It’s Time You Did Some Motorcycle Touring
This is my actual, first bike. How young was I when I was that little? My mom would complain that I was on it so much the two of us would somehow become attached if I wasn’t careful.
More than 45 years after I started riding this little thing, I’m still on two wheels at every opportunity. But if there is one aspect of riding that I love more than any other. It’s touring. If I had to, I’d give up the track, but taking away touring… It’s this near perfect metaphor for freedom.
To most, freedom is just this abstract idea that relates to control, but that’s not freedom, that’s independence. Freedom is riding through the world with no thought any moment exists beyond the one we are living in.
So while Ewan and Charley popularized the idea of motorcycle touring to a world of new riders, they also implied that you need to have a massive adventure bike. I’ve toured on every kind of bike there is, including small displacement sport bikes. That means you can tour on the bike you have right now. LIke, this dude we met on the road that was riding his GZ250 from Florida to Alaska.
So, if you haven’t loaded up your bike and ventured out to explore the world around you, its time. This summer, you need to. And here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way that make the experience that much better.
Required Bike Maintenance
We will be far away from home and we have no idea where the next motorcycle shop will be. Before heading off, make sure our bike is good to go. Install fresh tires, change the oil, make sure the brake pads are good, lube the chain and wax the paint. And never, I mean, never head out on a half-worn tire. Finding tires on the road sucks, you’ll pay a small fortune for a tire that you’d never buy at home. So change those tires even if they aren’t worn out so you don’t have to interrupt your trip with an expensive site seeing tour to a motorcycle shop on the road.
If you have a bike with a chain, and most of us do, bring what you need to take care of it. I give my chain a light sprits of chain lube at the end of every day of riding.
The tool kit our bike came with might be good enough, but probably not. We need to be prepared to deal with any bit of routine maintenance including removing wheels. This is my tool roll, with actual real tools. I even carry the special nuts to remove Ducati axel bolts and a flat tire kit lives in the bottom of a bag. And always, always bring a tire pressure gauge.
Now, one of the great frustrations of touring is managing tire pressure. Finding a gas station with an air pump can be a huge pain. Finding a gas station with a working pump is even harder, and when you do, assuming someone hasn’t stolen the brass air chuck, if you are lucky, it’s going to require three quarters to get it started just long enough to inflate one tire.
I love all these new, small portable tire inflators so much so, that I try to always carry one with me, even with the limited space we have available on a motorcycle. Now Fanttik has graciously sponsored this video, but they didn’t really need to because I love their newest X8 mini compact battery powered tire inflator regardless. I mean, look at how small this thing is! Perfect for motorcycles where packing space is limited.
What I like to do is, at the end of the day, after we’re unpacked, and the tires have cooled down. Check the pressure, and if they need topped up, enter in the desired air pressure, hit go and let it do its thing. Then charge it overnight so it’s fully charged for the next days of riding.
Now say, you do get a flat on the side of the road, this thing is small, but it’s mighty. It’ll push 150 psi, so it’ll inflate my 190-width rear tire on the Multistrada from dead flat to 42 psi in 14 minutes with 25% charge remaining. On a single charge, it’ll inflate two rear tires from dead flat. It has presets for cars, motorcycles, bikes. It’ll switch from PSI to bar, but I find that just entering the desired pressure and letting it go is my preferred method.
Now, because Fanttik has so graciously sponsored this video, they are giving us 25% off the total for Fanttik X8 Tire Inflator with discount code “CCCode15.” So, if you act before May 30th, you can pick one up for less than $60.00. Which is a no-brainer. So, yeah, thank you Fanttik for sponsoring this video and the generous discount. Additional details are in the description.
Get 25% off total for Fanttik X8 Tire Inflator with final price $59.97: Use 20% off discount code ‘CCCODE15’ and get a 5% off coupon on Amazon. (Code expires May 30th, 2022). Learn more about @FanttikOfficial on Facebook
It doesn’t matter what the weather report says. You will see face-melting heat, bone crushing cold and toad-floating wet, probably in the same day. Especially if you ride in the mountains.
Sure, you don’t need $1,000 in Gore Tex, although it helps. Packing layers can make virtually any riding gear work in most every scenario. Thin fleece underlayers, and even these cheap water resistant outer layers can provide protection from not just rain, but a nice barrier to the cold. And if you are on a budget, nothing we’ve ever tried comes close to a pair of Carhartt’s with D3O armor in the knees. Just be warned there is such a thing as too cheap.
I love peaked helmets. Love them! The bill helps shade the sun, helps with flickering light through tree’s, helps protect from overspray. You don’t need one, but there’s a reason why so many touring riders are rocking these nowadays.
Packing might be the biggest challenge. When I started, all I used was my Army waterproof bag and two bungee cords in a crisscross pattern, with my Army towel for scratch protection.
But one thing to remember is avoid over-packing. Touring is an awesome lesson in minimizing what you actually need and what you actually want. On long trips we have even scheduled a laundry stop to help avoid packing too many clothes. Bungee cords have been replaced with Rok Straps, which hold better, are easier to use, and as we found out, can be used for emergency McGyver’d repairs.
It’s also a good idea to pack your bike up the day before and go for a short ride around the neighborhood. This will reveal any flaws in your methodology. The last thing we want is to have something come loose and to fall into the rear wheel. And if you are really new to this. Start off with a weekend overnighter or two, or three, before taking on that two week trip to Alaska.
Motorcycle Route Planning
Even though I’m never married to a single route, I begin my research months ahead of time. I buy maps and start hitting up the subreddits asking for information to help find the route between here and there that includes the greatest number of canyons.
I also research and tag motorcycle shops in the area I’m heading. If you ever find yourself out of cell service desperately looking for the nearest motorcycle shop, you’ll love having the information already logged.
A GPS is a necessity, it allows me to simply follow the purple line. The route has already been planned, and I can enjoy looking around instead of constantly looking for highway numbers and intersections. The GPS is my favorite invention of the modern era for this simple reason. Follow the purple line. It is the way, the truth and the light. It knows all things and provides all things. Praise be to the purple line.
Fortunately, you don’t need to buy a $1000 Garmin Zumo anymore, any cell phone with downloaded google maps used with a quad-lock is more than adequate for navigational needs. I still favor the Garmin because it works with gloves and is more robust than a cell phone.
Mid-trip route planning does happen, so I always bring a small laptop. I bought one refurbished for a couple of hundred bucks, and I loaded it up with the Garmin navigation software. It’s small enough to slip in anywhere, and if it gets broken or damaged, I’m not out but a couple hundred bucks.
Start Early/End Early/Don’t Push
You are probably not a morning person. Well, you probably are, but modern society wants us all to be night owls. But to get the most out of motorcycle touring, we want to rise and fall with the sun. Riding in the dark, especially unfamiliar roads, especially with wildlife, is way more risk than we want to take on.
Plan to be done for the day before it gets dark. Part of why all of us on Team CanyonChasers rock the tinted visor is as one more reminder to be done and off the bike before we have to switch to the clear visor.
The best riding of the day is just as the sun is coming up and the world is calm and quiet. These are the magical moments. Don’t sleep through them. Get up and ride for an hour before breakfast. You’ll be able to cover more ground with less risk and less fatigue.
We also recommend not trying to log a specific amount of distance in a day. Think in terms of saddletime. Six hours in the saddle, even when I’m really fit, is my personal limit to how much I’m riding that day. And mistakes happen when we are tired, in fact data shows that fatigue is just as dangerous as alcohol when it comes to impairing our abilities.
Touring Lodging and Reservations
This is the hardest part for so many people. Making reservations is the quickest way to ruin a trip. It prevents us from changing direction, stopping when we’re tired… Basically they stop of us from living in the moment.
Years ago, we let someone else make reservations because they were super anxious about finding lodging. But as it turned out, the first four days of that road trip turned into an absolute slog. The roads were more technical than we expected, we had a few minor maintenance issues and the distances between gas stations were bigger than the gas tank. So, yeah, it was taking us a lot longer to get anywhere. We ended up riding 12 to 14 hours in a day, long past sunset because “we have reservations”.
Yet, every day when we were all tired, we’d roll past the cutest little motel you’d ever seen, with a glowing “Vacancy” sign and a charming little pub across the street. “But we have reservations” and we’d soldier on. It was miserable and that ride has been immortalized as “The death march” in the annals CanyonChasers history.
The lesson here is, yes, sometimes we may be heading into an area where lodging may be harder to find. This is when we stop mid-day and make reservations for that evening when we have a better idea of how things are going. But the rest of the time, just let the day come to you. In thirty years of this, we’ve never been unable to find a place to sleep. Now granted, not every place is going to be a gem. But that’s part of the story, right?
Motorcycle Touring Tips Conclusion
It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong, and something will go wrong. The rough experiences make for the best stories. This doesn’t mean eat gas station sushi in Idaho. But when we get a flat, the weather turns soggy, the mountains catch on fire, or someone’s bike dun blow’d up – we have to be able to step back and think about how our future self is going to have the best story at the cocktail party. Have a sense of humor, remain flexible.
Listen, most people travel wrong. They travel focused on a destination or an agenda. The destination is just the catalyst. Life happens on the road. These arteries of travel vein their way through every town and every community, transporting food and people and stories. Interact with the locals, they are always eager to talk to us because the evidence of our journey is on our sun-faded clothes and our bike with layers of dust and bugs.
The discovery of, to this day, my favorite roads and most spectacular overlooks, those perfect moments when it feels like the world has been lit with candles just for me, have all been discovered when an eager local excitedly shared a favorite road or what they love about their home. They also can offer invaluable information about current conditions. That bridge was washed out two years ago. That road is being repaved, go this way instead of that. “You’re going to want to take the Comox ferry, but that would be stupid”. Actual advice from a local, and he was right, by the way.
The best way to enjoy motorcycle travel is to open ourselves up to the unexpected, the unplanned, the surprises what we don’t know or understand and to be willing listen and learn and feel it all. Abandon the plan and go a whole new direction. The forecast calls for rain for the next week to the west. Let’s go east instead. Anybody can go to a resort and make people do everything for them, but if we want to find adventure, if we want to experience life; a motorcycle is an amazing way to go looking for it.