Motorcycle Travel Guide: USA

Welcome to the USA. This motorcycle travel guide explains everything you need to know about motorcycle touring and riding in the USA from paperwork to routes, the best roads, shipping and so much more. This packed article will help you plan for and get the most out of your bike trip in America. 

Motorcycle Travel USA

Contents

Motorcycle Travel Guide USA

The USA is an incredible country to travel through – especially for motorcycle travellers. Every state is like its own unique country, it’s brimming with stunning raw nature and natural beauty, insanely good riding roads and endless off-roading too.

We had been on the road for six years before our bikes crossed the border into the USA. And it quickly became one of the biggest surprises once we started riding there. We had no idea we’d love it as much as we did, and we know you will too.

So, we put together this comprehensive motorcycle travel guide for the USA to help you get over there with a motorcycle and travel. Our guides focus on information for overland motorcycle travellers using their own vehicles, but you’ll find everything you need to know in here whether renting, touring or shipping your own bike as well as paperwork and much more. For even more info, visit the USA Guides landing page and don’t forget to check out the North America Guides for more countries in NA.

READ MORE: USA Motorcycle Guides

Paperwork for motorcycle travel in the USA

To travel in the USA on a motorcycle you need a visa, valid passport, your motorcycle registration document, driver’s licence and vehicle insurance. You may also need an EPA letter if you are shipping your own motorcycle into the USA (not if you are entering and exiting via land border – but more on this specific requirement in the Temporary Import section below).

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Motorcycle Travel USA

Visas

You must obtain a visa or be issued with a visa waiver before travelling to the United States. Which you need will depend on your citizenship and passport.

For example, British citizens can apply for an ESTA, which is an electronic visa-waiver, meaning you can travel without a visa to the USA for up to 90 days. There are, however, requirements you must meet to qualify for this.

Citizens of 41 countries can get an ESTA. You’ll find that country list here: dhs.gov

For everyone else, check this official website, click on ‘Visa Wizard’ and enter your country to see what visa is required and how to obtain one: travel.state.gov

USA motorcycle insurance for travellers

You must have motorcycle insurance to legally ride a motorcycle in the USA. If you are renting a motorcycle or joining an organised tour, then the company you are going with should arrange this for you (do check though).

If you are taking your own motorcycle to the USA, then you will need to arrange your own insurance. We did this for our ride through the US and it was very straightforward.

We used an excellent broker who arranged the entire policy for us and this included insurance for Canada too.

Here are his details:

Personal travel insurance

Personal travel is not compulsory, but is incredibly important. This will cover your medical bills should anything happen. Making sure you are fully covered is extremely important. The USA is a very expensive country to have an accident in, so you’ll need to make sure your insurance actually covers you to ride a motorcycle too.

 There’s lots of sneaky info in the fine print, for example, you might not be allowed to ride anything over 125cc, or not as your main mode of transport or not a rental etc. So check carefully and ensure you’re covered.

For a complete guide on what to look out for, have a read of this detailed guide.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Motorcycle Travel Insurance Guide

Driver’s licence

You need a valid driver’s licence to legally operate a motorcycle in the USA. The licence must be valid for the capacity of motorcycle you want to rent or ride too. If you ride without a licence then you are riding illegally and your insurance (both vehicle and medical insurance) will also be invalid.

International Driver’s Permit

This is a confusing one. Reports are conflicted on whether you legally require an IDP because apparently you need one in some states and not in others. If your licence is not in English then it is highly likely you do need an IDP. The UK gov.uk website has a page listing every country that requires an IDP and it says the USA requires a 1949 IDP.  

We recommend taking a 1949 IDP regardless. It’s about £5 from the Post Office (if you’re from the UK) to get one and a similar price online and takes about five minutes. It’s best to be on the safe side.

Temporary import and EPA paperwork

This section is for overland motorcycle travellers who are taking foreign registered motorcycles into the USA. If you are renting a motorcycle or joining a tour in the US then this doesn’t apply to you.

There’s only one type of temporary import paperwork for riding in the USA and that’s getting a letter from the EPA.

If you are shipping your motorcycle to the USA, you must arrange for an EPA letter up to one month beforehand. It’s easy to do and your shipping company will provide you with the paperwork.

The EPA lasts 12 months, before that 12 months is up you must have shipped your bike out of the USA and your EPA must then be stamped out.

Here’s an important catch. Canada and Mexico are part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and that means, your bike must have also left those two countries as well. So, if you are overlanding to South America for example, you must have exited Mexico before your 12 months is up. 

Here’s another important note. If you fly your motorcycle Canada and cross into the USA via a land border, an EPA is not asked for. You must still make sure you are out of the USA within 12 months though.

How to ride a motorcycle in the USA

You have three options here: take your own foreign registered bike, rent a motorcycle or join an organised tour or buy one. Which you go for greatly depends on how long you’re going for and where and how you want to ride.

READ MORE: Should I Ship, Buy or Rent a Motorcycle

Motorcycle Travel USA

How to take a foreign registered motorcycle into the USA

To take your own motorcycle into the USA, you will either need to ship it to the States or cross a land border.

Crossing USA land borders with a motorcycle

If you’re crossing a land border, it’ll be via Canada or Mexico. You will need your passport, visa or ESTA, vehicle registration, insurance and driver’s licence. Note that US borders tend to be very strict. Your helmet must be off, single file and don’t get off your motorcycle unless you have been told to.

Shipping a motorcycle to the USA

Shipping a motorcycle to the USA is straightforward and can easily be done. There are a few paperwork requirements though, such as the EPA letter. We recommend getting in touch with a shipping agent in the country you are shipping from to arrange this for you. For example, if you are shipping from the UK, contact a UK shipping agent.

You will find a lot of shipping info in our shipping guides below and have a look at our recommended agents too. We have a dedicated guide explaining everything you need to know on how to ship a motorcycle to the USA below. 

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Motorcycle Travel USA

Renting a motorcycle in the USA

This is by far the easiest option. Your bike is provided for you and should have all the required paperwork in order. So all you have to do is turn up, pay your money and ride.

However, renting and joining an organised tour can be very expensive, so it really does depend on how long you want to travel for and where to in the US.

You’ll find a list of great motorcycle rental and tour companies in the USA here.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Rental Companies Finder

Buying a motorcycle in the USA

Another option is to simply fly out there and buy a local motorcycle. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of info on buying a bike as a foreigner in the USA and that’s because overland motorcycle travellers tend to buy their bikes in Canada and then ride into the US with them. It’s very easy to buy and sell a bike in Canada as a foreign citizen. Here’s a guide on how to do that.

READ MORE: How to Buy a Motorcycle in Canada

What motorcycle to ride in the USA

You’ve got an incredible range of motorcycle routes, roads and terrains to choose from in the USA. What bike you ride there completely depends on what you’re after and what you enjoy riding.

The US lends itself to everything from never ending long straights to technical off-road riding for enduro riders.

There’s literally something for everyone. So the first thing to do is decide how much road versus off-road you want to do, then how much time you’ll spend in the rough stuff if that’s what you’re after and then how many miles you want to cover. It’s a big country so, unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, small capacity bikes aren’t great!

But saying that, we rode from Washington to Phoenix on two Honda CRF300Ls and that was perfect for us as we took two months and did lots of off-roading. But if you’re shorter on time, then definitely go for a bigger adventure bike.

There’s no real right or wrong answer here. There are brilliant twisties for quick riding, long beautiful roads and perfect off-roading. There’s the two polar opposites for Harley-Davidson cruiser riders and then there’s lightweight off-road weapons. If you’re into spirited road riding, then a touring bike would be a lot of fun to help cover miles and get sparks flying on the bends. And for a mix of everything we’d go for at least a mid-capacity adventure bike. It’s all down to you.

If you need more detailed info on choosing a bike for your adventures, check out our adventure bike guides here.

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Motorcycle Travel USA

The best adventure motorcycle rides in the USA

The USA is packed full of awesome and jaw dropping motorcycle routes. It’s got everything you could want for a motorcycle trip. And they’re spread throughout the country. But, we reckon the absolute best motorcycle riding to be had is in the US Mountain States – more specifically, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

We suggest this section because it’s spectacular, less populated than the east and west coasts and because there’s both fantastic asphalt and off-road riding – something for every rider.

We have a dedicated guide listing the very best motorcycle routes in the Western US as well as a map of our tour. Have a read of these two guides. 

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Motorcycle Travel USA

Riding a motorcycle off-road in the USA

If you’re specifically after adventure bike and off-road riding routes in the USA, we recommend using these two amazing resources.

Trans America Trail (TAT) – If crossing the entire USA using primarily off-road trails sounds like the adventure of a lifetime, then you’ll want to look into this. Or, take your time and tackle sections of it on your trip. More info here: transamtrail.com 

Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) – You’ll find maps, routes, info and loads more information on incredible off-road routes throughout a big selection of states (again, most of which are located in the Mountain States). More info here: ridebdr.com

Motorcycle Travel USA

Adventure riding gear for the USA

The USA is huge and so its weather is changeable and diverse. The type of weather you’ll hit greatly depends on the states you’re riding through and the time of year. For example, you’ll find the jaw dropping Beartooth Pass highway covered in snow in January and beautifully warm in August.

We rode through the Mountain States between August and September and found very warm temperatures with two days of rain in two months. So assuming you’ll do the same or similar and be riding in warmer months and not in the winter – we recommend wearing lightweight and breathable adventure riding or touring gear. Kit that is not fully waterproof as this can quickly make you hot and sweaty. Instead, pack cheap waterproof throwovers in an easily accessible bag on your bike and just chuck them over your gear if the heavens open up.

Also pack a warm jumper or compressible down jacket in case you head into the mountains because the temperatures can quickly drop. This type of layering system allows the best ventilation, versatility, and protection for a region with a constantly changing climate.

For more info on riding gear, how to choose the best kit for your trip and our detailed buying guides with the best riding gear on the market today, have a look at the riding gear guides landing page below.

READ MORE: Adventure Riding Gear Guides

Motorcycle Travel USA

Health and safety for motorcycle travellers in the US

Health

You should ensure you are fully vaccinated to travel in the USA. Check out the Travel Health Pro and Fit for Travel websites for more info. Have a read of our health article below for more advice.

READ MORE: How to Stay Healthy While Motorcycle Travelling

Staying safe

Of course, there is crime in the USA. But for the most part, it’s a safe country to travel through for motorcycle travellers. People are incredibly kind and very welcoming to tourists. But, crime does happen and you need to always keep your wits about you. There are certain areas you should avoid and will need to take extra care of your riding gear and motorcycle.

If you are venturing into the back country and especially if you are riding off-road alone in remote regions, we highly recommend you carry an emergency satellite device too, which you can use to send out a GPS SOS. This is far more valuable than relying on a mobile phone where you may find yourself without signal. Check out the below guide. 

Have a read of our staying safe article, and also check out our dedicated guide on keeping your motorcycle and riding gear safe too.

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Mobile phone coverage

Mobile phone coverage tends to be pretty good throughout the USA. Having a local SIM card is a very good idea for keeping in touch, but also for staying safe, letting people know where you are, contacting emergency services if needed and also for navigation.

We recommend buying a local SIM card when you get there and found T-Cell to be the best. A dual SIM phone makes life a lot easier for this. Alternatively, if your phone allows eSIMs then this is a far easier and less time consuming method of getting local data. Especially as you can set it up before you even arrive in the country.

If you’re going with an eSIM, we recommend using Airalo.

A quick word on navigation. We use a burner mobile phone with an eSIM strapped to our handlebar and this works perfectly for us. We suggest using an old phone or buying a cheap one to use as your sat nav (keep your personal phone safe in your jacket pocket), download an eSIM, buy a mobile phone mount and use either Maps.Me or Google Maps to navigate. It makes life so much easier on the road.

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Motorcycle Travel USA

Accommodation and motorcycle camping in the USA

Finding accommodation in the USA is very easy. Booking.com is a very convenient and quick way of finding motels, hotels and budget accommodation as you travel. You can usually book these the same day and it works for a variety of budgets. We recommend using AirBnB for longer stays.

When it comes to camping, you’ll find plenty of campsites throughout the country. You can wild camp for free on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Land. You do need to check bylaws in each state and area before wild camping as there are exceptions and rules. You will also find some National Forest Land that has been set up for camping and requires a small payment – usually to be made in cash and deposited in an envelope into a pay box at the entrance. 

The easiest way to get around camping in the USA is to use a mixture of WikiCamps and iOverlander.  

iOverlanderis a free resource for motorcycle travellers and overlanders. You’ll find hundreds of camp spots listed on here with reviews.  

WikiCamps USAthis is a must. It costs about £4 to download the app but is invaluable. It lists thousands of campsites throughout the USA from free to paid for sites, with reviews and info on each one. We pretty much used this to camp throughout the States. 

Motorcycle Travel USA

Wildlife when motorcycle travelling in the USA

Be careful about wildlife in the USA. It’s not just bears and bison you need to watch out for, but snakes, spiders, scorpions, alligators, cougars, wolves, ticks and so on. 

When it comes to motorcycle travelling, your biggest concerns are bears when camping and creepy crawlies and snakes. 

You must take the appropriate precautions when camping in areas with bears. Your food and drink needs to be far away from your tent and hoisted up a tree. You can’t have anything smelly in your tent like deodorant, toothpaste, gels etc as bears are attracted to it. And we also recommend carrying bear spray. 

In some National Forest Campgrounds, hard metal bear boxes are provided, which you must use. These are for storing your food etc. 

And we recommend you have a read of these articles for bear safety before camping: US Forestry Service and American Bear Association.

Our motorcycle travel experience in the USA

We absolutely loved riding in the USA and we’re sure you will too. It genuinely took us by surprise. We didn’t expect to fall in love with the country, the views and the incredibly kind people we met. It’s a fantastic place to travel, especially when you get off the beaten track and explore. 

If you’re interested in our riding experience there from our round the world trip, have a read of our Wild West travel blog below.

READ MORE: The US and the Wild West

Motorcycle Travel USA

Read more on motorcycle travel in the USA and North America

Thanks for checking out the Motorcycle Travel Guide: USA. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycle travel in the USA that we recommend you read next. 

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Are you planning a motorcycle trip in the USA? Do you have any questions, tips or suggestions? Let us know in the comments below. 

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