Planning a Motorcycle Tour
Planning can be a rude word to some motorcycle tourers but even if you are a “chuck a couple of pairs of underpants in the panniers and go” type of tourer, you still need to do some planning for your motorcycle tour.
So, let’s take a look at where you could start and the “underpants guy” above can ignore the bits he doesn’t like the sound of!
Firstly, you need an idea of where you want to go. If you’re not sure, then ask yourself some questions to narrow it down:
- How much time do you have available for your motorcycle tour? If it’s only a couple of days, it considerably narrows your options.
- Do you like tight, technical twisties or do you prefer flowing roads and start perspiring at the thought of hairpin bends? If the latter, it’s probably not a good idea to head to the mountains.
- Are you the tourist kind of bike tourer? Do you want to see all the sights and have time to explore them? Or are you just interested in the ride (and maybe a beer or two when you get there)? The latter should probably avoid cities and anything which might attract other tourists as far as possible. If you’re the former then you need to think about what sights you would like to see and explore e.g. historical, religious, WWII sites etc.
- What will the weather be like when you want to go? It is pointless planning a mountainous route when the passes may be closed due to snow. Desert regions can be hell in high summer.
Secondly, do you want company or are you the sort that likes to go it alone (“underpants guy” probably is)?
If you want company, a word of warning is needed. Organising other bikers on a tour is like herding cats! All our organisers say the same. But by the same token there’s nothing to beat the “craic” on the road. If you are going to do the organising, lay down some ground rules very early on. Sorting out dates that everyone can get away is usually the hardest part so at some point you just need to say, “these are the dates, who’s in?” And bear in mind the larger the group the harder it is to find last minute accommodation.
Think about the make up of the group, is it 5 “go for it” lads and one “cautious Kevin”? That’s a recipe for disaster unless the lads are all agreed they will look out for Kevin. Many friendships have ended after a motorcycle tour….
Once you know roughly where you want to go and how many in your group you can start to look at specific routes. Think about the amount of riding you want to do each day. 200 miles in the mountains will take you a lot longer than 200 miles on the plains. Don’t plan really long days in the saddle in the first few days and mix the days up so you have long and short. There are loads of online route planners to help you. Google maps is probably the most popular and will give you a rough idea of timings. We like Viamichelin for France and Spain as it will also give you costing for tolls if you need to use them.
Remember it will always take bigger groups longer to get anywhere so factor that in if you need to. Why is it always the same person that is the last to put their gloves on????
If you are going on a longer trip, do you want some days off the bike? If so, don’t stop in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing to do all day!
Think about fuel stops if you are in remote areas. You will need to refuel to the smallest tank range. Or make sure your group includes an adventure bike with a huge tank and that you have a piece of hose to syphon!
Next to sort out is what accommodation do you need?
I’m not talking camping here as that takes another level of motorcycle tour planning. If you are in a big group, i.e. greater than 4, we would always recommend pre-booking somewhere if you want to be sure of staying together, especially in smaller towns. And we find it is a good idea to at least pre-book the first night, regardless of numbers.
Remember to think about evening meals when you are looking for accommodation. If you are not in a town it may be difficult to find somewhere to eat if your hotel or B&B does not do evening meals. You may not want to get back on the bike to find sustenance after a long day. Google maps can help you check if there are restaurants nearby.
The other consideration is secure parking for your bikes. Some countries/places are more secure than others but generally I would avoid on street parking with the bike. We do not generally take additional security for the bikes, but you might want to consider this.
There are plenty of online resources to help you book accommodation but don’t forget about the local tourist office as well. Certainly in France most tourist offices will phone around to find somewhere for you to stay if you get stuck. And whilst the online travel agents (OTAs) are very convenient, please remember they take at least 15% commission from the hotel or B&B. Therefore if you can book direct with the accommodation provider they will usually be very grateful. And they could give you a lower rate than they advertise on the OTAs.
Preparing Your Bike
A few weeks before your trip it is a good idea to get your bike serviced (or do it yourself if you’re that way inclined, like “underpants guy”) but make sure it is ready for the sort of mileage you have planned. There is no point setting off with tyres with only 1000 miles left in them if you are planning a 2000-mile trip and the idea of trying to purchase tyres in a foreign country fills you with dread because you don’t speak the lingo. Some people recommend tyre sealant is used before a long trip. It might save you from a puncture, although your tyre fitter won’t thank you when you do finally need to change tyres.
Checking the bike’s condition a few weeks before the trip gives you some time to get any problems sorted, rather than panicking at the last minute. Dig out your bike luggage or buy some if you don’t have any. Do you need to change anything on your bike to make it more comfortable on longer days? Make sure your MOT, insurance and tax are not due to expire whilst you are away.
There’s a lot to think about when planning a motorcycle tour!
We strongly recommend you get some form of breakdown cover. Make sure it covers the countries you might be going to and check what happens if you have a serious breakdown. Does the bike get fixed regardless, how do you get home, how does the bike get home if it’s deemed not fixable etc?
In a similar vein, get yourself travel insurance and make sure it covers you to ride your bike in the countries you are going to – some policies only cover up to 125cc bikes! Have a look at our article on travel insurance for motorbikers.
Your EHIC card will cover you in Europe (in a pre-Brexit world, who knows after) but probably not for 100% of any hospital/medical costs. It only covers the same as a national of that country would get so you need to make sure you have insurance to cover the difference and repatriation back to the UK should the need arise. If you take any regular medication, make sure you have sufficient to last your trip plus some extra in case your return to the UK is delayed for some reason.
Take some cash and some cards – don’t rely wholly on either. Don’t change cash at the ferry ports as you will get the worst exchange rate ever (similar to airports). Just Google to find where you can get best value a couple of weeks before you go. You can usually order online and get it delivered to your home or work.
Before you leave make sure everyone has a copy of the route (paper and/or GPX), any planned stops and bookings and each other’s mobile phone numbers. Try and make sure that others lead the group sometimes as always being the leader can be exhausting. Take a look at our packing guide as well so you don’t forget anything.
Oh and look out for “underpants guy” on your trip – hopefully you won’t smell him before you see him!
Happy motorcycle tour planning!