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Although riding provides an unmatched sense of freedom, practical limitations demand some thinking ahead before you hit the open road. Motorbikes are, first and foremost, limited on their storage capacity. Thoroughbred touring bikes like the Honda Gold Wing and the BMW K1200LT feature a number of hard cases and storage points for extra clothing and gear, however, long haul riders are often pressed to make tough decisions about the items they will carry. Here are a few planning points.
Where to and How Long
Among the first details, you need to make clear where you want to go and how long are you going to be away. This includes the stops and lodging details. Unless you ride a dedicated touring motorbike, like the ones mentioned above, you need to invest in storage bags. Saddlebags rest on both sides of the seat and tank bags sit directly atop the fuel tank, often featuring a clear plastic window for the map. Hard bags provide better protection against the elements than soft bags, but they also cost more and require more installation. If you want to maximize the storage, you can invest in a centrally-positioned tail bag as well.
Map Your Route
If you don’t have a portable GPS system, use a paper map throughout the ride to make sure you don’t get lost. There are riders who even prefer taking a quick glance at a paper map slipped behind the clear plastic cover of the tank bag to squinting into a GPS display. At mentioning the fuel tank, make sure to fill up the tank whenever you have the chance. Compared to cars, most bikes have a relatively low cruising range and will barely make it across some of the sparsely populated stretches of highway.
Adjust Your Bike
While six hours on a bike might be nothing for an experienced rider, if your previous record of two hours seemed like a marathon, you should get used to longer bike rides first. Doing longer practice runs will teach you the importance of getting comfortable in your saddle. Once you are on the road, you won't have as many chances to change positions as you would in a car seat or desk chair. Practice runs will also tell you if you need to add a backrest or invest in a few motorbike accessories like a more comfortable handlebar and foot pegs that will reduce the chances of achy back and stiff limbs. The standard factory seat your bike came with might not be the best option for long rides, so consider swapping for a more comfortable model.
Inspect the Mechanics
Experienced riders use the TCLOCS method for inspecting their bikes before going on a tour. It’s an acronym for Tyres, Controls, Lights, Oils, Chassis, and Stands. Make sure both tyres are properly inflated to their specs. It’s advisable you take an air pressure monitor on your rides. Tyres that might need replacement aren’t worth the risk of taking for a long ride. Check if your clutch and brake controls are working properly. For the lights, you want to make sure your headlights, turn signals, and brake lights work. Check every fluid from engine oil and coolant to brake fluid. Ensure that the frame, suspension, chain, and fasteners are all secure and tight. The centre stand or side stand should be straight, with the springs holding the assembly tight and away from the pavement when folded.
Packing for a long-distance motorbike ride is often walking a fine line between bringing enough items to ensure comfort and not overloading yourself with extra weight and bulk. After you’ve decided on a route, you need to check the weather and get the idea of what can you expect. Apart from a good touring suit, you need several thin layers of clothing, with the focus on flexibility. Bring along a few energy bars or trail mix and water to last until you make a more permanent stop. When loading the bags, always pack heavier and solid items on the bottom and sides closer to the bike. If you don’t have saddle bags or tank bags, consider securing loose items with a bungee net.
When you’re sure you and your bike are ready to make the tour, make sure you check everything again from square one. If you’re traveling in a company of other riders, double-check that they are clear on the plan as well.