It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting others influence our minds. And whilst that’s fine for the majority of things, it isn’t okay when it comes to adventure motorcycling.
Yes, it’s an adventure. Unexpected events will crop up. Things will go wrong. Your bike will break. You might hurt yourself. You have to expect the unexpected because that’s all part and parcel of an adventure!
But the internet is awash with articles and videos of people reminding us that it’s an adventure. And they say things like:
“You don’t need a plan, it’s an adventure!”
“You don’t need a GPS.”
“All you need is your phone.”
“Don’t treat it like a military operation. It’s supposed to be fun!”
Well, I disagree.
And as someone who’s spent a lot of time lost, injured, and dehydrated on trails and up mountains, I can tell you the advice above is absolute bullshit!
Ignore the 7 adventure motorcycling tips below at your peril!
1. Adventure Motorcycling: Know The Terrain
Adventure motorcycling is all about exploration. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave your hotel in the morning with no clue where you’re going. You can still have an itinerary.
I’ve been on trails that were fine for the first two or three miles. But then the climbs got steeper, narrower, and more technical.
The trails become impossible, but you don’t have the space to turn around. And even if you could, you’re not sure you could get back up the hills you’ve just come down.
You’re forced to carry on. And as fatigue sets in, you start to drop your bike. The water runs out, your bike is battered, and you’re not entirely sure where you are.
Darkness is setting in, and you’re starting to get concerned. But you can’t go forwards, and you can’t turn around.
Do Your Research
Know the trails you intend to ride that day. Check them on Google Maps or Google Earth. Zoom in on satellite mode and get a feel for the terrain.
Is it hilly or rocky? Are there rivers or streams nearby that you can follow (or even get water from if the worst comes to the worst?)
Does the trail lead to a town?
How about fuel? Can you tank up at the other side to come back again? And is there an alternative road route that you can come back on if the trail is particularly dangerous to do again?
Knowing the terrain allows you to plan for the rest of the day, as well as the kit you may need.
Finally, take a paper map with you just in case and highlight the trail. Don’t make the rookie mistake of relying solely on your smartphone.
2. Adventure Motorcycling: Take A Buddy
I’ve been stupid enough to ride some really dodgy trails on my own in the past. And it’s all good until something goes wrong. Which invariably, it does.
When the unexpected happens, being alone can be demoralising, if not downright dangerous.
Having a buddy allows you to share the load. You can help pick each other’s bikes up after the inevitable spills. Doing everything between you helps to conserve energy.
You can share each other’s water, food, and snacks.
If there is a breakdown, two heads are almost always better than one.
But it’s not just practical things. It’s the comfort that comes with not being alone. When you start to tire, the other is there to pick up the pieces.
And an hour later, you can return the favour when your mate has a meltdown after dropping their bike for the 35th time.
Splitting the responsibilities and the burdens makes a huge difference. As does the effects on morale.
3. Adventure Motorcycling: Take The Appropriate Bike
If you’re on a technical trail in the deep, dark Pyrenees, the last thing you need is a 270kg GS Adventure.
I’m not saying that you (or the bike) are incapable. But I am saying that it’s easier on a smaller bike that weighs 130kg lighter!
On technical trails, the scree and the rocks will throw you off.
Mud will pull your front wheel from beneath you or drag your rear end out as it fights for traction.
You will fall off.
Again. And again. And again.
Picking your bike up saps your energy. And it could even injure you.
Taking a lighter bike makes negotiating the trails a million times easier. And picking it up after the countless spills is far more preferable.
Related: Adventure Bikes: Are There Cheaper Alternatives?
4. Adventure Motorcycling: Prepare
The very nature of adventure motorcycling is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. So it makes sense to prepare for every eventuality you can think of.
I’m not saying you should pack everything you own. But you should certainly pack items that will get you out of any sticky situation.
Take twice as much water as you think you’ll need. And when you check the terrain (above), make a note of any rivers, streams, becks, or waterfalls.
Taking a filtration system such as this one means you can carry less water and fill up on the move. It also means you have a water source if something drastic happens and you end up being there overnight.
Check out this post on how to maintain optimum hydration whilst adventure motorcycling.
The same goes for food. Don’t just take a Snickers bar because you expect the trail to take you three hours. It might end up taking six hours. Or nine. It might end up taking an entire day!
Take high-calorie foods that will sustain you if the shit hits the fan.
If you’re camping, take the tent with you. Yes, it’s more stuff for you to carry. But if the worst comes to the worse, at least you’ll have somewhere to bed down for the night to ride out the harsh elements.
5. Adventure Motorcycling: Pay Attention To The Weather
If you’re touring in the height of summer, you can expect to get baking hot on technical trails. You won’t be moving all that fast, and airflow and ventilation will be at a minimum.
And whilst you need to be protected against falls, you also don’t want to overheat and cause yourself serious damage by contributing to the effects of dehydration.
Not only this, but it’s just so uncomfortable!
Take a look at the weather before you set off. If it’s forecast to be a hot day, wear ventilated clothing and take way more water than you think you’ll need.
Don’t Carry Everything
If hot weather is expected, don’t try to carry everything on your body.
I know it’s tempting to put stuff in your pockets rather than risk destabilising your bike with a top box or roll bag.
But carrying it all weighs you down and contributes to the development of heat. It restricts ventilation, makes you uncomfortable, and adds to personal fatigue.
And finally, if you’re expecting a hot day, don’t set off at midday!
Take the hit, get up early, and be at the trail at dawn.
If the trail should take three hours, get there at 6 am. If all goes to plan, you’ll be done by 9 am, right before the heat intensifies.
Related: Hard vs Soft Luggage
6. Adventure Motorcycling: Preventative Maintenance
Don’t waste your evening getting drunk in your hotel if you know you’re hitting the trails the following morning.
By all means, have some downtime, enjoy a beer and eat some good food. But adventure motorcycling requires preventative maintenance of your bike.
If you know you have a wobbly footpeg, sort it out before you go for dinner. If your clutch is slipping, change it out or tighten the cable.
The same goes for tyre pressures. Do you need softer or harder tyres where you’re going? Use this time to ensure the correct tyre pressures for when you get to the trail.
This is especially true if you are aware of pre-existing, minor issues. Don’t wait for them to break because I guarantee they’ll break at the most inopportune time!
Take preventative measures by fixing your bike in the warm evening sunlight whilst enjoying a bottle of local beer.
Related: Do You Really Need A Motorcycle Touring Toolkit?
Fuel & Fluids
Finally, know where your fuel stops are and how long the trail is.
If you know you’ll need a full tank of fuel to ride the trail, don’t arrive with half a tank! Take the time in the evening to fill up and be ready for the morning.
Use this time to lube and tension the chain, give the bike a hose down, or top-up fluids at the fuel station.
7. Adventure Motorcycling: Have A Communications Plan
I know it sounds tempting to simply ride towards the sun; you can do this on a tarmac tour, but you can’t get away with it when it comes to adventure motorcycling.
It’s all too easy to think your smartphone will be enough.
And whilst it might be enough, it probably won’t be.
A two-way communicator (such as a Garmin InReach) allows global communication. Not only can you send and receive messages, but you can track and share your route.
If this isn’t enough, you can also trigger an SOS beacon to get help from a 24/7 global emergency response centre.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be as serious as this.
Let your other half know where you are going, and leave them a copy of your route.
This alone could go a long way to them finding you if something goes wrong.
Keep Comms On Your Person
Speaking of which, keep your emergency comms on your person – not on your bike. If you have an accident and break your leg, you may not be able to get to your bike to retrieve the comms system.
Keeping it on your person means you can contact the outside world if you’re unable to move.
Lastly, consider a helmet headset that allows rider-to-rider communication. Safety is increased if riders can warn each other of hazards such as deep water, mud, or rocks.
Two-way comms allow riders to share that they need a break or want a rest. Not only this, but it allows morale to flow when fatigue is setting in, and energy is dwindling.
Adventure Motorcycling: Conclusion
Whilst it’s tempting to succumb to the romantic nature of going where the wind takes you, adventure motorcycling requires proper planning and preparation.
Keep these 7 tips in mind when you’re next heading out on the trails!
- Know your terrain,
- Go with at least one riding buddy,
- Take the appropriate bike for the trail,
- Prepare with enough water, food, and gear,
- Pay attention to the weather,
- Preventative maintenance of your bike,
- Have a communications plan.