Ever wanted to straddle an engine and ride into the sunset? Joe did, and now he’s written a beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring so you can too.
I’m not a motorcyclist, but I have always loved the idea of motorcycles. To me an adventure on a bike is the most adventurous way to travel.
I’ve read countless books and watched all the ‘Long Ways’ but such an adventure has always eluded me, largely due to time and money (motorised adventure isn’t cheap!). I settled for living vicariously through similarly minded folks who managed to make it happen. Sure, adventures were had at home and abroad, but there always remained a nagging box that remained unchecked on my adventure resume.
The old days – where I’d pack it all in and drain my bank account in pursuit of freedom and new experiences – are now firmly limited to annual leave and long weekends. I’d resigned those dreams to a time when an older but still adventurous me would be unshackled from the responsibilities of a 9-5 job and mouths to feed.
Then one day, while tumbling down a rabbit hole of two-wheeled wanderlust it dawned on me. I didn’t need an expensive German motorbike or months of space in my calendar to have an adventure. I just needed a bike and a few spare days. What if I could microdose my dreams in the form of short sharp road trips, and do it on the cheap?
Here’s what I learnt from my foray into motorcycle touring and adventure, but first!
Why a motorcycle?
Because let’s face it, four wheels are a little bit boring.
Taking a road trip on a motorcycle is a truly immersive experience. In order to get the most out of your ride you need to be engaged and thinking about your ride. Planning your corners and scanning the road for the best place to be, and acutely aware of your surroundings.
You smell the changes in the bush, you feel differences in the temperature, humidity and the road surface. The sound of the wind rushing past your helmet and the smallest changes of the exhaust note.
When it all comes together there’s a certain zen that is only achieved when you are ‘in the zone’. This all combines into a truly exhilarating experience without a need to break the land speed record.
What kind of bike? Big vs Small and Buy vs Rent
The bike you choose will flavour your experience and will be determined by where you’re going, what you want to do when you get there, how long you are going for, and, of course, your budget.
Big vs Small
Broadly speaking the best bet will be a ‘touring’ bike, as the name implies they’re designed for longer rides and come with comfy seats and a more upright riding position, along with suspension designed for comfort over speed.
The fun really starts where the black top ends. For this you’ll want an ‘adventure’ bike. These are touring bikes only tougher, with beefier suspension and chunkier tyres. Think of the adventure bike as a LandCruiser and a touring bike as a Subaru Outback, both great for getting you out there but one’s gonna get you to those harder to reach places.
Touring bikes once upon a time only really came in one size, BIG. In recent years motorbike manufacturers have realised there’s a large market of people that would love a touring bike but aren’t willing to spend $20-30k on a big powerful bike that spends most of the year in the shed. This has led to a number of smaller, more cost effective models entering the scene allowing you to be on the road to nowhere for less than $10k.
Buy vs Rent
If you want to try before you buy there’s also the option of renting a bike. The bike used when researching this trip, a Royal Enfield Himalayan (gorgeous isn’t she?), was kindly supplied by the good folks at Eaglerider who can kit you out with a bike for the weekend for just a few hundred bucks. They’ll even supply a helmet and a protective jacket if you need them.
This option allows you to ride different makes and models to suit your trip, not worry about things like parking, rego, insurance and ongoing maintenance and also avoids an expensive toy sitting in the shed gathering dust. The main downside is that you’ll have to wait until you at least have your P’s. From a safety point of view, probs not a bad idea.
You’ve got a bike. Where to next?
Wherever you darned-well please!
Road tripping on a bike is at its best on quiet, curvy backroads. It’s unlikely you’ll cover the kilometres like you would in a car and if you do you’ll be pretty knackered when you get there. 300 – 400km in a day is generally about all you’d want to do.
For the research trip I planned to ride 150km on day one, 350km on day 2 and 260km on day 3 on a loop that took in the Hunter Valley, Mudgee, and the Blue Mountains. By the time I stopped for meals (it’s impossible to eat a pie while riding…), to take photos, grab a coffee and explore some side roads this worked out pretty well.
Exploring remote dirt roads dials the stoke levels right up but it’s a whole other ball game that demands some skill and practice. Full disclosure, I included a section of dirt about 40km long on day one of my trip and regretted it almost immediately. Although I made it just fine, it was a much slower and nervous 40km than the Ewan MacGregor-like visions I had when including it in my route.
Apart from a bike, what gear do I need?
Chances are you already have everything you need apart from a helmet (essential), and a protective jacket (optional but highly recommended).
Space is limited, so really think about what you need to take with you. Most bikes with luggage cases, or panniers, like the one pictured will have enough room for a tent, sleeping gear, a few days’ clothes, a hiking stove and gas canister, a couple litres of water, cooking gear and simple meals.
Personally I was carrying all of the above and waaaayyy more camera gear than any sane person should. Pack the heavy stuff at the bottom of your panniers and keep the weight on either side of the bike roughly even so it’s all nice and balanced.
If you don’t have panniers then you may need to resort to a backpack. This isn’t ideal for a couple of reasons relating to comfort and stability. If you have a big heavy bag on, up high on your back it‘ll quickly become uncomfortable and affect the way the bike handles. If you must, keep it light!
Keep it shiny side up!
Like all things that are fun, motorcycling comes with risks. Similar to most other things that are fun, if it’s done right no one gets hurt.
Riding within your limits, to the conditions, and taking regular breaks will ensure you have a blast and get home to make your mates jealous enough to go out and get a bike licence immediately.
Two-Wheeled Adventure Inspo
Want to get yourself over the line? These will have you grabbing a two-wheeled steed and hitting the open road.
- Red Tape and White Knuckles by Lois Pryce – a breakaway from the very male dominated field. This is the story of one woman’s adventure along the length of Africa
- Going Postal by Nathan Millward – The tale of a Brit, his postie bike named Dot and their epic journey from Sydney to London.
- All the ‘Long Ways’ documentary series featuring Charlie Boorman and Ewan MacGregor.
- Adventure Rider Radio Podcast – An accessible, wanderlust inspiring and often funny podcast about folks traversing the globe and the trouble they get themselves into.
- Horizons Unlimited – Reddit for adventure bikers, a treasure trove of ideas, how to’s and tales of those out there living the dream.
- Itchy Boots YouTube Channel – A great example of how far you can go on a cheap adventure bike and another example that it’s not all for the guys.
The bike used for the article was supplied thanks to the legends Eaglerider Motorcycle Rentals.