I don’t know what it is, but there’s something special about a long distance motorcycle trip. Maybe it’s the excitement of getting to spend a good chunk of time exploring somewhere new. Or, maybe it’s the prospect of getting to spend a lot of time on a motorcycle. Whatever it is, I’ve taken many long distance motorcycle trips now, and one thing I definitely know is that I get just as excited now, as I did the first time.
Of course, planning for a long motorcycle trip takes a little more thinking ahead than a simple road trip or vacation by car might take. Why? It boils down to one simple reason: motorcycles have far less storage options.
Yes, if you have the latest Honda GoldWing Touring motorcycle with a trailer, you’re going to have to cut back a little less than the guy touring the country on a 250cc dirt bike. But, the planning tips below still work no matter what your ride.
And, if you’re anything like me, at the end of the trip you’ll walk away thinking about how much “stuff” you really don’t need to have a good time. The amount will probably surprise you. Hint: It’s far, far less than you expect.
The Basics Needed for Long Trips
Let’s talk about the basics, first. The things that you need to do before you even start thinking about a long trip on your bike. Don’t worry – there are only three things, and they’re pretty easy.
Get a comfortable, waterproof, motorcycle riding suit.
Getting wet sucks. Being cold sucks. And if you take a long enough trip, you’ll most likely encounter situations where you’ll be both wet and cold. Not only does being wet and cold really suck, it’s also unsafe. It’s hard to concentrate on the road when you’re soaked through to your undies. A riding suit helps with this. Get it now. Don’t think about it, go down to your local dealer and pick one up today.
If I only had the choice to bring one thing other than my wallet, a good quality motorcycle riding suit is what I would bring.
I’m not talking about those full leather suits. I’m just talking about a good full suit that you can slip over your clothes when the weather starts getting less than ideal.
Install some ways to attach luggage to your motorcycle. Motorcycle Luggage racks, etc.
Backpacks won’t cut it. They’re great for students going to class, or maybe taking a ride down to the park for a picnic, but they make really bad long distance travel partners.
You know that attractive person you dated in high school? The one that was really great to look at, but after you spent some time with them you found out that they were dumber than dirt, their voice annoyed the snot out of you, and frankly they weren’t that attractive in the first place?
That’s what a backpack is to a motorcyclist. They look great at first (hey! I can carry all of my stuff on my back!), but turns into a shoulder pinching, posture ruining, loud wind-flapping-ear-drum-popper at speed back attachment you wish you’d never brought.
When I first started touring, the first thing I bought was a $50 luggage rack for my motorcycle. I still own it and consider it one of the single best accessories I purchased for my bike.
Give your motorcycle a checkup.
Use your best judgment here, but in general if anything mechanically is “bugging” me about my bike – I’ll take it into the shop for a quick tune-up before a long trip. If I don’t have any worries, than I just do a general checkup (Tires, Oil, Lights, Brake Fluids, etc.).
I’d rather waste a couple of hours taking it to a shop beforehand, versus wasting the 2-3 days when I’m out touring and having a break down.
I've been to just about every state in this country, but I learned something last year when I did 6000 miles in two and a half weeks. I first rode from Chicago to DC for Rolling Thunder, and when I returned I joined 3 guys for a trip to Montana and back. Anyway, from now on, on any extended road trip, I WILL NOT WEAR MY LEATHER! I will only bring my GoreTex rain gear. Here's why.
When we left Chicago to head to Montana, it was June 2nd. For some odd reason none of us experienced riders decided to bring leather. It was June after all, and in the 80's when we left. We forgot all about how the northwest can have snow and cold on any given day, well into July. I forgot about my trip to Yellowstone in early July, and how it was in the 90's when I got in the park, and it was a blizzard a week later when I left. Or how cold Going to the Sun Road can be in July when there’s 12 feet of snow on the side of it. We figured it out real quick.
Most of the riding weather was cool, and we had to layer to stay comfortable. But I found out that layering under a windproof GoreTex suit, was just as warm, AND FAR MORE COMFORTABLE than a bulky leather and chaps. Long sleeve shirt and thin quilted liner jacket under the rain gear, that’s it, for most of the time. Occasionally I added a hoodie. The GoreTex breaks the wind as good as leather, and I don’t feel like the Michelin Man all bulked up and stiff. Leather gear is also a lot of extra weight when you’re on a long trip, getting on and off the bike.
While rain gear doesn’t afford me the protection that leather will, 90% of my riding is in warm weather anyway. Rain gear doesn’t look as cool as leather, but I can roll it up and keep it in one of the saddle bags on my Ultra.
Bottom line: I’ll wear my leather in cold weather around town, but I will never take it on a road trip again.
Try it sometime. Layer under your rain gear when it’s cold outside, to see how you like it. Remember, everything we do is a personal choice, but you don’t know until you try.
Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 12:18 PM
I've traveled from coast to coast and border to border. One of my most memorable trips was from south Florida to Strugis, SD and back in two weeks,(6000 miles). Would not leave home for a day ride without a good rainsuit. Rain boots that are cheap and very flexible,(you can roll them up) and buy new ones if you rip them (which you will). Sweatshirt and pants, in case it gets to cold for what I'm wearing, and can also be worn instead of my regular clothes in an emergency (got my regular clothes soaked before I decided to stop), haven't we all been there!!. Now for longer trip; a weeks worth of t-shirts, undies and socks, a pair of extra pants, a nice shirt, meds and the required lip balm, and sun screen. If I fear a cold ride I will take my leathers and strap them to the back seat. Remember to take a pair of walking shoes, I always wear riding boots; great for riding, not so good for walking. I can "ROLL" all of this in my saddle bag case and still have room in the trunk for odds and ends. A weekly laundry day, or night, usually takes care of anything I need to wash; my dirty clothes I reroll and put them in a plastic bag that I bring with me, and back in my suitcase until wash day. I'm planning a couple of rides for this summer and will always take my dealership book for emergencies. This note is longer than what I normally take with me on a trip!!! If you don't have it, buy it, if you decide you can't live without it. Have a good trip and stop worrying about the small stuff ENJOY!!!
Tue Jun 24, 2014 at 12:35 PM
I've crossed the country twice. Rain gear, sun block, chapstick are absolute neccesities. I use an Camelback to stay hydrated. I camp two nights, hotel 1 night (and if you can find a room with a jacuzzi/hot tub; do it!) Ladies, bring your makeup if you must (I did), but a few hours riding with the radiant heat from the sizzle between your thighs it will all be mush. Instead, wear a good face moisturizer with high sunblock. A touch of the sun on your cheeks and you won't need makeup anyway.
Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 7:12 PM
Packing light. Thank you for sharing the information you have learned through experience. I actually plan on two major trips next year Lord willing. Florida and Canada . This information helps a lot.
Sat Nov 2, 2013 at 8:32 PM
We are heading to Italy for a 15 day trip and want to rent a Goldwing and tour around on that for the whole time. We have never taken a trip this long or even close to this time frame but we both love the idea but are a little nervous about space. We are staying at a villa with a bunch of friends for a week and the rest of the time touring around. So excited but don't want to have a crappy time because we don't have what we need. Any advice?
Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 9:04 AM
@Coleen: what sort of trailer set-up do you use?
Great article! Athanks or sharing!
Wed Jun 5, 2013 at 9:09 PM
A lot of good ideas. The one must have in my book is a GOOD rain suite and waterproof boots. An absolute must.
Thu May 2, 2013 at 12:19 PM
I love going on trips with my dad and friends. I have to get new motorcycle insurance before any big trips come up again. Between packing and trying to be covered for a trip is harder than it seems.
Fri Jan 4, 2013 at 9:46 PM
I so agree regarding packing. I have one addition. Make sure your bike fits right. I went from an 883low to a Heritage before a trip. It appeared I fit it well....it was lowered etc. I road it fine in town although the front end felt "heavy" for lack of a better word. For two rides equaling about About 1400 miles each not including this fun rides I struggled with this. My curving just was not good. Went and took an advanced class and after one curve lesson the instructor said.....your handlebars are to far forward for you.....go figure ... And what a difference it made.
Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 8:09 AM
I like your suggestions. I would add one note. Red(my wife) & I try to take at least one trip a yr, 8-9 days. They have ranged from 4800 to 2100 miles. The plan is pick a direction only. No reservations, no schedules & no have to's. When time or money is 1/2 gone chg directions. Some times this leads to peculiar sleeping arrangements but after every trip we can't wait for the next to start.
Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 9:45 PM
My husband and I are planning our first long distance trip. We are trying not to carry too much. We are staying at a resort and planning day trips. We will be traveling from Ga to Va. Any tips?
Sat Sep 8, 2012 at 2:16 PM
@Yoda53 - I've never bought a full rain cover for my bike - but I usually pack a small tarp for camping etc. I'll usually take this and tie over my seat for the evening - that's the only real part I care if it gets wet. That way when I wake up in the morning and hit the road I've got a dry seat.
Wed Sep 5, 2012 at 6:41 PM
I just finished a 2700 mile trip from CT to FL with many side trips. Rode on '02 Suzuki Volusia 800cc. I need to buy a good rain proof bike cover, that would fit in a saddle bag. Suggestions? Great article.
Sun Sep 2, 2012 at 10:50 AM
My husband and I have traveled on his Road King to every state in the continental U.S. and I have ridden in several states on my Heritage Softail. We pack everything we need when we are riding together on his RK in the saddlebags and a tour pak. We are out there to have fun - not to make a fashion statement - but I do pack minimal make-up including sunscreen, clothes to layer, rainsuits and usually our leathers depending on time of year and part of the country. There is nothing like seeing America with an unobstructed view on a motorcycle.
Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 4:08 PM
This is my first visit to the website and joined immediately! I am a novice road rider but an experienced biker. What I mean is that since high school I have ridden dual purpose bikes. Last year my husbanc and I traded them in for road bikes. He had open heart surgery so couldn't handle the bounce of the trails anymore. My God what we have missed staying in the woods! Last year we put over 10,000 miles on our bikes. This year we are planning a 2 week trip from my sisters in NC to the Natchez Trace and Biloxi MS, back up through Birmingham to her house again. We trailer them to her house then pick a place to ride! We thought we would do Tail of the Dragon but after reading the information on Hellbender, Cherohala Skyway and Thunder Road.....now decisions decisions decisions.....I learned the tricks of packing with all the travel I do for my job so less is certainly more! Buy it if I need it. Enough clean underwear is all I really need.
Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 2:12 PM
Wife and I did a 2 week 4000 mi trip to Nova Scotia last year. Best trip so far. Pack clothing for 1 week then had a laundry day. No resevations, had nowhere I had to be, and had 2 weeks to get there!
Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 10:06 PM
I totally agree with this write up. I been on numerous 1200 to 1400 mile week long trips. Two people packed on a softtail in leather saddle bags and a "T-Bag". It can be done!!
Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 5:36 PM
I just got back from a 2k+ miles tour. One of the biggest tours I've ever done after a very long time. I wish I got a chance to read this before I left. Would've saved me a lot of trouble. Great write up!!!
Fri Jun 8, 2012 at 6:07 PM
I agree with you....less is more. My husband & I took a 2 week riding trip last year. We each ride our own bikes. He has a softail & I ride a Sportster. He pulled a small trailer behind him...but found that quite inconvenient at times. So this year we decided that we will only pack what we need in our saddle bags. That means a whole lot less stuff to bring along. It should be interesting to see how lightly we can pack our saddlebags. If it doesn't fit....it's not coming. I think it will be a lot more fun riding without the trailer. Also not so many decisions trying to figure out "what to wear" lol. Thanks for your packing tips.
Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Fri Jun 1, 2012 at 1:11 PM