Part 1. What to Wear
Part 2. What to Take
Part 3. Preparing the Bike
Part 4. How and Where
Part 5. Checklist
Preparing the Bike
Most modern motorcycles can tour with ease; you don't necessarily need hard panniers, touring screens or a huge tank range. Your only real limiting factor is going to be comfort. We're all very different shapes and sizes and it's impossible to say what is or isn't going to work for any individual, so you need to establish a sensible maximum touring distance per day for yourself and your particular bike. If your wrists or bum are aching after 80 miles then you're going to struggle with dangerous levels of fatigue when touring; ask your dealer about bar risers or a different seat, or go to a forum for your bike and find out what others have done. If all else fails, consider getting another bike, for example Aprilia's Futura has one of the most comfortable seats in motorcycling as well being a highly competent sports tourer. Get fit (no, seriously!); less body weight and stronger muscles throughout the body will alleviate the comfort weak points as well as vastly reduce fatigue overall. Fitness will hugely extend your range as well your riding enjoyment.
Once you've sorted the comfort, you need to work out how you're going to load the bike, focusing on keeping the weight distribution between the two wheels the same as when you're riding unlaiden. If you're taking a pillion, that is going to mean putting all the weight as far forward as you can (that includes the pillion; get them into the practice of sitting as far forward as they comfortably can). Typically, for touring solo you're going to be using a tank bag and a tail pack, for two-up, a tank bag and pair of soft or hard panniers. If you can survive with just a large tank bag, so much the better. Put the heaviest items such as tools and liquids right at the front of the tank bag, and work back in order of weight. Compartmentalise by using heavy duty resealable freezer bags to keep things easy to find, easy to pack and dry. Check that they can't rub on something hard/sharp and hole; consider lining the bags with bubble wrap.
Consider tank bags that include straps for ease of carrying when you stop along the way.
A back-pack (rucksack) is unlikely to be a good idea as it increases fatigue, prevents air circulating over the skin of your back in hot conditions and it can start body roll in accidents, from which all your flailing limbs can break...
Now you've loaded the bike, set up the suspension properly. This is a really important step, that the majority of riders mysteriously ignore. You'll need three helpers and at least an hour, following the steps in the Australian Superbike School's suspension set up guide. Use RaceTech's stiction measurement system for even finer results. Take meticulous notes and keep them, they can give a useful indication of wear of the suspension components as the bike gets older and the miles add up.
Don't make any modifications or get your bike serviced just before departure, leave time for any issues to work themselves through.
If you can, start off with new or nearly new tyres. Your bike will handle at its best, but also the thicker tread reduces the chance of a puncture. You can always put back on any part worn tyres for commuting duties when you get back home.
Preparation also includes a thorough evaluation of what tools to take.
Your starting point is an honest self assessment of your mechanical skills. If you don't feel confident to take off a wheel or diagnose a simple electrical problem, then it's probably better to leave most of the tools at home and take out comprehensive breakdown insurance. But be aware that these policies might not meet expectations. A car mechanic will probably turn up and make little or no attempt to fix the problem (fair enough as he doesn't know anything about bikes), and offer to take you to the nearest bike shop (that's closed as it's the weekend), your hire car turns out to be public transport back home (because of something obscure in the small print) and your bike gets repatriated two weeks later, damaged.... a true story.
If your skills are up to it, self reliance is the best option. It's your best chance to get your bike running quickly and your best chance of being able to continue with your holiday. If the problem beats you, hire a van, put the bike in the back, carry on with your holiday and repatriate the bike yourself.
Take a couple of light 2 meter tie-down straps which can be used for a variety of things including an emergency tow rope to the next town. It's up to you how to use it safely, but one suggestion is to tie one end to the grab rail of the towing bike and the towed rider holds it in their left hand, so they can let go should the need arise.
Make sure you're familiar with your bike and know what is where, particularly when it comes to the electrical system. Listen to the regular noises it makes, like the fuel pump pressuring at startup. Take this opportunity to check that all the important nuts and bolts are correctly torqued and not seized (which is a good idea anyway - and while you're about it, add a little Copperslip to the threads), and what sized sockets/spanners/allen keys you need to take. Go to a forum for your particular bike and read up on the common ills that other people have suffered (if any), and make sure that you have the equipment and the knowledge to deal with them.
See our touring checklist for our recommended tools and equipment.
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Next: Motorcycle Touring Tips Part 4: How and Where
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