How to plan a motorcycle trip

A few tips to make your next motorcycle adventure seamless.
motorcycle ride from drivers seat
Sometimes the best roads are the most unexpected, so be open to change and ride safe. Kawasaki
motorcyclists on a dirt road
A little planning helps you go a long way. BMW Motorrad

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A motorcycle trip can be whatever you want it to be. Want to go somewhere new and different? There’s no better way to take in the sights than from the seat of a motorcycle. Maybe you want to reconnect with old friends or visit your folks. Whatever compels you to take a few days (or more) to get out and ride, proper planning can make the experience a lot more fun. Below you’ll find advice on how to plan a motorcycle trip.

Curvy roads and hills
Avoid the straight and boring and get some curves in there when planning the route to your destination. Julia LaPalme

Point A To Point B

This is an obvious one, but first you need to pick somewhere to go. We fully believe that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters, but having a set destination makes it easier to plan the particulars, which we’ll touch on below. This will allow you to know things like total mileage for the trip, give you a sense of the terrain you’ll cover, make it possible to determine how many days you need for the trip total and inform your packing decisions. It may be self-evident to point out this part of the process, but it’s the keystone to everything else you’ll need to prepare.

motorcycle navigation
Plan out your route and put the map into your GPS or Smartphone. BMW Motorrad

Map A Route

So you know where you’re going, but now you need to know how to get there. This is a much more engaged process than planning a road trip in a car, when you’re more likely to want to take the fastest option possible. It’s not the way we recommend when you’re on a bike, because hours on a flat, straight interstate can be mind numbing. Instead, try to plan your motorcycle trip connecting smaller highways and backroads to get to the finish line because there’s likely to be less traffic, more curves and better scenery on the way. Take note of the time of year and the likely weather conditions for the areas you’re going to ride through. If you’ve never been on a particular road before, check local ride forums or groups for insight into what to expect, or pick up the phone and call the nearest dealer to see what locals have to say.

MPG And Gas Stops

If you haven’t already determined your bike’s mileage, do it before you go. Most modern bikes have readouts that provide MPG and miles to empty, but it doesn’t hurt to do a few rounds the analog way also just to confirm that readouts are accurate. Fill the tank, ride at the pace you imagine you’ll be at while on the trip for a few gallons then fill back up. Note the miles traveled and the gallons it took to get back to full, then divide the miles traveled by the gallons used and you’ll have an idea of what to expect. Get your MPG figured out, then multiply that by the size of your fuel tank and you’ll have a reference point of where you’re at between fill-ups.

This is crucial information because if you plan to snake through the countryside, you’ll want to plan gas stops. If your bike gets 200 miles to the tank, then make sure every 150–180 miles you’re moving toward a petrol pump. This can affect your route planning (maybe you have to divert off the scenic road a bit to get to a station, for example), so go back and refine your plans to ensure you’re not left hanging in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank.

Touring motorcycle
Take only the essentials and keep your weight distributed evenly. Aidan O’Dowd

How to Pack for a Motorcycle Trip

When you’re traveling by motorcycle, thoughtful packing makes a huge impact. You don’t need to overload your bike with all the comforts of home. Instead, determine what you absolutely need and leave the rest. Maybe you can do without three changes of clothes or your favorite bathrobe. Also, let your route plan dictate what’s important. If you’re camping along the way, there are more elements to consider than if you’re booked up at hotels every night.

A few things you might want to consider are items to keep you covered in the worst-case scenario. A set of rain gear can be tucked away easily, and will be a huge benefit if you get caught out in a storm. A small tire-repair kit can be a lifesaver too. Some zip-ties and a small tool roll can also come in very handy as can a few snacks or a bottle or two of water. These things take up valuable space and may not be used at all, but they’re the things you’d wished you’d brought when things turn sour on the road.

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Once you have all the items you absolutely need, pack your bike with weight evenly distributed so your bike stays nice and stable. If you have luggage bolted on, fill the panniers to equal weight then move to the top case. If you’re rolling things in dry bags and lashing them to the pillion seat, triple-check that your cargo is secure and don’t pile it too high. A bungee cord or ratchet strap coming undone on the highway can be very dangerous and a strong gust of wind is sometimes enough to topple a tall stack of luggage.

group of motorcycles on dirt road
Riding with one friend or many can be much safer and a lot more fun than going solo. BMW Motorrad

Tell Someone About Your Trip

Let someone know at your home base, and your destination if possible, what your trip plans are. Give them a map of the route, let them know a rough estimate of when you expect to arrive at various points, and let them know you’ve safely arrived. All it takes is a quick text, and it can serve as a failsafe if you don’t ping them because you’re lying in a ditch somewhere. We’re not trying to be your mother here, but we can’t help but worry.

Consider Taking A Friend

In the same safety vein as that of the tip above, consider inviting a riding buddy on your journey. Two heads are better than one, and you will be able to look out for one another on the road. Plus you have someone to talk to on the road if you have intercoms or at stops if you don’t, and they can help capture those all-important Instagram photos you’ll need to make the people back home jealous.

Tune Your Bike

When planning a motorcycle trip you want to ensure that all the mechanical bits of your bike are in top working order. Make sure your tire tread is at safe levels for the entire trip, keep an eye on tire pressure, make sure your oil has been changed recently and that your brake fluid is up to snuff. If you’re comfortable doing all this yourself, it can be a fine way to get psyched for the coming trip, and if you’re not, take it to a shop and enjoy the peace of mind a machine in top shape provides.

Be Open To Change

With all that said, be open to change. Route maps, safety measures, packing plans are all well and good, but you’re likely to see things out on the road you didn’t expect and want to explore. If it doesn’t leave you without gas or take you in to some hazardous situation, go for it. If someone is waiting for an update at home, let them know that plans changed and give them a rough outline for what’s now on the docket. A trip plan may quash the romanticism of simply striking out on the road for destinations unknown, but it’s not a death sentence for adventure. Just be safe, smart, and, most of all, have fun.