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Get organized before your next road trip! In this ultimate guide, we give you tips and hacks to help your next trip go smooth.
There’s nothing more awesome than taking a motorcycle road trip and getting the wind in your face! How you get ready can help your trip go smooth. In this guide I give you some basic recommendations how to prepare for a long motorcycle trip.
There’s little so freeing and so exhilarating as taking a long trip on a motorcycle.
Imagine the wind rushing around you as the pavement zips by under your feet. You have complete control over your body and your vehicle, and the fresh air and sunshine is directly on you without any filtration through a windshield or a metal car body.
You can experience all this freedom yourself, but it’s important to take some time to prepare yourself properly for your trip before you take off on the ultimate motorcycle tour.
How To Prepare For A Long Motorcycle Trip
Everybody has their own way of getting prepared for a road trip, but when you decide to go by motorcycle it’s a bit different.
If you’ve never planned a long motorcycle ride or have done it many times, you’ll find some useful info here.
Yes, some of these things seem like a no brainer but simple things can get lost in the shuffle of trip planning.
Here’s what I’ll cover here:
- Service your motorcycle before the trip
- Get a safety inspection
- Chose the right clothing
- Pick the appropriate gear for the trip
- Select a navigation system (preferably two)
- Plan a basic itinerary
- Create a packing list
- Special items for men and women
- Basic travel hacks
- General motorcycling hacks
- Budget for your trip
Service Your Bike Before You Go
One thing is for sure;
Your motorcycle journey will end far too quickly if you haven’t taken the correct precautions to make sure that your bike is in top shape.
The last thing you want to do is end up on the side of the road, waiting for assistance and ruining your trip.
Avoid preventable issues by giving your motorcycle a thorough check-up before you embark on your trip.
You wouldn’t skimp any other time, so don’t start now!
Check Your Engine Oil
The manufacturer’s service manual will give you information about how often you should be checking your engine oil, what kind of oil you should use and how frequently you should be changing the oil of your specific type of motorcycle.
I personally change my oil every 3,000 miles, but that’s just me.
However, the general rule for most bikes is to make a change every 3700 miles
If you’re making mostly short trips on your bike, or if you’re not frequently traveling on it, you’ll likely need to change the oil more frequently.
Wanna save some cash for the trip? Here’s some info on how you can do yourself. Make sure you have your owner’s manual handy for your motorcycle. If you don’t have it go to your local dealer and get the info or go online.
The steps for changing your motorcycle engine oil are fairly simple:
- Gather all your tools in one place so you’re not hunting for supplies during the changing process
• Prop up your bike on your side stand, center stand or rear stand
• Place a drain pan directly under the bolt to catch the draining oil
• Carefully remove the bolt, but be careful not to strip it
• Unscrew the oil filter with a filter wrench, being careful not to damage it
• Finish draining the oil
• Replace the old crush washer to maintain the threads of your oil drain plug
• Clean the drain bolt, and put it back on without over-tightening it
• Fill the filter about a quarter of the way with clean oil
• Rub a little oil on the rubber seal to provide good contact with the engine
• Also apply a little oil around the filter area on the engine
• Screw in the new filter carefully, but don’t force it, and don’t use any tools to tighten it
• Use a funnel to add more oil until it reads between “add” and “full” when the motorcycle is sitting upright and not leaning on a stand
• Make sure you’ve replaced all the caps and bolts
For you visual learners (like me) here’s a video:
Check Your Other Fluids
Although the engine oil is the most frequently checked fluid in a motorcycle, there are several other substances that must also be examined and possibly replaced before you undertake a bike tour.
Specially if you’re going to be dealing with extreme heat or cold.
Your motorcycle coolant should be changed frequently, and most riders do it about once a year. You’ll likely need propylene glycol in your bike, but make sure that you check your manual before making any changes. Consider mixing a little ionized water with your coolant to prevent scale buildup that can damage your bike’s system.
When you’re cruising along the highway or the back roads on your bike, you want to be confident that you’ll be able to stop at a moment’s notice. Keeping your brake fluid full and properly maintained is important to your safety. Motorcycle brake fluid should be glycol-based and should be changed every 1-2 years.
Motorcycles that feature a wet clutch gearbox don’t need transmission or gear oil changed. However, if your bike has a gearbox that’s independent from your engine, you’ll need to check the transmission oil at least once a year.
Most manufacturers suggest that you change your fork oil every 1-2 years unless you frequently ride off-road or travel extremely long distances. Make sure that you fill your forks to the prescribed levels. Both too much and too little oil can have dire consequences on the ability of your bike to perform.
Keep a sharp eye wherever you park your bike for the tell tale signs of oil on your front tire and on the ground.
Hydraulic Clutch Fluid
Treat your hydraulic clutch fluid the same as your brake fluid. In fact, you can often use the same fluid for both, and you should change them at the same time to make it easier on yourself to remember your maintenance schedule.
Check Your Tires
You can’t forget to check your bike’s tires. The most important aspect of tire safety is inflation; you have to have proper air pressure in your tires in order to maintain the performance and the life of your wheels.
Under inflation of your front tire specially will make turns (you’ll really notice it at low speeds) more difficult. If its hard to turn the front wheel at low speeds or even sitting still, changes are your front tire is too low.
As always, examine your bike’s manual to find out the perfect tire pressures, but there are some basic steps for examining and adjusting your tire pressure:
• Visually check your tires at least weekly but always before a long trip
• First read the recommendations for tire pressure on your motorcycle for single riders or passengers/cargo
• Never exceed the tire’s load limit to avoid tire failure
• Check the current tire pressure and adjust the tires as necessary
• Inspect the tread depth of your tires
• When the tread is worn to about 2/32 inches of tread remaining, you need to replace your tires
• Look over the tire surfaces for evidence of cuts, embedded objects or sidewalls cracking
• Clean your sidewalls with a mild soap solution to make it easier to check your tires more quickly
In addition to checking your motorcycles manual, take a look at the sidewall on your tires. Each tire should have a number with “psi” behind it, that indicates how much air that tire can hold.
For example, “45 psi”.
Most motorcycle tires will last somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 miles, depending on your weight, your common riding conditions and other factors.
Did you just change your motorcycle tires?
If you just put brand new tires on your motorcycle make sure you take some time and break them in. If your not sure, check out our article on how to break in new motorcycle tires. It’s easy and will save you from getting in a crash.
Have a Professional Safety Inspection
This is highly recommended.
Even if you’ve been maintaining your bike, it’s a good idea before a long tour to have a professional inspection done to double-check for problems that you might have missed. This is an even better idea if you’ve been a little lax in the care of your bike.
Your dealership or a local mechanic would be a good place to have this thorough inspection completed. These are the areas that you should make sure that your professional examines for you:
• chassis, wheels and suspension
• steering head bearings, leaking seals or restricted movement on front forks
• swing arm
• rear shocks
• brakes and brake pads
• brake rotor and brake drum
• final drive chain, belt and shaft
• air and fuel filters
• transmission and primary drive
• fuel and vacuum lines
• exhaust system
• electrical system
• turn signals, gauge lights and warning indicators
• headlight, driving and fog lights
• wiring and switches
• clutch, brake and throttle operations
• luggage rack, saddle bags and top case
• crash bars
If you have a buddy that can perform the inspection great! If not, it’s worth paying a few bucks to have it done.
Have the mechanic go over all the inspection points with you so that you have a thorough understanding of the condition of your motorcycle.
This will help you in case something does go wrong, you know the condition of the bike when you started and gives you a reference point to help isolate problems.
Choose Your Clothing
Riding a motorcycle is great fun, but only if you’re properly dressed for the experience.
When you’re on your bike, you’re at the mercy of the outdoor elements, and you’re often traveling at high speeds.
You need to be dressed appropriately for your trip; otherwise, the entire experience will be less fun for you. In fact, ‘less fun’ is an understatement – you will be miserable!
As obvious as it sounds, the type of clothing that you wear will depend greatly on the weather in which you will be riding. A lot of riders either forget or don’t bother to dress appropriately for weather they know they will going into.
For example, if you’re traveling through Texas during the hot summer months, you’ll want to adjust your attire to keep you cooler.
However, if you’re riding through snow-covered terrain, warmer clothing will be more appropriate. Don’t forget about changing weather and precipitation as well.
If you’re going on a long tour, you’ll want to have some different pieces of clothing that will cover many different situations.
Gather Your Basic Clothing Needs
No matter what the weather or climate conditions of your ride, there are a few items that you most definitely need with you. These include:
• a helmet (sometimes I carry two depending on space. A full helmet and a half shell)
• a jacket
These items are necessary for safety as much as for comfort. Most motorcycle accidents cause injury to the legs, face and jaw areas, and these piece of clothing will best keep you safe.
Choose the Right Motorcycle Jacket and Pants
In addition to a helmet, the most important pieces of clothing you should consider for your motorcycle tour are a good pair of pants and a jacket.
The materials that you choose for these items really depend on your personal preferences. Many bikers opt for leather because it offers protection from abrasions, sometimes called “road rash.” However, leather can be stiff, uncomfortable and hot.
Other bikers prefer to wear a suit made of composite fabric materials that allows you to wear other clothing underneath it and that is easy to take on and off.
Many of these suits are completely waterproof, giving you protection in the rain. Try to find something with some padding or armor around the shoulders, back and elbows for extra protection.
When you’re choosing a jacket, make sure that your sleeves aren’t too long. You don’t want them to bunch up around your wrists, making it more difficult for you to steer safely. If your sleeves are too short, they won’t provide any protection.
Basic Motorcycle Jacket Feature To Look For
The jacket I use (as do a lot of riders) is a motorcycle jacket with an inner and outer shell, with armor sewn into the inner shell. When worn together, you have the benefit of being warm.
This nice thing about this set up if it’s too hot, you can just take off the outer shell and wear the inner that has the armor in it.
Joe Rocket is a popular brand that comes to mind that has this feature, but there are many others.
The same is true when it comes to the length of your pants. Many riders choose to wear jeans, but this material offers almost no abrasion protection. Look for pants that gives padding around the knees, hips and tailbone for the most safety.
Pick Appropriate Boots and Gloves
Gloves and boots are also important to the comfort and safety of your ride. You need some sort of hand protection, and riding gloves are the best.
For a long-distance tour, look for gloves that are snug but not so tight that they are uncomfortable or that they will come off during an accident.
Your gloves should have wrist straps and long gauntlets that will help keep them in place, even as you’re moving.
If gauntlets aren’t your thing, just make sure that you have gloves that are comfortable and keep your hands protected.
Boots are often overlooked in their significance, with many riders choosing hiking or work boots.
However, you need a good riding boot that covers the top of your ankle to give you the best protection. You should have padding or armor around the heel, ankle, toe and shin areas.
You also want something with a comfortable fit and good traction.
The traction of a riding boot gets overlooked a lot. If your boot doesn’t provide good traction, your feet can slip out from under you and your coming to a stop (at a stop light for instance) causing you to drop your bike.
I’ve had many times that this has nearly happened to me due to my footwear, and it always causes me to think twice anytime I get on my motorcycle.
Consider Other Clothing Ideas
After you have the basic pieces of your riding attire, consider some other options that will increase your comfort and your enjoyment of your trip.
These could include:
• long underwear that provides insulation and moisture wicking
• an electric vest for keeping warm in cold climates
• polar fleece for underneath your pants or jacket
• a full riding suit for exceptionally cold weather
• hand-warmers in your gloves or boots
• a vented helmet for hot weather
• a vented jacket for hot weather
• a wet bandana around your neck for cooling
• a rain suit for extremely wet weather
• rubber booties under your boots for waterproof protection
Although it may be tempting just to wear a t-shirt and shorts in hot weather, remember that you want to keep your body safe. Leaving your skin completely exposed may feel cool, but you’re putting yourself at risk for road rash and other injuries.
When it comes to shirts, wear a long sleeve shirt. I have several summer style long sleeve shirts on hand that are made of lighter material that I can wear.
This keeps my arms covered, but give me nice comfort in the heat.
Select a Navigation System Or Method
Whether you completely plan out your motorcycle tour before you set off, scheduling all your stops, or you opt for a freer trip with no planned destinations, you’ll need some sort of navigation system to track your direction and your location.
Although I would recommend that you have some sort of trip plan in place even if you opt for the ‘freer trip plan’.
Use a Paper Map
Although seemingly “old school” in terms of travel and navigation, there’s no reason that you can’t rely on a paper map to help you plan and track your motorcycle tour.
Purchase a map that shows the entire area that you’re planning traverse, or locate several maps to piece together to create the entire region.
Topography maps are especially useful for motorcycle riders because they can warn you about particularly rough terrain or altitudes that may be more difficult to cover by bike.
You should also consider using a waterproof map. Because you may need to refer to your map throughout your journey, even in inclement weather, a waterproof map will save you a lot trouble and lost time if your paper becomes damaged from rain or snow.
Not my cup of tea but still a great map hack
A great trick for planning your trip with a paper map is to use string to quickly determine distances.
String is very easy to pack into your gear, and it won’t let you down when you don’t have cell phone service to access your GPS.
Using the key on your map, make dark marks on your string at reasonable intervals, such as every 50 miles.
When you place the string on top of the map, these marks help you see the distances between locations. For example, if you’re thinking about making a side trip to a nearby town or landmark, you can place the string from your current location to the potential stop.
If there are 1.5 string marks from your current location to the stop, you know that it’s about 75 miles away, and you can plan the extra time needed to get there and back on track.
This method is an excellent way to plan side trips and to estimate the times you will arrive at your overnight locations.
Pick a Free GPS App
If paper maps aren’t your style, or even if you want another method of tracking your tour, there are many apps available on your cell phone. Even better, many of these GPS trackers are free for you to use and to enjoy, whether you’re an iPhone or an Android user.
Google Maps is probably the most used free GPS app. It provides very accurate maps, often updating as Google works to improve its services. You’ll also receive voice guidance and even turn-by-turn directions. However, those services are difficult to utilize on a motorcycle when you’re outside, when it’s noisy and when both of your hands need to stay on the handles.
If you have an iPhone, another popular choice is Waze. This app relies on user-generated traffic information to create its maps. There are fewer voice prompts than some other apps, but Waze gives excellent information about the road conditions and the potential for slow traffic on your desired route.
I like using this app on the motorcycle and when I’m traveling by car, it seems easier to use.
Another iPhone option is Here Maps, a free but offline source for driving, pedestrian and cycling navigation. The benefit of this service is that it’s available offline, so you can use it even if you’re in a remote or out-of-service area.
The InRoute app is also free for iPhone users. If you want up-to-date information about weather and for planning your trip around the sunrise and sunset times, this is the app for you. To get the most out of InRoute, however, you’ll need to purchase the premium upgrades and to learn to navigate the sometimes-confusing interface.
If you’re an Android user, check out GPS Essentials. Although the interface is a little out-of-date, you’ll appreciate the dashboard that monitors your altitude, distance traveled, average speed and even estimated time of arrival. This app is useful for navigating outdoor trails as well as roadways, so it may be perfect for a backcountry tour.
Plan a Basic Itinerary
As a motorcyclist looking to go on a tour, you’re probably at least somewhat constrained by your timeline. Whether you have work or other commitments weighing on your time use, you’ll have to find ways to accomplish your traveling goals while still being faithful to your available timeframe.
There truly is no right or wrong way to go about planning your trip. It is your tour, and you have the ability to make any stops or changes that you want. Likewise, you can choose how to plan your route and whether to use a map or planning software. You could even choose to not make any plans at all.
If you would like to plan your trip, it can be a very time-consuming process, especially if you’re traveling in a group.
Consider these suggestions to get you started in your planning:
1. Decide where you want to go. It’s very difficult to create a useful itinerary if you don’t have an end destination in mind.
2. Do a little research. You don’t have to fill notebooks with statistics and other factual information, but it does help to read
travel blogs or forums or to watch some videos made by other travelers.
3. Make a list of places or activities that you definitely want to experience during your trip.
4. Map your main route. You can choose to use a map, planning software, or any other source. Plug in your start and finish locations, and then you can find the best, fastest or even most scenic routes in between.
5. Figure your daily mileage. This will help you determine the best places for your overnight stops. You can start by dividing the total mileage evenly over your trip length, and then you can adjust as necessary for points of interest. The ideal daily distance on a motorcycle is usually 200-300 miles.
6. Plan your stops. Think about places that you want to see, where you will stay overnight and what food might be available in each of these places. Don’t forget about needing gas stations at regular intervals as well.
7. Divide your trip into individual days. You can plan it in a GPS device, make a spreadsheet or even write it down on a calendar. Use the method that works best for you.
Once you have a tour planned, remember that you can always adjust as necessary, even if you are already on the road. There’s no reason that you must be tied to a particular itinerary; don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time in mapping out your trip and then making changes.
Create a Good Packing List
Creating a packing list for yourself is going to a long way to getting you organized for motorcycle trip (or any trip really).
Even with the basic clothing needs met, there are still a lot items that you need to take into account when you’re making your motorcycle tour packing list.
Think about your own needs for your specific trip, but consider these popular items for your motorcycle:
• luggage, such as saddlebags, a tail bag or some other type of storage
• a GPS system and maybe a GPS mount
• a good motorcycle cover
• bungee cords for attaching luggage and other important items
• a lock or security system for your stops
• a tool kit, including wrenches and a screwdriver
• a tire repair kit, including tubes, patches and plugs
• roadside cleaning supplies, such as a cleaner and a cloth
• chain oil or wax
• a spare key
I keep my packing list on my phone and on my computer so I have it in multiple locations in case I lose one copy of it.
You’ll also need clothing for the entirety of your trip. This might include:
• wrinkle-free shirts and pants
• a sweater, sweatshirt or pullover
• a windbreaker or other light jacket
• walking shoes or sandals for exploring off-bike
• hats or visors
• a swimsuit
• plenty of socks
• dress clothes if appropriate
Don’t over pack some these items like socks and underwear.
It sounds crazy, but I only take a maximum of three pairs of underwear. I wear one pair (of course) and pack the other two. The key here is to spend a little more money and buy underwear of breathable material.
Not only are they more comfortable, but they’re easy to wash and dry in your hotel room if there is no laundry available. With a lot of the newer breathable polyester materials they will dry out in 10 – 15 minutes.
Socks I’ll pack about 5 days’ worth (maybe 6) and make sure that at least one or two pairs are heavy enough to keep my feet warm.
When it’s done right, socks can also be washed in the hotel room
Toiletries And Personal Items
Finally, remember that you’ll want all of your own toiletries for personal hygiene and grooming purposes.
Think about any particular issues you might have on a long bike ride that might be different than traveling via other modes of transportation.
Some suggestions include:
• pharmaceuticals, such as anti-inflammatory or pain meds or anti-allergy meds
• bug repellant
• laundry detergent
• favorite soap, shampoo and deodorant
• toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
• grooming supplies, such as shaving cream, a razor and nail clippers
• glasses, contacts contact solution
• universal adaptor/phone charger
• wallet with cash and/or credit cards
• identification, including a passport if you’re crossing country lines
Choose Special Items for Men
Male motorcyclists are notorious for minimalist packing. In addition to the previously mentioned items, some men will add a few more tools and perhaps a laptop. Depending on your overnight plans, you may also want to pack a tent, pillow and cooking supplies if you intend to camp rather than to stay at a motel or another type of lodging.
When it comes to minimal packing, I pride myself on how little I can get away with taking. This becomes a source of consternation for my gal when we do ride prep.
If you experiment with your packing, you’ll be surprised at how little you really don’t need to carry.
Choose Special Items for Women
Like their male counterparts, females may have a few additional items that they would like to include in their packing lists. Sometimes women choose to include more than just the minimal amount of clothing, adding more outfits.
Remember, you can always stop at a laundromat for a few hours to clean your clothes.
Some female riders are also interested in managing their hair and their makeup on the trip. You won’t have a lot of room for packing these supplies, so try to stick to as little as you need.
For example, use a combination sunblock and foundation. Pack a good lip balm rather than a lot of lipstick.
Keep in mind that your hair will be in your helmet a lot of the time, so focus on just the hair products that you will need, including hair bands and clips and a travel blow dryer if necessary.
Don’t forget about feminine hygiene products as necessary.
Check Out These Travel Hacks
There’s no better way to enjoy your motorcycle tour than by getting a great deal on many of your travel necessities. Check out these travel hacks to find more ways to save big on your trip.
Look for Hotels Deals
Even if you decide to plan your journey before you begin, you don’t have to book your hotels in advance. In fact, finding a place to stay at the last minute can actually help you score some of the best deals.
Try some of these ways to find cheaper hotel rooms:
• Check sites like Roomer and Cancelon to find hotels with late cancellations that will offer a reduced rate to fill those rooms.
• Look for Groupon or Living Social deals.
• Sign up for Kayak to get price alerts on hotels that you like.
• Subscribe to travel organizations, such as AAA, to get membership discounts.
• Try a bidding site like Priceline to find last-minute hotel deals.
• Call the hotel directly, and ask whether it has any deals that you could use.
Download Hotel Apps
Another good way to find last-minute hotel deals is through hotel apps. These applications offer a quick route to great deals.
Available for both iPhone and Android users, this is one of the original same-day booking aps to be created. The deals change daily, but you can’t reserve a room until after noon of that day.
This is my personal favorite and has kept a roof over my head many a night! I tend to do things on the fly, so this app works great for me.
If you’re an iPhone user, check out this app that offers some of the best comparison shopping options. Unlike many other apps, Booking.com Tonight offers deals starting at midnight, but you can only choose one or two nights at a time.
Use These General Motorcycling Hacks
Biking for long distances can take a toll on your body and your wallet.
Check out some of these motorcycling hacks for your next long tour:
• Use a $5 bungee net to strap just about anything onto your bike.
• Add extra insulation by crumpling up some newspaper and by stuffing it inside your jacket or your pants.
• Wear the free plastic gloves at the diesel gas station pump inside your riding gloves for extra warmth.
• Use an empty water bottle to carry spare gas with you.
• Wear tight bicycle shorts under your riding pants for extra compression and fewer sore butts.
• Place some tape across the brim of your helmet visor to help reduce glare.
• Use unscented baby wipes to remove tough messes from your leather.
• Stuff newspaper in your wet boots overnight to dry them out and to prevent odor.
• Take your helmet liner in the shower, and clean it with Johnson’s baby shampoo.
• Put a crushed can under your kickstand if it won’t stay put in gravel, mud or soft sand.
Budget for Your Trip
Before you begin any kind of long trip, you should set an ideal budget. When traveling, it’s very easy to spend a lot more money than you want to spend.
Between lodging, food and other supplies, your money can just fly out of your pockets. You don’t want to go into debt over this trip that is supposed to be fun and exciting.
Beyond the initial start-up costs of buying a motorcycle, camping equipment or other necessities, these are the items to think about in creating a budget for your travel:
• emergency money
Determine how much you’re comfortable spending in each of these categories. For example, you may choose to camp along your route to save lodging money but to splurge on your dinners, spending more on food.
Just remember that if you choose to camp, that means having to pack and store more gear that maybe you otherwise would have.
All this is fine, as long as you aren’t going beyond your overall trip budget. Always remember to set some money aside for bike maintenance, especially if your trip is thousands of miles long,
Make sure you also plan for emergencies that you can’t predict, such as an injury, a major bike repair or a loss of personal items.
What are your suggestions on how to prepare for a long motorcycle trip? Have some cool hacks or suggestions, let us know in the comments below.