Before you start skimming through this post and looking for the kit you need to pack or whether you should ride 500 or 800 miles each day… wait!
I want to instil from the start that your experience of touring Europe on your motorcycle will be far more enjoyable if you remember that it’s meant to be fun.
Yes, checklists come in handy. And I’m sure you can’t wait to drill down into the minutiae of the route prep. But so many people (including myself) make touring so much hard work that they deprive themselves of the enjoyment that goes with it.
Of course, you want to cover miles, ride roads, meet people, and be blown away by the scenery – and I promise you will.
But the first tip for planning that perfect trip to Europe is that you give yourself the best opportunity to enjoy it.
So with that, you’ll find the first half of this guide concentrates on factors that will actually allow you to enjoy your trip. The second half focuses more on the black-and-white elements, such as packing and the legal requirements of touring Europe on your motorcycle.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Enjoyment
Plan Using Time, Not Miles
I’ve said this a million times, and people still forge ahead planning days in the multiple hundreds of miles – forgetting that when the day finally comes around, they will be the ones who have to ride them!
Elaborate plans sound great – 9 months before your departure date when in your cosy apartment sipping on a Cabernet Sauvignon after a hard week in the office.
But when it comes down to getting on your bike and riding, the foremost factor is that it’s enjoyable, fun, and as easy and stress-free as possible.
So as you meander your way through your list of places to vist, plotting points on maps and figuring out where to go, disregard the mileage and look at the time it will take you to get there instead.
Because whilst covering thousands of miles sounds great when you’re bragging about it to your mates in the pub, you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more if your final tour is manageable. And we do this by measuring TIME, not miles.
Start Planning Early
So now we’ve got the misconception out of the way that miles matter, we can start with the exciting bit – the planning. And the good thing about this phase is that you can allow your mind to wander.
It doesn’t have to be anything set in stone at this stage. Allow your imagination to take you places, jot down notes or drop pins using Google My Maps. When you’ve got a basic idea of where you would like to visit, you can begin more in-depth research – reading forums, ride notes, or even reading a guidebook or two.
But planning early benefits you far more than simply getting your adrenalin pumping. Being ready early means hotels and campsites still aren’t fully booked. If you’re early enough, you might even get early-bird deals. More importantly, it allows you to book your spot on the ferries – which often get booked up months in advance.
Being early means you’re more likely to end up riding the tour you want – rather than a compromised version of it.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Rose-Tinted Glasses
Once you have a general idea of where you want to go, it’s time to start looking at whether your plans are realistic. Again, you don’t need to go overboard with the planning at this point – a cursory glance on Google Maps will suffice.
If you want to go to the Swiss Alps from the UK, for example, you can find the distance (and the estimated time to ride it) by simply typing it (or saying it) into Google Maps.
You could take it one step further by getting Google to avoid motorways or toll roads if this is your preference. This will give you an even better idea of how long it will take you to get there. From here, you can make the mental calculation of whether it will be worth it or not.
If it will take you three days to get there and three days to get back, it’s not worth the hassle if you only have a week off work – because you’ll have to come back as soon as you get there.
For most tours, I find the primary factor of whether I go or not revolves around how long it will take me to get there and back – and how much I’m prepared to suffer.
Decide Your ‘Why’
Once you understand how long it will take you to get there and back, you can plan the days in between. These form your ‘actual’ tour.
At this point, it’s important to ask yourself what you want to achieve from this tour – WHY you’re doing it.
Do you want to see as much as possible in a tour filled with frenzied days that leave you more tired than before you went? If so, go for it! I’ve done many tours like this, and they’re thrilling, demanding, and challenging. We call this the ‘A-B approach’ – because you’re forever moving from one place to the next, never stopping more than one night in each location.
Things To Consider With An A-B tour:
- Exciting and often non-stop
- See lots of places (albeit briefly)
- Often frantic and include time restraints
- You don’t get to experience places fully
- No optional rest days if you’re tired
But maybe you want time to relax, regenerate, and return home refreshed. Perhaps you want to experience and enjoy these places rather than simply whizz through them at 80mph.
If this is the case, consider the ‘flower petal approach’ where you base yourself at one hotel and then loop out and back every day in a different direction.
Figuring out what’s important to you will help you shape your tour. And if you shape your tour, you’ll enjoy it a thousand times more – I promise.
Things To Consider With A Flower Petal Tour:
- Far more relaxed
- Option to choose between long or short days depending on how you feel
- You can have a rest day whenever you feel like it
- Your most difficult days will be at the beginning and end of your tour – getting to and from your hotel
- Great for people who dislike packing/unpacking
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Realistic Route Planning
Planning realistic routes is a lot easier if you plan to ride a tour using the Flower Petal approach above – mainly because you can alter your route on the fly.
If you’re doing an A-B tour, you don’t have this luxury – you need to get to your next hotel.
I know from experience how demoralising it is when you’re feeling under the weather one morning, only to find you have a 400-mile slog to your next destination. It’s not fun – and it defies the logic of touring.
Be Honest With Yourself
Take this time to honestly ask yourself if your route is feasible. Will you be wrecked at the end of each day? If so, you’ll likely find yourself flagging on the second half of your tour, and your days will be spent simply trying to get home.
Rather than looking at the miles of each day, look at the time spent in the saddle. If all your days are 7-hour days, I’d reconsider your routes. Because by the time you account for a lunch stop, a few coffee breaks, toilet stops and photo opportunities, your seven-hour day would have turned into 11 hours.
Personally, I try to keep rides to Google’s estimation of 4-5 hours. On transit days, I might go higher if I’m prepared to suffer on the motorways to get there quicker. But for enjoyable days in the saddle, 5 hours is plenty. Add a few hours on for lunch, coffee breaks etc., and you’re looking at leaving the hotel at 10am and arriving back at 5pm.
Plan Lots of Breaks
I’ve been the guy who rode nine hours a day for a fortnight only to get home and realise I didn’t actually see anything.
And whilst the riding part of your tour is paramount, the memories you make will likely be from the times you weren’t on the bike.
When planning your day rides, add an extra hour or two onto your overall time to allow yourself the luxury of wandering, exploring, taking photos, enjoying the scenery, and making memories.
The same goes for rest days. It’s tempting to forge ahead without any breaks. And while this is fine, you generally get more from the trip when you plan time off the bike to explore the town, visit museums, enjoy the local food, and sample a few beers.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Look After Your Well-Being
I’m not a happy-clappy, hippy kind of guy. But looking after your mind and body on tour will lead to a better overall experience. And I know this through experience!
Riding shorter days, allowing yourself more breaks, and taking rest days contribute to a more rounded tour – whilst preventing aches, pains, and mental fatigue.
Others include keeping on top of hydration, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and enjoying alcohol sensibly.
Other factors to consider are your hobbies and passions. For example, I like to keep fit at home – and I continue this on tour by taking my running shoes. Running gives me a whole new dimension to enjoy on my trip. Similarly, I enjoy landscape photography – so factoring time for that goes a long way toward how I feel when I return.
Easy Things To Consider For Well-Being:
- Carry your hobbies and interests over from home
- Eat well
- Sleep well
- Light stretching to relieve aches and pains
- Walking, hiking, or exploring off the bike
Don’t Let Mishaps Spoil Your Tour
One thing I’ve come to realise over the years is that mishaps are just as much a part of your tour as the times that go right!
In fact, you remember the mishaps more – usually because they’re a drama, and you have to work to get out of them. So welcome them!
At some point on your trip, something will go wrong with your routing. Your sat nav will get confused and have you doing circles in the middle of Luxembourg for hours. There’ll be road closures. The fast mountain pass you’ve ridden all this way to ride will be covered in gravel for resurfacing. Or there’ll be a traffic jam halfway up Stelvio pass.
Worse still, you’ll get lost on the un-named roads of the Pyrenees, miles away from anyone, and accidentally off-road (on a fully-ladened bike rocking road tyres.)
And worse than that – you’ll have a spill, break something on your bike, and have to limp it back with a bruised body and dented pride.
And yes, I’m using my own examples there – those have all happened to me – and it can be draining when it happens.
At the time, you won’t see the funny side. So make a promise to yourself whilst still in the planning phases that you’ll make the conscious effort to embrace every second – even when things are going wrong.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Guided, Group, Or Solo
Once you’re at this stage, it might be worth taking a minute to take stock of how you feel about taking on the challenge. Are you excited and looking forward to it? Or does it all just seem a little too overwhelming?
If you’re the latter, perhaps you’ll feel more comfortable completing your tour as part of a group of riders – which also has benefits and drawbacks.
Many riding groups (particularly advanced riding groups) have trips to Europe as part of their calendars. And these can be an excellent way to learn the touring ropes and improve you’re riding whilst you’re at it!
If it’s more the logistics of the tour that’s bothering you, why not check out one of the many guided tours available? You usually pay a little more as somebody else has done all the hard work, so you don’t have to.
But at least with a guided tour, you’ll ride the best roads, have your meals and hotels taken care of, you won’t have to worry about routing issues or getting lost, and literally everything is done for you.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are solo riders. These riders are usually confident in their abilities – not just as riders, but in their ability to figure things out by themselves in a foreign country and to take care of themselves without support.
It’s a tough ask, but it’s an immense achievement.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Planning-Focused
Decide On Your Navigation
For a long time, my choice of navigation was a dedicated sat nav, wired into the bike’s battery for constant and reliable power. However, they’re overly expensive, fiddly, and can often have a mind of their own! They’re great when they work, but can be a drain on your energy and time when they don’t.
Recently, I changed to using my smartphone for touring Europe on my motorcycle, and I don’t see myself returning to my Garmin. I still take it with me on tour as a backup. But for most places, I find my phone is easier, more convenient, and less hassle.
Finding the right app for you may take some trial and error. In the months leading up to your trip, download the free versions of the ones you like the sound of and give them a try. Work out what’s important to you and what isn’t, and base your choice on your priorities.
Once you decide on the one you like, take the time to get familiar with it. Because when something goes wrong with your route on tour (which it will!), stress is kept to a minimum when you know what to do.
Apps Worth Considering:
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Finding The Best Routes
On my first few tours, I planned everything myself – such was my confidence in my abilities! But alas, I spent most of my time sorting out mistakes and getting myself back on track.
And this is a problem – because most of us only have a limited time to ride. We only have a week or two off work, so every road we ride has to matter. There isn’t time to ride a long boring road when there’s an incredible mountain pass running parallel to it!
To solve this, take advantage of the information that’s already out there. Thousands of riders have ridden the roads you’re planning. Tap into that knowledge, listen to their tips on forums, and note down what is over-rated or not worth the effort.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Preparing Your Bike & Documents
Book Your Bike In For Maintenance
Wherever you’re going and however well-maintained your bike is, I recommend booking it in with your mechanic for a health check (at the very least) a few weeks before you leave.
Depending on when you go, this might also mean getting it MOT’d, serviced, and/or getting new tyres.
Whatever your bike requires, get it done. And don’t scrimp! If you feel you might be okay with the tyres you have, don’t take the risk. Get them changed and keep the old pair for when you get back.
Give yourself plenty of time to do this – not the week before you leave. As is often the case with these things, your mechanic might need additional time to diagnose an issue or get parts. I’d recommend getting any work done four weeks before you leave to avoid rushing. It also gives you time to readjust any repairs if needed.
If you’re travelling to Europe from the UK, paperwork is relatively straightforward. If you’re travelling from the US, Australia, or Asia, check to see if you need any visas or special documentation. This can usually be found on the government website of the country you wish to visit.
If you’re a UK national, all you really need for Europe is your passport (make sure it has more than six months before it expires) and your driver’s licence.
Other documents include your vehicle log book (V5), motor insurance certificate, and MOT certificate.
Check with your vehicle insurance provider in advance whether you are covered to ride in the countries you wish to visit.
Also, check how many days you are covered, as most policies only cover you for 15-30 days abroad. You may need to take out a separate policy for particular countries or if you plan to stay longer than the allotted time.
Finally, consider whether you need a Green Card. Before Brexit, UK citizens didn’t need one. Then they decided we did, and then we didn’t again! Currently, UK nationals don’t need a Green Card for most European countries. But the rules are forever changing, so it’s worth checking before you leave.
This is not the same as your bike insurance and is covered under an entirely different policy. Your bike insurance covers your bike relating to theft and accidents. Personal insurance covers you, any medical treatment you may need on the road and (at the very worst) repatriation.
Something else we highly advise you to get is a GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card), which prevents you from having to pay astronomical health bills if you need a hospital visit.
A few years ago, it was known as the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card.) It’s now been rebranded as GHIC and is still available for free for UK nationals.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: GB (Now UK) Sticker
The GB sticker we all know is now defunct. You now need a UK sticker instead – unless you have a UK identifier on your number plate (including the Union flag.)
It’s worth noting that if you have the GB identifier on your number plate (rather than the UK identifier), you will still need a UK sticker – even if you have a Euro symbol or the English, Welsh, or Scottish flag.
In short, get a UK identifier on your number plate (or get a UK sticker.)
Don’t ever be tempted to tour Europe without breakdown cover. For newer bikes, it’s pretty cheap – many manufacturers even give you a year free when you buy a new bike.
As all the costs mount up for your trip, it’s easy to brush breakdown cover under the carpet. But as someone who has broken down in the South of France, I can categorically say that breakdown cover is worth every penny!
My tour came to an abrupt end at the bottom of the Col de l’Iseran. Fortunately, I could limp it to the hotel. But the breakdown caused havoc with hotel bookings, repatriation of the bike, and almost everything else.
Thanks to the breakdown service, my bike was shipped back to the UK, and I was provided with two courtesy cars to continue my trip (one in France and one in the UK). Plus, my ferry and taxis were also paid for to get me home.
Well worth the £40!
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Consider Any Legal Requirements
You need to have a hi-viz jacket and a reflective breakdown triangle if you have a mechanical failure at the roadside. It’s also worth carrying an alcohol tester (that isn’t expired), although this is no longer a legal requirement.
It’s often written that you need reflective stickers on your helmet when visiting France. However, I’ve never heard of anyone being pulled over for this (even the locals don’t have stickers on their helmets).
That said, I’ve heard of riders being fined for not wearing CE-approved gloves.
Another misconception is the idea that you must legally carry spare bulbs. This isn’t the case – although it isn’t necessarily a bad idea to carry some.
The Spanish are generally easygoing. But you still need a hi-viz jacket, and a spare pair of glasses if you wear them.
It’s worth mentioning that loud exhausts are frowned upon in Spain.
As with Spain, the German’s are easygoing, but they will batter you with speeding fines if you’re caught. It’s worth noting that not all autobahns have unlimited speed limits. Some do, some don’t. So be careful!
Another misconception about Germany is that the roads are fast. On the autobahn, you’ll spend most of your time stuck in traffic – so it’s not quite as fast as you would think!
You can filter through this traffic though – provided the traffic isn’t moving.
A beautiful country with wonderful people, but beware of atrocious driving standards! Riding in Italy is often chaos. Throw a tonne of bikes at the Dolomites and it can be a dubious place to ride.
Also, beware if you’re heading towards any of the cities. I thought I was going to die the last time I rode to Venice.
Legally, Italy is much the same as the rest of the EU. But you will need to carry a high-viz jacket.
Switzerland is a bit like Norway in that you need to be careful! It’s a biker’s mecca, but due to the sheer amount of tourists there and the Swiss government’s penchant for financially ruining people caught speeding, it can be an expensive trip.
The two big things to remember about Switzerland are: Don’t speed, and ensure you have a vignette.
A vignette allows you to ride on the motorways (a bit like road tax in the UK.) You can get away with not buying one if you plan on staying off the motorways. But you’ll face a hefty fine if you get caught without one.
The good news is that vignettes can be found everywhere – including border crossings, service stations, petrol stations, and even grocery stores.
Despite being a Schengen country, many of the rules in Norway are the same as the EU. The main thing to watch out for here is speed cameras – which are heavily enforced.
The locals drive slowly and to the letter of the law. And whilst you won’t see many police patrols on your travels, you’ll find speed cameras around every corner – even in the mountains.
That said, they do give you lots of notice leading up to them – so if you get caught, it’s your own fault!
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: When & Where
How To Get There
Getting to Europe from the UK is easy. But there are a few things to consider when planning your trip there.
Firstly, don’t be tempted to ride your way there if time is limited. For example, don’t get the Eurotunnel to Calais and then ride all the way through France to get to the Pyrenees. Just get the ferry to Santander from Plymouth – it takes 20 hours, which is better than a week of riding!
Also, you don’t have to use Calais at all. Consider other ferry ports, such as Le Havre, Dieppe, or Hook of Holland.
Another thing to remember is that you can sail into one port and then leave from another. This means you don’t necessarily have to do an entire round trip – affording you more time to travel because you have less transiting to do.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: When To Go
Unfortunately, you’ll get the best out of Europe in the summer months – so June, July, and August.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t go outside these months. Touring in September is often quieter and cheaper – but it’s a little colder, and you might get more rain. May can be the same.
One thing to remember is that many mountain passes can remain closed up until mid-May, depending on the previous winter’s snowfall. Be sure to take this into account when deciding when to go.
If you want a quiet, hassle-free trip without crowds, consider southern Europe during the winter months. Andalusia is an awesome place to ride in October/November. It’s usually cheap as it’s out of season, and you’ll have the roads to yourself.
Accommodation can make or break a tour and is usually the most expensive factor of your trip. Of course, there are numerous options you can take.
Hotels work great if you want an easy life, but you pay for that luxury. That said, if you can afford it, websites like booking.com offer a filtering system so you can tailor your search to what you need.
Air BnB can also work, especially if you plan on touring for longer periods like 4+ weeks. We have 4 months of travel planned for this year – all of them using Air BnB’s.
If money is a driver for you, camping is a superb way of keeping costs down – especially if you already have the gear to begin with. There are many campsites across Europe – and wild camping is legal in most countries.
Be sure to book early for the peak season. In places like Norway, campsites get booked up months in advance.
Related: Motorcycle Camping Gear Checklist
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Packing
Despite the many arguments you might read on the internet, there are no hard and fast rules to what luggage you should use.
In my humble opinion, soft luggage is best for off-road trips. It’s lighter, more versatile, won’t get warped/ruined by falls and bangs, and won’t rip your leg off when you fall (like an aluminium pannier might.)
For road-only tours, I’d go for hard luggage. It provides better protection from the weather and is more secure – especially handy if you have to leave your bike on the street overnight.
But the truth is, it’s whatever you prefer. Or whatever you can afford.
I started with soft luggage on my CBR600 many years ago before graduating to hard luggage on my adventure bikes later.
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Don’t Overpack!
If you’ve done any amount of Googling about packing for a motorcycle trip, you’ll see that EVERYBODY tells you to pack light. And the reason for that is it’s true!
You won’t use/need most of what you think you will. Taking clothes that are multifunctional save loads of room (for example, a mid-weight fleece that can be used both on and off the bike).
If you take base layers, they usually dry overnight. This means you can take one or two base layer tops that you wash and dry each night rather than 14 cotton t-shirts for a two-week trip.
The way to pack is to be ruthless. Write your list and then scrub off all the things you know you can do without. When you’ve done that, figure out how to refine it even more. The less you take, the easier your trip will be.
We made a comprehensive list of everything you will need when touring (link below), but here are a few of the essentials:
- Helmet (legal and comfortable)
- Riding suit (or waterproof/warm jacket and pants)
- Consider a summer jacket for June-August tours
- Winter gloves if touring in the mountains
- Summer/mesh gloves for tours in the warmer months
- Dedicated waterproofs (one-piece or two-piece)
- Waterproof boots
- Base layers
- Neck buff/snood
- Spare gloves
Most people are usually in one of two camps regarding tool kits. The first camp is the people who take a massive bag of tools on every trip (my dad). The second camp takes very few tools, if any (me).
I tend to sway towards the latter – simply because I’m not very good at fixing stuff!
You can go any way you want with tools. Just remember they’re heavy and take up a lot of room. A general rule is that if I don’t know what a tool is (or what it does), then I don’t take it – because what’s the point?
If you’re off-roading, taking a more comprehensive tool kit isn’t a bad thing. Nor is taking spares. Just make sure you know how to use/fit them.
Other than that, most European cities will have main dealers and back street garages – although you might end up paying through the nose for their services.
In all my years of touring, I’ve never had any issues with security. I’m not saying things don’t happen, but I’ve never seen anything happen in my own experiences.
For the first few times I toured, I took a security chain, disc locks, and even my bike cover.
These days, I take a hefty (visible) disc lock as I spend most of my time in the mountains surrounded by cows. I might take a second disc lock if I have the space (or if stopping in a city overnight.)
Small, light locks that act as a visible deterrent are the way to go when touring. You could also try an alarm (although they’re generally a pain), an alarmed disc lock (also a pain), and/or a tracker (recommended.)
Touring Europe On Your Motorcycle: Cost
The Main Culprits
How much does all this cost? Ha! A lot is the short answer. In my experience, I find it’s best to accept that touring Europe on your motorcycle will be expensive and just get on with enjoying it.
And whilst I know many people who tour on a shoestring, they always come back looking homeless and malnourished.
By all means, save money where you can and take advantage of vouchers or freebies – I certainly do! But if you think a lack of money will turn your enjoyable tour into a struggle, do yourself a favour and keep saving until next summer.
The biggest factor in gobbling up your cash is accommodation. Hotels are the worst, but you can claw money back by getting ones that include breakfast, provide free lunch packs, or discounted rates for evening meals.
Hostels can also be a good compromise.
Air BnB can work out cheap for longer periods away – especially if you’re sharing as part of a group.
Fuel & Food
The next money-eater is fuel – which you can’t do anything about! It’s worth remembering that fuel costs differ in different countries. So if you plan on touring Europe on your motorcycle for a long while (4+ weeks), stay away from places like Switzerland or Norway where fuel is extortionate.
Other than that, all you can do is keep half an eye on the petrol gauge, staying economical where possible and generally looking after the fuel.
Finally, consider where you will eat as food can really, ahem, EAT into your budget.
Restaurants are the worst, as you might expect. Although they generally are the most satisfying and filling.
I spend a lot of time in supermarkets whilst on tour, especially in places like France and Spain. Supermarket cafes provide superb food at reasonable prices. And buying a baguette, some meats/cheeses, and a bottle of local wine is a tenth of the cost of eating out.
Top image: Lisha Riabinina