couple of riding hours. So you can’t watch that sunset from that mountain that you were planning to. Don’t be disheartened when that happens. Enjoy as much as is within your control. There are so many things that you have no control over. Make the best of what is.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Is your route something like this?

Group vs Solo rides

For starters I suggest going for a few group rides before you go riding alone. If you don’t have any friends who’re into riding, find a motorcycle group/club around you. Most of them have some rides planned every weekend or month for the members. It’s a great way to meet new people and also some experienced riders and learn from them. Many of members of such clubs might look like some gang members, but in all fairness, they’re really nice people. All they want to do is travel by their motorbike. There’s this image portrayed by media about them being dysfunctional personalities or badasses, but they’re pretty chill.

However, while riding in groups it becomes important to set a system and makes sure everyone follow the rules with regards to riding. this helps in avoiding delays, ride being smooth and having help at hand when needed.

At the same time, solo riding can be immense fun. Provided you take necessary precautions there’s nothing stopping from riding where you want and when you want. Here are few tips for going on a solo motorbike ride

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Group rides can be fun

Going on your first long-distance ride

Going on that first ride is exciting, to say the least. I remember when I travelled Mumbai to Goa by road, I couldn’t sleep the previous night because of the excitement of leaving next morning. It’s pretty normal to have those butterflies in the stomach. But as soon as you’re a few hours into the ride, they’ll all disappear.

If you’ve prepared well enough, there’s nothing to worry. If you keep the head on your shoulders and a helmet on your head then everything will turn out to be great. There’s a joy to riding into the unknown and coming back to tell the stories. Make every moment count. Take pictures, talk to locals, devour the regional delicacies and sleep well at night. And keep your family and finds informed of your whereabouts. And when you return, it’ll be heroes welcome.

Everyone will want to listen to your stories and share your experiences. Take the time to have a chat with them about it. And maybe you’ll motivate them enough to join you on your next trip.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Somewhere along the Konkan Coast.

Useful tips

As you might have understood by now, as much freedom that travelling on a motorbike seems to give, there’s a lot of planning and precautions that go into it. There is a reason people call this activity an adventurous one. There are risks involved when on a saddle. And therefore it becomes essential that you do as much as possible to keep yourself safe. Sleep and eat well. Take scheduled breaks ever so often. Hydrate well. Don’t drink and ride. The list goes one. Here are some more tips for motorbiking tours.

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring
Take a break from riding

As somebody who’s travelled a lot my humble motorbike, I urge you to give it a try. I’ll give you an analogy. Remember when you were 6 years old or something and learnt how to ride a bicycle. You couldn’t wait to get on it an away. Remember that feeling of the wind hitting your face. And how free it made you feel. Riding a motorbike is exactly like that. In fact, you can use the above tips to even go on your cycling tour for that matter. So pack your bags, put on that jacket and those gloves and go already. You won’t regret it.

Venkat Ganesh
Last Updated : Jan 15,2021
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