This adventure motorcycle touring guide is meant as a general rundown of some of the things that you should keep in mind on a motorcycle touring expedition/holiday. This site is more about trip inspiration and destination planning. If you would like more detailed information on trip planning I would encourage you to visit Horizons Unlimited. The information in the adventure motorcycle touring guide below is based on my own experience and that of others, which I have curated from various sources.
Always carry originals and quality copies of your paperwork when you are riding in a foreign country. I would generally also have the colour copies laminated and trimmed to look as real as possible. If the paperwork is requested I would always try to give them the copy first and only give them the originals if they demand it. Especially on a long trip you do not want your originals getting damaged from being handled too often.
Passports and Visas
As soon as you leave your your own country it is advisable (and in many cases essential) to carry your passport, with at least six month validity and a number of spare pages. You will need to check each country you are planning to go to whether or not you need a visa and if you need to apply for it before hand or just rock up and get it at the border. This is completely dependent on the passport you are travelling on and you should look up that country’s consulate/embassy in your country for more specific information. If you are going into a remote/sensitive area you will also need to look into whether or not you will need a local permit/filming permit, etc.
In general travelling with your full driving licence from your own country (try to get a duplicate if it’s a big trip), along with an International Driving Permit (easily available for around £5-$20 from your local postoffice or automobile club) is the preferred way to go. The IDP is especially important if your licence does not have your photo. On riding the from Alaska to Argentina along the Pan American Highway I was never asked once for my International Driving Permit and yet while riding in Bali on a scooter without one I copped a small ‘fine’ (we will deal with corrupt cops later). In short, for the small money it costs, it’s worth having one.
Bike Permits & Carnets (Only required if travelling on your own bike)
If you are taking your own bike into another country, then you will need to consider if you need a temporary import permit or carnet for that country.
Carnet De Passages En Douane (CdP)
A Carnet de Passages en Douane of ‘CdP’ is essentially a guarantee that you will not sell or leave your bike in the country that you are entering. It requires you to put up a bond against the value of the bike as security to cover duties and import taxes should the bike not be re-exported. As a rough guide you will need a CdP in Australia, Asia, parts of Africa and and parts of the Middle East. You will not need it in any of the Americas.
Temporary Import Permits
In countries that you do not require a Carnet De Passages En Douane (CdP), you will require a temporary vehicle importation permit.
What to carry here will depend completely on where you are from and where your bike is registered, but this is even more important than your driving licence! In the UK it would be your ‘logbook’ or vehicle registration document (VRD), in Australia is would be your registration certificate and in the US it would be your state registration document AND a ‘title’ or ownership document. Whatever the case they will need to include your chassis and engine / Vehicle Identification numbers ‘VIN’ and your name/address that matches your other ID.
These will be checked by customs at every border and often by police if you are pulled over. Any discrepancies will result in delays and fines/bribes. If you are travelling to Russia or Mongolia it is also advised that you get an International Certificate for Motor Vehicles (ICMV, which can be picked up from similar sources to your International Driving Permit.
In your own country or within Europe this might be possible (and of course essential), however once you get further afield the cost of insurance for replacing your stolen/damaged bike will not be worth it (I may be corrected on some of the big GS types and will happily amend this if someone has experience with it, however for smaller/cheaper bikes, this is my experience). You just need to remember that when you are riding and parking your bike. If it is wrecked or stolen, it is gone. Bike security is paramount.
This will absolutely depend on where you are riding and it is essential to check every single country before you enter it. Most countries will require something here, whether it be reciprocal coverage from your own country, something you can pick up at the border (Central and South America) or something that you will need to purchase separately in advance.
This is the easiest to get and absolutely essential. It is beyond the scope here to advise on specific policies, but there a couple of things to make sure you are covered for when choosing your plan:
- Repatriation if you are seriously injured (or killed)
The first part is self-explanatory and while the second part it is not something that you will want to think about, it is a remote possibility and a very expensive exercise for your family if you are not covered.
- Riding motorcycles over 125cc
Your average policy will probably only cover you for riding a bike up to 125cc, which is smaller than most of us would be riding.
If the rule for luggage is to pack what you think you will need and halve it, then the rule for budgeting is figure out how much you think you will need an double it. You might end up getting away with spending less, but you will be very stuck if you haven’t planned/got access to enough. That is not to say you cannot do things on the cheap. Your biggest expenses (apart from your gear and getting your bike there and back if you take your own bike) will be fuel, accommodation and parts (if it’s your bike). Fuel is inevitable, but how much you spend on accommodation and food, etc, is completely up to you.
Access to Money
How much cash you carry will depend on how prevalent ATMs are in the country you are travelling through. In Australasia, Europe, North America and South Africa you will hardly need to carry any cash at all. While it is great to have some cash for unforeseen circumstances, if you lose it or it is stolen, it is gone forever, so it is better not to carry more on you than you can afford to loose. Here are a few more tips:
- Make sure you have a few different bank accounts/ways to access your money. Some ATMs don’t like some cards, but are fine with others, so its always good to have a backup.
- If travelling with a companion you can share the cash across the two of you (and any duplicates of your cards) to minimise the risk of losing it.
- Find a credit card that has low/no international transaction fees and use it wherever you can (fuel and accommodation will normally accept them). Just make sure you set up an automatic transfer for the minimum amount as you are likely to forget about this on he road.
- Forget about Travellers Cheques. Just not worth it.
- Always keep an amount of small money for tolls (and bribes if expected) separate from the bulk of your cash and make sure that it is easily accessible. You would hate to lose it unnecessarily to the wind or a corrupt official.
The quality and availability of fuel will vary from country to country. In most cases running out of fuel is completely avoidable and as a general rule I would tend to stop for a break and fill up before I leave a big town. I would also tend to fill up (if possible) when getting close to wherever I’m stopping for the night as you never know, the station could be closed in the morning for some reason. Always make the most of a petrol station when you can.
With regards to quality – if you stick to the advice above you should be fine. Kinda like street food, if you see others using it, you should be ok. There as instances when you will unfortunately need to purchase fuels from street-side vendors in more remote areas, but you will want to limit this as much as possible. Another rule I have is to never let anyone else fill up my tank, even if they insist. Always get off you bike and do it yourself. A moment’s carelessness and you can easily ruin your GPS and other gear as the plastic will melt away if there is a spillage.
Safety & Protection
Quality riding gear will not only keep you safer on the road (or off), but it will also make you a hell of a lot more comfortable on the ride, so you can enjoy it all the more, even when the weather turns one way or another. Weather rarely stays the same, so layering is key. At the very least it is essential to have a protection layer (kevlar, leather, etc), a removable waterproof layer (either incorporated into your other gear or put on over the top and some thermal layers underneath so you can regulate your body heat. With the right layers you can ride from the tropics to the arctic, without heated gear. No problem if you’d like that too, but I normally draw the line at heated grips (essential in my mind).
When travelling at speed it is important to always have something between your eyeballs and the big bad world. Getting an insect or dust in your eyes may not blind you, but it is a huge distraction that can be very dangerous. Alway have your at least partially down or wear sunglasses/googles. A non-tinted visor and sunglasses are my preference. I will generally ride with my visor up and my sunglasses on, then drop the visor if I go onto a highway or take off the sunnies if it gets a bit darker. There are also a range of impact protections sunnies, which I have used in the past and found quite effective as they also have padding to keep more wind out of your eyes (not so good in hot climates!).
No matter what type of helmet you wear, wind buffeting/noise to some degree is going to be a constant companion on any high speed (i.e. highway) riding. It is recommended that hearing protection is worn, especially on longer trips to make sure your hearing doesn’t suffer. I generally use the Oxford foam earplugs you can get in pretty much any motorcycle shop. They are very effective, cheap and easy to replace. I haven’t tried the fancier, moulded versions, but many people rave about them.
What to take
The old adage goes something like, pack want you think you will need, then halve it. With the exception of some spares, most of what you will ever need can be bought on the road. Even if it is not the exact version you would have bought at home or a slightly inferior quality, you will get by. A rule that I use is that if something can’t be used for more than one thing then you should definitely consider leaving it behind. The more weight you carry, the more fuel you will use and the less control you will have over your bike.
The question of how you carry you luggage has been debated almost as much as what tyres you should be running. Everyone has their personal preference and if possible it is great to get experience with both hard and soft panniers, before you go on a big trip. I have used both and I now prefer soft pannier, but here are some pros and cons of each:
- PRO: Lockable/more secure (although not that hard to break into/remove)
- PRO: Can easily pack them on the bike and so save time taking them on and off (although will still need to do so if not in a secure environment and you don’t have a removable liner).
- PRO: Generally more water resistant over time.
- PRO/CON: Generally bigger than soft pannier, so encourage you to fit more in.
- CON: More likelihood of injury if leg gets caught in front of them (i happens!)
- PRO: Lighter
- PRO/CON: Generally smaller in size and profile.
- CON: Less secure (can easily cut straps or panniers themselves)
Tank bags are a great place to hold a map/route notes and store your valuable items so that you can easily remove it when you get off you bike and leave it briefly. They can however mark your tank and get in the way for re-fuelling.
Again this comes down to soft vs hard and again I prefer soft. Hard top boxes are great instead of a tank bag to store your valuables while you leave the bike briefly. They are however heavier, sit higher on the bike and some people have concerns about safety, with hard edges right behind your spine.
How far you can ride in a day will vary depending on roads, traffic, weather, fitness, energy, mood and whether the goal of the day is the ride itself or the destination. Some guys (Iron Butt riders) pride themselves in being able to ride over 1000 miles in 24 hours. I would say 500+ km (300+ miles) is achievable per day on good open highways. Halve that if there is any traffic or the roads require a bit more concentration. Always work in a buffer or have a back up so that you do not end up riding at night.
More specific regional information is being researched and prepared at the moment. If you think I have missed anything major in this adventure motorcycle touring guide or have any questions at all, please get in touch.