How To Deal With A Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour

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I’m not going to lie to you.

If you break down on your motorcycle tour, it will be demoralising.

You’ve no doubt worked all year just to afford it. You’re likely excited about the whole thing and have probably invested a lot of time and money into it.

So when your bike lets you down, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

And if you’re travelling with another person, then you’ll take on a feeling of guilt, too. Because not only is your tour over, so is theirs.

The reason I say this with such confidence is that I was in this situation a few months back.

For two years, we’d planned to tour. And for two years, the travel restrictions imposed by COVID guidelines meant we weren’t able to go.

Finally, after changing all of our plans, we came up with a completely new tour that allowed us to travel within the restrictions.

I don’t know how much it cost, but it was thousands.

Believe it or not, a month in France ain’t cheap!

And at precisely the midpoint of our tour, my Honda Africa Twin gave up after climbing the highest paved road in the Alps – the Col de l’Iseran.

honda africa twin on tow truck - motorcycle tour breakdown

How To Deal With A Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour: It Won’t Happen To Me

One of the reasons (actually, the ONLY reason) I own a brand new bike is to avoid finding myself in a situation where it breaks down when on tour.

It costs a lot of money not only to buy the damn thing but also to have it serviced and maintained. I put it in the hands of the best mechanics I know so it runs optimally when touring.

So I was surprised when my two-year-old bike that had less than 6,000 miles (10,000 km) on the clock gave up the ghost in the South of France.

It happened to me, and it can happen to you.

And that is the reason for this post – to prepare you for what can (and might) happen. So without further ado, let’s look at how you can make a breakdown when motorcycle touring a lot more painless.

waiting for tow truck
Image via Aleksandr Neplokhov

Prepare For A Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour BEFORE You Go

There are three critical moments when dealing with a breakdown on your motorcycle tour.

The first is what you do before you go. The second is what you do the moment it happens. Then there’s what happens after the event.

And whilst all of them are important, what you do before you go sets the tone for the rest of your experience.

Putting the effort in before your departure ensures all your ducks are in a row – and gives you the best possible chance should the shit hit the fan.

mechanic working on wheel - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Andrea Piacquadio

Become BFF’s With Your Mechanic

As mentioned above, the first thing I recommend is spending as much money as you can afford on a mechanic that you trust.

Over the years, you develop a relationship with them. They know you, your bike, and how you ride it.

And because of this, they look after your bike as if it was their own.

Of course, you won’t not break down just because you’ve looked after your bike – freak things happen (like in my story above.)

But you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of catching any potential issues before you even leave the country.

mechanic working on bike
Image via Andrea Piacquadio

Preparing For Your Tour: Organise Motorcycle Breakdown Cover

There are plenty of companies out there that offer European breakdown cover. I know mine cost me in the region of £40 – and when I did break down, I came to the conclusion it was the best £40 I’d ever spent!

Do NOT leave for your tour without having a breakdown policy in place.

Just getting yourself back home could cost hundreds of pounds. And repatriation of your bike could also cost hundreds – even thousands.

Without breakdown cover, nobody is coming to fix or collect your bike. Nobody is paying for you to get home. And nobody is coming to help you.

Take your time when taking out a policy. Read all the literature and see exactly which policy variant will fit your needs the most.

Hopefully, you won’t need it. But if you do, you’ll be glad you took out the policy.

mechanic working on bike -motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Andrea Piacquadio

Motorcycle Whoopsies On Tour: Choose A Breakdown Company With A Network

When looking for a breakdown policy, look for companies that work within a network.

For instance, my breakdown company (Start Rescue) uses My European Assist. And MEA has a network of mechanics, garages, tow-truck operators, hotels, vehicle hire companies, and taxi companies that they can call upon should you need them.

In my case, they arranged to have my bike picked up, booked a hotel on my behalf, and then had a taxi pick me up and take me there.

The following morning, another taxi collected me and took me to the car rental office 50 km away to get me a hire car so I could continue my journey.

Arranging this myself would have taken a lot of time and cost a lot of money. Plus, I would’ve had to deal with the language barrier – a situation made worse when trying to do it over the phone!

Based in Lyon, all of the advisors are multilingual. And if you’re touring abroad, the language barrier can often slow proceedings down.

My European Assist would speak to me in English. And then they would phone local companies and garages in France – conversing with them in French.

They act as the intermediary between you and the help that you need. And they speak whatever language you need to get that help as quickly as possible.

office workers in call centre
Image via Israel Andrade

Dealing With A Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour: Do Your Admin

So now you have your bike running in tip-top condition, and you have a breakdown policy should you need it.

Now it’s time to put a little folder together so you have everything where you need it.

Personally, I keep everything on my phone. You may choose to take paper copies – whatever works for you.

Ensure you have your documents to hand. The breakdown company will ask for them if repatriation is necessary.

This includes your owner’s logbook (V5 logbook in the UK) as well as your insurance documents if you wish to take a replacement vehicle or hire car. It goes without saying that you will also need your drivers licence for a rental car.

man on macbook - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Charles Deluvio

Numbers On Your Phone

Put all of the numbers you might need on your phone. This includes your insurance company, breakdown company, and your mechanic.

Why do I say mechanic?

Well, because if you have a rapport with them as mentioned above, you’d be surprised how good mechanics can often diagnose an issue over the phone.

My friend once broke down in Wales. Upon calling his mechanic, he deduced the problem and talked him through getting the bike going so he could get it to a garage.

Local Research

It’s also worth spending a little time researching garages in regions you will be visiting. For example, when I broke down near the Col de l’Iseran, there was a Honda garage around 50 km away in Chambery.

If there isn’t an official garage in the vicinity, you might find local garages that could help. Make a note of their contact details before you leave. You could even reach out to them before leaving to see what their opening times are and if they have a breakdown truck.

Local garages are often the quickest solution to your problem – and many of them won’t be in your breakdown companies network.

mechanic in workshop
Image via Andrea Piacquadio

Have A Breakdown Fund (Or A Credit Card) For Your Motorcycle Tour

If you’re in the middle of nowhere, your breakdown company might require you to pay for services upfront. These could include hotels, taxis, and vehicle rental.

You can claim this money back once you get home. But it’s worth having an emergency fund you can break into should you need it.

If you have a credit card, you can put the expenses on there and then forward the statement to the breakdown company once you get home.

Ensure you keep all your receipts!

In my case, I spent £235 of my own money to get home from the South of France. This was reimbursed to me in full when I got home.

card payment - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Obsahovka

What To Do When You Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour

So now you have everything planned for a breakdown. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but you know you’re covered in the worst scenario.

But what do you need to do at the time you break down?

Get Somewhere Safe

First things first, get somewhere safe.

If you break down on the autobahn, get you and your bike as far away from the traffic as you can.

In a town centre, move it away from traffic lights and junctions.

If you can find somewhere quiet to put your bike, not only will it be safer, but it will also save you the headache of trying to phone the breakdown company whilst traffic flies past at 80 mph!

Also, take a moment to adhere to any specific laws regarding breakdowns, For instance, putting out a warning triangle and/or wearing a hi-viz jacket.

motorbike at side of road
Image via Matthew Bennett

Local Hospitality

Take advantage of any locals who offer you help. They might not know what’s wrong with your bike, but they might know a nearby garage.

At the very least, they can act as your interpreter on the phone, conveying your location to a tow truck that is struggling to find you.

Most people are good – and most will do their best to help you when you’re stranded.

Be kind, courteous, and gracious, and you’ll be surprised what people will do for you in your time of need.

men in town with motorcycles - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Hobi Industri

Be Patient

Once you’re out of harm’s way and you made the necessary calls to arrange collection of you and your bike, there really isn’t anything else you can do.

So wait.

If you can get your bike to a fuel station or service area, at least you can find protection from the weather (both cold and hot) and get yourself a drink.

Either way, nothing will come from getting upset and shouting and screaming. The tow truck will get there when it gets there, so sit tight.

biker in bar on laptop
Image via Jez Timms

Dealing With The Aftermath Of A Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour

Depending on your breakdown company, you tend to have two options of what you want to do next.

Many will do ONE of the following: take your bike to a local garage to be repaired, or repatriate the bike to your home address or local garage.

This is always a tough decision to make. If you think it’s a minor issue, get it towed to a local garage.

But if it turns out to be a major issue that will take days or weeks to fix, you’re either going to have to wait for the bike (and pay for subsequent accommodation), or come home and have the bike repatriated once it’s fixed (both of which you will need to pay for.)

Having your bike towed home is the safest option – but it also means your trip is unequivocally at an end.

In my case, I chose to have the bike repatriated. My breakdown company then arranged a hire car for me to get home.

It wasn’t a bike, but it meant I could make the most of my situation and at least carry on with my tour of France – despite being on four wheels rather than two.

honda bike and rider by side of road - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Tim Cook

Getting Home

If you choose to have your bike towed home, your breakdown company will pay for you to get home.

In most cases, you can travel home any way you please – either by hire car, plane, train, or boat.

Most of the major airlines and rail companies will be in the network of the breakdown company – meaning you won’t have to pay out of your own pocket.

But you may be required to book and pay for your own journey if you use some of the smaller companies such as ferry operators. In these cases, you will need cash and/or a credit card and then claim the money back when you get home.

ferry - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Adrien Olichon

Claiming Back Expenses

Most breakdown companies would have provided you with an email address for your expenses by the time you get home.

Simply take a picture of your receipts, attach them to an email and send it to the address you’ve been given.

It might take a few days, but providing you’ve been reasonable with your expenses, most will have you reimbursed within a week or two.

expenses - motorcycle tour breakdown
Image via Karolina Grabowska

How To Deal With A Breakdown On Your Motorcycle Tour: Conclusion

Breaking down on tour is never fun. It’s a God damn nightmare and a surefire way of ruining your trip – however hard you’ve worked for it.

It’s at times like these when you need to make the most of what you have.

If you’re travelling with somebody else, make the most of their company.

We plan these tours with the expectation of having a story to tell when we get back. And whilst you might not necessarily have the story you wanted, you’ve still got a story to tell.

So wherever you are and whatever situation you find yourself in, prep as best you can and try to revel in the experience.

If you enjoyed this post, check out these other touring-related posts:

Top image via Pele Martin


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