Travelling the world on your bike is nowhere near the logistical nightmare it once was.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to plan and prepare (and pay) for. But with so many options to choose from now, almost anyone can arrange the trip of a lifetime.
So, where do you start?
Well, you need to decide how much help you want – and how much you’re prepared to spend. Once you’ve done that, you can decide between one of the three main options:
- Guided motorcycle tours (the easy option)
- Self-guided tours (for a little more freedom)
- Custom tours (for everything you want)
In this post, we’ll give you the low down on all three options so you can decide the best option for your circumstances.
The Easiest Motorcycle Touring Holiday: Guided Tours
There’s a lot of negative press surrounding guided motorcycle tours. And sometimes, that’s warranted (more on this later.)
But on the whole, guided motorcycle tours are the perfect solution – because they’re easy!
Unlike a tour that you plan yourself, guided tours take away uncertainties. They mitigate the chance of wasting your time riding crap roads, visiting boring attractions, or trying to figure out cultural differences as you go.
And because everything is planned for you, you can forego the logistics of organising and planning the route yourself.
Not only this but most guided tours have been refined and ridden for years. So your dedicated guide knows the best roads, the best hotels, and the best restaurants. Plus, you will never get lost.
The Fellow Riders
Depending on your tour, you’ll usually find yourself in a group of 6-20 riders – all strangers who want to enjoy the same experience you do.
Riders can come from walks of life, speak different languages, and have differing riding abilities, tolerances, and aims for the trip.
There will likely be some you don’t really speak to. But you’ll also probably come across one or two who will become friends for life.
The Tour Guide Makes Your Motorcycle Touring Holiday
The tour guide is arguably the most important factor in the enjoyment of your tour. And a good one will have decades of touring experience in general, as well as specialist knowledge of your current tour gained from years of leading different groups.
They know the area well and can navigate around road closures or even change the route on the fly to satisfy various rider abilities and priorities.
From assessing the group, a good tour guide can manage mileage and distances by making days longer or shorter on a whim. They may also add perfectly-timed rest days for those who want one and come up with spur-of-the-moment day rides for those who don’t.
Good Standards Throughout
For guided motorcycle operators, it’s all about connections. They regularly work with hotels and bike rental companies to get the best prices.
These are almost always cheaper than you would get them by yourself. So whilst you need to pay extra for organised trips, they usually come with quality hotels, valuable local knowledge, and stop off’s at otherwise unknown beauty spots.
If you need a rental bike for your trip, the operator will work with local rental firms to get you a sexy new bike in perfect working order.
Also present on reputable motorcycle tours is a mechanic and/or backup van.
The van carries a mechanic and tools to fix your bike should you have an issue. They frequently also carry spare bikes.
On top of this, they have luggage racks to carry your gear so you can enjoy the ride unencumbered.
Finally, you don’t have to worry about fuel as each fuel stop has been perfectly timed – thanks to experience. Many companies even tank the bikes up in the evening whilst you’re enjoying dinner so you can hop straight onto the bike in the morning.
The Build Up To A Guided Motorcycle Touring Holiday
Depending on the operator, you’ll usually receive an itinerary through the post designed to get you excited about your trip.
It will include information like maps of the route, daily mileage, things you’ll experience, and the awesomeness you can expect to see. Some will even send little gifts such as branded t-shirts and keyrings.
Also included will be information about the weather, what kit you might need, and the answers to any worries you might be losing sleep over.
Once you arrive at the airport for your trip, you’ll be collected and taken to your hotel. If the touring company owns its own fleet of bikes, you’ll likely find a line of clean, new bikes lined up outside the hotel waiting for you.
After coffee and a meet-and-greet, you’ll be introduced to your bikes and prep’d on how they work. If your bikes have been arranged via a rental company, you may have to pick them up as a group the following morning.
In the evening, there is usually a casual dinner (often included in the cost of the tour) where everybody can get to know everybody else.
Your tour guide(s) may also chat with you about other details, such as local customs, speed limits, rules of the road, and any general hints and tips.
Day one is always easy, usually comprised of non-technical roads and consisting of relatively few miles.
This is done on purpose so you can get used to your new bike on non-challenging roads whilst getting used to riding with a group of people you’ve never ridden with.
It’s also a chance to iron out any unforeseen issues with sat navs, riding kit, etc.
And seeing as though you don’t have to worry about navigation, getting lost, or where the next turn is, you’re free to enjoy your bike, the scenery, and riding with your newfound buddies!
By the time you finish day one, you’ll know exactly how your bike works and how the tour operates. The questions you had at the beginning would have been resolved, and you’ll be perfectly comfortable – filled with anticipation for the start of the following day.
The rest of the days will be spent enjoying the ride (without being weighed down with luggage) and enjoying the company of new friends on new bikes.
And that’s the beauty of guided tours – the company does all the worrying, so you don’t have to. You get up in the morning and enjoy what the day brings without a care in the world.
When you get to your hotel at the end of the day, you’ll find a cold beer waiting for you on arrival – time to sit with the rest of the group and discuss how fabulous the day has been.
You Get What You Want From A Guided Motorcycle Touring Holiday
If you’re social and enjoy meeting new people, you can be a social butterfly and throw yourself into the group.
If you’re more introverted or are there for the riding rather than the people, you can go back to your hotel room early, and nobody will judge you. After all, you paid for this trip, so you can do as and what you please.
But generally, most people get dragged into the social aspect of the group as friendships are spawned, and connections are made.
What You Can Expect From A Good Tour Operator
- A new-model bike with less than 20k miles on the clock. It should be fully maintained, fuelled up, and ready to go.
- Your bike should have sat nav, luggage, and any other accessories required (or booked) as part of the package.
- You should be fully insured and have a Collision Damage Waiver if needed.
- A backup van with tools, spare bikes, first aid provisions, an assistant tour guide, and luggage storage.
- All accommodations are booked in advance in 3-4* hotels, including breakfast and parking fees.
- All of your fuel costs should be included in the package.
- Transfers from the airport to the hotel (and back.) Also, from the hotel to the rental dealership (if the company doesn’t have its own fleet.)
- Any compulsory taxes or one-way fees.
- The company should be ATOL protected to provide legal and financial protection.
- Any and all information before the trip, such as maps, route information, and route books.
How Much Do Guided Motorcycle Tours Cost?
This is a difficult question to answer when different tours with different operators can vary wildly! But I’ll use our own recent search as an example.
I recently looked at a 12-day guided tour in America (nine days riding, one rest day, and a day on either side for travel.)
The cost for two people on one bike (sharing a room) is £4,575. For two riders (with a bike each) sharing a room, it’s £5,875 per person. And for solo riders wanting a private room, it’s £7,425.
These prices do not include flights, food/drink, or other expenses.
Booking early, I found flights to the start location for around £650 per person.
So to enjoy this 12-day tour (including flights), I’ll be looking at around £8,000. And that doesn’t include insurance, food, additional hotel stays before/after the tour and any other expenses I accrue.
- Zero stress.
- Hotels, restaurants, and points of interest are all taken care of.
- A dedicated guide to provide you with invaluable local knowledge.
- Don’t have to worry about getting lost.
- A backup van with a mechanic/spare bike.
- Social aspect.
- Your kit is carried for you.
- Fuel costs are taken care of.
- Take advantage of the tour operator’s contacts and connections.
- Dates are stipulated – no flexibility to suit you or your needs.
- They can be restricted by slower riders.
- Need to conform to the group – breaks, lunch stops, dinner choices.
- You might not like the other participants or the way they ride.
More Freedom On Your Motorcycle Touring Holiday: Self-Guided Tours
Self-guided tours are cheaper than guided equivalents because they come with fewer luxuries.
But they can often be the better alternative if you’re an experienced tourer who enjoys completing tours under your own steam. This is especially true if you enjoy managing your own timetable and speed or want to indulge in specific hobbies, such as photography.
Self-guided tours are organised through the same travel company that runs the guided tours. And this means you still reap the financial savings with hotels, attractions, parking, tolls etc., thanks to their connections.
Self-guided tours are also more flexible. So if you can’t get time off work when the guided tour is running, a self-guided option will allow you to ride it when it suits you.
Of course, riding a self-guided tour means you won’t get to enjoy the ride as part of a group. Nor will you have a dedicated tour guide or a backup van filled with spare bikes, fruit, and ice-cold drinks.
But it does allow you to ride at your own pace and gives you complete control over your tour. And for some riders, that’s essential.
- Complete flexibility with dates – ride the tour you want when it suits you.
- Still get the benefits of the tour operator’s connections (discounted hotel prices etc.)
- The freedom to ride at your own pace.
- Able to stop for lunch, breaks, photos, whenever you want.
- Choose your own start/end times each day.
- Pick your own restaurants at a time that suits you.
- They can benefit those who prioritise the roads and ride over the social aspect.
- You can choose to go off-piste or explore.
- Whilst you don’t have a backup van to help you with mechanics, the tour operator will set you up with breakdown and recovery.
- Cheaper than guided tours.
- Can’t take advantage of the tour guide’s knowledge.
- No backup van to carry your kit or rescue you in a breakdown.
- Managing your own logistics and timetable.
- No social aspect that you would get on a guided tour.
- Must have the experience to navigate abroad.
- May miss out on the points of interest or excellent riding roads from an experienced guide.
- Fuel costs aren’t included.
The Ultimate Motorcycle Touring Holiday: Custom Tours
Custom tours are almost like a hybrid between guided and self-guided tours. They put the best bits of both together to create a unique experience based on your requirements.
Still booked through the same tour operator, they will gather a host of information and cater your trip to your individual needs.
You’ll ride the tour you want to ride on the dates you want to ride it. And if the operator doesn’t have that tour to offer, they’ll build one – just for you.
Would you rather camp than take the usual 4* hotels? No problem, the operator will sort that out for you. What if you want luxury hotels rather than middle-of-the-road ones? The operator will sort that, too.
They will also account for how many rest days you want and the duration of each riding day. They can even advise you on the best roads and routes in the areas you want to visit.
Once again, you can take advantage of the operator’s contacts. And letting them sort out accommodation and restaurant arrangements will usually be cheaper than doing it yourself.
As with self-guided tours, you won’t have a guide or a backup truck to fall back on (although some operators can do this even for custom experiences.)
But you will have complete freedom and a tour that’s built just for you.
- They’re personalised to your needs.
- Flexible in every way.
- It will be the trip of a lifetime.
- You will enjoy all the roads/routes in your chosen areas without compromise.
- The freedom to start/finish when you like, eat where you want, and take breaks when you feel like it.
- You get to decide when/if you have rest days.
- Daily mileage and ride times are catered to your needs.
- Custom tours can also work for those on a budget. A decent operator may provide cheaper alternatives to existing trips by using cheaper/older bikes or budget accommodation.
- Custom tours can be very expensive.
- They don’t come with a tour guide, assistant, or backup van (unless you pay for them.)
- You may miss the social aspect of a guided tour.
- You might miss out on hidden roads or routes without a guide.
- Will need to experience navigating abroad without help.
- Fuel costs won’t be included
Conclusion: Should You Consider A Motorcycle Touring Holiday?
You should certainly consider a motorcycle touring holiday if you’re interested in touring and travelling.
And in my experience, the riders who protest the most about guided tours are usually the ones who enjoy it the most!
If you’re new to touring and perhaps lack confidence, a guided tour can be used to show you the ropes. You’ll learn what to do without running the risk of messing it up.
If you’re a more experienced touring rider, a self-guided tour can afford you a better experience than organising yourself. This is largely due to the knowledge of the tour operator.
And you might even get it cheaper than you could do it by yourself, thanks to their connections.
For those with money to spend, a custom tour could give you everything you ever wanted! Similarly, a good tour operator should also be able to organise a budget tour using lower-rated accommodation and cheaper bikes.
So next time you start budgeting for your tour, look around and see what tour operators are offering – and for what price.
Can you do it cheaper yourself? Or will the extra money be worth it for a better experience?
Only you can decide!