How to Plan a Long-Distance Motorcycle Trip

Some folks are OK with just jumping in the car and heading out for a long road trip with as little as maybe checking the oil and filling up with gas. I can’t see too many experienced touring riders doing the same. Traveling on a motorcycle is very different since you are always part of the scenery, experiencing the weather first hand, good and bad.

Preparation and planning are essential for your trip to be enjoyable, comfortable, and as trouble-free free as possible. In this post, I cover the basics of how to plan for a long distance motorcycle adventure. And discuss some ideas to counter the twists that may pop up (risk management).

Everyone has their own unique tolerance levels of comfort and how much they can endure. An evaluation of your limits should be your starting point, in my opinion. If this is your first long, multi-day trip on a motorcycle, it is essential to know what are you OK with. To figure this out I suggest working up to long trips, if you haven’t already, and try a few weekend trips.

If you are new to motorcycle touring I suggest you get the feel of being out overnight. Get some practice packing and unpacking, living with what you brought. The feel of heading out for the day’s ride, and then doing it again tomorrow.

When you are ready, increase the distance and time – working up to longer rides and more days on the road. Knowing that humans constantly overestimate their capabilities and underestimate challenges, some real-world experience is the key to realistic planning.

Plan A – Sunny Day

This is truly a sunny say plan. Where everything goes well, the sun literally shines all the time. No issues, no problems. This will likely not happen, but it’s a great place to start.

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Plan A assumes you have prepared your motorcycle, and it is in top condition. You are full of energy and will have no issues with sore body parts, or general fatigue. Your route will be easily followed as planned, no detours, road closures or traffic jams.

For starters, you need to do some basic math. Even with a sunny day Plan A you can only go so far in the time available. And you need to return home too!

So, first off how much time is available for the trip? This will dictate your range. What are you comfortable with for a daily average number of miles. This will vary greatly, and if you are just starting out probably you really don’t know.

Many experienced touring riders suggest pushing yourself to the limit of your maximum daily mileage, but only for a few days. Then mix in a day of rest or a day of tackling relatively shorter distances along with generous stops at points of interest (aka tourist stuff).

For most of us, this trip will have to fit into one or two weeks of vacation or an extended long weekend. Time is pretty much fixed, mileage per day is the question. You are the only one that can determine what distance is doable.

But in the end, this is a pleasure trip. So, for example, if you only went 100 miles a day for the entire time but had a great time who cares about total miles ridden! If you had fun and get back home satisfied and safe the trip was a success.

Bike Preparation

Give yourself adequate time to prepare, don’t wait until the last minute. Especially if there is any significant mechanical work required – do it well before leaving. Ideally, you can put several hundred miles on before heading out, to make sure all is well with the work or repairs done. Same goes for any significant accessories like a windshield, floorboards, or saddle bags that you may have installed prior to the trip. I would also include fluid changes and new tires in this category.

If you install a new set of set of tires – break them in as recommended before leaving under load. While checking the bike, take note of anything reaching its limits. It might be OK and serviceable now, but will it last for the total distance planned?

Take careful note of tire pressure, top them up exactly, check in a few days, is there any indication of a slow leak that could cause issues on the road?

Route Planning

Distance – be as realistic as possible. You may be able to ride one day for 10 hours and many hundreds of miles, but you will likely not be able to do this day after day. Plan on mixing up the distances, longer and shorter ranges on each day – use an average of these for overall round-trip planning.

I would, if possible plan somewhat of a circular route that has your home starting point at the center. This allows you to shorten up the trip if something happens, and you have to, or want to get back home quick. If you plan to head straight out and then back your return trip could be extra long. Once you are as far as you plan to go you are then committed to the equal distance on the return leg, regardless of the conditions.

You may want to set an itinerary of distances, stops, and attractions. Also, the type of roads and scenery you prefer are inputs. For me, I do not like to over plan, but I like secondary roads that squiggle all over, with lots of curves! There are lots of mapping websites and services available, and of course, there is Google Maps available at any time through your smartphone.

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Plan B – Storm Clouds & Bad Gas

Preparing Plan B involves anticipating what could very likely happen, although you do sure don’t want it to.

The most likely are periods of bad weather, getting physically worn out, sore or sunburned. The motorcycle may develop a small mechanical issue, like a fluid leak, or getting some watery gas at a remote station. And for sure you will realize at some point you forgot to bring or pack something. This is pretty easy – go without or bring out the credit card.

Minimize the impacts of Plan B’s twists by preparing yourself and your motorcycle. Think thru what could happen, and what you could do if it did happen. There’s no way to be prepared for everything. But things like a flat tire, or getting some poor quality gas or running out of fuel is far more likely than a complete engine failure, for example. For peace of mind and real help, in my opinion, a road-side assistance plan is worth every penny.

As for packing correctly – make a list of must-have items, collect them and literally spread them on the floor. Check them off as you pack them. Anything else you forget, by definition you can do without because it’s not a must-have. Do not try to take too much. Do not overload your machine. An overloaded motorcycle could become a “Plan B issue” while you are out there. 

Budget

Whatever your estimated budget is, add a safety buffer. Bring some physical cash and two credit cards. Store the money and cards all in separate places, just to be safe. Make sure one card and some cash are on your person in the event you get separated from the motorcycle.

Capabilities, Rider & Machine

Consider your motorcycle’s capabilities. If it’s not designed or upgraded for the long haul make some adjustments for that. For example, a Honda Gold Wing will eat the miles, but a relatively buzzy all-out sports bike may well go faster but probably not further, certainly not day after day.

Know what your bike’s fuel range is. To calculate range use only the usable fuel tank capacity (total less reserve capacity), and multiply by typical miles per gallon expected. Check on the web for average ratings for your motorcycle, or monitor & calculate usage before the trip.

I like to keep an eye on mileage all the time. I calculate at almost every fill-up. A bonus to doing this is that some potential issues can be spotted before they become serious, like a clogging carburetor, ignition problems or dragging brake pads.

Always include build in a good buffer when calculating range. Also be aware that mileage will likely be reduced when the motorcycle is fully loaded and carrying a passenger.

Get a gas station best-price finder apps for your smartphone too. They can be handy for quickly finding a local station, not just looking for the cheapest fuel. If you are run low on fuel in unfamiliar territory it will be a great help to find the nearest station since they typically list stations by distance as well as gas price.

Protective Gear

I assume you have the basics. A helmet that will provide protection in all weather conditions, suitable outerwear (rain-proof/resistant), boots, gloves, and a motorcycle jacket.

Beyond this, you will have to decide what else is needed. There are many resources on the internet, and at your local shops or rider’s groups that can help you sort out what makes sense and is value added touring gear.

But experience is the best teacher. Only after spending time “out there” can you determine what will be useful, otherwise, it’s just someone else’s opinion based on their likes and dislikes (or even what they happen to be selling that day).

However, when you decide what gear you need to add – look for competent real-world tested reviews and personal references before you buy (“four out of five stars” or better is my baseline).

Plan C – Oh Crap!

This is the worst-case scenario. These are events that are very likely not going to happen but are not impossible. This could include major mechanical breakdowns, theft of your machine, personal illness and accidents. The best defense for this is getting a good roadside assistance plan for motorcycles AND always having a charged smartphone available to use in emergencies.

See my review of Roadside Assistance Plans for what you should look for in a good motorcycle plan. Having an assistance plan is definitely worth it for anyone who’s into long-distance motorcycling touring, simply for the peace of mind they provide. And when you go over to my post – do not forget to put in the link to your brand’s dealer network search page in your smartphone.

Touring Tips

  • Always drive safely, never speed to make up for “lost time”, you will eventually regret this. After all, this is a pleasure cruise – take in the sights, stop often and enjoy.
  • Break the day into a series of waypoints, combine your stops, eat and rest for example.
  • Stop often, take advantage of roadside rest stops as they appear, even if they are sooner than planned. The cumulative forces will take a toll on your body, so break often, stay in relaxation mode.
  • Keep hydrated, take plenty of water or healthy low sugar drinks. Have a small drink often, even if you are not particularly thirsty to avoid dehydration creeping up on you.
  • Have a supply of good snacks that provide a balance of protein and carbs, and low added sugar. A mix of nuts, dried fruit, and healthy energy bars fit the bill.
  • Eat light early in the day, especially if you have a way to go.
  • Eat the larger meals at the end of the day when you can rest and relax off the bike.
  • If you take a motel, look for a restaurant you can easily walk to from your accommodations. 
  • Avoid driving into the sun or having it directly behind you for safety. 

Summing It Up

A successful outing starts with planning and preparations. These can be as fun as the trip, especially if you are heading off to a new destination or a special event.

Be aware of your personal limits, as well as what you don’t know about your limits. Don’t try to do too much too soon, take it easy rest often, touring is a vacation pursuit after all. 

Have some fun and learn from your adventures!

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