How to Choose an Adventure Motorcycle for Travelling

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a motorcycle for your trip. Everyone has an opinion on what makes the best adventure bike for travelling and riding RTW, but the only one that matters is yours. Here’s our suggestions for picking the bike that suits your needs…

How to Choose an Adventure Motorcycle
A Yamaha XT from the UK, Kawasaki KLR from Australia and a Royal Enfield Bullet from France... somewhere on the Afghan/ Tajik border.

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Choosing your adventure motorcycle

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need a £20,000, fully-loaded adventure bike monster, dripping in accessories, sat-navs and shiny trinkets. It’s not true. And it’s also not true that you need a lightweight sand-battling desert weapon either.

The whole thing is silly. There are people out there on big adventure bikes who swear you need one of those. And there are those on small capacity bikes who knock them for saying so. There shouldn’t be this ‘my bike is right’ club mentality. The truth is, travelling is extremely subjective, we all want different things and so different motorcycles suit different people’s needs. 

To figure out what bike suits your needs, we’ve detailed the main criteria that you need to consider below.

Adventure Motorcycle Considerations

Here’s what to ask yourself before choosing your bike

How much off-roading will I do?

Weigh up how much off-roading you’ll do in comparison to tarmac riding. If it’s 50/50 then go for a 50/50 bike. The more tarmac you’re doing, the less important the front wheel size and the heavier you can go for a more comfortable touring motorcycle with more cylinders.

If your trip is centred on enduro, rough trails, sand and the road less travelled, then the lighter the better.  Consider a single-cylinder lightweight machine with a 21-inch front wheel. Here are some more important questions to consider:

How tough are the wheels? They’re going to take a battering and a big dent in your wheel can put a dent in your trip.

Is it tubed or tubeless? Tubeless are a million times easier to fix, but require a more expensive bike/wheel or an expensive conversion.

Can I pick it up? There’s no point taking a 300kg machine if you can’t pick it up, because you will drop it at some point.

How comfortable is it? There are alterations you can make to your adventure bike to make it more comfortable, but it still wants to be comfortable from the outset. 

Has it got decent ground clearance? You will be riding over some rough terrain and the higher the ground clearance, the better. Make sure it has a good sumpguard too.

Is it easy to protect? Your bike doesn’t need to come with crash bars, handugards and a bashplate, but you do need to be able to fit them to it. Make sure it has fixing points and there’s protective equipment available on the market.

READ MORE:

off-road adventure biking in Mongolia
Battling sand in Mongolia's epic Gobi Desert

Your motorcycle’s tank size

Where in the world are you heading? You could go 300 miles in Uzbekistan without a petrol station or shop. While built-up Western countries will have a fuel stop round every corner. If the bike you like has a small tank, then consider buying a Rotopax, carrying spare fuel containers or even fitting a larger fuel tank.   

Choosing the right adventure bike luggage system

If you’re off on a long-term adventure, then you will need plenty of luggage. The longer you go, the more likely you’re going to be camping and so the bigger that bag will be too. Your bike needs to be able to carry you and all your gear. It should have fixing points for attaching pannier racks, even if you’re only using soft luggage as you don’t want the bags resting against your exhaust or wheel. Check the manufacturer’s recommended maximum load and make sure your bike choice can handle your luggage system. 

READ MORE:

Motorcycle Adventure Travel Laos
Lost in Laos...

Repairing your adventure bike on the road

Newer bikes are harder to fix because of electronics and ECUs, but then they’re arguably more reliable because of them. It’s a bit of a paradox; they’re great so long as they’re working. But we may as well set electronics aside, because it’s unlikely you’ll carry a diagnostics machine around the world with you. 

Consider going for a bike that you’re comfortable working on and can carry the tools to fix. Chances are, you will need to repair your bike, change a tube, plug a tyre or bodge it so you can hobble to the closest garage. It’s not a problem if you’re uncomfortable working on a motorcycle. 

There are plenty of well-travelled motorcycle riders out there who have made their way round the world without knowing where their spark plug is, if you run into a problem, wait for help, chuck it on the back of a truck and head to the closest city or town. But of course, it does help to take a basic course in mechanics or better yet, strip your bike and put it back together before you go. 

There are a few adventure bike schools out there who will teach you basic field mechanics. You can find these companies on our Off-Road Motorcycle Schools page. 

READ MORE:

The ultimate adventure motorcycle tool kit
This is our RTW tool kit. Check out the Ultimate tool kit guide to find out what's in it.

Getting spare parts abroad

The more spare parts that are available for your bike throughout the world, the better. Shipping is easier than ever nowadays and DHL can be amazing, but if you have a niche bike with uncommon parts in the countries you’re visiting, then prepare to set at least two weeks aside every time you need to order something in.

Riding solo or two-up?

If you’re planning on a two-up adventure, then you need to carefully consider your bike size, luggage carrying capabilities and how much off-roading you’ll be doing.

READ MORE:

Adventure motorcyling with a pillion in the snow
Two up somewhere in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan (check out the mad story on our Blog section).

Can I really travel on any motorcycle?

Okay, so there’s a lot of criteria above and quite a bit to consider. But that doesn’t mean you can’t throw all of that out the window and just go on whatever you own or want. 

Make no mistake, whatever you choose, some biking snob will turn their nose up at it.  

We used our Yamaha XT660R for a two-up ride from London to Tokyo and received quite a backlash. Sure, it was overloaded and we had a few problems with it, but so what? We met people on bikes ten times more expensive and bigger than ours who had more problems. That’s the bike we wanted to go on and so we went on it.

While travelling, we met Franck LaFontaine, a Frenchman riding from France to Mongolia on a Royal Enfield Bullet. He rode along the Wakhan Corridor and the Mongolian Steppe on that bike and through places other adventure bike riders wouldn’t go on much more capable machines. He’s currently riding the same bike somewhere in South America!

And then look at the legendary Dutchman, Sjaak Lucassen, who has travelled the world on a Honda Fireblade and Yamaha R1 including through the Sahara! His motto is “Take what bike you love and go.”

The point is, you can carefully consider what bike works best, but what’s most important is that you love the wheels you’re travelling on.  

READ MORE:

Sjaak Lucassen in Sahara on R1
In 2001, Sjaak Lucassen rode his Yamaha R1 round-the-world, covering 156,000 miles, 75 countries and taking five years and five months.

How much should I spend on an adventure bike?

Obviously, only buy what you can afford. Buying a bike on finance and then taking it travelling is a very, very risky game. Take a bike that you can afford to lose.

When travelling outside of Europe, it’s near impossible to get motorcycle insurance. This is different to Personal Travel Insurance. You will be asked at most borders to buy third-party insurance for that country, but it’s usually not worth the paper it’s written on, will only cover third-party damage and will never cover the loss of your bike. So, if your brand new and expensive bike gets stolen, then that’s that.

Also, consider the loss involved in potential problems with shipping, general security, the higher price at custom bonded warehouses and the more likely expensive repair and parts costs.

READ MORE:

What are my adventure bike options?

You really can go on whatever you like. But, if you’ve already got a bike in mind and are looking into the adventure bike category, check out our Adventure Motorcycle Reviews page for in-depth bike reviews from real world travellers. You’ll find what they love about their bikes, how they’ve prepped them, modifications and much more. 

Motorcycle Reviews by Motorcycle Travellers

Detailed reviews from world travellers.
REVIEWS

What are the best adventure motorcycles?

For a full list of new adventure bikes and what we consider to be the best on the market today, take a look at these two guides next. You’ll find our top pics, specs and why they’re so good, as well as a selection of excellent older models.

READ MORE:

Here’s a snapshot selection of some great adventure bikes.

How to choose a RTW motorcycle

We often get asked what’s the best bike to ride round the world. The answer is that you can ride RTW on any motorcycle. Literally – anything. if you don’t like riding off-road, you can easily plot routes which primarily focus on tarmac and ride the world on a Harley-Davidson or Honda Cub if you like. And if you only want to ride the rough stuff then plan a route that steers clear of tarmac. You can get through anything on any bike, it just may not be as comfortable or take longer to do if it’s not the appropriate bike for the terrain, that’s all. 

It’s all about finding a bike that suits your personal needs. The questions and criteria listed above and throughout this article apply in the exact same way for choosing a bike to take a two-month trip to finding a bike to ride round the world on. The most important thing is finding a bike you love riding and just going!

READ MORE: 

Read more on preparing for a motorcycle trip

Thanks for checking out our How to Choose Your Adventure Bike guide. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on preparing for motorcycle travel that we recommend you read next. 

Liked that? Try these next…

Are you looking for a new adventure motorcycle? If you any questions, please post your comments below. We’d love to hear from you. 

 

10 thoughts on “How to Choose an Adventure Motorcycle for Travelling”

    • Hey Nicolas,
      Yeah, the CB500X is a great, versatile, easy-to-use and reliable bike – made even better with the Rally Raid kit.

      It’s always tricky talking about adventure bikes because really you can have an adventure on whatever bike you like! It’s very subjective.
      Sjaak Lucassen for example riding round-the-world on an R1 https://www.madornomad.com/sjaak-lucassen-north-pole/
      Franck riding round-the-world on a Royal Enfield Bullet https://www.madornomad.com/round-the-world-on-a-royal-enfield/ and so on….

      The above list is just a snapshot of the most commonly used bikes for travel. ‘Adventure bike’ is pretty much just a marketing term. Anyone can take any bike. It just depends on what you want from your trip. For example, if you want to ride 98% gnarly off-road then go on a lightweight 250cc dirt bike or if you enjoy carving up asphalt then take a twin…

      So yeah, if you like the CB, it fits your criteria and what you’ve got planned for your rtw ride then definitely go for it!

      Just out of curiosity, what else is on your shortlist? 😀

      Reply
  1. Reckon the CB500 is a weighty machine without the benefit of the power a 200kg plus bike usually has…..I throw in the KTM390 Adventure,bit diddy but a fly weight.

    Reply
    • Hi Ste,
      Thanks for your comment. Have you had a read of the CB500X review on our website? See what you make of that first: https://www.madornomad.com/honda-cb500x-review/
      I’m not sure I agree regarding the KTM390, a fun little road bike, but not so easy off-road, I don’t get on with or rate its off-road ergonomics at all.
      What are you currently riding?
      Cheers,
      Andy

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the reply Andy.
    Erm…just read it now you’ve prompted me.
    Admittedly the CB is the better ‘off road’ machine but those Rally Raid accoutrements ain’t cheap,might as well have the Tenere with the extra umph for similar.
    Personally I own a 05 DRZ, bit long in the tooth for the ‘never going to happen’ trans continental tour I fantasize about. Stagger about off road occasionally and the odd lonesome camp. Who knows what retirement might bring? Have a few mates interested in big distance tours but accommodating everyone’s wishes is impossible,leads to folk just doing there own thing. You are extremely lucky having a partner who wants to share your adventure,not many would.
    All the best
    Ste

    Reply
    • Yeah, agreed, they’re not cheap and if you’re going to go to all that effort you may as well bite the bullet and go for the next bike up.
      And yes, perhaps a little for a big tour. Heather Sinclair’s DRZ Review is a good one to read if you do consider going on a big trip with one.
      It’s so hard going on a big trip with friends for the same reason you said, everyone has different ideas of travel, per day distances, where they want to stay, how much they want to spend on dinner etc etc. It just becomes a headache. It’s a lot easier if you find one friend (or two at a push) who has a very similar mindset and you have done some dry runs and know you work well together. Otherwise, going solo is the best way. And thank you, yeah – very lucky!
      Let us know how you get on mate, I hope you do get out there and go on your big tour!
      Cheers,
      Andy

      Reply
  3. Due to my budget constrain, I intended to take up the BMW 310GS for my planned Asean country bike trip. Is this 310 GS a reliable bike for travelling? Thanks & Cheers

    Reply
    • Hi Shong,
      Alissa used a 310 for 6 months riding around Japan and absolutely loved it. Easy to ride, relatively comfortable, won’t bite your hand off, light and surprisingly good on the long straight roads.

      But as for reliability, it depends on which ASEAN countries you’re visiting and what you’re planning on doing there. For example, it’s not going to be the best off-road bike and will struggle on single track. So if it’s taken to those sorts of areas, you may have issues – for example with fork seals.

      You won’t have any problems finding mechanics in Thailand and Malaysia – and I assume the only other ASEAN countries you’ll visit with it are Cambodia and Laos. So in which case, as long as it’s prepped well enough before, you’re not throwing it around on single tracks and you plot your route with stops at mechanics along the way, then it’d be reliable enough for such a trip.

      But bear in mind, the 310 is built to a budget, cheap components are evident and it’s not going to be as easy to repair or as reliable as say a Honda CRF where parts, spares and mechanics would be everywhere. So it’s impossible to say how reliable it would be. But that’s with anything, you could buy a £15,000 R1200GS and it break. Good preparation and backup plans of good mechanics along the way are what counts. Other than that, take whatever bike you like and go for it!
      Hope this helps,
      Andy

      Reply
        • Hi Shong, no problem!
          Also, randomly, on your comment info I see you’re from Malaysia! My wife and I are on a round the world trip and we’re exiting Thailand tomorrow and will be riding to Taiping, Malaysia en route to KL. Any chance you live around that area or on that route? Could always meet up for a quick coffee haha! contact@madornomad.com
          Cheers,
          Andy

          Reply

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