Want to travel on your bike but don’t know where to start? Start here with this ultimate motorcycle adventure guide.
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Here’s how to go on a motorcycle adventure
This is a big deal. If you’re reading this article, then you’re considering leaving home for a few months or years – or completely leaving your old life behind for a new one on the open road. Either way, a motorcycle adventure means something epic and life-changing is about to happen and you’re probably grinning ear-to-ear just thinking about it.
But amid all the excitement and YouTube travel videos, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or get put off by the amount of pre-trip work ahead of you. Don’t be… thinking of motorcycle travelling is a big deal, but preparing for one isn’t. It just needs a bit of time and methodical planning.
It doesn’t matter if you’re off for a few weeks or gone for years round-the-world, use this guide to help you get started with your planning. It’s half the fun (well, not half, but it can be fun). Get this stuff right now, and it’ll make all the difference in the long run. Good luck!
First thing’s first
What exactly do you want from your motorcycle trip? There are plenty of people out there travelling on two-wheels, they’ve all got their own idea of what they want and no two trips are the same. Really take the time to consider what you want before moving on to the next stages below, as what you want from your trip has an impact on every decision.
For example, some bike travellers don’t enjoy off-roading, so there’s no point opting for a small capacity single-cylinder machine. Some people hate camping, so there’s no point them heading into Mongolia.
Have a think about what you do and don’t want, make a list, stick to it and don’t get bogged down by what other people are doing. It’s not their adventure, it’s yours.
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, here’s what you need to consider and ask yourself:
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.
Off-road bike considerations:
- 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. Click here for our Guide to making your bike all-day comfy.
- 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. Click here for our Guide to Adventure Proofing your Motorcycle.
Is tank size important?
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 or carrying spare fuel containers.
What about luggage?
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. Click here for our guide to Hard vs Soft luggage and the Ultimate set-up.
How about repairs?
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. Click here for our guide to building the Ultimate Adventure Bike Tool Kit.
And spare parts?
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.
Are you going 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.
Can I really take any bike?
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 Franc 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! (Click here to read his story).
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.” He’s currently planning on riding his R1 to the North Pole! Check out his incredible story and how’s he’s preparing for the journey here.
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.
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 Motorcycle 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.
What are my bike options?
You really can go on whatever you like. But here are some suggestions of popular adventure motorcycles:
Packing for a long-term motorcycle trip
You’ve got three tasks here:
1. Get everything you need for the trip
2. Condense and minimalize
3. Get rid of everything you don’t need
Number one is the fun bit. Make a list of everything you think you need for your motorcycle trip. Easy!
Number two is a balance. Everyone’s idea of what they need is different. It all comes down to what you want and don’t want to live without and what you’re prepared to compromise on. For example, we all need a toothbrush and most people will pack a normal brush. But at one extreme end, some travellers will cut the plastic handle in half to save size and weight. And then at the other end are those who pack electric brushes because they don’t want to compromise on dental hygiene.
Another example are towels. Some travellers take a normal towel, some take tiny microfibre towels and others use a sock.
Find your own balance and try and condense and minimalize on the things you can. If you really want a big towel and that makes you happy, then take it! Just be prepared to start hacking off your toothbrush handle instead.
Number three is harder than it sounds. The difficulty is overpacking. It’s incredibly easy to do and you will do it. So, you need to be absolutely ruthless as minimalism is your friend. But remember, no matter how ruthless you are, you will still overpack, even experienced travellers overpack. If there’s anything you’re not 100% sure you’re going to need, leave it at home otherwise prepare to post it home or ditch it on the road.
Here’s what you need to pack for a motorcycle adventure:
Your personal clothing section won’t be as big and bulky as the dreaded camping bag, but it can get pretty close if you let it. Here’s a few tips for keeping it small.
You don’t need eighteen pairs of pants and three jumpers in the same colour. Pack light, small and smart. If you’re heading to warm countries then one or no jumper will do. Wash your clothes more regularly and take less in the first place.
When choosing clothes for your trip, make sure to ditch all cotton and instead go for synthetics and wool, which will keep you both cooler and warmer when needs be, dry quicker and wick sweat and moisture away from your skin.
Most clothing bulk comes from evening wear in colder temperatures. Consider using a small, foldable thermal jacket that doubles up as your motorcycle thermal and your evening/ camping jacket like the SubZero jackets we use. There’s no point carrying a big woolly jumper for when you’re off the bike and using another thermal jacket for riding.
If you are heading to cold countries, another option is to ditch the heavy and bulky layering system in favour of a single heated jacket. Check out our guide to Choosing your Adventure Riding Gear for more info on thermals and heated kit.
The important electronics are your mobile phone, charger and adapter. Your phone can be your sat-nav (click here for our Top 5 Travel apps), translator, camera and used for help in emergencies. However, it’s likely you’ll want to take cool pictures of your trip, so also consider a camera and a laptop (if you absolutely need one).
Electronics can pile up, so try and keep it as low weight as possible.
Your camping bag will be the biggest bag on your bike. We’ve met travellers who have been on the road for six months and not set their tent up once. They actively looked for a place just so they could say they camped at least once and then ditched the gear. If you hate the idea of camping then consider if you really need the bag. And if you want in for emergencies then only take the bare minimum. The necessities are: tent, sleeping bag, roll mat, stove, cooking equipment and torch.
The Bulky Stuff
The tent, sleeping bag and roll mat are the bulkiest and take up most room. Opt for low volume, lightweight and compression kit that can be packed away as small as possible.
Here’s what we use on our trip to give you an idea of a low weight and volume small pack size.
We suggest using a multi-fuel stove, like the MSR DragonFly. It packs up small, is light and easy to refill because it runs on petrol or diesel. There’s no point taking gas canister stoves as once you’re out of Europe they’re near impossible to refill. Don’t forget your matches.
Pots and Pans
It’s better to spend a little more when purchasing cooking equipment as there’s no other way to get smaller, lightweight and compactable pots and pans. The cheap stuff rusts up and is heavier and you’ll end up spending more in the long run. We use MSR’s Quick 2 System, it’s a little larger than other two-person sets, but we cook often and so it’s worth it for us. Don’t forget lightweight but sturdy plastic cutlery.
You’ll also need miscellaneous stuff for cooking including a decent knife, washbowl, tea towel, sponge, washing liquid and a mini chopping board. It’s also worth taking a small water-tight container for spices, salt, pepper and sugar. We also carry a small picnic blanket, which comes in very useful. We carried a couple of small camping chairs to start with, but they broke. Every time we saw motorcyclists with chairs we were mega jealous. It’s a slice of luxury but very bulky and not absolutely necessary.
Taking a toolkit for general repairs and servicing as well as oils and lubricants is a good idea. Tools are heavy and it’s easy to fall into the trap of over packing here. We suggest having a read of our comprehensive guide on How to pack the Ultimate Adventure Bike Toolkit first.
If you’re heading into some particularly dodgy areas, you may want to take a chain, lock or security mesh net. Take a look at our Motorcycle Security while Travelling guide for more info.
Motorcycle kit and gear
Dependent on the type of clothing you go for, you may have extra garments to pack into your luggage. For example, if you go for a non-waterproof, then you’ll need to make space for throw-over waterproofs. Have a look at our Choosing your Adventure Riding Gear guide for loads of tips and info on choosing the right kit for your trip.
Food, water and fuel
Unless you plan on eating out for every meal (which will get very expensive, very quickly), you’ll need to take a food bag. We use a waterproof Kriega US30 strapped to our crash bar to hold our food. You could get away with a smaller Kriega US10, but we opted for the bigger one because we camp often and like to cook our own food.
For water, we use a 6.6litre Rotopax water container. This is enough to drink from during the day, for emergencies and to cook, wash and clean with. If you’re going to be off-roading most of the time, consider using a bladder pack. Depending on where you’re travelling, you could also take water purification tablets.
We also carry a 6.6 litre Rotopax fuel container, which slots next to the water container. This was especially useful in Uzbekistan where we went hundreds of miles without a petrol station in sight.
It’s important to keep up with your hygiene on the road. This one’s a bit obvious, but we’d recommend, toothbrush (handles optional) and paste, floss, flannel, shaving equipment, small tube of shower gel and shampoo, soap, hand sanitizer and a face cleanser for all the dirt that’s going to be blasted into your face all day long.
Keep your important paperwork in a water-tight pack. It’s a good idea to also keep a small USB pen with a backup of your paperwork elsewhere on the bike.
Here’s where you can add a few extra necessities like a first aid kit, penknife, map and compass (only if you’re going to use them), sunglasses, a small foldable rucksack for when you’re off the bike, dry compression bags to keep everything dry.
Hard vs Soft luggage Guide
How to choose the right adventure motorcycle clothing for your trip
Forget the adventure catalogues and glossy mags. Sure, the riders look pretty cool with sun glistening of their goggles, immaculately branded kit deflecting dirt and their KTM’s front wheel high in the air as the rear tyre spits dirt.
But that’s not long-term motorcycle travel and you don’t need top of the range jackets and trousers to go on a motorcycle adventure – no matter how long you’re going for. It’s seductive marketing and there’s plenty of well marketed garments dubbed “Adventure” motorcycle clothing, which are wildly inappropriate for long-term motorcycle travellers. Of course, a lot of that kit is high-quality and good stuff, there’s no denying that, but that doesn’t mean you need it or that it’s right for you.
So, what do you need? It depends on where you’re going and the type of riding you’re doing…
Where are you going?
Try tapping in adventure motorcycle clothing into Google and you’ll find an endless sea of super-dooper kit that’s bullet proof, rain proof and nuclear bomb proof… Sounds like you need it, and some people will, but most of it is pretty unnecessary for someone riding round-the-world. Think about where you’re heading and the temperatures you’ll be facing first, that will help put into perspective the kind of kit you need.
After 15 years of riding in temperatures ranging from -20C to +48C, I’ve found the best option is a lightweight jacket and trousers, a pair of military boots and waterproof throwovers. Before you spit out your Cheerios, here’s why…
The reason I opt for that set-up is because of the constantly changing temperature and climate we travel through. It can be freezing cold one month and boiling hot the next. So, it doesn’t make sense for us to take Gore-Tex Pro Laminate for example, as we’d swelter in the hot countries and the kit would be unusable.
If you know you’re only going to be riding through South America and it’s going to be hot the whole way, then opt for light, mesh kit with plenty of ventilation.
If you’re planning a ride to Nordkapp and then onto Russia, then Gore-Tex waterproof gear is a must.
But, if you’re travelling through multiple climates, keep your kit as light and comfortable as possible. Adapt to the weather by layering over the top or underneath of your motorcycle clothing. When it rains, chuck your throwovers on. When it gets cold, layer up or use a heated jacket. When it gets hot, just use the gear you’ve got.
Adventure motorcycle clothing is big business. There are hundreds of brands out there and a complex world of kit to choose from, making it hard to know what you do and don’t need. If you’re getting suited up for a big trip, have a read of our comprehensive guide: How to choose your Adventure Riding Gear. It’s packed with detailed info on the different types of helmets including flip front, adventure lids, road and off-road, adventure suits, boots, gloves, thermals, heated kit and extras. There’s examples, top tips and what type of kit we use on our adventures.
How to choose your Adventure Riding Gear
Motorcycle Travel Destinations
Choosing where you want to ride is a big decission and will greatly affect every aspect of your planning, from budgeting, to how long you’re going for, paperwork, kit and so on.
Chances are, if you’re planning a motorcycle adventure, you’ve probably got a place in mind you’d like to go. But if not, that’s fine too, we have plenty of friends who simply set-off one day and have pottered around the world without a plan. Of course, it is easier to have a rough idea of where you’d like to go first, as sorting visas and paperwork on the road can be difficult and near-impossible for some countries. Also, inevitably, shippng will get in the way and is expensive.
Budgeting is the big one and typically the number one question when it comes to motorcycle travelling, or any prolonged travelling for that matter.
Motorcycle travel doesn’t have to cost a fortune and there are plenty of ways to keep things low cost. You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you like.
If you go for a £15,000 bike, sleep in hotels every night, go out to eat for every meal, drink loads of beer and don’t do any repair work yourself…then yeah, it’s going to cost a fortune.
Instead of listing all the ways you can spend less on a motorcycle adventure, click here for our Guide to travelling on the cheap.
How to budget
There’s a lot to consider when starting to work out how much you’ll spend on a motorcycle trip. Let’s say you’ve already got the bike, kit and gear. What’s now important are the countries, their visa and import rules and how you get to the next country.
So, if you’re heading to Africa, you will need a Carnet, which will be expensive. Will you ride home or ship your bike back? Consider those costs.
If, however, you go to Central Asia, then there’s no Carnet to pay, and potentially cheaper return using the Trans-Siberian Railway or cheaper shipping firms.
Look into how you will get from country to country and what you need to get into each one. Calculate how much you’ll be spending on fuel each month in that area, if it will be possible to camp and if you’re likely to cook your own food. You’ll soon get a rough idea. You can adapt and change your expenditure while on the road as you learn new tricks for keeping costs down and petrol in the tank.
Paperwork is the boring and stressful part of planning a trip, and it’s also one of the most important. There’s no point having the lightest packed, swishest motorcycle if you don’t have a visa to get into the country!
Again, what paperwork you need depends on the country you’re travelling through.
Here’s what you need to consider:
- Do I need a Carnet de Passage to enter the country or will I be allowed in with a Temporary Import?
- Do I need a visa to enter, how long does it last, where can I get the visa from?
- Does this country require a Letter of Invitation?
- Do I need to pay for a compulsory guide for this country, like China and Myanmar?
- Will this country be upset if I’ve visited another country that they’re not friends with? Do I need an interview first, if so, where?
- You may need a Green card for some countries, like Turkey.
- If you’re travelling as a couple, you may need a marriage certificate for some countries.
- Do I need to prove I’ve had particular vaccinations?
You will definitely need:
- Passport with plenty of blank pages
- Driver’s licence
- International Driver’s Permit (IDP) (you don’t need this for every country, but there are some countries who will not let you operate a vehicle without one, like Japan).
- Vehicle registration documents
- Travel insurance. You don’t need to show that you have travel insurance to enter a country, but it’s so important that we stuck it here anyway. Don’t leave home on a motorcycle trip without it. Check out the What You Need to Know About UK Motorcycle Travel Insurance guide for loads of top tips.
- Make sure all your addresses and details match up on your documents. It can cause trouble with the more pedantic border guards.
- Make multiple backups of your paperwork. It’s worth having your originals securely squirreled away on your person. Make colour copies and have them easily accessible on the bike. Buy a cheap USB and also put your documents on there and keep that secure elsewhere. And finally, give copies to a trusted friend back home, or email them to yourself just in case. Sounds like overkill, but you’ll be happy you did it if you ever need it!
- Make a laminate copy of your driver’s licence and passport. If you’re stopped by unscrupulous cops who demand a bribe in return for your passport, you’ll feel a lot happier saying no thanks and riding off if you gave them your laminate copy. Click here for our guide to dealing with bribes on the road.
Shipping your adventure motorcycle
Riding long distance means that at some point you’re probably going to need to ship your motorcycle. This could be to get it home after a long journey, or to get it to the next continent or even to ship it to a starting point.
Shipping and freighting your bike sounds like a logistical nightmare with loads of options, sea and air freight, agents and customs etc. But it doesn’t have to be!
To help, we’ve produced a detailed and comprehensive Ultimate Motorcycle Shipping Guide with an industry expert that walks you through everything you need to know to freight your bike.
What they don’t tell you
Once you start to tell people your plans and that you’re thinking of travelling on a motorcycle, you’ll find everyone is an expert. There will be a lot of people telling you how hard it’s going to be (when they haven’t ridden before), how dangerous it’s going to be (when they don’t venture further than Spain for the annual holiday) and how expensive it will be (when they have absolutely no idea). There will be a lot of naysayers.
And when you Google and YouTube motorcycle travelling, you’ll no doubt see bearded vagabonds fixing engines in the middle of Mauritania. It’s not like that and you don’t need to be an expert at everything to have an adventure.
Anyone can motorcycle travel. Don’t be put off by anything anyone says. It’ll be the best thing you ever do.
START HERE: Planning a motorcycle trip but don’t know where to start? Start Here!
BIKE: Get your bike ready for adventure by checking out our Motorcycle Preparation guides.
DESTINATIONS: Check out our comprehensive Destination Guides for Overlanders and motorcycle travellers.
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