Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: Welcome To The Club!

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Updated May 2022

If these are your first tentative steps into the touring world, I’m thrilled to welcome you to this beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring!

At this point, I should imagine you’ve already got your licence. You’ve no doubt been riding around on your first bike, getting to grips with the world of motorcycling and finding your feet.

By now, you would’ve stumbled upon a group of bikers in a cafe, had your first real ride out with some real bikers, and you feel you’ve been welcomed to the club.

So what’s next?

Well, if you’re reading this guide to motorcycle touring for beginners, then the call of two-wheeled adventure has no doubt begun to consume your thoughts.

And as exciting as that is, I totally understand the apprehension, doubt, and lapses in confidence that will follow those feelings of ambition and adventure.

But rest assured, we’re here for you!

Our beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring was put together for people just like you – ones who dare to explore, to live, and to experience.

riders in desert - motorcycle touring for beginners
Image: Rachel Claire

What Do We Mean By “Motorcycle Touring”?

This is where you need to forget everything that all your new riding buddies have told you. Because touring is as different for you as it is for me. And it’s as different for me as it is for them!

It’s different for every single one of us.

For some, it’s all about the roads. For others, it’s about the scenery.

Some people are happy with two weeks away whilst others never fully return. For these people, the road becomes their spiritual home.

Individuality

Many enjoy the peace, serenity and solitude – the opportunity to reflect on life as they tour alone.
Others see it as a holiday away with their buddies – enjoying the roads and the beers.

You see, motorcycle touring is whatever you want it to be. For the time you are away, the world stops. Time doesn’t matter. Work is irrelevant. Your phone is turned off because the notifications act only as a distraction.

Sometimes, it turns out completely different from what you planned. But you know what? That’s fine.

You’re at the mercy of mother nature. So pack your bike, strap on your helmet, and enjoy what she’s about to give you.

Because whether it’s good, bad or otherwise, it will shape you for the rest of your life.

rider in mountains
Image: Gaertan Thurin

Prepare For Change

I hope you’re excited about your upcoming motorcycle tour. You should be!

But one thing missing from the location guides and sales literature is the fact that you are about to change.

Returning from your trip will be a slightly different version of yourself – for the better.

You’ll feel a sense of overwhelming achievement. Your confidence will soar. And the dizzy heights of work promotions that you thought were out of reach suddenly seem attainable.

Your belief in you will mean something – and it will radiate from you. Everybody will notice it.

See, motorcycle touring brings all kinds of trials, tribulations, laughter, and tears. You’ll see things you could never imagine. And upon returning, you won’t be able to find the words to describe what you saw and what you felt.

The beauty of the mountains will bring a tear to your eye. And then when they give you a puncture in the middle of nowhere, they’ll bring a very different kind of tear to your eyes!

You’ll rise above it. You’ll conquer, and you’ll grow.

Prepare yourself. Because a better version of you will be coming home from your trip.

riding taking a break on a fence - motorcycle touring for beginners
Image: Saad Khan

Resist The Urge To Compare!

As much as you enjoyed watching Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor in Long Way Up, you need to take it with a pinch of salt.

Don’t forget, they had a team of people helping them who were based in various places across the world to look after the logistics.

And unless you have a prototype electric bike and a team of engineers installing charge points along your route, I can guarantee your trip won’t look anything like theirs did!

Don’t compare your trip to theirs. In fact, don’t compare it to those of anyone.

Take stock in the knowledge that your trip belongs to nobody but you. And no matter how hard anyone tries, they can never re-create your trip’s in the same way you can never re-create anybody else’s.

How This Works

In an effort to keep this post somewhat concise, we’ll briefly mention the most important points below. We’ll then provide links to dedicated posts that cover each topic in more detail.

Feel free to jump back and forth between the topics knowing that this one will always be here to reference.

bikers at sunset in the mountains
Image: ArtHouse Studio

1. Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: Choosing Your Bike

Don’t get too hung up on this. Convincing yourself that you need the latest and greatest of adventure touring machines is an easy trap to fall into.

On social media, you’ll see riders’ on spectacular trips. They’ll be on expensive adventure bikes and steeped in all the best kit. And the manufacturers who sponsor them will have you believe that you need all this kit as well.

But it’s nonsense!

Trust me when I tell you that you don’t need any of that stuff to tour.

When it comes to choosing your bike, the trick is to sit down and think about what you need it to do. I know the temptation is to research it to death before eventually buying the same as everybody else. But it won’t work!

You need to consider your own priorities.

Are you going off-road? Will you be camping? Are you taking a pillion? Will your trip last a few weeks or a few months? Do you plan on eating in restaurants, or will you take a stove?

And then there’s the personalisation of a trip. Are you intent on covering miles, or is it more important to do fewer miles per day so you can spend more time enjoying it? Have you considered your touring ‘style’?

Moreover, what about the dynamics of the bike? You can get away with big heavy bikes on tarmac. But if you plan on offroading, will you be better off with a 125cc adventure bike that you can handle more easily?

Are you touring alone or in a group? Does this affect the kind of bike you can take?


2. Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: Planning Your Route

Planning your route can be as easy or as difficult as you like. If you do a web search of motorcycle routes in Europe, there’s an abundance of ready-to-go routes that you can simply import to your satnav, and you’re away.

It really is that simple!

If you want to plot your own route, it will take a little more time and patience, and you may have to figure out which platform works best for you.

My biggest tip for beginners venturing into motorcycle touring is to plan for time rather than miles. The worst thing you can do is set yourself up for weeks of clock watching because you’ve given yourself too many miles to cover.

It’s also worth considering the ‘type’ of tourer you might be. Are you content with going from one hotel to the other and never really settling? Or would you rather spend a few days in one location/hotel and explore it properly?

Both have their pros and cons – you’ll have to figure out what works best for you.


3. Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: Get The Right Kit

Kit is somewhat of a blanket term. You’ll need an entirely different set of gear for touring Norway in October to someone who’s touring the Dolomites in July.

But most people (especially in Europe or the UK) head to the Alps or the Pyrenees. And both of which are pretty easy to plan for in the summer months.

Make sure you don’t just rush out and buy everything you see. Firstly, it will cost you a fortune. And secondly, you’ll have nowhere to put it all.

Take a minute to consider exactly what you need.

Will you be riding in leathers or textiles? Will you need base layers? How about a heated jacket or thermals?

If you’re riding in the height of summer, do you need gear designed for hot weather? What about hydration packs or waterproofs?

Once you know what you need, you can buy more targeted gear when it’s time to go shopping.

Use the links below to personalise your beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring.


4. Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: What To Pack?

The first thing to consider here is your setup. Are you taking panniers? How about a roll bag? Or will you be going minimalist with a top box, tank bag and tail pack?

Are you offroading or staying on tarmac?

If you’re offroading, you’ll be better off with soft panniers. But if you’re staying on tarmac, you might prefer the extra security offered by hard panniers.

What Will You Be Taking?

If this is your first time, I guarantee you will overpack! Don’t worry, it’s natural, and everybody does it. Hell, I still overpack if I don’t monitor it carefully!

The truth is, you only need about half of what you’ve written down on that list of yours.

The secret to packing for a motorcycle tour is packing light. And the best way to do that is to take items with multiple uses. Take clothes you can wear for a few days, or take a small bottle of washing concentrate and wash as you go.

Keep your tools, wash kit, and riding gear to the bare essentials. And unless you really need all that technology (and all the chargers to go with them), leave them at home.

My advice is to write down everything you think you might need. And then refine it from there. To help you out, we’ve provided a free download that you can use as part of your beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring.


5. Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: Rider Preparation

With long-distance touring, it’s not just your bike that needs to be in tip-top condition. Your body (and mind) won’t be prepared for the onslaught you’re about to unleash upon it.

In the weeks leading up to your tour, you need to think about getting yourself ‘motorcycle fit.’

Nobody is saying you have to spend 4 hours a day in the gym. Nor are they saying you need to take up that marathon training plan you never got around to.

But being physically fit has a direct correlation with being mentally fit. It should be a part of any beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring.

I’d go as far as to recommend that if you ride motorbikes in any capacity, your physical health should be taken just as seriously as the health of your bike.

Whilst you’re at it, improving your riding skills never did anybody any harm, either. Not only will it give you more confidence, but it’ll also develop your skills for when you have all that extra luggage on the back of your bike.


6. Motorcycle Touring For Beginners: Others

Planning For An Emergency

Whenever we swing our leg over a bike, we have to accept it comes with a certain level of risk. This risk is bad enough at home, in your own country, where you know the laws, rules and customs.

But what about when we’re riding abroad? Hoping against all hope that we’ll be okay just isn’t enough. We need to be prepared.

We can start with the basics, like ensuring our paperwork is in order. And we can ensure that people at home know where we will be on any given day by giving them a copy of our itinerary.

Keep any medication or medical notes close to hand so authorities can access them if needed. And ensure any emergency contact phone numbers are readily available.

God willing, our precautions for an emergency will never be needed. But at least they’re there if the worst happens.

biker off-roading in grass with lake
Image: Dennis Savenko

Research, Research, Research!

In the world of the internet, we’re constantly inundated with online information.

Use the tools available to you to read/watch other people’s experiences in the countries you wish to visit.

If you search hard enough, you’ll probably find someone who’s already visited on a bike before you – and most bikers are only too happy to offer up information and little bits of advice.

Use the many reviewing platforms available (like Trip Advisor) to read about people’s experiences, where they visited, and what they rated.

Check out the various motorcycle touring forums on Facebook Groups or Reddit. All of this information is there to help you shape your tour!

street bike with fabric luggage in urban setting
Image: Rod Long

There Comes A Time When The Planning Needs To Stop!

You can literally spend a year planning a trip.

I remember once planning a trip in the winter months for the following summer. But then I had a little mishap and wrote my bike off on some slippery roads in Wales.

By the time I got a new bike, I had to wait until the summer of the following year! Of course, by this point, I’d planned, re-planned, and planned my tour a hundred times over.

When the time finally came for me to set off, I was actually sick of thinking about it. Rather than eagerly awaiting my departure date, I was secretly wanting it to be over with.

Suffice it to say, it was my least enjoyable tour. And despite oodles of planning, it seemed to go wrong at every possible juncture.

I’m a big believer in planning for a tour. I believe you get more from your trip with a little forward planning and some organisation.

However, the time will come when you feel it’s necessary to say enough is enough.

And when that point comes, trust it! Trust your judgement, get on your bike, and go and enjoy the best trip of your life!

Top image: ArtHouse Studios

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