When planning a motorcycle trip, especially a long one, there are so many things to think about and get ready for prior to hitting the road. I am going to put together a basic outline of what I do to prepare for my longer trips, like the one I am taking in a couple of weeks from Boston, MA to Mesa, AZ. There are 3 key areas to discuss and plan during a long motorcycle trip: the bike, the gear and the journey.
I will start first with the journey since it will greatly impact the bike prep and the gear packing. Often times a motorcycle trip has a very specific set of parameters, where you will start, what route you will take, where you will stay along the way and how many miles you will do each day. For example, on the trips I have taken from Anchorage to Milwaukee for the HD anniversary parties, we have a complete schedule of the trip with each hotel booked in advance. If you have to be from point A to point B on a schedule you should plan a detailed route with the mileage between each point. You then need to determine if you will be camping or staying in a hotel. I am not one for camping, so I always get hotels. (Camping will be discussed further in the gear section)
Once you have figured out where you are going to, you should determine a reasonable amount of miles you are willing and able to achieve each day. Since you are booking hotels or camping spots you will want to make sure you plan for the unexpected and don’t put yourself in the position to have way too many miles to complete if you are held up for some reason.
Also, if you are having a set itinerary, you should consider the maintenance your bike will need along the way and you should schedule this in advance as best you can to ensure you are not delayed waiting for service. I will go into bike maintenance a little further along, but while you are booking hotels it is very smart and courteous to contact dealerships that will be along your route to let them know when you will be planning on arriving and what services you will need. For example, if you will be needing a new tire midway through your trip, plan for that and make sure the dealership has the tire you need held for your appointment.
The other alternative is my favorite way to travel, WING IT!!! (Disclaimer: This method of travel is not for those who cannot problem solve or handle uncertainty) In general, my life is very planned and organized, so when I get the chance to go on a long ride I like the thrill of the unknown. I like to allow my route to change as I heed advice of locals and stick to the backroads. My favorite tool is the HOG Touring Handbook. I use this as a general guide to find the scenic, fun motorcycle routes and figure out how I can fit them into my journey. I still have a starting point and final destination but I can take whichever path I would like, which allows for exploration and choosing direction based on weather too!
Although I am not booking any hotels or having a set itinerary, it is still good practice to have a general idea of what route you want to take and where you are going. I like to ride as much on smaller highways and country roads as possible. So, when I am planning my route I try to avoid freeways. This is where the HOG map book comes in handy. As I plan a basic course, I use the state by state maps to determine if there are some scenic roads I can use to get from one place to another. I generally plan the night before and determine my destination. I look up the hotels in the town that I have selected to make sure there are some options then I hit the road. I stop where I want and take any detours I think will be fun. (This is a great way to travel if you are going solo or with someone who is as eager to enjoy the random ride as you are!)
Regardless of your itinerary it is always good to ensure you keep your tank full, so I often plan to stop every 100 to 200 miles. (This can vary depending on the type of bike as well). Depending on your personality and timeframe you can choose how you travel. If you are going to have a set itinerary, you need to book in advance and set a pace that is reasonable and allows some flexibility. If you are going the alternative route and “winging it” try to establish a basic idea of places you would like to see and the fun roads to get there.
Second, you need to prepare your motorcycle for the journey. After a few long trips, all of which have been on a Harley-Davidson Touring bike, I have a hard time recommending anything else. Not to say you can’t do a long trip on a Sportster, but it is a lot easier on a bagger. For a long trip you will need storage capacity, comfort and durability. Once you have selected the right bike for you, you will need to get it set up and ready for the haul.
If you are on a full dress Harley, you will already have the saddle bags and the tourpack. If you need additional storage you can place a rack on the top of the tourpack and a bag on the passenger seat if you are solo. If you have something like a Heritage, Switchback, Roadking or Streetglide I would recommend putting a sissybar and luggage rack on the bike for additional storage. You want to keep in mind the Gross Vehicle Weight, which is what the Motor Company recommends for the amount of weight the bike carries. This includes the rider, passenger and gear. This weight measurement is important because it affects the integrity of the motorcycle as well as the tire wear and overall safety.
The amount of storage space will greatly depend on the type of ride you are doing. If you are going on a ride that covers a lot of distance and a variety of weather should be expected you will need to pack layers and a diversity of gear. If you are camping you also need to consider what gear you will need to be comfortable camping. (I am not an expert in the camping department so, you may want to seek further council) My dad always taught me that if I had to ask “What If” I probably don’t need it. Although that can be misconstrued, what I believe he meant was bring the essentials and if you have to ask “What if I find myself needing a ballroom gown for a formal occasion I randomly get asked to” you should not pack the ballroom gown. So, be smart when you select your items and keep in mind your storage space. (More on packing later).
You will also want to make sure your bike is in the best running condition. I am not a mechanic, so I take mine in and have the trained technicians perform a service and make sure I am good to go for the long haul. I am a bit of an optimist when I travel, and hope nothing serious will break, but I did witness two flat tires in basically the middle of nowhere so, bring a patch kit and know where the nearest HD dealership is! It is also smart to get the Road America plan you can purchase at a great rate by being a HOG member. Every evening when you reach your destination, do a quick walk around on your bike as you unpack and make sure things are tight and not over worn. Check your oil to make sure it is at a good level and your tires and brakes look good. If you notice a noise or something not working right try to stop by a dealership along the way to have it checked out, and remember you should be willing and able to pay for their time, they have to make a living too.
Security is also important for motorcycle adventures. It is good to have a security system and to ensure you lock your bike, both the ignition and the fork locks when you park for any length of time. If you are feeling you need more security you can get additional locks to secure the bike. By having the fork lock engaged you make it difficult for someone to roll your bike into the back of a truck. Siren alarms are great as well to alert you if someone is moving your bike. Additionally, I ask the front desk if I can park in the covered entry area where they have loading and unloading vehicles. This way, the front desk can see your bike and people will be much less likely to mess with it. If you don’t have that option get a room on the outside where you can park within a view from your window.
Depending on where you are traveling you may want to consider some additional items, better lighting to be seen and to see at night, weather protection like fairing lowers, seat covers, and windshields. You also want to consider comfort. Do your handlebars put your arms in the right position for long distance riding? Is your ass comfy on that stock seat or do you need a Hammock Seat? Is the bike too high for you? Do you need a lower more narrow seat? What about the suspension? Is it set up for the extra weight you are going to be carrying? No need to worry, all of these things have already been thought of by the experts and you can pretty much find whatever you need for your trip at your HD dealership.
Every rider will be different but think about the things you will need to be comfortable and safe as well as provide you with convenient storage and space for your trip. I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in making sure you are comfortable and you have the right accessories to help you on your journey.
Lastly we need to think about how we are going to pack all this stuff on our motorcycle! First remember the wisdom of “If you have to ask ‘what if’, you don’t need it!” The variety of what you will need to pack is even more diverse than the accessories you will need to put on your bike. Weather is probably one of the biggest factors. You will need layers if you are going through areas that will have variability. If it is very hot, you will be best served to have some lightweight gear that will allow airflow, just remember to stay hydrated. When you are riding in high temps it is very easy to become dehydrated from the wind wicking the perspiration off of you and not drinking enough water to replenish. If the climates will be diverse a jacket that provides multiple layers is best. This way you can add or subtract layers as needed, and utilize the ventilation features. This is also a great option if the jacket is waterproof. The more combinations one jacket can provide, the better, since you will have less to pack. IF you are not familiar with the FXRG line from Harley-Davidson, it is worth the investment as it provides all of the above and a lifetime warranty. There are a few options for full pants, chaps or riding jeans. Again, dress for the diversity of weather. Helmets are required in some states, so you should pack a helmet if you don’t already plan on wearing one the whole way. If you will be riding at night you should pack some eyewear that works at night, clear or yellow are most common.
When it comes to packing your clothing and toiletries, think less is more! Remember if you are on the road, no one but you and your riding buddies will know if you wear the same shirt 3 or 4 times. Obviously be considerate of others and don’t get too stinky! I have found that a lot of hotels provide laundry facilities so you can wash clothes along the way. Again remember to pack in layers and bring clothing items that are comfortable under your riding gear. Bring only what you need and remember if you are traveling in a civilized area you can always buy something if you need it!
If you are camping you need to pack with the plan to carry a lot of additional items, so plan accordingly. If you need a small camp stove, tent, sleeping bag, mattress pad etc that is a lot of space to take up on the bike. It is a good idea to pack some basic first aid items, tire patch kit (not for long term patch but to get you to a dealership) rag to wipe down your windshield, cleaning supplies, additional gas and/or oil if you are going to rural areas, and sunscreen! It is really easy to get sun burned while riding, so bring some good sun block and be prepared.
There is a lot more detail that could be covered in a topic like this but hopefully this gets you thinking in the right direction. Your HD dealership is a great resource and fellow riders who have been there done that. I will never forget when I was a kid and I forgot to pack underwear on a trip to Mexico…guess what? You can buy underwear in Mexico! Ride and have fun!