Introduction: Motorcycle Touring Tips

There is nothing in the world quite like packing up all your gear and setting out on the open road.

I have been touring on motorcycles for 38 years and while I am no expert moto-journalist, I did manage to learn a few things the hard way in my many years of scooting down the highway. I have embarked on more than a few trips when I was younger with less than perfect preparation and less than perfect running machines and quickly paid the price for those shortcomings.

Here I will give you a guideline of items to have and things to do before you embark on your voyage, be it across town or across the country so you may be more prepared for those things that can and will go wrong.

Step 1: Pre Trip Preparation

I have had clutch cables brake, batteries go dead, lights burn out, tires go flat, gear fall off, engines blow up and tempers flare! While I can't prevent the flaring tempers , I can give you a few tips that can make your touring adventure more enjoyable and maybe a little less stressful.

While riding can be fantastic way to spend your hard earned vacation time, there is a certain amount of preparation and planing that is needed to fully enjoy this great pastime.

Here are a few pre-trip tips:

1 ) Plan your route and make reservations for each night and make sure everyone you are riding with is on board with these plans. Keeping yourself organized with a day to day plan including reasonable mileage expectations , this will ease some of the stress at the end of the day. Allow time for rain delays . If it rains heavy enough that riding is unsafe, there are many alternatives to waiting the rain out like finding local attractions that you can walk to. If there are storms to the north and heading north then go south for the day if plans allow.

2) Make sure that family or friend have your route plans and contact information in case of an emergency. If no one is staying home then have someone check in on the house every few days and pick up the mail etc..

3) Share cell phone numbers with everyone in the group before leaving on the first day. If you get separated on the highway, the first thing you want to do is pull over in a safe place and find out where everyone is at and regroup.

4) Pack your gear a few day ahead of time and take a ride. Keep the heavy stuff low and avoid strapping lots of stuff on the outside of your bags. Saddle bags and tank bags are the best places to store your gear. A big tall duffel bag packed with heavy gear that is strapped to the backrest does not keep the weight low and may cause the bike to be unstable. Purchase high quality motorcycle specific luggage that is waterproof. Keep some extra space available so you have a place to stash your heavy leather riding jacket for a lighter one when it warms up. See if all your gear will fit. If it does not, then lay it all out and start eliminating her stuff ( just kidding). You don't need 6 pairs of jeans and 3 sweatshirts!!! more on this later

I can tell you that on every trip that I have ever been on that someone somewhere will loose something off there bike. It is all too common to strap a bag on the back of a bike and forget it ... then a few miles down the road your nice new luggage bag you got from HD that cost a Hundred Dollars is dragging on the pavement, or someone forgets to lock their saddlebag and you hit a bump and oops there it goes. Also a good rule of thumb is to look back at the spot that you just pulled away from at every stop to see what you left behind.

5) Make sure your bike is in perfect running condition. Take a good hard look at the bike and address any issues. very important. Follow your owners manual for recommended service maintenance and update any recalls if needed. This is the time to get those new tires you have been putting off or having that nasty little oil leaks fixed. "Pre-flight inspections" should be something you do everyday. This includes tires, brakes ,controls, linkage assemblies, fasteners, oil, fuel, lights, drive chains or belts. And don't forget to check those saddlebag or luggage mounts that may have become loose or worn or broken.

6) Pack a first aid kit and know how to use it! Take a first aid and CPR course once a year at your local Red Cross office...please.

7) If you have air shocks, adjust air pressure for the load, carry a air pump specific for the shocks.

8) Keep a copy of your owners manual with the bike..makes interesting reading on those rainy days.

Step 2: To Pack or Not to Pack ...that Is the Question

I basically will always pack all my cold weather gear and rain gear because we are at the mercy of Mother Nature and we must be prepared for all conditions.

  • Use lots of large clear ziplock bags to keep items dry.
  • Don't over pack ,someone said, "If you watch the ounces, the pounds will take care of themselves"
  • Roll up your clothes- this takes up less space
  • Remember to keep the heavy stuff low and forward or close to bike's center of gravity
  • The only bag I take into the Hotel will be the one main bag in the tour pack that has my clothes and toiletry bag and one other small bag with misc. stuff like my camera, meds and cell phone charger, this makes for a quick and easy repack the next day.
  • Pack rain gear on top in the right saddle bag so if the weather turns wet and you have to pull over on a busy road you won't have to go on the traffic side to retrieve your gear. Same goes for tools.

Here is my packing list

On my Body

- Leather Jacket

- Leather Riding Gloves

- Leather riding boots

- Jeans ( Kevlar lined)

- Helmet

- T-Shirt, Socks, Underwear ( avoid cotton )

- Wallet (Cash, ID, Insurance card, Phone, Credit & Debit Cards)

- Cell Phone

- Pocket knife

- Headband

In the left saddle bag

- Water bottle x 2

- Tire Pressure Gauge

- Bungie cords and Bungie Net

- Digital Camera

- Maps

- Lightweight hot weather riding jacket like the Fly Flux Air Jacket

- Earphones

- Waterless hand cleaner

- Food bag with nuts, beef jerky, fruit, candy,etc...

- Plastic cleaner, spray wax and microfiber towels for the bike

- Survival kit ( see photo)

In the rear tourpak

- Small bag with sunscreen, Chapstick, Ear plugs, Eye Drops, breath mints, pain relief med etc

- Sunglasses and clear glasses or goggles

- Warm weather baselayer underwear

- Electric vest

- Beanie hat

- Neck tube scarf

- Cold weather gloves

- Sandals or Gym shoes

- Chaps (if you are a chaps person)

- Underwear ( bring your worn stuff and then just toss them)

- Socks (5 pair)

- Jeans (1 Pair)

- Shorts / swimsuit

- Tee shirts (4 pair) no cotton

- Sweatshirt or long sleeved shirt

- Towel

- Washcloth

- Cell Phone charger
- Tablet and charger

- Cigars / Lighter

Hygiene Bag

- Soap / Shampoo

- Toilet paper and wet wipes

- Toothbrush

- Toothpaste

- Deodorant

- Q-tips

- Razor

- Pills (allergy or personal meds)

In the Right Saddle Bags

- Rain gear ON TOP and ready to go!

- First Aid Kit- Take a first aid and CPR course at your local Red Cross

- Iraeli bandage

- Latex Gloves

- Trauma Scissors

- Quick-Clot trauma pack

- Motrin / Naproxen

- Vitamins

- Eye Drops

- Band-Aids

- Gauze

- Tape

- Antibiotic cream/ burn spray

- Super Glue

- Tweezers


- Duct tape

- Good flashlight ~ I like the headlamp style lights

- 1" Nylon strap, 15 feet long

- Sewing kit , kevlar thread

- siphon hose

- Tire gauge

- Spare bulbs and fuses

- Multi-tool

- Zip ties

- Bailing wire

- Allen Wrench sets (Metric and Standard)

- Tire repair kit

- Tire inflation can

- Screwdrivers

- Light sticks

- Bike cover ( Optional )

On the Luggage rack if camping
- Tent

- Sleeping pad

Step 3: How Not to Pack

  • Pack the basics but don't over pack, remember if you need something while you are out then just buy it!
  • Strapping crap on the outside of your bag is unsafe and if something flies off and hits another rider behind you it could cause an accident.
  • If you need a bottle of water for the ride then purchase a bottle holder specific for motorcycles or consider a hydration bladder.
  • Keep the heavy stuff low and forward if possible.
  • Don't weigh your bike down and follow the manufactures weight limits.
  • If you are staying for a while at one place, consider shipping any clothing or gear you may need to that location.

Step 4: On the Road While Riding in Groups

Appoint a Road Captain

A Road Captain is your appointed leader of the ride, and must have a certain Situational Awareness about the group just as all riders should. The definition of Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission. More simply, it's knowing what is going on around you. Say you are traveling in a group and the last guy in the group has a problem and needs to pull over, and everyone else is enjoying the wind in there face until they realize that " someone" is missing. What do you do? A Road Captain should set the pace. Road Captains may change from day to day if say for instance one person is more familiar with the area.

General safety rules and guidelines:

1) Perform a "pre flight inspection" every time you head out.

2) Top off the gas tank before the ride. On long rides everyone fuels up at the same time. The guy with the smallest gas tank sets the distance between fuel stops

3) Wear eye protection,helmet, gloves and boots that cover the ankle.

4) Ride in staggered formation , and maintain minimum two-second following distance between bikes

5) Follow this set of hand signals developed by the MSF

also Lead riders should warn others quickly of road hazards ahead.

6) Traveling with a group has its own set of complications and issues. If you are planing to ride for the first time with someone, make a point to go for a ride with them and get the feel for there experience before the big trip. more on this later.

7) Stay hydrated... we are quite vulnerable to dehydration because of the drying effect of the wind and our constant exposure to the elements so drink plenty of water. Stay cool my friends and try a wet rag around your neck and wear ventilated clothing.

8) Keep your eyes on the road, there are lots of buttons and gadgets to fiddle with on these new bikes so set up your music playlist and GPS destinations before you hit the highway.

9) Do not mix motorcycling with alcohol or drugs. save the beers for after the ride.

10) Wear reflective clothing such as a vest. All of my riding jackets have some reflective edging

Other thoughts:

If you are riding in a group and there are new riders that you don't know, make sure you spend some time beforehand to see how your new friends ride. Go have breakfast together before the big trip so you can get a feel for there riding ability...the best group is one that travels on the same level ( speed and experience ) ...Stragglers are frowned upon and must be dealt with appropriately . Discuss your tempo.... there will be people that want to stop at every garage sale and antique shop along the way and that is all great stuff to do but if you are all trying to put in a 700+ mile day then those delays will make for a late night arrival to your destination. Make sure you all on the same page with the tempo of the ride.

Step 5: Enjoy the Ride!

Don't forget to take plenty of photos and have fun!

I hope this instructable will help anyone that takes to the open road on 2 wheels...there is nothing like it! I would love to hear about what else people bring on there road trips.


Remember to keep the shiny side up!

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