Ever since the very first motorcycles were built in garages and shacks at the turn of the 20th century, riders have been taking them on long distance journeys, or tours. These began as cross-state rides, evolved into cross-country adventures, and then became world crossing expeditions - all in a time when paved roads were a novelty.
As time passed, and conditions for travel improved, more and more riders set off to conquer all points of the compass. Motorcycle touring is so popular that bike manufacturers regularly produce machines built explicitly for such trips, almost eliminating the aftermarket need to make motorcycles more touring capable - almost.
If this is the sort of riding you are interested in, you likely have a bike designed for a long distance tour. Some bikes come accessorized and ready to go wherever the built-in GPS takes you. However, not all are, and even if the bike is setup well from the factory, you need to personalize it and make improvements which apply to your tour.
Next comes the rider. Outfitting the human body is at least as important as preparing the motorcycle. Your bike can be fixed or modified. If you wear improper gear, or are injured because of the lack of it, you're not going anywhere.
What can you do to make your tour smoother, safer and better? The easiest solution is to get proper gear and accessories before you begin a trip of any length. Make an extensive list of thoroughly researched items you need to take. Use the list as a guide, improve on it as you go, and then keep it around for your next road trip. Do it correctly now to save yourself from unnecessary pitfalls and make it possible to focus on a long and enjoyable ride.
Motorcycle Touring Equipment
A significant sector of the motorcycle industry includes touring parts and accessories ever since those first riders went out into the wild. However, a universal and exact list of what to carry on a long distance ride cannot be created - there are far too many options. Each rider boasts specific needs and desires so the complete list of touring accessories is fairly individual even if much of it is based on previously encountered journeys others have also completed.
Keep this in mind when creating a list of parts and accessories for your tour. It is wise to base it on someone else's list but it must conform to what you want to accomplish.
Information and Connectivity
The guidance and knowledge you bring on a tour varies greatly. These items depend on your level of technological adaptation along with where you intend to ride. For instance, a GPS satellite navigator does the job of maps, guide books and travelogues by giving you access to directions and many other travel necessities such as gas stops, eateries, and lodging.
Many smartphones work just as well but if your plans include riding in inclement weather, your precious smartphone may not survive. A purpose-built GPS for a motorcycle tour eliminates that worry. Plus, many motorcycle-specific GPS systems bring added benefits only available on such a unit - satellite radio, weather alerts, and even real-time traffic conditions.
Whatever tool you select as best for navigating your tour, mount it somewhere. Many companies offer such products and there is a wide variety of options available to the long distance rider.
Should your journey be taken with other riders or a passenger, a communication system can be indispensable. This is a growing category thanks to new connection and synchronization standards which have come from the mobile telephone industry. Selecting a good communication system for touring will entail several factors.
If you are riding with others, choosing the same system they are using is highly recommended as this is necessary for you to be able to actually use it with your compatriots. Those merely taking a passenger with them have an easier time. Find a unit which will work on your helmet - where these installed on the rider - and one which rates well in comparisons which you can afford.
An added benefit with almost all communication systems is that they will interface with other electronic devices, such as a GPS unit and/or a mobile phone, making your on-bike guidance and communications integrated, less intrusive and easier to utilize to the fullest.
Motorcycle Touring Luggage
Motorcycle touring often requires luggage unless you plan on wearing the same underwear every single day of the trip - not recommended, by the way. A wide selection of solutions exists for this purpose.
One solution is the tank bag. This piece of luggage sits atop the fuel tank (or where the fuel tank would traditionally be since many newer models place the fuel elsewhere) and is designed to carry mostly essentials, though some models can carry significant loads.
In a tank bag, look for water resistance - or, better, waterproof - and high durability properties to endure harsh conditions. One major concern with a tank bag is how it is affixed to the bike. Some are magnetic requiring a metal surface on the bike, while others use straps or suction cups allowing for a wider application. Choose the proper bag based on its mounting system, so that it will work on your bike model, and then choose based on design and carrying capacity.
Next on any touring storage list is saddlebags. These are also fairly diverse. Some motorcycles come with integrated panniers (saddlebags) and there is no need for an aftermarket purchase. In the case where the bike does not have them, or the stock units are simply unacceptable for the task at hand, there are many types, styles and sizes available.
Hard or soft, big or small, side-opening or top-opening - the options can be staggering. The best set of saddlebags fit your bike. Determine next what you will be bring and decide on the appropriate size. Finally, it comes down to the feature set - how will the saddlebags mount, will they work as off-bike luggage, and are they weatherproof are all important considerations.
Saddlebags often offer a choice of a "top bag" or Tail bag which usually rides on the passenger seat or rear luggage rack and attaches to the saddlebags in some manner. The available options are broad - hard or soft, small to extra large - and many integrate with the bike's brake light to add a higher level of conspicuity. Remember, do not put too much weight up high at the rear of the bike as it compromises handling.
Maintenance and Repair
Motorcycles require more maintenance than a car because of their very precise design and the fact that much of the important driveline is out in the open. Regular oil changes, a lubricated drive chain, properly inflated tires, and other exposed parts need continual attention. While on the road, problems may arise leading to side-of-the-road repairs so you'll need tools, common use items and spare parts.
Important items to keep with you include:
- Spare oil and filters (amount and number depending on the length of the tour)
- Chain cleaner and lubricant
- A tire pressure gauge
- Patches or plugs for tires
- Spark plugs
- Replacement gaskets and seals
- Cotter pins
- Tools to complete common maintenance and repair tasks
- Any number of items which specifically apply to a certain model of bike
Just in case take a list of dealerships and/or part suppliers located along your route so you can get address any issues you did not prepare for.
Think carefully! Consult with others who have toured your model of bike, and ask other long distance riders what they have found to be important for taking care of a touring bike.
A motorcycle tour goes much more smoothly if you wake up from your nightly slumber and find your motorcycle ready and willing to go. Should you become the victim of theft, your tour ends rather abruptly. Properly securing your bike should be near the top of your list.
Many mid- to high-end factory bikes include a security system, but an additional security solution can provide broader protection. One easy way to protect your bike while away from home is to use a cover. This does double duty in hiding the bike in a large, formless mass as well as protecting it from environmental factors such as rain, snow and the occasional defecating night flight bird.
Another quick pick is a motorcycle lock - a disc lock, a heavy-duty chain, or the ultimate in disablement, an aftermarket alarm system. The anti-theft properties of these vary, but the name of the game is deterrence. Keep a thief from even thinking your bike is an eligible target and you will keep riding as long as you wish.
Motorcycle Touring Gear List
Back when those first mile-eating journeys were taken, motorcycle-specific gear did not really exist. Riders of old used of all sorts of apparel to keep comfortable, and much of it was not up to the task. Today's apparel has come a very long way since those early years.
At the top of the list of improved gear is the humble riding jacket. As anyone who has taken to the streets on two wheels can surmise, a touring rider needs a jacket which is comfortable, flexible and extremely durable, and the industry has obliged.
Comfort gives obvious advantages since sitting on the seat of a bike for hours and hours, exposed to the environment, requires the rider to be content. The ideal motorcycle jacket entails a good fit, very good protection in case of an inadvertent fall, and aspects such as how easy it is to access the motorcycle controls, the pockets and other parts of the jacket, and any other important accessories carried along. A confining touring jacket is unusable especially when you are thousands of miles from home.
Flexibility is a must! The jacket should handle constantly changing conditions and activities. Riding across a nation, or even a state, often takes the rider through several micro-climates with changing weather - think of driving into the Sierras from the California coast. Jackets often have liners for the cold and vents for when it is hot, and most jackets designed for vast distances are water-resistant or waterproof. When the rider is off of the bike - for food, gas or lodging - the jacket should also work as any normal piece of outerwear would.
Anything and everything can happen on the road from the constant tiny movements required to operate the bike to a minor accident so a touring jacket should handle it with ease and strong enough to protect the rider in a more severe crash.
Select the correct motorcycle touring jacket, and you will not only find yourself forgetting that you are wearing it; you may discover that you wish to use it for season after season of riding.
All aspects of a jacket apply for the pants. Pants are often an afterthought for some riders but those who take to the far reaches know that a good pair is just as important as a jacket. Tour riding pants must be comfortable, flexible and durable.
Comfort is a necessity. Pants should fit well while in the riding position, and should hold this level of feel after many, many hours in the saddle. Another option to consider with pants is whether the seat is equipped with a material to keep you from sliding around. This becomes very important when things get wet.
Pants are not always as flexible as a jacket in terms of adjustability. However, this has changed somewhat in recent years and now many models come with a liner and built-in ventilation. Look for these qualities because, just like your jacket, you will face a variety of environments and having too cold or too hot appendages is not conducive to an enjoyable ride. You should also be able to do the normal off-bike activities without difficulty - easy access to pockets is highly recommended.
Durability can be even more important in a pair of touring pants than in the jacket. Pants continually contact the bike for most riding situations and this can cause abrasions and potential fabric-tearing snags. Pants also deflect more road debris. Any pair of touring pants absolutely must protect the rider's legs from whatever is encountered from rocks thrown up by tractor trailers to a severe impact with the roadway.
A popular choice among long distance touring riders is a suit. Suits make living on the long road a little simpler as all you deal with is one, single piece of apparel.
Suits should hold all the same qualities as a jacket and pants. However, there are some other considerations when dealing with a single piece instead of two.
The suit should have a well thought out entry and exit. Long, cross-body zippers are great for this, but many at least allow a large enough opening for someone to step into with street clothes on and, in most cases, even riding boots.
There should also be some way to easily access pockets on clothing underneath the suit. This usually this comes in the form of zippered or hook-and-loop equipped slots near where pants pockets are found - this is good for accessing your wallet, keys and change.
Suits can pose challenges. You may find issues with the legs of the suit not being of the correct length, or the sleeves being too long or too short, or even a weird fit around the torso and waist. Ensure you measure yourself and consult a size chart before you buy.
Touring helmets are the same helmets you wear riding around town. Even so, some features of your street helmet can make a long distance ride easier to handle.
The essential features of any helmet to use commuting or bombing canyons are at least equally as important to a rider planning to spend long hours within it. You want it to be all-day comfortable no matter what the weather is doing, and you need it to fit properly so that it is safe. Though nearly all full-face or modular (flip-up> helmets are sufficient for touring duty, a half or ¾-helmet is not recommended as they provide next to nothing to protect a rider from an inclement environment.
Some beneficial features of a touring helmet come down to maintenance and flexibility. After riding a long distance, a helmet can begin to smell less than fragrant. A quality helmet allows easy removal and cleaning of the interior lining to remove the dirt, bacteria and oils which cause odors and discomfort for the rider.
The faceshield should be easily cleaned, durable enough to deal with road debris, and it should be easy to change out for varying weather and lighting conditions. In some situations, it is a good idea to bring along a spare faceshield in case the primary shield fails or obscures vision for one reason or another.
Recent helmet innovations such as the modular or convertible options now available may make the tour a more enjoyable experience. Modulars allow the entire front of the helmet to be lifted up and out of the way. This makes conversation and communication, along with eating and drinking, far easier tasks.
Some convertible models not only have the same attributes of a modular model, but can change from a full-face street design to a more off-road friendly configuration by simply moving some parts of the lid around. Those touring riders looking for the ultimate in flexibility will find this type of lid very useful indeed.
Motorcycle Touring Gloves
Gloves for the long haul are easily finds. Hand protection is one apparel category featuring plenty of options for riders. In fact, there are so many designs on the market today that many long distance riders carry more than one pair with them to be as prepared as possible.
With gloves that are used for longer rides, there are the usual requirements - comfort, flexibility and durability - but there are additional features that a tour rider may find very useful.
Comfort is basic. A pair of gloves should fit, well, like a glove and fit close without being too tight to move your fingers. They should not have seams that rub up against the hand or fingers and cause abrasion or blistering. The rider should also have full use of hands and fingers in order to use the motorcycle's controls and accessories, and the rider must be able to get into apparel pockets when needed.
All-season gloves are the preferred option, but some hinder flexibility. This is why many riders take more than one pair of mitts. Multi-climate gloves often come with liners for the cold and vents for the heat. The problem is that while a cold weather glove can easily be water-resistant or waterproof, a vented glove usually cannot offer this.
In general, decide whether a pair of gloves is flexible enough for the season of your long ride - and then take a spare pair should conditions change strikingly in the opposite direction.
Gloves must be strong enough to handle rough use. Modern gloves bring numerous high-tech materials designed for this purpose as well as protecting the rider's hands in the event of a crash. Additional armor and padding also keeps the hands safe and have the added benefit of making them more comfortable.
Additional features incorporated into many of today's gloves include a small piece of plastic on the left thumb to wipe moisture off of a helmet visor while riding. Others offer high-tech elements like specially coated fingertips for use with touchscreen devices. . Other manufacturers equip their gloves with heat for comfort and safety.
The powersports footwear industry offers so many variations it can be difficult to decide the best pair for you. The feature lists are quite long, so focus on what is important.
Comfort, of course, should take priority. If your boots or riding shoes do not fit well, they can make it very difficult to focus on the ride at best, and can lead to an accident at worst. Know your size, in both U.S. and European systems, so that you can be sure to get the correct boots or shoes for your feet.
Weather is another important concern. Good touring boots give water-resistant protection, with most being waterproof. Temperature also factors here. Most long distance footwear incorporates heavy and thick materials, so look for boots with high-tech moisture-wicking fabrics integrated within so that your feet do not suffer for being safe.
Flexibility for touring boots and shoes leans more towards how a pair performs off the bike. Stiff boots on the bike makes operating the foot controls easier and helps protect the feet in a crash. Off the bike this same attribute makes footwear difficult to walk around in. When touring, you will spend plenty of time off of the bike. You should not have to think about your footwear when you stop, so find a pair flexible enough to walk around in.
As with any choice of footwear, touring boots or shoes need to be durable. The parts which make up the boots or shoes should have motorcycle-specific reinforcements and be designed to protect the feet in any accident. Most footwear designed for riding features a reinforced area where the gear shift pedal makes contact, toe and/or ankle sliders, and harder materials around the heel, for example. All of these keep both the feet and the footwear itself damage free and in good enough shape to continue the ride.
A complete list for a motorcycle riding tour includes all of the above plus any number of items specific to the rider and the route. Ultimately, these additional accessories are far too numerous to list in their entirety here. Doing so would be a fool's errand anyway as your tour list is very likely to differ a great deal from what another rider would want to have with him or her.However, a general list of some other potentially useful items might include some or all of the following:
- Cold weather gear - Heated apparel (partially covered in the Gloves section above), thermal linings and specially designed undergarments are all available to clothe you from head to toe, so take advantage of this technology if your tour takes you into any weather cold enough to have a serious effect on your ability to ride a motorcycle safely.
- Warm weather preparation - Heat is a problem much like excessive cold and it must be addressed so that it does not cause problems. Vented gear is the first step, but moisture-wicking and active cooling apparel are other ways to keep you cool on the road. Never forget to keep yourself hydrated as well. A hydration pack, where a bladder for carrying a drinkable liquid is integrated into a backpack, is a great solution for this.
- First aid - The road is a terrible place to be injured and unable to continue. Bring along a first aid kit for the minor and a mobile phone for the severe. Keeping a medical alert device for those with ongoing health concerns is also highly recommended. There are also many emergency alert devices available designed to instantly alert first responders should you have a crash. If you can afford one, get one of these.
- Snacks - When on a tour, you will not always find convenient places to eat.
- Other personal items: earplugs, toiletries, a powerful flashlight, a spare key or keys (for the bike, luggage, bike lock, etc.), extra batteries for electronic devices, a phone charger, extra bungee cords, extra medication, sunglasses, a high-quality camera, event tickets, or any number of small but important personal and tour-related items.
Written By: JC Current