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Tips For Planning a Long Motorcycle Trip

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The Straight Wizz:
A motorcycle journey can be a trip you never forget.
  • Start planning now!
  • Check out of state and/or country insurance requirements
  • Figure out your daily milage
  • Give yourself time for side trips
  • Basic check list download

  • Wait till the last minute for anything
  • Have such rigid travel plans that you dont have fun
  • Don't over pack
  • Wear a wrist watch

Planning a Long Motorcycle Trip

An extended motorcycle trip can be an adventure you never forget, but how do you plan for an epic adventure? The first thing that you need to know when planning a motorcycle adventure is that you should start planning now, and approach it on a macro level at first, and later you can fine tune travel plans. Figure general things like what is your overall destination, how far would you like to travel in a day, who are your riding buddies, is your bike in order or does it need maintenance, and start thinking about the gear you will need.

Figuring out your Destination and Departure Date for a Motorcycle Trip

pikes peak hill climb planning a motorcycle route

Since you are planning a trip you have to figure out a date and destination. You may choose an event to go to like a rally or race, or maybe there is some place you have heard about and want to explore. Lock that final destination down and from there you can start planning your travel dates and route. This sounds pretty basic, but once a destination is locked down the real work can begin. Researching routes, alternative routes, daily mileage, good places to explore, and good places to stay can take quite a bit of time.

Plan Daily Mileage for a Motorcycle Trip

welcome to flaming gorge sign flaming gorge sights

Figure out your daily mileage, and it will be different for everyone, for me it is about 350 to 450 miles a day. The reason is that I like to stop and explore side roads and alternative routes. Don't get me wrong, I can flog it down the highway as good as the next guy, but when you are on a motorcycle trip, alternative routes and side roads equal adventure! So with a shorter daily mileage goal you will have time to stop at scenic locations, talk to people, take alternative routes and explore routes less traveled. If you get in early, go for a swim and then talk to the locals about some cool places to explore. On my last trip, this is how we found the Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, WOW!

Sleeping Accommodations for a Motorcycle Trip

glamping at Anderson Camp in Idaho

Form your mileage goals you will figure out about where you are going to stay. Everyone has a personal preference on how you will spend the night, and you will definitely hear about different night time arrangements as you talk to other riders. Some will only camp, while others will only stay in hotels. Personally I like to shake it up a bit and not just stick to one method. The last trip I camped, glamped, AirBnB'd and stayed at hotels. I personally like to use the hotels and AirBnB for getting laundry done so I like to start off the adventure camping and move on to a hotel when it is time to do laundry. Remember, reservations can usually be cancelled at a major chain, so lock those in early and change them as you need. If you are staying at a campground and maybe a rental cabin, lock that in early too and if for some reason you cancel, losing $30 buck is better than not having a place to stay.

Packing Food for a Motorcycle Trip

If you are camping, then you need to pack some food or stop along the way. The first day is easy because you can pack something fresh and keep it in relatively good shape for the day, but from then on you will either need to visit the store daily or eat at restaurants. Some people are really good at packing food and have specialized coolers for their side boxes, but I prefer to travel lighter and either visit the store for supplies or go to a local restaurant. Some easy things to pack for riding breaks are oranges, nuts, and jerky. If you are traveling through some of the hotter parts of the country, stopping for a meal at a restaurant with air conditioning can be a welcome break from the 100 degree weather and hot gear. Also for those coffee drinkers out there, make sure you get your coffee fix and stay hydrated, because if you don't, you will have the biggest headache in your life.

Getting Your Bike in Shape for a Trip

pre-trip bike maintenance detail your bike before a trip

So your route and food planning are starting to take shape, now it is time to review your bike maintenance. Honestly, the best way to check your bike, is to clean and detail it, yourself. Top to bottom and end to end, and the first thing you need to take a look at are your tires, are they going to make the trip or go past their safety and/or design limits and do they maintain the correct pressure. You are going to be encountering all kinds of road conditions like wet tarmac, extreme heat, construction zones with chip sealing or just raw tar, and maybe even some triple digit speeds, so make sure those tires are in good shape. Change the oil, oil filter and air filter because you want to make sure that you are giving your engine fresh lubrication and letting it breath as you turn 8000 rpms down the road for extended periods of time. Another good fluid to replace is the radiator coolant, because it does break down and can build up deposits like rust that will reduce your cooling capacity. As you continue to detail your bike, clean your chain and sprockets and check wear limits and for binding links. Binding chain links will really show up as you lay down the miles and they will create a harmonic slap on your swing arm that will carry though to your transmission and possibly catastrophic gear damage. The battery, brake pads and fluid should also be checked. By personally detailing and scrutinizing your bike you not only flag and fix potential issues, but if something should fail then you will be familiar enough with that part to know if you can fix it on the road or if you need to get your bike to a shop.

Motorcycle Insurance and Paperwork for a Trip

Depending on where you are going, you may have different insurance requirements. In some states motorcycle insurance is not required, but that does not mean you can ride into a state that does require insurance and plead ignorance. These State Troopers will know that you may not have insurance, and will be happy to write you a nice ticket and impound your bike until you have insurance. To take this one step further, if you are traveling out of the country, you will need to check with your insurance company to see if their insurance will cover you when you are outside of the USA, and if you need any additional or special paperwork. Take for instance Canada, they require that you have special paperwork, it is in French and in a specific order, which you must request from your provider in addition to your normal proof of insurance. Not a big deal, but you do not want to run into a time issue in trip preparation, I believe mine took 2 weeks to get. I cannot stress this enough, make sure you do your research and have the proper paperwork, because if you don't you could lose your bike.

check motorcycle insurance requirements tool roll for motorcycle trips from Harbor Freight

Motorcycle Tool Selection for your Trip

One of biggest questions is: "What tools should I pack?" Starting this question off, I suggest that a tire pump, digital pressure gauge, tire repair kit and first aid kit are standard equipment on any type of extended motorcycle ride. Your group should always have the ability to fix a flat tire and attend to a first aid issue. For actual tools, however, this is where your previous detailing preparation comes in. As you detail your bike you will find certain tools and sizes of tools that you use all the time, others that you use some of the time, and many that you never use. So what I do is carry the tool kit that came with the bike, and get a tool roll from Harbor Freight and add the tools I use all the time, like specific size wrenches, sockets, and hex wrenches. Then I add a good screwdriver with interchangeable heads, and a variable size wrench. Try to keep your tools to the basics because you can add a lot of weight really quick. The one caveat is if you know you are going to be performing certain maintenance along the trip, then bring those specific tools. A typical maintenance item may be chain tightening. If that is the case, then bring the tools for that job, which may even include a torque wrench. If you are traveling in a group, make sure you are not doubling up on tools and you can spread the tools out between the riders for weight distribution. Other good items to pack in your tool roll are a few sets of rubber gloves, a few blue paper shop towels, electrical tape and duct tape, zip ties, and a flash light. The goal is not to perform shop quality outback fixes, but get you to a place where either you or a shop can perform a proper and clean repair.

Prepare for Motorcycle Trip Maintenance

motorcycle chain maintenance and lubrication for your trip cleaning supplies and oil for your motorcycle trip

Yes you will have daily maintenance during your extended motorcycle trip. The most obvious maintenance is cleaning and lubrication. For cleaning bugs and grime I typically bring a small squirt bottle of Purple Power and a small squirt bottle of Griot's Speed Shine. The Purple Power will get the bugs and road grime off and the Griot's Speed Shine can be used to put a protective wax layer back on. You will also want to pack a few new microfiber towels for your daily wipe down and bug cleaning. In addition to cleaning, other daily maintenance should be chain inspection and oil level. I always carry mini versions of chain cleaner and lubrication. The mini versions are a little more expensive, but they save space and weight. I also carry a little extra motor oil just in case the oil needs to be topped off.

Packing Clothes for a Motorcycle Trip

Over packing for a vacation is common, but on a motorcycle trip, space is at a premium. The first thing you need to figure out is how far in between washings you are going to ride. Then pack only enough to get you from wash to wash. Plan on packing new socks and underwear each day, and I like to pack a daily pair of gym shorts and t-shirt. I don't pack any pants because I just wear my riding gear everywhere or a pair of shorts. I guarantee that the people you meet are not going to be thinking that your motorcycle gear is dirty, but rather about how much fun it is to be on such an adventure. Shoes can be another compromise, because they can be very bulky, so look for a lightweight pair that can pack tight and flat. Other clothing items will be for weather, like sweatshirt or jacket liner and sweatpants or pants liner. The design and quality of your riding gear will dictate the type of extra base layers and rain gear you need. Remember, don't over pack, it is just wasted space and weight.

Who is Going on you Motorcycle Trip

good motorcycle trips start with good buddies Good buddies make for good motorcycle trips

I know this sounds funny, but planning an extended motorcycle trip takes preparation. As you get closer to your launch date, you will be discussing your trip with many people. It is usually during the last few weeks you get someone that say "boy that sounds like fun, can I go?" Now everyone will have a different opinion on allowing more people into the travel plans, but it does change the dynamic of the trip. Everything from eating to sleeping to travel speeds and distances may need to be revised, which is not a little job. For some this may be welcomed, for others it may not, the important thing to know is that it has a high probability of happening and it is best to discuss with your group and how you want to handle add-ons.

Miscellaneous Items for a Motorcycle Trip

There are a few things to do prior to your motorcycle trip. The first is to call your credit card company and tell them the states you are going to be visiting and the dates. No one wants to be declined while on a trip. Another miscellaneous item is to get medical credentials and contact information for all the riders and make a copy for everyone, then if something goes wrong you can multi-task and everyone has instant access to information. If you have a fob for your bike, make sure you change the batteries before you leave or carry an extra set. A spare key is also a good idea, but make sure you put it in a location that will not be disturbed for the entire trip. Some will zip tie it to a hiding spot on the frame, others will put it in their wallet, but I just put it in a small pocket in my jacket, and that pocket is never opened. Check sunglass compatibility with your helmet shield. If your sunglasses are polarized or block out certain light wavelengths then they may not be compatible with your helmet shield and you do not want to learn this on the trip. The combination of my polarized sunglasses and stock Shoei face shield altered colors and completely hid tar snakes from view. Who knows what other dangers the combination hid. The last thing I will say is to create a checklist for all the gear you will need and add to it as you think of things and as the trip materializes. I have provided a general checklist to get you started.

motorcycle trip check list

Preparation and Planning for a Motorcycle Trip

sunset at twin falls idaho dusk at park city main street dinosaur national monument

The key to a good motorcycle trip is preparation and planning, but does that mean you have such a rigid schedule that you don't have any freedom? Absolutely not! The very first thing you do before you pull out of the driveway is take off your wrist watch, because time is only relative, and once you start your ride all that planning and preparation is what allows you to make calculated deviations and explorations. If you feel like changing something up or exploring a road less traveled then go for it! Breaking off from the exact route to see things you may never see again is what turns a motorcycle trip into an adventure.