The Best Touring Motorcycle: And Why There’s No Such Thing

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“What is the best touring motorcycle?”

Over the years, I’ve been asked this question a lot. In a thousand different variations.

“What’s the best touring motorcycle for under 10 grand?”

“Should I buy a GS Adventure or a Goldwing?”

At the outset, these are all perfectly reasonable questions. And if I was arrogant enough to assume I knew you, your riding habits, and what you wanted out of a motorcycle tour, I’d have no qualms in answering them.

But I’m not.

So I don’t!

best touring motorcycle - group of bikers
The best touring motorcycle is the one that does what you need (image via Zakaria Zayane)

Wants vs Needs vs Opinions

See, what I want from a touring motorcycle might be very different from what you want.

And because I don’t want you to waste your money, I’ll ask you lots of probing questions before I even consider whether or not to voice my opinion on what might be the ideal bike for you.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, have evolved to assume that they can tell you what you want. They’ll have you believe that the best touring motorcycle can be defined.

And based on their definition, manufacturers come up with all sorts of solutions to all sorts of problems that, quite frankly, you probably didn’t have in the first place.

Then they sell those imaginary solutions to you as the best bike money can buy.

Trending: Touring Motorcycles: Why Styles Are Right For You?

ducati multistrada v4 touring
Whilst nice, adaptive cruise control and 170bhp aren’t essential to tour! (Image via Ducati)

Defining The Best Touring Motorcycle

The issue here is that there is no hard and fast definition for motorcycle touring. And there is no hard and fast definition for what a touring motorcycle is.

The job of advertisers is to inspire you. Moreover, they’ll show you images on Instagram of epic adventures to Iceland and have you believe this is what motorcycle touring is all about.

But the fact is, we don’t all go on 3-month long trips to explore Iceland – and we don’t all need the toys and gadgets to go with it.

So when you start putting trust into the media regarding motorcycles, you need to be very selective in the advice you listen to.

Your concepts and ideals for touring are exactly that – yours. And this is what makes motorcycle touring so special. It’s whatever you want it to be.

Related: The Most Comfortable Tourers? Look No Further!

best touring motorcycle - honda pan european
The touring stereotype might not be the right fit for you and your style (image via Oz)

The Best Touring Motorcycles Depends On:

Tour Duration

If you were planning a 12-week trip to South America, you might go for a bike that was comfortable and upright. You may opt for heated grips, adjustable suspension, or an electric screen.

A bike with a larger capacity for luggage would be important due to the longer duration of your tour. And if you were camping or taking a pillion, you would need even more space.

Would I need the same bike setup for a 7-day blast to the Alps? No!

I could quite happily ride a 7-day tour on a sports bike with a mimalist setup and enjoy every single minute of it.

The duration of the trip very much influences the choice of bike.

ktm superduke 1290 gt in mountains
The ideal touring motorcycle for me over a short trip would be a sports tourer or a sports bike (image via Autoevolution)

Destination

If you plan to spend the majority of your time off-road riding on tiny, rough-terrain trails or through woodland going up and over logs, do you really want a 300kg adventure bike?

Really?

The sales team at your local dealership will convince you that their £15,000, do-it-all adventure touring bike is exactly what you need. But I’m afraid I’d have to disagree.

If you’re inexperienced off-road or plan to ride in truly difficult riding conditions, I can categorically say that a 400cc knacker is far easier to throw around (and pick up) than a 300kg adventure touring bike!

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Off-roading in south America - best touring motorcycle
Big adventure tourers are great in the right hands (image via Karl Lee/Unsplash)

Mileage & Speed

The amount of time you have on tour usually reflects the speed at which you need to travel. If you have a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it, it’s fair to say you’ll probably need a bike that is comfortable at higher speeds for longer periods of time.

The bike needed for a gentle 200-mile ride in Wales is going to be different to the type of bike needed for a 3-month trip to South America.

Cost

It’s all well and good the manufacturer telling you the bike you absolutely need is the £15,000 purpose-built touring machine that they just happen to have in store.

And it’s all well and good that an influencer on YouTube can point you in the direction of a bike you absolutely need when they’re incentivised by a commission.

But try telling Nathan Mallard who rode from Sydney to London on a 105cc postie bike that he needs to have a proper bike to be a proper tourer. See what he says!

The correct bike depends on your finances, what you need the bike to do, what you need it to carry, and what you want out of the tour.

Related: Adventure Bikes: Are There Cheaper Alternatives?

vintage royal enfield
You don’t need to spend £15,000 on a dedicated touring bike (image via drivespark)

The Best Touring Motorcycle Might Be:

A rental bike!

Let’s say you want to tour the mountains of India or Pakistan.

There is no perfect bike for this situation.

If you were to ride there, a big 1000cc+ bike would be a great bike for the job – for no other reason than you would you have to cover a lot of miles.

But once you got there, it would become the WORST bike for the job as you negotiate busy cities and dodgy terrain.

In this scenario, I would have to say that the better option would be a rental bike.

Spend a fraction of the price of a new bike by flying to your destination where you can rent a 400cc Royal Enfield Himalayan instead.

sometimes a rental bike is the best touring motorcycle
In some situations, the best touring motorcycle comes from a rental shop!

The Best Touring Motorcycle Is…

Whatever bike you have in the garage!

And don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise.

If you are young and/or inexperienced, you might not be in a position to spend a fortune on a dedicated touring bike.

If this is the case and you’re planning a relatively simple tour (like Europe), then the best touring motorcycle will ALWAYS be whatever bike you have.

Sure, you might need to make a few compromises. You’ll need to plan and prepare a little more thoroughly. But you certainly do not need a £15,000, specialist bike to go touring.

Trending: Can Touring Motorcycles Go Off-Road?

honda deauville alps
The best touring motorcycle is that one in your garage. In my dad’s case, this was his 20 year old Honda Deauville in the Alps

Adjusting Your Expectations

If you own a 250cc bike and you want to blast down the autobahn at 150mph covering 500 miles a day, then it’s fair to say this bike probably isn’t going to cut the mustard.

But if you adjust your expectations and plan more days with fewer, slower miles, then your bike is perfectly capable of doing the job.

Not only will it do the job, but it’ll do it perfectly well and you’ll love it for that.

It’s all about planning a tour based around realistic expectations – both of yourself and of your bike.

Ask Yourself:

  • What are the realistic capabilities of my bike?
  • How many miles can I realistically travel each day?
  • At what speed can I comfortably cover those miles?
  • How much luggage do I need to carry?
  • Am I carrying a pillion or camping gear?
  • What do I want from this tour?

When you answer these questions, your tour will write itself.

Don’t buy a bike from a manufacturer based on what the bike can do.

Answer the questions above and then consider if this can be done on the bike you already have.

I guarantee that with a little bit of planning, a little bit of pioneering genius, and a little bit of thought, the bike you have in your garage will be the bike you need for your tour.

Related: Are Sports Tourers Making A Comeback?

honda cbr 600 luxembourg - best touring motorcycle
My 1999 Honda CBR 600 in Luxembourg. In that setting, I couldn’t have asked for anything more!

The Best Touring Motorcycle: Conclusion

When it comes to touring, all you need is some fire in your belly and the ability to make the most of what you have.

That’s it. No fancy sales pitches, no fabulously inspiring videos and no bullshit.

You don’t need the latest, £15,000 touring-specific machine with all the bells and whistles.

Expensive add-ons aren’t necessary.

£1,000 manufacturer-endorsed touring suits are not mandatory.

And you don’t need to take out a loan to be a ‘proper’ motorcycle tourer.

Pretty much any road bike can tour providing you plan your route with the capabilities of yourself – and your bike – in mind.

Now go out there and do it.

And send me the pictures!

Top image via Yamaha

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