Tips For Solo Motorcycle Touring

Tips For Solo Motorcycle Touring

Tips For Solo Motorcycle Touring

Heading out on a long distance solo motorcycle tour? We’ve got tens of thousands of solo long distance miles under our belts, including coast to coast rides across America. Here are some of the things we’ve learned, which we hope will be helpful. And remember, if you need to hire a motorcycle for your American, Canadian or Australian tour, contact us! We’re an Official EagleRider Agent with great prices.

1) File a daily “Flight Plan” with friends and relatives. When you’re putting in big miles in unfamiliar places, especially in remote areas, it’s a good idea to give friends and family an idea of where you’ll end up every day, and when you’ll be checking in. At the least, this will give your loved ones a sense of ease about you riding alone. As riders, we often discount the concerns of others, because we know the rewards of motorcycling. But if we do have some issue, out on the road alone, it’s wise to have someone back home who’s thinking about us, and who can reach out if you don’t check in after a reasonable amount of time. 99 times out of 100, the “Flight Plan” helps our families feel better more than it helps us. But you never know.

2) Start early, finish early. When we’re on the road, we like to be up at 6:00am, shower, breakfast, pack and on the bike by 8am (earlier if possible). It’s an incredible feeling watching the world wake up from the seat of a motorcycle, and if you’re planning to do big miles, the earlier you start, the earlier you can finish. As a rule, we are off the bikes before dusk, certainly sunset. Why? Well, dusk is when critters like to run out in front of bikes. The changing light can also make it harder for drivers to see you, and it’s harder for you to see road hazards. Pull into a town in the late afternoon, choose a place to stay at leisure, park the bike, get a quick nap and shower, dinner early, bed by 10pm. That’s a recipe for being fresh on the bike, getting in some good miles, and staying safe.

3) Earplugs. Always wear earplugs, not just to protect your hearing, but to dramatically reduce fatigue. Helmets are noisy places, especially at higher speeds on bikes without big windscreens. Your brain tries really hard to process all the wind noise and determine if there’s anything important in there it needs to hear, which is an ongoing mental strain. Earplugs cut out most (not all) of the noise, and once you get used to them you can actually hear what’s going around you much better. One real area of benefit is your increased ability to ear any mechanical noise coming from your bike, which is a huge safety plus. Note: we don’t recommend custom earplugs with audio capability for MP3 players or phones. In our opinion and experience, they are distracting and you end up cranking the volume up to compete with wind noise and can damage your ears.

4) Use technology to regulate your body temperature. There have been tremendous advances in cooling and warming technologies for riders, so there’s no need to suffer in the heat or cold weather. From Coolmax underwear that wicks moisture away from the skin, to lightweight base layers of merino wool that provide warmth with maximum mobility, you don’t even need power to stay cool or warm. Of course, if you’re riding in the early spring or late fall (in America), an electric vest is a very nice thing to have. We love Gerbing products. And if you need to stay cool in the summer months, we recommend a cooling vest by Silver Eagle Outfitters.

5) Inspect the bike regularly. It’s critically important that you are aware of any mechanical issues your bike might have before you start it, ESPECIALLY on a long distance, solo ride. So check your bike in the morning before you start it, check it when you wipe it down when you park it for the day, check it when you fill up, when you stop for lunch, for a photo……often! The main things to check are: tires – tread ok, no cords showing, no punctures, nail heads? Chain and sprocket – any kinks, broken teeth, metal shavings? And leaks beneath the bike, any oil or anti freeze on the cases of the bike? Especially with suspected leaks, clean the bike, start it, let it sit and run for a minute, check again. Take care of your bike and it will take care of you.

Tips For Solo Motorcycle Touring

6) Travel light. When we first started touring, we had a tendency to overpack. We brought all sorts of gadgets and farkles, so much stuff our bags hardly had room for a change of clothes. Now when we tour, we can go out for three weeks with one small bag. How do we do it? Well, we stick to the essentials, iPhone with a charger, wallet, maps, led flashlight, multitool, couple of pairs of underwear and socks, jeans and a few t-shirts. And a microfiber towel for cleaning visors and windscreens. And a first aid kit. And a damned good noir detective story. Call us salty, but everything else is a waste of space. Leave the crap at home! Traveling light is liberating and it takes way less time to pack and unpack the bike twice a day.

7) Paper maps and GPS We absolutely HATE GPS units attached to bikes. They’re distracting and we’ve seen way too many close calls when people are screwing around with them instead of watching the road. This behavior can be especially dangerous in a group riding situation. Instead, we recommend getting the Google Maps (or your preferred GPS app) for your phone, and using it only when you’re off the bike. And we love paper maps, because you can visualize a much greater area than the area of any GPS screen. Paper maps actually make a GPS unit far more useful, and they fit nicely in a tank bag. Also, they don’t cause you to swear for 1/2 hour when a clamp comes loose and they bounce down the pavement at 70mph, unlike a GPS unit!

8) Eat smart. You know that food coma you get after lunch every day, the one you try to fight off with an espresso, black coffee or some awful energy drink? You don’t want to fight that fight on a bike, so you need to think differently about what you’re eating when you’re riding. It’s hard to resist that slice of pie when you’re in some cool little diner, especially if you don’t have a mate there to remind you not to eat it! We try to have a reasonable breakfast, eating heavy carbs like pancakes or potatoes in moderation. Lunch should be light, and daytime snacks should be healthy energy like fruit, granola or yoghurt. An early dinner is where we splurge – steak, pie, beers…..you’re off the bike and you’ve got a couple of hours to digest your food before bed. Eat a big meal just before bedtime and you’ll have a rough night’s sleep. We usually have dinner and then go for a long walk back to the motel, maybe a swim if it’s summer in the motel pool. And of course, alcohol in extreme moderation, nothing worse than a big mileage day with a hangover on board.

9) Hydrate smart. Very few of us drink enough water every day, and this is a mistake you cannot make on a motorcycle. Dehydration even in its early stages induces fatigue, and as it progresses you can get headaches, muscle pain, nausea, and pass out. None of these things are good on a bike! It sounds like a cliche, but in the warm weather, if you wait until you’re thirsty to take a drink of water, you’re already too late. You need to drink a liter an hour in hot weather, so plan ahead and bring enough water to supply you if you aren’t near a service station. Also, don’t forget that you need to drink water in the cold weather too, as conditions are typically very dry.

10) Use social media to enrich your trip for yourself and others. If you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page, consider starting one before your trip. Friends and family will enjoy following you on your journey, seeing what you’re seeing every day. A huge side benefit to this is that some of the people following you may have traveled in the same places you’re touring, and can suggest places to eat or stay and things to see (as well as things to avoid) while you’re there. You might even have friends come out to meet you along the way. And it’s easy enough to upload photos, videos and status updates to any of these sites with your smartphone. Trust us – it will make your tour more fun not only for you, but for your social circle as well.

11) Make your emergency contact and medical information easily visible. If for some reason you become unable to speak, the people trying to help you will need to know what if any medical conditions you have, including prescriptions and allergies, and also who to call. They’ll look for a medical bracelet first, but if you don’t have one, how will they know how to properly treat you if you need help? The best way we’ve seen to deal with this is via a small pouch that sticks to the outside of your helmet, and includes a form inside that you fill out with the relevant information. This way emergency personnel can get your details before they even remove your helmet. Some riders we know just write their information down on a small piece of paper, then cover it with see through waterproof tape and stick it on the back of their helmet….we can’t see spending half a grand on a new Arai and doing this though, so we prefer the little pouch 🙂

Hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any thoughts or comments, please write them below, and if you need a motorcycle in America, Canada or Australia, contact us!

Ride Safe,

Jim McDermott

46 Comments

  1. wajahat

    Tips are very useful. I also do the solo trip on my bike.
    3 days and 1600KMs.
    I also endorse these instruction useful for the rider.

    Reply
  2. Dutch from Houston

    Your common sense, but insightful tips provided here are spot on. I have been riding, what most people refer to as “long distance” for the better part of eight years now. BUt in a few months (late August) I plan on pushing myself even a bit more. I’m attempting hitting all lower 48 states in 10 days, on a bike that already has 80k + miles on her. I’m always looking at different opinions as to what the key points are to concerns ones self with and you have given me a few more tips by reinforcing what I may have already know, but in the back of my mind. Eating tips and water consumption, are always the ones which affect long distance endurance the most.
    Wish me luck, I hope I can travel my 7600 mile route in the 10 days. I’ll be putting up some additional comments when I get back. Sort of a “lessons learned” report conclusion

    Reply
  3. Jhonson

    Discovered this article extremely supportive Jim.

    I am doing a performance 1000 miles (up – down) ride on my 2012 883 Superlow.

    As it is the longest for me yet (solo), was somewhat restless.

    Perusing through the artice and the remarks has restored the certainty.

    I am just going to get the bicycle overhauled and head on

    Much obliged Again

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Really glad you found it useful

      Reply
  4. Glenn

    A lot of great tips ! I have rode solo from East coast to Dallas area and camped 80% of the time. Had a blast but it seemed just as I was getting in the groove it was always time to re fuel. I plan to go cross country on the next solo and the only part of the trip I am not looking forward to is crossing the great plains and the 18 wheeler chunking wind gusts. I drove it in a van once and it was all I could do to keep that 2 ton beast in the same lane. I saw plenty of bikes though in some of the worst areas.

    Reply
  5. Scott Jones

    Planning a trip on route 66 from Illinois to Cali at the end of May. What is the weather like and how much time should I give myself. 3 or 4 weeks. I will be traveling with my 77 year old father n law and he loves to ride. I could use any info for the trip. thanks

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Weather should be perfect then Scott. Out of the spring storms and before the heat hits. We do it in 14 days but 21- 30 is perfect.

      Have a fun ride.

      Cheers

      Tim

      Reply
  6. Lucas de Jong

    Hydration is the one area most neglected. Too much coffee will make you pee and dehydrate. I always wear a camel-back hydration pack on long rides which I can sip on without stopping and removing the helmet. It’s a bit fiddly to use with the left hand while riding but it keeps the fluid levels up. When I refill the tank I also refill the camel-back.

    Reply
    • Shirley Brown

      I use a Camel-back as well and love it. I usually drink 2 liters per hundred miles.

      Reply
  7. Johnie Phillips

    Your tips for travel are excellent! We learned the hardway and shipped a box of clothes back to KC from Sedona, when we had to store our leathers. To add to your tips, we take a small insulated cooler with us, containg 4 bottles of water, one frozen, 4 energy bars, two apples and a wet wash cloth in a zip lock bag. These are treats for afternoon fuel stops, and at times lunch, and the cold wet wash cloth is an excellent energizer while removing the results of wind, dust and sun accumulation from the face.

    Reply
  8. MadDog

    Just finished reading your article. My biggest issue was what to take with me. I am a woman, who is going to leave Texas and head to Helen Georgia to do the tail of the dragon. I picked up a gps tracking device for the trip as my family is freaking out. I have a huge respect for my bike, the rode and those in cages who I tend to try to anticipate their moves. I want to be safe and feel safe on the road. I really appreciate the tips and will indeed use them for this upcoming trip… Thanks, you made it sound and seem simple…I will be back when I am done to let you know how i t all went!

    Dee “MadDog” M.

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Have a great time Dee. Glad you found the tips useful.

      Reply
  9. Anthony

    Thank you for this advice Jim! I’m just about to receive the new Ducati scrambler so am planning a trip from the south of england to Italy, not sure where to in Italy yet but thats the beauty of it… start in the north and work my way south!

    I’ve been to france twice on my old 1980 vespa 50 special and fell in love with touring ever since!
    Covered 250 miles from Brighton to Cleethorpes (England) which took me 8 hours as my scooter had a top speed of 50-60 mph back then and my back side was feeling it!

    So when i have the bigger bike capable of the much longer mileage with ease i can now spread further and travel to wherever my heart desires 🙂

    Thank you for taking the time to write this up as it has helped greatly with the list of things i need for the journey!

    Tony

    Reply
  10. Mace

    Hi Jim,

    This is a great article! Thanks for taking the time to put it together. I am T-minus 1 day away of my own solo iron-butt adventure, riding from Phoenix to Houston this weekend. I appreciate some of your tips and as an old Army Infantry dog- I would have to agree with you on the GPS! Paper maps are much, much better. When I stop, I usually “back-brief” the locals at a gas station or diner to make sure that there’s no hidden construction or other similar issues not seen on a map.

    This is my first solo long trip (longest before this way 5 hours). This is for a class that I have to take, so getting to Houston with time to spare before Monday is important. Your article has caused me to re-think my night-time travel plans (I’m one of those that enjoys riding at night)… but, alas, I should err on the side of safety here.

    Thanks again!

    Mace

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Have fun Mace and keep us posted on how it goes. As for riding at night it shouldn’t be too bad in the area your traveling through. It gets a lot worse up north in the summer. Mind you it will be pretty cold at and although I love riding at night too, I only do it when its warm.
      Cheers
      Tim

      Reply
  11. Don

    Thanks for the amazing tips. I started researching for my first bike roadtrip in May. A short 1700 miles week long solo trip from NYC to The Smoky Mountains National Park and coming back thru the coast on my HD Sportster 1200 Custom. This article already got me ahead in my plans. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Glad it helped you out Don. Have fun and keep us posted on how it goes.
      Cheers
      Tim

      Reply
  12. scott Munsey

    Hey guys : )
    Awesome site. Thank you.
    I recently bought my first bike, a 1972 Honda cb350. I am in the restoration process, with the end goal to hit the road and drift around the States for a few years ( hopefully on this bike, considering the work being put in). I am grateful for people such as yourselves who are willing and dedicated to sharing this invaluable info. I’ve bookmarked this site and if your interested, I’d be happy to keep you posted on my progress.
    Can’t wait, I can almost smell the change of air!
    Cheers!
    Scotty

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Look forward to seeing how you go Scotty.

      Cheers

      Tim

      Reply
  13. Shalin Shukla

    Found this article very helpful Jim.
    I am doing a solo 1000 miles (up -down) ride on my 2012 883 Superlow.

    As it is the longest for me yet (solo), was a bit anxious.

    Reading through the artice and the comments has reinstated the confidence.

    I am just gonna get the bike serviced and head on

    Thanks Again

    Regards – Shalin

    Reply
    • Tim Orr

      Hi Shalin

      Glad it was helpful and helped inspire you to get out there. Have a great time on the road.
      Cheers
      Tim

      Reply
  14. Tim Orr

    Hi Tim

    What we were trying to say more than anything is that any distraction be it a map or a GPS is bad. Whats the rush? Pull over when you need to look for directions. getting lost is half the fun.

    Reply
  15. Russ

    Jim, thanks for all the great tips. In your experience, what is the best bottles to carry water? I drive OTR and when I would refill my water bottle at rest area drinking fountains. I found myself getting sick with colds. When it happened the first time. I switched back to bottled water until I got better, then tested my theory by refilling a water bottle, and sure enough. I caught another cold. Its the only time in 5 years I’ve ever been sick. Also, in my truck there is plenty of room for a case of waters but there’s no way I could carry that much weight on a motorcycle. what works for you to stay hydrated? Thanks

    Reply
    • Jim

      Thanks for the kind words, Russ. Here are our tips for riding in extreme heat and staying hydrated: https://www.thelostadventure.com/beat-the-heat-while-motorcycle-touring-this-summer

      We also buy bottled water and put it in our saddlebags, just don’t leave the plastic bottles in there for hours in the heat as chemicals from the plastic start to break down into the water and it’s not healthy to drink that (at least we don’t think it is). Thanks for posting! Jim

      Reply
  16. James

    Great pointers!
    I’m headed from Illinois to Myrtle Beach and up the wpEast coast as far as I can get in a week with some stops at a few predetermined areas to visit Civil War sites. Is there any websites or apps that help you connect with other bikers along your trip?
    Thanks again!
    James

    Reply
    • Jim

      Hey James;

      One of our favorite sites is http://www.advrider.com

      It’s an adventure motorcycling forum based website, and there are regional forums where you can ask questions about where to ride and in many cases download GPS coordinates of great roads. I’ve been a member for years and it’s one of the best websites out there. Hope that helps. Thanks!
      Ride safe,

      Jim McDermott

      Reply
  17. AndrewGills

    Hey there. Thanks for the tips. I’ve done a bit of motorcycle touring here in Australia, including a 9 week tour from Brisbane through NSW, Victoria, SA and Tasmania in 2009-10. I packed too much for that trip and what you write rings true.

    I’m off to Africa in November to ride from Kenya to Namibia on a cheap Chinese 150cc ride that I’ll buy in Kenya. I’ll be gone for 6-9 months. I am going to take your advice because the last thing I want to do is be pushing my little bike through sand with piles of gear loaded on top.

    Thanks for the timely reminder and tips. I’ll be camping so I might need two bags instead of just one. But that’s still less than I thought I would need 🙂

    Reply
    • Jim

      Cheers Andrew, thanks for the kind words, and ride safe on your journey mate!

      Best,

      Jim McDermott
      The Lost Adventure, Ltd.

      Reply
  18. Jim

    Greetings Jim;

    Thanks for the advice, I currently ride a 250cc scooter and love it with over 44,000 miles on it I have done one bun burner and plan on another soon, my wife who also has a 250cc scooter is comfortable with 200-300 mile days but I really like to stretch it out and feel that 300-400 day trips work well.

    We especially enjoy touring through the Ozarks both Missouri, and Arkansas. We use a Butler Motorcycle map to help plan the day trips and use Google maps to plan the whole week, of course plans are made to change depending on the towns or other attractions we come across.

    I personally can’t wait until more vendors begin to realize what a potential market scooterist’s represent especially for aftermarket parts and pieces. I can only dream of a custom seat or heated equipment made for a scooter.
    Thanks again for your tips and advice. Jim

    Reply
    • Jim

      Cheers Jim, many thanks for the kind words about our tips. Gotta say I’m impressed that you’ve done a bun burner on a 250cc scooter! That’s incredible.

      We love the Butler maps as well, they make a great product, and can save a ton of research. I think you’ll see scooters gain in popularity as gas prices increase, it’s happening already.

      Ride safe,

      Jim

      Reply
  19. Phil

    Hey man!!! Great stuff!!!

    I am looking at a 6-12 week “get me the f outta dodge” getaway. Likely to go through a set of tires, oil change, at least! I am interested in getting lists of motorcycle friendly accommodations. From North Carolina, to Florida out to California, Washington and back east….

    Suggestions to research these? I have around 10 friends I will see in this loop, but n between is me, my camera and the road

    Rock on USA!!!!!

    Thanks for what you have already done and more for what you may provide!

    Phil

    Reply
    • Jim

      Hey Phil – we don’t have a list of motorcycle friendly accommodations per se, but for sure we’d go through Deal’s Gap/Tail Of The Dragon, maybe head down to the Gulf over to Galveston, go up to Austin and then on to Texas Hill Country, maybe pick up a bit of Route 66 around Tucumcari New Mexico. So much to see in California – make sure to stay at the Madonna Inn in St. Luis Obispo, it’s awesome. Ride safe and thanks for posting!

      Jim McDermott

      Reply
  20. Luka

    Hey Jim,

    I’ve been riding just over a year now, and I absolutely love it. Started on a 250 and now I ride a Yamaha FZ6, great bike. I’m thinking of doing a trip out out to Washington state, its about 5600 miles round trip from my place in Kingston, Ontario. Once I get to Washington I will be attending a music festival for a couple days, thereby breaking up the trip into two parts.

    Please, if you have any comments or opinions about this, feel free, but my main question is how many miles do you think one can realistically ride in a day? I’ve done several 5+ hour trips on my old 250, and I was quite tired at the end, but if one needed to travel 2500 miles how much riding can one realistically accomplish in day?

    Thanks a bunch!

    Reply
    • Jim

      Hey Luka;

      I’ve ridden 1000 miles in a day, although I didn’t want to see the bike again for weeks 🙂 I think 250 miles a day is a good number if you want to see anything along the way, less if you’re on super twisty roads. If you do a lot more miles in a day, then you kind of wonder what’s the point in riding? Yo’ll be on main roads to do big miles, and they’re no fun. Keep the miles to around 250 a day, see cool things along the way and don’t rush it- hope that help!

      Cheers Jim

      Reply
  21. Dave

    Any tips on security when riding solo? Ie. parking the bike at night.

    Reply
    • Jim

      Hey Dave;

      This is a tough one. Locks and alarms can deter a causal thief, but will only slow down a professional. There’s an old saying about bike thieves: “if they want your bike, they’re going to get it.” And it’s fairly true. Our best tips are as follows:

      1) Always lock the ignition when you park the bike. Common sense but lots of riders seem to ignore it.
      2) When you go to sleep, leave saddlebags unlocked and completely empty. A locked saddle bag on a bike parked outside a motel says “hey, I won’t be here tomorrow, and since this bag is locked there must be something valuable inside.” A thief who pries your pannier open doesn’t have x-ray vision and won’t know it’s just your dirty socks left in there.
      3) Park the bike in a well lit spot, in view of the front desk, ideally chained to itself and something else. Disk locks are good if you put them on both wheels, remember while they’re easily derated by professionals, getting them off takes time and makes noise, which increases the chance someone will see the crook trying to nick your motorcycle.

      Hope those suggestions help!

      Best,

      Jim

      Reply
      • Vikas kumar

        Great tips

        Reply
  22. royalbikeriders

    Thanks for your tips Jim, they will help me for my solo trip.

    Reply
  23. Max

    Thanks for your tips Jim, they will help me for my solo trip from Brisbane to Canberra!
    Going in October on a 2004 Honda Shadow 750 and taking the back roads.
    Cheers.
    Max

    Reply
    • Jim

      Glad you found them helpful, Max! Ride safe mate

      Jim

      Reply
  24. Henrique

    Excellent tips, Jim.
    I am planning a 8,000 mi solo trip to Patagônia and Atacama. Any other recommendations in addition to the above?
    Chefes,
    Henrique, Brazil

    Reply
    • Jim

      Henrique – your trip sounds incredible! Unfortunately I haven’t ridden in South America yet, it’s one of our dreams to do so. I’m sure there are recommendations someone with experience riding there would make, I am not really qualified, but I’d research what kind of gas is available, if you ride a newer BMW GS for instance, the required high-octance fuel might not be available everywhere you ride. And there may be some spare parts it might make sense to bring along – we always bring a decent small toolkit, duct tape and JB Weld for emergencies. Other than that you will probably be able to educate me on tips when you return 🙂

      Ride safe my friend,

      Jim McDermott

      Reply
      • Henrique

        Thanks again, Jim.
        Notes taken.
        Henrique

        Reply
  25. Len Dubois

    A well detailed article, thanks Jim. With a large range of helmets on the market now with sun visors included, which do you prefer, that feature or wearing sunshades? An item I always carry in the saddlebag is an aerosol puncture repair kit, anything to keep me mobile to get to a garage or place of civilization. To stay hydrated, I make a point of drinking 340ml bottled water at every fuel stop. Better to drink it from a fridge than warmed up during the journey.

    Reply
    • Jim

      Cheers Len. I prefer sunglasses, as they’re easier to remove, and actually, I wear prescription eyeglasses with transition lenses, so I don’t even need sunglasses. The dark screens require you to carry a light one in case you have to ride late or if you’re caught in bad weather, so I don’t like to tour with them. Tim does but then he’s always running into the problems I mentioned above 🙂

      Aerosol puncture repair kit is good for an emergency but remember they can mess with the proper balance of your wheel once the puncture’s fixed, which creates a different problem. But it beats walking….

      Agreed on drinking water at fuel stops, but if you do 200 miles between stops, that won’t be enough water in warm weather. We try to drink 1 liter per hour which often means bringing a bottle in your saddlebag on longer days.

      Many thanks for the comments!

      Best,

      Jim McDermott

      Reply

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