I went for my first motorbiking tour in the year 2003. From being just a pillion rider then, I have come a long way today. I find it hard to believe that for almost a year and a half after I bought my bike I did not know how to ride it. And in all these years there have been memories, experiences, and learnings – good, bad as well as ugly.
I travel a lot even when I’m not on a saddle, putting miles of tarmac behind me. However, my style of travel when I go for a motorbiking trip it is very different from when I’m wandering with just a backpack. The difference lies in planning. How well you prepare for a ride determines how much you’re going to enjoy your journey.
- 1 Always Wear a Helmet
- 2 Ride with Proper Gear.
- 3 Service Your Bike
- 4 Maintain an Optimal Riding Speed
- 5 Set a daily ride schedule
- 6 Set a Budget and Stick to It
- 7 Carry a spare key
- 8 Carry all the paperwork
- 9 Pack light and Pack right!
- 10 Avoid riding at night
- 11 Take regular breaks
- 12 Eat and drink right
- 13 Be prepared for weather
- 14 Have enough cash
- 15 Stop when you need to use GPS (or phone)
- 16 Make friends along the way
- 17 Enjoy the ride
When I’m backpacking, I just let things happen instead of spending things pre-trip planning. Even while I’m on my travels I wake up in the morning with no clue to what I’m going to do on that day. If I do any pre-trip activities it is restricted to buying a ticket and (if I’m travelling abroad) looking up the visa formalities. In contrast, be it a weekend ride or a month-long ride in North Vietnam, there are a few things I always do. So here are a 17 motorcycle touring tips and tricks to make your ride a super smooth one.
Always Wear a Helmet
I’m a huge believer in the motto ‘Safety first’. Irrespective of whether you’re going to the neighbourhood market to pick some groceries up or a ride lasting the entire summer, you should always wear a helmet. Do not wear it because the law requires you to. Do not wear it because I am telling you to. Wear it for yourself. And for your family and friends who care.
Invest in a good helmet. Do not buy a cheap one to save a few bucks. They’re not going to be much help if, God forbid, you crash. Try out different helmets to see the one that is right and don’t forget to fasten the straps.
A couple of must know pointers would be - Helmets need to be full-faced. There are half faced helmets that look cool but that jaw won’t be smiling in case you suffer a fall. Choose one that fits you well. Too loose a helmet will offer little protection. Too tight will result in discomfort, painful earlobes and so on. Always keep your visor clean. All that dust and grime that settles on the visor as you ride will affect your visibility
Ride with Proper Gear.
Invest in protective riding gear like biking jacket, pants, knee guards, riding shoes and protective gloves if you are a frequent rider. All the protective gear must be CE approved. Ensure that the clothing you wear gives you some kind of protection too.
Check if the riding gear provides you protection natural elements. Is it waterproof or water-resistant? Does it have a liner to shield you against cold winds? Motorcycling apparel manufacturers are constantly improving products and features. When buying gear looks for fit, comfort, durability and style.
If you can’t get the gear (for whatever reasons) wear full sleeved t-shirts or hoodies & full-length trousers and a good pair of boots or riding shoes. I’ve seen too many riders in SE Asia riding in tank-tops, shorts and flip-flops. And when they fall (and they do because they feel invincible on a bike) the injuries look ugly. Although most of the injuries are minor cuts and bruises and abrasion, it hurts bad and for a long afterwards when your skin kisses the tarmac.
Service Your Bike
Long-distance motorcycle touring will demand not only a lot from you as a rider but also from your machine. When riding to remote places any fault with the mechanics is not the thing you want. Finding a service centre or even a decent mechanic may be a task in itself. Avoid it. Get your bike serviced.
At regular intervals, you should always keep an eye on clutch plates, Air filter spark/spark plug, Clutch/Accelerator/Brake cables, Tires, Oil levels and get them replaced when needed. These are essential to a long and healthy life of your steed.
While other checks that I recommend for a motorbike touring are
-Suspension: If you are riding to some remote locations chances are the roads might be very bumpy and will take a toll on the luggage as well as your behind
-Wheel alignment: A misaligned wheel will affect your control on the bike and resulting in a disasterTire pressure: Very important for the bike to get a good grip on the road and ensuring a smooth ride as well.
-Tire pressure: Very important for the bike to get a good grip on the road and ensuring a smooth ride as well.
Maintain an Optimal Riding Speed
This is a case of discretion. Ride at a speed which you are comfortable with and most importantly will have complete control of the machine. Personally, I find a speed of 55-65 km an hour an ideal one. It works perfectly for me. Within, I can very well control the bike in case of sudden need to apply brakes, and at the same time enjoy the views on the road. I also end up in covering a good amount of distance at the end of the day.
You’ll sometimes encounter a hot head on the road trying to challenge you to a race or simply piss you off with his speed. Do not ride to crush his ego. You might end up crashing your head.
Set a daily ride schedule
Schedule your ride to start early and end early. Early in the morning, you are fresh and raring to go and as the day passes you by fatigue will start to set in. Start at 7 am, after a cup of coffee and a fruit or biscuits, ride until 9 and have breakfast. Have a light lunch around 12-1pm and start your last leg of the day to end it at around 4-5 pm. Ensure that you keep yourself well hydrated by drink plenty of water as many times as possible. The sun, dust, pollution takes a toll on your system. Cool it off by drinking water on an hourly basis.
One benefit of winding up early is that you have enough time to search around for a place to stay at end of day’s ride. You can look for few hotels before deciding to stay in one and bargain hard as well. That won’t be the case if you find yourself at the hotel reception at 10 at night. At that time you’re more susceptible to paying a higher price instead of going hunting for a better deal.
Also reaching your destination for the day at 4-5pm will help you roam around the town, enjoy some local street food, have a conversation with the locals and still have time for a good 6-8 hour sleep which is essential for long distance touring.
Set a Budget and Stick to It
Keeping a track of your budget will help you go a long way. Both, literally and figuratively. Set a daily budget for your motorbiking trip and stick to it. The main expenses on the road will be fuel, food, and shelter. Divide your budget into 3 parts in a ratio of 2:1:1, 2 parts for fuel, 1 part each for food and shelter or a ratio that suits your ride.
Cut expenses wherever possible but do not go to extremes of putting yourself in discomfort to save a few bucks. Eat at local food joints. Avoid buying packaged drinking water and instead, ask the staff at the place where you eat to fill your water bottle with hot water. If you are a part of riding community or groups, a fellow rider would be eager to help by sharing a place to crash or inviting you for a meal. Accept that and be grateful to them!
Carry a spare key
Okay, let me rephrase that. Carry a spare key and hide it somewhere on the bike. There’s always a chance that you lose your key. Maybe it fell out of your pocket when you were looking for some spare change and you can’t find it. Maybe it fell in the toilet and got flushed down. Don’t ask how that is possible. It is!!. And now you’re down some remote backcountry roads where the last mechanic or garage was 30 km behind you. It is at times like this that your spare key which you taped under the motorbike seat (or somewhere else) comes in handy
Carry all the paperwork
Make 2 copies of your insurance, registration, driving license and any other documents that you may need. Usually, most bikes have a small compartment where you can tuck the papers, first aid, and small tools. Put the first set of copies on the bike and the second with your daypack. If you’re riding to some remote areas which require a permit, research all the info about how to get that permit. And carry that too.
I’ve always experienced that when on a long distance motorcycling tour, I get pulled over more often than usual. I think it’s more because of curiosity than anything else. And cops have usually been very friendly once they’re done inspecting the paperwork. They want to know about my ride and always have advice about how the road conditions are ahead. But if I wouldn’t have had the paperwork, I’m highly doubtful they’d have been so helpful
Pack light and Pack right!
Avoid overpacking. You don’t need that 3 different sunglasses or 4 different scarves that match your 7 pairs of shoes. Not only do all of these take up a lot of space. You’ll spend a lot of time packing and unpack it every day. Instead just have 3 t-shirts/shirts ,& 3 jeans/trousers . One pair of clothes to wear while riding, One to wear when you call it a day and another pair just in case. Same goes for undergarments. Similarly, avoid carrying huge bottles of toiletries or makeup. Use smaller containers. These days except for the most remote areas, you get soaps and shampoos almost everywhere
Avoid riding at night
Riding at night can be fun. I’ve done it and I’ve enjoyed those rides a lot. However, I also know when to avoid it. If I’m riding solo, I never ride after the sun goes down. Riding at night becomes very difficult, especially because the number of people who don’t know how to use their headlight. The number of people using high beam lights on the highways is staggering. And when you have those beams hitting you right in the face, it becomes almost impossible to see anything.
Another thing to think about. It’s 2 in the morning and you’re on some dark and lonely highway. And unfortunately, you have a flat tyre. What do you do?. I’m not saying, it’s impossible to get the situation sorted. But it definitely makes the situation a lot more complicated than you expect.
Take regular breaks
Taking regular breaks is essential to avoid fatigue and injury as well. The frequency and the duration of the breaks will, of course, depend on your endurance, road conditions, and the weather as well. Usually, I take a 5-minute break every 60km or every hour of riding. Whichever is earlier. I get off the bike, drink some water, stretch my body and walk a few paces before hitting the road again.
And not just breaks while riding, you should plan for days of no riding at all. I take at least a day of no riding at all for every 3 days of riding. But you can suit yourself based on your ride plan.
Eat and drink right
Riding motorbikes for long periods of time can be exhausting. It might feel like you’re just sitting but trust me, at the end of the day you’re quite tired. Therefore keeping yourself healthy, nourished and hydrated is extremely important. While riding, I avoid foods that I know will lead me to food coma ;). Usually, I just have a light lunch instead of full sit down multi-course meal.
And though I drink lots of water and juices through the day, I avoid alcohol when I know I have to ride the next morning. I can’t even imagine let alone ride with a hangover. And needless to say, don’t drink and ride.
Be prepared for weather
While planning for a ride, do take into account the weather along the route that you’ll be. The skies have a mysterious and unfunny way of spoiling your plans when you’re least expecting it. Better keep an eye out. If you’re gonna be riding in the rain, make sure you have the gear to protect you and your pack. Also, remember weather is more inconsistent in hilly areas. While the valley might be nice and sunny when you start at foothills, by the time you’re close to the top of a mountain pass, the visibility might be down to a few meters.
Have enough cash
Although, it is inconvenient to carry cash, have enough of it. Some stores, restaurants or hotels might not accept the particular card you’re carrying. Also in some parts of the world, cards are still not a popular form of payment. Or some are too remote for any kind of internet or telephone connectivity.
Stop when you need to use GPS (or phone)
So you feel that you’re not riding on the right path or maybe you missed a turn. And you start fidgetting with your GPS instrument trying to get on the right track. All the while continuing to ride. Stop right there. Don’t fidget with your phone or your music player or your navigation device. And when you want to pull over by the side of the road, get your playlist sorted or answer that call. Once done, continue riding. When you’re riding your complete attention should be on the road to avoid any accident or injury.
Make friends along the way
Always be nice to people you meet along the road. Be it the staff and owner of the hotel or BnB you’re staying at or some fellow rider. The locals along the highway always know the road conditions better and are up to date. At the same time, they also have immense knowledge about the local history, culture and information on not so popular places yet incredibly wonderful.
Enjoy the ride
There will be times when the road conditions are terrible. Or the things might not go according to the plan. There is no use in feeling upset about it. Learn to go with the flow and enjoying every bit of life on the road. So what if you had a flat tyre? Get it sorted and ride on. Don’t keep ranting about how that made you miss the sunset. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to better your mechanical skills on the road. There is no point in going on a motorcycling tour if you can’t enjoy yourself.
Traveling by motorbiking can be great fun. It provides you with a lot of flexibility and scope to take than the road less travelled and to discover something new. But that freedom and opportunity are only available if you put in efforts to plan your motorbiking trip. So make those extra efforts and invest that time and you’ll come back from a great ride and eager to go on the next one. Happy riding!
Have I missed anything? Is there anything else that you do before you ride? Or do you still have some more questions?
Leave a comment and let’s have a chat