Motorcycle Fitness: Get More From Your Tour

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“Motorcycle Fitness? You’re joking, right?”

Nope, I’m not joking!

We all know that you don’t have to be in a physically supreme condition for the daily commute. But motorcycle touring takes its toll on your mind and body.

Furthermore, basic motorcycle fitness will help you get more enjoyment from your tour as well as helping you deal with any physical stresses along the way.

If you want to ride safely, stay alert, and get to your destination with enough energy left to enjoy it, then now is the time to contemplate your motorcycle fitness.

suzuki gsx1250 parked up
What’s the point of going to all the effort of getting there if you’re too tired to enjoy it?

Fighting Fatigue

How many times have you finished a transit ride on tour and felt like you’ve just got back from a monster workout at the gym?

And on how many occasions have you got to your hotel and felt mentally exhausted?

This is what I’m referring to when I say motorcycle fitness!

Touring has the capacity to take it out of you both mentally and physically. And not only does that mean a less enjoyable experience, but it can also mean a greater chance of risk.

If you don’t believe me, you might believe the legend who was Nicky Hayden when he said:

“Fitness makes a big difference on the bike. Once you physically get a little tired, you mentally start making mistakes, and that’s when you get hurt.”

And Nicky isn’t the only one. Later, we reference a pro enduro rider, too!

Nobody is saying you need to be able to run a marathon. Or enter an Iron Man. But the fact is, you will get more from your tour if you are physically and mentally fit.

Even at the most basic level, a fitter rider can ride further for longer without becoming fatigued. And having more control over your motorcycle and being better equipped to deal with any circumstances along the way is never a bad thing!

kawasaki gtr1400
Motorcycle fitness allows you to ride further for longer

Motorcycle Fitness: Strength & Endurance

Let’s be honest here. You don’t need to be in the gym for 3 hours a day, 6 days a week to go touring.

But you do need a certain level of muscular strength and endurance both on and off the bike. Take a moment to think about your day on the bike, and what it entails. For example:

  • Maneuvering (pushing) your bike
  • Putting your bike on (and off) the centre stand
  • Picking your bike up if you drop it
  • Standing on the pegs (riding stood up) and absorbing bumps
  • Lifting your bike off the side stand (and controlling it down)
  • Misjudging a stop and having the road ‘disappear’ beneath your foot
  • Squeezing the tank with your legs (proper riding technique)
  • Maintaining your core (posture) whilst riding
  • Carrying your luggage to/from the hotel – and probably up multiple sets of stairs
rider standing up on harley davidson pan america off-road
Standing on the pegs can really take it out of you (image via Harley-Davidson)

Strength Training

Full Body workouts are best for motorcycle fitness. Touring uses every muscle group in your body, in various combinations, throughout the day.

And whilst isolating muscle groups on gym days is great for a beach body, full body routines allow more functionality for what you need. Which is touring.

Accordingly, focus your main efforts on big, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, pull ups, bench press and shoulder press. You can mix it up by trying different forms of these exercises, but these are essentially your staples.

You don’t have to ‘lift big’ on any of these workouts, either. And for some people, gaining size is often a genuine worry.

But this can be avoided by working in the correct rep range.

biker picking up bike after fall
Peace of mind comes from knowing you have the strength to pick up your bike if it all goes wrong

Strength Training: Sets & Reps

For motorcycle fitness, do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps on each exercise. This will allow you to develop strength and endurance without gaining mass. You should be struggling on the last one or two reps. If you get to rep 5 and you’re blowing, the weight is too heavy.

Top Tip:

Mix up your routine and do a variation of your workout 2-3 times per week. Concentrate on good form, good timing, slower speed, and a full range of motion.

Related: Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Touring Safely

Motorcycle Fitness: Cardiovascular (Heart & Lungs)

When people talk about cardiovascular (CV) fitness, they’re talking about your heart and lungs.

Moreover, a good level of CV fitness means your heart and lungs can pump blood (and oxygen) to your muscles and brain more efficiently.

Have you ever gone for a run after not training in years? After 5 minutes, you’re dying, right? But as the weeks go by, you stick at it and eventually, you’re running at that speed for an hour and you feel great.

This is CV fitness. Your heart and lungs can pump oxygenated blood around your body, with less effort, for longer.

jonny walker fitness red bull
CV fitness: promoted by legendary enduro rider, Jonny Walker. (Image via Red Bull)

CV Fitness & Motorcycle Touring

In terms of motorcycle fitness, an efficient CV system allows your body to function optimally throughout the day. It can send the correct amount of oxygen to the muscles that need it more efficiently. Including the brain.

Consequently, this is why people with good CV fitness don’t tire as much on a long ride. Their brains are receiving oxygen-rich blood which helps it to function better.

As with running, they can go for longer before they start to fatigue. And when they get to the hotel at the end of the day, they’re still as fresh as a daisy.

Keep It Simple

For CV training, keep it simple. Your main activities will likely be running, cycling, rowing, elliptical trainer, mountain biking, or hiking.

Additionally, mix it up to to keep it interesting.

You should be aiming for a moderate intensity for a moderate length of time. Both of these will vary on your current level of fitness.

Top Tip:

With regard to the intensity of your cardio workouts, a good way of knowing you’re at the correct level is the ‘talk test.’ You should be able to run at a speed that allows you to maintain a flowing conversation.

If you find you can’t string sentences together whilst running, you’re probably running too hard.

woman running for fitness on road with mountains
Cardiovascular fitness is responsible for endurance, general fitness, and mental acuity

Related: How Riding Motorcycles Is Good For Mental Health & Well-Being

Motorcycle Fitness: Flexibility

Most guys are happy to do bicep curls all day so they look good on the beach. Many women are happy to do leg lifts all day long so they look good in those yoga pants.

But stretching? Stretching gets neglected because it just isn’t sexy. Yet it really should be an integral part of your motorcycle fitness routine.

As a runner, I’m guilty of this as well. I know I should do it. And it plays on my mind when I haven’t done it.

I tell myself it will be okay.

And I tell myself that right up until I feel that familiar twinge in my hamstring midway through my run!

By then of course, it’s too late. The damage has already been done and I have to limp home knowing I’ll be out of action for the next two or three weeks.

The same goes for riding.

motorcycle riding through water
If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear the ‘ping’ of an inner thigh…

Flexibility & Motorcycle Touring

If you’re riding a motorway stretch, you might stay in one position for quite a few hours.

You stop for fuel, and as you swing your leg off the bike and over your luggage, you feel a tear in your hamstring or inner thigh.

All the route planning and preparation is worth nothing if you spend the entire week in pain!

Flexibility should be a core part of your workout routine. Not only does it help flush lactic acid from your muscles after a workout, but it helps you to develop range of motion.

Moreover, it helps you to build up strength at end-of-range – resulting in less scenarios like the one above.

Not only this, but the flexibility aspect of your routine can be quite holistic. It’s a nice way to finish a workout, but it’s equally nice to do before bed to encourage a relaxed state of mind before sleep.

Top Tips:

Equally as important is intensity. Don’t push too hard!

If you’re shaking whilst holding a stretch, you’re probably pushing it too far. Similarly, if you find yourself holding your breath, you’re probably pushing it too far.

Stay conscious of your breathing – it should be just as important as the stretch itself.

As well as stretching, mix it up by trying Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi. Or try one of the many follow-alongs on social media or YouTube.

rider with sore leg on motorcycle
Don’t let niggly injuries ruin your tour. Stay flexibile!

Related: Motorcycle Travel Is Good For You: 10 Scientifically Proven Benefits!

Motorcycle Fitness: Mental Acuity

Finally, let’s look at the psychological side of things.

Remember those times when you’ve been touring and you’ve started to switch off?

Your corning becomes sloppy. You consistently choose the wrong line. You start to miss hazards. In fact, you start to miss everything.

Now imagine doing that on roads you don’t know in a mountain range you haven’t visited before. The consequences could be fatal.

When we talk about motorcycle fitness, it’s not just the physical side of things we’re referring to.

But being physically fit usually lends itself to being mentally fit as well.

Whether you’re lifting weights in the gym, pounding the road on your run, or finding some peace with your yoga routine, you’re also helping your brain to function more efficiently.

two harley davidson pan americas on mountain road
A combination of strength, CV fitness, and flexibility will keep you in the saddle for longer (image via Harley-Davidson)

Related: Cornering A Motorcycle: Touring Safely

Motorcycle Fitness: Conclusion

If I’ve ridden from the UK to France, I don’t just want to collapse in a heap when I arrive.

I made the effort to get there so I could enjoy new roads, see new places and experience new things.

  • Physical fitness means I can make it there in comfort
  • Mental fitness means I can make it there safely
  • With mental acuity, I can stay focused on the ride and take it all in
  • And tomorrow, I’ll be good to go and enjoy it all over again

Don’t neglect motorcycle fitness in preparation for your tour!

Top image via Harley-Davidson

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