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30 Essential Motorcycle Touring Road Trip TipsPosted On: Oct 17, 2018
You arrive to a new destination, the motorcycle is waiting for you with a welcome card that has your name on it, and you’re barely containing the excitement before the adventure begins. Some of us enjoy the trip planning process as much as the ride itself.
Thinking through the details, making the perfect route, and packing for the trip are all essential. There is no doubt that every trip needs a personal touch, so there will be a variety of opinions and advice you’ll get as you tell more people about the trip you want to do.
Years of experience and thousands of happy customers can tell you that when it comes to motorcycle travel, EagleRider is the top choice. We put together a list of our top 30 tips for motorcycle touring and riding a motorcycle across the country. We hope this list helps you plan you ride, whether you do it with EagleRider or on your own. This list of touring tips will get you started on some key things you need to arrange for your upcoming adventure.
1. Set the date – commit to the trip
Someday can be today. Thousands of riders dream of getting on a bike and doing a trip, whether it’s 3 days or 30. But mostly the dream ends there. Family commitments, work, finances, and so many other things get in the way that dreaming is what most riders surrender to. It doesn’t have to be this way. Plan ahead and set the date. Commitment is the first step.
Having flexible dates won’t help you secure travel, visas, motorcycle rental, or anything else. It won’t help you get a buy-in from your family to do the trip. Firm travel time is necessary because you’ll be able to plan everything else around it.
2. Ride your own bike/rent/tour – how to know which one
There are three main options for riding anywhere:
- Do it on your own bike
- Rent/borrow one
- Do a self-drive or a guided tour
Which one works for you ultimately is a personal preference. Guided tours are more expensive, but also take care of most of the logistics and travel arrangements. You trust that you’re with an experienced guide who knows the local areas and you are also looking forward to exploring the new land with like-minded motorcycle riders.
Renting a motorcycle is becoming easier as we and other motorcycle rental companies offer a variety of makes and model at numerous riding destinations. Rental gives you the freedom to keep a pretty open daily riding schedule and riding your own bike is the cheapest option.
You can absolutely ship your bike across the ocean if you live overseas, but it’s not going to pencil out financially in most cases.
Creating your own custom route can take a lot of time and is also a fun experience. You get to learn about new places, get insights from other riders, and pick the pace of travel that works for you. At EagleRider, we have a team of tour architects that can assist with route planning for your rental or custom tour.
3. Best time to ride – early summer, early fall
We get asked every day about the best time to ride a certain route, such as Route 66 and our Wild West tours. Your trip can be anywhere in the world and most likely you will face a variety of weather and riding conditions. But for riding in America, there are definitely several windows of perfect weather: early summer and early fall.
In winter you can enjoy Florida and the Southwest, or even do a tour down to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Our guide to winter riding offers all the best routes and trip suggestions. Summer offers a must consistent level of temperatures and in the desert areas, you’re very likely to face extreme heat. Not everyone is ready for that, so some riders opt-in to ride in months that are a bit cooler.
There is no single answer to this, especially if your trip is 3-6 months long across multiple continents. But for most 2-week trips, early summer and early fall offer a really nice mix of temperatures. If you want to save a buck, Shawn offers some great tips for this in his Q&A about navigating EagleRider products.
4. Motorcycle with ample storage that fits your riding experience and preference
How to pick a motorcycle is one of those questions that we can spend hours contemplating. It’s very difficult to recommend something because we all have different riding preferences and levels of experience. Some bikes are great for touring but can be too heavy especially with a passenger and full touring packs with clothes.
The best suggestion you can get is to look at motorcycles that fit your riding experience and have enough storage for the trip you are planning. We put together a detailed guide on choosing the right bike for your trips, which will be a great reference point for your upcoming adventures. On a guided tour our van carries all the luggage, but on a camping trip, you’ll need to carry everything in your saddlebags and attached to a sissy bar.
In general, most riders prefer bigger touring bikes for 7+ day trips, but you should only ride a bike that you are comfortable handling. For off-road riding, there is a completely different set of features you’ll be considering compared to perfectly maintained roads and highways of the USA.
You can always contact us and explain what trip you want to do and your preferences for a motorcycle and our team of seasoned riders will assist with recommending a few models that we think will work well for you.
5. Route 66 is not the only way to cross the country
There are thousands of ways you can cross America, from Route 66 to Pacific Coast Highway, to Highway 50 - the Loneliest Road in America, and more. The best part for many trips is not reaching your destination but rather meeting the people along the way and getting lost in places with incredible scenery.
We offer 100+ pre-defined routes, all of which can be further adjusted based on your wishes. Some of our most popular routes besides the best selling Route 66 full tour, include:
- Triple B – Blues, Bourbon, BBQ (New Orleans to Washington DC)
- Coast 2 Coast Motorcycle Tour (Los Angeles to Orlando)
- Western Coast - Pacific Coast Highway (Seattle to Los Angeles)
Many of our riders extend their trips to Sturgis and begin riding on either coast to then spend a week in South Dakota and after continue riding across the country. If the time allows, adding a few days at one of the iconic motorcycle rallies is a great way to spice up your trip and celebrate the life on two wheels with fellow riders.
6. Share your ride with others - take photos and videos along the way
Did you know that the most watched motorcycle videos on YouTube often are of the long cross country and cross-continent rides?
Following someone’s adventure through the lens of the camera or smartphone is better than not seeing it at all. Let your family and friends enjoy the road with you, share your ride on social media and your site if you have one.
There is a variety of apps and websites that allow for route sharing and you can also post images and videos along your favorite stops and moments on the road. The main thing is to share what you see with others. During or after the trip - your choice, but capturing moments on the road will make for a nice souvenir many years later.
Don't forget to tag #eaglerider when you share your photos and videos on social media. Every month we pick a random lucky winner and award $300 gift card towards future reservations on eaglerider.com.
7. Pack small
We can be very different in how much packing we want to do for a trip. Some of us carry suitcases with three sets of clothes for every day. Some of us pack the side case bags that fit inside Electra Glides that what’s all the clothing for 2-3 weeks.
Mostly everyone always recommends packing small. Everything you may want on the road can be purchased with cash or credit card. In many cases, too many things to carry become a burden. Even if you’re packing for a month-long camping trip, you need to pack down to the minimum essentials to have room for everything. See our packing checklist and guide for more info.
Generally, bring twice as much cash and half the clothes you think you’ll need. Riding cross-country will take you through dramatic shifts in elevation and temperature. Mountain passes can have freezing temps and snow, even in summer. If you come from an area where there are no significant changes in elevation, it’s hard to wrap your head around entire climate zones existing at certain elevations. It’s simple—be prepared for everything.
8. In desert areas, keep long sleeves on
It’s a common misconception that you can ride through a desert in just short sleeves. We always recommend keeping long sleeves on, for a few important reasons:
- You don’t want to have your body having direct contact with the sun
- If you do, you get dehydrated quickly and can compromise your ability to control and balance the motorcycle safely
- Common symptoms after that (aside from sunburn) can include nausea, dizziness, muscle weakness and cramping, and many others leading up to a heat stroke
- Protect your body from the sun, don’t open yourself up to harmful UV rays
It’s something we see very often, especially in our Southwestern locations. The riders drop off the bike with the happy sunburned faces tell us all about their adventures. Even though the effects of the extensive sun exposure seem to disappear fast enough, it’s the long-term effects that you should also consider.
9. Weatherproof bags and rain gear will save you in most unexpected situations
If you have a support vehicle following you (e.g on our guided tours), you can skip this one. But if not, chances are you’ll be carrying some kind of a bag on a sissy bar. The best way to protect your packed gear is to have weatherproof bags. Weather changes, sometimes within hours. When you get to your overnight stay, the worst thing is to have not only yourself soaking wet, but also all your fresh clothing for the trip as well. It may seem like an exaggeration right now, but one piece of advice we always have for riders is to pack a quality set of rain gear and think through the carry options ahead of time.
10. Wear Coolmax or other moisture wicking materials instead of cotton shirts
There are mixed opinions about whether cotton is a proper way to dress is in the extreme heat conditions. Mostly coming from hikers and adventure travel enthusiasts, there is a popular belief (with scientific reasoning) that cotton traps the heat close to your body while moisture-wicking materials don’t stop the heat from releasing helping you to keep the body temperatures at an optimum level.
Polyester holds on to only about 0.4% of moisture while cotton holds around 7%. That’s a big difference. Newer technologies, what’s commonly called base layers, force the moisture out of the garments through the special weaves of the fabric. Your body stays dry and maintains its temperature balance while your clothes protect from the elements and release the heat and sweat.
A variety of brands make motorcycle-specific base layers, you can shop for these options online ahead of your ride.
11. Layering is the best way to dress/pack
The secret to packing and surviving any weather is layering. Not only this is the easiest way to adjust in rapid temperature changes, but also to save space when packing. For most motorcycle trips, you really need a few sets of warmer sweatshirts and base layers. One jacket, especially with multiple air flow zippers and vents will be sufficient for most rides.
12. Don’t bring expensive glasses
Eye protection is essential for any motorcycle ride. Shatterproof glasses or a helmet with a built-in sun visor are the two best ways to stay protected and ride comfortably in all hours of the day. Expensive glasses will be a shame to lose or scratch. They’re also not the safest option as rider’s head/helmet is often the first area of impact in accidents.
13. Rolled up clothes take less space
We all probably have this one friend who’s always packing with compression cubes, individual pouches for shoes, and everything in very neatly rolled tubes. Most of us are not line this. But… it’s been proven over and over that rolled up clothing takes less space and has very few wrinkles when unpacked. From military duffle bags to modern hikers and motorcycle riders, everyone finds this way of packing to be very efficient. Give it a try.
14. Small camera or phone are better that a DSLR
Everyone is a photographer these days. The trap that most people fall into is buying big bulky camera (“best on the market”) and then struggling to take photos with it during moto adventures. In general, mirrorless cameras are much more compact and offer amazing image quality for half-the-size.
The best camera for motorcycle touring, just as it is for any other activity, is the one that you have quickly available. That can be your phone or a small camera on a sling hanging across your body as you ride your motorcycle through the mountain twisty roads or the vast deserts.
If you’re opting to shoot on your phone, make sure you have ample storage available in your phone. It will be very unfortunate to run out of space just as you approach the edge of Grand Canyon for the sunset after a full day of riding.
TO BUY/PACK/PLAN BEFORE THE TRIP
15. Ride planner – tour guide, GPS, printed map, mobile app
The purest adventure possible is to take off with no plans and no definite direction in mind. Most people, however, can’t manage that degree of spontaneity. For everyone else, you’ll want to pick a destination or two and get an idea of the things you want to see and do.
Planning the route and having your notes handy as you ride each day is one of the best things you can do ahead and during the trip. Some riders prefer to carry printed maps, which have been the main go-to way of navigation for many years before digital devices started to take over.
When it comes to points of interest, historical sites, local attractions, gas, food, lodging, events and activities along the way and even road conditions, closures, and construction, research is your friend. Not very long ago, calls to your motor club and each state’s tourism bureaus were a must for any chance at practical planning. Published city and state guides and sometimes travel agencies could also be helpful, especially if you wanted to do a lot of sightseeing.
Mobile apps that allow you to plan and navigate the route, such as Rever or Harley-Davidson Ride Planner, are a great tool to have. Apps that let you import GPX files are another solution. Having rest stops, gas stations, overnight stays, and points of interest in your map files will save you a lot of time and mental energy, especially during the longer touring trips.
Having a personal tour guide, someone who knows the route and the locals, can take your trip to a whole another level. Our EagleRider guided tours, we have bi-lingual guides who have years of experience guiding our tour guests through all corners of the country. Often it is the guide who can make your trip absolutely unforgettable. We get this feedback from tour guests every season.
Whichever ride planning tool you pick, leave some room for spontaneous decisions. Buffer enough time to enjoy the local scenery, add stops, and deal with emergencies. Most of us ride motorcycles to break free from the daily routine and this can easily be the only time where we don’t have to be boxed in. Explore, plan, but don’t feel the pressure to stick to the route 100% of the way.
16. Find overnight stay with walking distance to good food and drinks
Meandering across the country, riding mostly blue highways and stopping at mom and pop motels/hotels and eateries will provide a more intimate look at America. Once you’re done riding for the day, a cold beer and a good steak will be on top of your mind. Find hotels with walking distance to local bars and restaurants. Your motorcycle will be safely parked for the night and you can relax and enjoy the evening.
17. Location sharing apps / I.C.E. / share the route with at least a few people
Safety on the road is essential. You want to make sure both you and your motorcycle are road ready. On top of that, your loved ones should have a way of locating you throughout your trip, even if just for safety reasons. For solo cross-country trips a location sharing app is an absolute must-have. Share the route with at least a few people.
Code your I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) number into your phone book. Both Android and Apple have this option in the settings as well. Emergency staff can access this information quickly and communicate with your family about any situations that require their immediate assistance.
18. Have a kit with a few small essentials
Pack a small pouch with a few items that always come handy. Some of these take up much space but can be very needed during the ride, for you or for other riders in your group.
- Bungee cords – so you can securely strap additional items or bags to your motorcycle
- Duct tape – can have a variety of uses and there are travel size duck tapes that take very little space
- Kickstand puck – when parking on the uneven or hot surfaces, this little accessory can save you from finding your motorcycle laying on its side
- Multitool/knife – a well-built multitool that always travels with you is handy for most days on the road
- Flash light – handy for dusk hours and when you need to inspect your motorcycle
- USB power pack / charger – available in a variety of power capacities, USB juice packs or portable chargers are helpful if your motorcycle doesn’t have a power plug. Motorcycles that are equipped with a power outlet, a USB charger is all you’ll need for most rides
- First Aid kit – always carry a small first aid kit. On our guided tours, we always have these in the support van
For more information on packing, take a look at our packing checklist.
19. Communication systems and group riding signals
With so many options on the market for communication devices inside helmets, it’s extremely easy to stay connected with your passenger, a friend on another bike, or simply enjoy the music as you ride through the country. We recommend bringing your own helmets with mounted Bluetooth headsets for your trips if you wish to stay connected through your ride.
If you don’t have much experience riding in large groups of 15+ motorcycles, always do a quick refresh on hand signals for group riding. Your visibility on the road is one of the most fundamental aspects of safe riding.
20. Make sure your bike is road ready
If you’re planning to ride your own bike, always make sure the mechanical condition of your ride is optimal and all essential scheduled service items are taken care of. Consider how long your ride is and plan ahead.
Follow the usual safety inspections—tire tread and pressure, lights, signals, brakes, horn. For a cross-country ride of some 3,000 miles, give or take, it’s a good idea to start with fresh oil. Change the fluids and filters. If your bike is anywhere near due for a tune-up or valve adjustment, get it done before you need it done. There is plenty of challenges that may come up on the road; worrying about your bike’s performance should not be one of them.
If your tire tread looks a little iffy, or the tread wear looks uneven, err on the side of sanity and get new rubber. It hurts to plunk down $200-$300 or more per end for fresh rubber, but not as much if you get a flat in the middle of nowhere, or worse. The bike will handle better with new tires and you’ll feel more confident in your ride. Some shops have sales on tires and/or labor and, of course, there is plenty online or warehouse outlets, but check with your shop first; some won’t install customer supplied parts, including tires.
Join an auto club. If you don’t have motorcycle roadside assistance that provides towing and other services there are a few to choose from, including Harley-Davidson, Geico, AAA, and Allstate Motor Club. The peace of mind is well worth the annual fee. Some roadside assistance program, if given some notice, will plan a route based on your preferences, including roadside stops.
If you’re planning to travel on an EagleRider bike, our technicians make sure each bike is road ready. Scheduled maintenance and inspections before and after each ride is complete are essential for us to ensure you have a great time on the road. We offer several levels of insurance coverage and 24/7 roadside assistance. All of the extras you can add to the reservation before you complete the checkout process.
21. Buy a motorcycle seat cushion
For any trips that’s longer than 5-7 days, some riders find it very useful to buy a seat cushion. Putting 250-300 miles daily on any motorcycle is not the same as riding to a local coffee shop for a breakfast meetup with your friends. Sure, you need to be in good health and physical shape to prepare yourself for longer motorcycle tours and rides. A seat cushion can be a welcome addition if you’re not used to multi-day touring adventures.
22. Plan your music playlists ahead of time,bring earplugs if no music
Good tunes for the road will not only set the mood for your ride, but also provide the variety or entertainment for those longer stretches of the road that may not be as exciting and fun as mountain curves. Build several playlists and download them to your device so you don’t burn through your mobile data usage limits.
DURING THE RIDE:
23. Daily check of the motorcycle to be road ready
For most riders this goes without saying – having a well maintained and inspected motorcycle can prevent many situations that can be avoided by this simple 5-minute route process. Make sure you’re road ready and your motorcycle is too.
24. Drink enough water
Whether it’s a day ride or a cross-country motorcycle trip, how you feel physically and mentally impacts every aspect of the trip. The freedom of being out on the road on a motorcycle is beyond compare. The incredible scenery is all around you, not just in that little rectangle of your windshield. You smell the smells and feel the warmth or the coolness of the countryside you’re passing through. It’s very easy to get distracted and forget to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.
Dehydration affects reaction time, balance, and can lead to heat strokes and other serious injuries. Drinking lots of coffee during the day and alcohol at night can affect how well you’re hydrated. Stop often, carry water, wear moisture-absorbing clothing (see tip #10), and keep yourself in check.
25. Keep your passenger happy, check in with other riders
You’ve come this far! Your partner agreed to do this trip you’ve been planning for months. You pack your bags, arrive to pick up your motorcycle, and the ride is about to start. You may think that the hard part is done but keeping your passenger happy throughout the duration of the ride is a sure way to guarantee a good time on the road.
You’re the one who will be having fun riding the motorcycle while your passenger won’t have much to do. Most riders choose the bikes with the primary concern being the comfort of the passenger. See our guide to choosing the right motorcycle for your trip for more details.
Thorough pre-trip discussions of where you want to go, how fast you want to get there and how much time you want to spend on stops are important if you want a pleasant ride where everyone feels included.
26. Keep your days under 300 miles, avoid riding in the dark
We’re often get asked how far should a motorcyclist ride in one day. The answer varies greatly by the rider’s skill, experience, and endurance, road conditions if they are appropriately dressed, and of course, their bike. Machines with full fairings or windshields can make more miles because the rider is not getting as fatigued fighting the wind.
Then there is that ever-present intangible: desire. How many miles do you want to ride per day? There is no right answer. In fact, the whole spirit of motorcycling is to get away from rules.
Know your limits and don’t be a tough guy. If you haven’t done any long-haul rides before, don’t plan on pushing 500 or more miles per day. Give yourself adequate time to complete your trip without attempting dangerous days of extreme miles. It’s no fun and can be costly.
Every rider finds his or her level—whether that’s 150 miles per day or 400—after which point riding becomes work. Like fuel, leave a little energy in reserve when planning your day’s ride. There may be times you’ll need to push out a few more miles to get to the next bed.
On our guided tours, we keep most days between 200 and 260 miles. With plenty of rest breaks, this allows everyone to get enough rest at the end of the day and start early the following morning.
Think about avoiding night riding, when less visibility and fatigue are more of a factor, and because deer have become the most dangerous animal in the world. Wildlife gets more active at dawn and you’d want to have no encounters we large animals on any of your motorcycle trips.
27. Take a 20-minute break for every 1.5 hours of riding, know your limit
Veteran distance riders suggest getting into a rhythm. For example, some stop for rest and refreshment every tank of gas, depending on mpg and fuel capacity. Some studies have shown you will actually get their faster (and safer) with regular break intervals. Eat light, stay hydrated, and it should go without saying don’t drink alcohol. We recommend stopping for a break every 60-90 minutes. Pace yourself on longer multi-day rides. How you feel today will affect how you ride tomorrow. A fatigued rider is not as alert and doesn’t react as fast as a rested rider.
28. Take a day off for every 7 days of riding
On EagleRider’s 16-day guided tours, we always buffer a day for rest. On Route 66 tours, it’s in Santa Fe where you can spend the day bargaining with local jewelry shops, horseback riding, or enjoying the day at the hotel spa. On Wild West tours, we take a break in Las Vegas, which leaves plenty of room for ideas on local things to do, from Cirque du Soleil to Bellagio Fountains, Freemont Street experience, and much more.
Set yourself up for success by buffering a longer rest stop or a day off. Of course, all of us love spending time on the bike, but local attractions can be just as fun to explore.
29. Keep your eye on how much fuel you have left, find a mobile app for this
It’s a big country, with occasional long, empty gaps between anything resembling a town or the sweet oases of gasoline and coffee we have grown to take for granted. Don’t run it dry, obviously, but start looking for gas stations some 20 or 25 miles before you’re running on fumes.
No one wants to see the dreaded signpost up ahead that reads, “No Services Next 100 Miles.” You need to be prepared for stretches like this, which may involve packing non-perishable foods, water, and bungeeing a full gas can to your bike. Better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.
Find an app that can track your mileage on each full gas tank and can alert you ahead of time if you’re running low with no gas stations ahead.
30. Don’t lose your keys, always lock your bike
We saved the best for last! The two of the most unpleasant scenarios on the road are lost keys and lost motorcycle. Nobody wants to be in either situation and both are preventable if you follow a few simple guidelines:
- Keep your bike keys/fob on a lanyard, either hanging on your chest or attached to your pocket
- Have a quality disk lock (we provide one with all our bikes)
- Make sure to lock your bike with both steering/fork and disk locks
- Consider adding an alarm system to your bike
- Build good habits by placing bike keys in the same spot each time you ride or stop for overnight stays
Harley-Davidson touring models have key fobs that you don’t need to insert into the ignition. If it’s your first time on a Harley, keep an eye on the fob. There is a fee for lost keys for our motorcycles.
Now that you have all this information in front of you, picking the riding destination or route is the next step. Here are a few helpful resources to get you started:
Map of EagleRider locations – With over 200 rental locations, it’s easier than ever to conveniently ride out of major cities and nearest hubs to amazing motorcycle roads. Get familiar with our locations and that’ll get your mind thinking about places you’ve always wanted to ride to.
EagleRider routes and tour itineraries – we have 100+ itineraries on our website for both guided and self-drive tours. Browse them to find the destinations you want to visit. We share daily stops for each tour. This can be a great starting point from which you can build on your custom trip if you wish. Or simply book a tour and follow the exact route we suggest.
Rally schedule – planning longer trips around rallies (Sturgis, Daytona Bike Week, Laconia, etc.) is a great way extend your rides and add interesting routes. Many riders love riding into Sturgis from all corners of the country. If you have the time, find a rental location where you want to start and build your route to the rally. We offer one-way rentals, so you can easily drop off the bikes in another city and simply fly home.
Local rides for top travel destinations (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, etc.) - if all you have is a day or two, we made a list of local rides near our locations.
We hope you found this guide helpful. A lot was covered here and surely you may need to come back and reference some tips and suggestions as you continue to plan your trips.