Last updated: 7 December 2022
Long-distance motorcycling isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not for most people.
But there will come a day when you’re touring, and you have no choice but to cover a monster day of 400 or 500 miles. It might be even more miles (if you’re really unlucky) – or for consecutive days.
There are two sides to this coin that you need to consider if you know you have a few massive riding days coming up: Efficiency and Comfort.
In this post, we’ll go through both elements relating to long-distance motorcycling.
1. Build Stamina For Long-Distance Motorcycling (Pre-Tour)
If the extent of your usual riding week consists of a 40-mile blast on a Sunday morning, you’d be pushing your luck jumping straight into a long-distance tour.
Like everything else in life, you need to build up to it. Start by riding 50 miles and work your way up to a hundred. Then try 150. And 200, and so on, until you can comfortably cover a fair distance in a single day.
Practice allows you to acclimatise to long-distance motorcycling. But it also allows you to test out various luggage options, so you know what works for you in the real world.
2. Refine Your Long-Distance Motorcycling Set-Up (Pre-Tour)
Most people don’t go on Sunday morning rides with full kit. If you’re not used to riding with full luggage, it’s well worth getting used to the feel of your bike when it has panniers, a top box and a roll bag.
Consider riding with luggage whilst building up your stamina with ever-increasing distances (above). Not only will this allow you to get used to the feeling of riding with a fully-ladened bike, but it will also allow you to refine your set-up.
Use these practice rides to try different configurations. Find out if you prefer a tank bag or a tail pack. Try riding with your top box and a waist belt to see what works best for you.
3. Improve Your Riding Fitness (Pre-Tour)
Riding fitness is one of the most overlooked factors of long-distance motorcycling. But it’s so important that I even posted a dedicated article here.
As mentioned above, long-distance motorcycling is incredibly taxing both physically and mentally. So in the months leading up to your tour, try to get in relatively good shape.
Nobody is saying you have to be able to run a marathon or enter the Iron Man competition. But good cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance will stand you in good stead for long-distance motorcycling.
Decent fitness levels let you complete long-distance trips safely by helping you maintain focus and concentration. Plus, you’ll have enough energy to enjoy your destination once you get there!
4. Implement Your Long-Distance Motorcycling Set-Up (On Tour)
Okay, so you’ve tried some different luggage configurations (above). And you know exactly what works best for you.
Now (for the actual trip), you need to make sure you pack your kit optimally so you have everything you might need to hand. And I’d definitely recommend a checklist. Or if you’re camping, here is one from Bikers Rights.
Note: There’s nothing worse than arriving at a border crossing only to realise your passport is at the bottom of your roll bag! Ensure anything you might need is stored in a place that is easily accessible.
5. Look At The Bigger Picture
It’s easy to go into meltdown when the shit hits the fan. But don’t worry. All is not lost!
Firstly, get your map out (be it a physical one or on your phone), and look over your route. Find where you are and where you need to be. Calculate the miles.
From here, have a look at simple changes. When long-distance motorcycling, the little changes make the biggest differences to the overall route. So, for example:
- Can you swap out any scenic roads for motorways/highways?
- Avoid notoriously difficult roads or mountain passes.
- Are there any clear shortcuts you can take?
- Toll roads are a drag, but in these scenarios, the extra expense is often worth it.
6. Long-Distance Motorcycling = Early Starts
Getting up earlier is one of the easiest ways to cover more miles in a day.
Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a morning person. I like to get up at 8am, have some coffee, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and maybe then (after another coffee), I might consider getting on my bike.
But by this point, it’s 10am. By the time I’ve packed, it’s 11am, and half of the day (literally) has gone.
If you need to transit, get up early. Get up (and set off) in the dark, if necessary. This will give you a fighting chance of covering as many miles as possible in daylight hours.
Also, I have always found that I cover more miles in the morning than in the afternoon and evening.
In the morning, I’m fresh and enthusiastic about my day. In the afternoon, fatigue starts to set in. I slow down and lack the drive to forge ahead as I did in the morning.
7. Plan Smarter Breaks For Long-Distance Motorcycling
Many people separate fuel stops, lunch breaks, coffee breaks and general ‘stretching’ breaks. But if you’re transiting, plan breaks where you can do all of the above in one place.
Motorway service stations are excellent for making time-sensitive breaks.
Make it a priority to refuel, eat/drink, go to the toilet and stretch your legs all within the shortest time possible.
Bonus tip: Don’t drag out your breaks. The longer you’re off the bike, the less you want to get back on it. Keep them short to maintain that touring mentality and momentum.
8. Eat Little And Often
It’s so tempting to chow down on that massive lunch when you’re starving and have been riding all morning.
And yes, I know that big glass of ice-cold beer looks appetising whilst you’re basking in the sunshine.
But the heavy meal and the beer will leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Save them for your evening meal.
Instead, eat small but healthy meals and wash them down with copious amounts of water.
9. Stay Hydrated
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping hydrated. Don’t underestimate how much water you will go through on a bike.
Often, we tour in hot climates. And on top of that, we’re sat on top of a burning hot engine.
You’ll be sweating more than usual, and that water needs to be replaced.
9.1. Replacing Electrolytes
In hot climates, it’s not uncommon to go through five or six litres of water (or even more.)
If you’re drinking enough water to keep hydrated, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself lacking in salts.
Make sure you replace those salts with soluble tablets or the occasional electrolyte-rich drink.
9.2. Hydration Packs For Long-Distance Motorcycling
The easiest way to keep hydrated when long-distance motorcycling is with a hydration pack.
Get yourself a 2L hydration pack, fill it up, and sip on it every 10-15 minutes to keep those fluids topped up.
Drink water during your breaks, and don’t forget to re-fill the hydration pack for each leg of your journey.
10. The Hare & The Tortoise
The optimal way to cover distance is by maintaining a consistent speed.
I see many riders who are aggressive on the throttle (and equally aggressive on the brakes) when they reach a bend in the road.
The quickest riders are those who maintain a steady but consistent speed all day long. Not only is consistency quicker, but it’s safer, more fuel-efficient, sustainable over longer distances, and less tiring.
The same can be said with breaks. Don’t ride hard for an hour and then have a break for an hour because you’re tired.
Bank time by riding consistently for longer. And then team that up with shorter, more time-efficient breaks.
11. Choose Your Riding Buddie(s) Wisely
You really don’t want to be transiting with riding buddies who don’t share your riding style. It’s hard to make up time if your riding buddy wants to stop every half an hour.
On top of this, if you want to make up time (but your buddy wants to stop every 30 minutes), this will lead to arguments and disagreements. Whatever you do, don’t ride mad!
For this reason, I usually choose to ride alone.
If you’re planning on long-distance motorcycling by yourself, try these posts:
12. Caffeine And Long-Distance Motorcycling
Caffeine can be a wonderful thing, but it’s worth drinking it wisely. If you usually abstain from caffeine, you will get a real hit from an espresso if you have one when you’re really beginning to fatigue.
However, don’t drink too much!
Caffeine (for me, at least) acts in the same way as sugar or alcohol. I get an initial surge of energy, but my mood dips significantly if I have too much. Then I get sleepy and irritable.
For this reason, space your caffeine hits out throughout the day. Allow a good few hours between drinks so you can get the energising effects from it without the diminishing effects of having too much.
13. Wear The Right Gear
Having the appropriate gear for the conditions makes all the difference. If you can keep warm, ventilated, cool and dry, you’re on to a winner!
Being able to swap out gloves also helps if you have room in your top box.
If you can buy riding gear that is waterproof and breathable, all the better! If not, ensure your waterproof gear is accessible so you can put it on quickly if the weather turns ugly.
Here’s a decent list of gear-related posts if you’d like to explore further:
- 10 Best Gore-Tex Motorcycle Boots (Men’s & Women’s)
- Furygan Adventure Suit Review: 5,000 Miles In The Arctic Circle
- How To Keep Your Gear Dry On A Motorcycle Tour
- My Favourite Motorcycle Touring Gear (From Experience)
- Why Motorcycle Base Layers Are ESSENTIAL For Touring
- Tested: This Is Why You Need A Keis Heated Jacket!
- We Tested It: Altberg Motorcycle Boots (30,000+ Mile Review)
13.1. Helmets For Long-Distance Motorcycling
A special note about helmets.
Don’t be tempted by an open-face helmet just because it looks cool. Make your life easier and get yourself a full-face helmet.
With a full-face helmet, your head, eyes, and face are completely protected (including your lips from the sun.)
Not only does it protect you from the wind, rain, and other flying debris you might come across, but it also protects you from any bugs on a kamikaze mission to destroy your retinas.
14. Long-Distance Motorcycling: Ride With A Screen
Screens are funny because there is no one-size-fits-all.
Different people like different screen heights for a whole range of reasons. The best thing you can do is either get an adjustable one or one you know you are comfortable with.
Riding without a screen on quiet, country roads is all well and good. But riding 700km on the motorway at 130kph is something different entirely!
Protect yourself with a screen that takes the hit for you.
15. Wear Earplugs
As with screens, you can get away with not wearing earplugs on a leisurely jaunt to the countryside. But when you’re spending hours and hours on the motorway, the constant engine, traffic, and wind noise can really sap your energy.
Physically, the constant noise can leave you with headaches. But mentally, it can become exhausting and even hinder your sleep.
Earplugs also help you stay alert for longer without the constant barrage of noise in your ears. They make your ride safer.
16. Tailor Your Bike For Comfort
During your pre-tour stamina rides (at the top of this post), write a list of things that make you uncomfortable on the bike.
Maybe you get achy wrists. Or perhaps your arse starts to hurt after a few hours in the saddle. Now make any necessary changes to alleviate these issues before you leave.
I always ensure the handlebars are at a height that works for me. I also adjust the levers to fit the natural angle of my hands.
Footpegs that vibrate are another pet peeve! Try to find some with a rubber top that will absorb vibrations whilst riding.
16.1. Consider An After-Market Seat Or Seat Pad
This isn’t always necessary, but a seat pad is a nice luxury if you can afford it.
It’s especially important if you’re unable to ride for any period without getting pins and needles or numbness.
If you find your motorcycle seat uncomfortable, swap it out before you leave for your tour. Failure to do so will result in a very miserable few weeks!
17. Power Up For Long-Distance Motorcycling
If your bike doesn’t have a power port as standard, it might be worthwhile investing in one.
Power ports can come in handy if (for example) the hard-wiring of your GPS fails. Rather than continue your trip without GPS, you can simply plug it into the power port.
I also use mine to charge my phone or camera equipment on the move.
If you have heated gear (jacket/gloves etc.), a port can also be another way to power them.
Power gives you options. So make sure you have a way to feed those devices!
Top image: Wendy Wei