Few things are as intoxicating and alluring as the open road. Since the first motorcycles rolled out of the garage, bikers have always pushed the limits of time and distance.
Simply riding the bike is the purpose of touring for a number of people. But most enthusiasts come to find a specific reason to hit the road: to explore, hang with friends, fall in love, sightsee, travel to rallies, or seek out the perfect twisty. Whichever you like, nothing beats a well-planned motorcycle tour past beautiful scenery.
Solo vs. Group Touring
A biker learns to tour by experience, usually by trial and error. Some of us prefer to travel alone; others in packs. On a solo ride, you quickly learn what is necessary and what is purely a luxury. Such rides help you find out who you are at the end of the day.
The other end of the touring spectrum is the group ride. Much like a solo journey will put you in touch with your inner biker, riding with a group builds (or breaks) friendships. Plus, it's great to see people's faces drop when a group a riders passes by on thundering Harleys.
Some people cannot handle the group ride. It moves a lot slower than the solo journey, although there is plenty of company. Also remember, as with any trip, to choose your mates with care. One bad apple generally ruins a journey.
Companies that offer commercial tours present this problem. If you are looking for a guided tour of some sort and sign up with a company, you're stuck with strangers. While you may make a life long riding buddy, you may also have the most miserable ride of your life. On the other hand, if you are new to touring, it might not be so bad.
A handy trick when riding with a group is to come up with a set of signals that everyone memorizes and agrees to use. There are generally universal signs that most riders use, so if you are in the dark, ask someone in the know and learn the language.
Preparing for the Journey
Ask 100 riders what they wear or pack for a tour, and you'll get 600 different answers. Again, what's right for you comes from experience. Do you wear a helmet? Some riders prefer the protection from the wind and sun and injury, others say the helmets are burdensome and heavy and cause as much fatigue as the elements.
Is a one piece suit or two piece suit a better fit? What type of jacket offers the best protection? Do you bring the saddlebags or a trunk? Do you take the girlfriend/boyfriend? There are so many calculations to consider and you always have to keep in mind weight. That is why you see some riders on bikes the size of cars (think BMW or Gold Wing). These folks are doing some serious traveling and bringing along just about everything but the kitchen sink.
Another consideration is deciding whether you are camping along the route or crashing in motels. Many riders camp, and that opens an entirely different category of packing. Also, understand what effect weather has. Weather is a major factor in deciding what type of bag to bring (soft or hard top saddle bag) along and the necessary rain covers. Also, if you are new at touring, consult with a pro on exactly what tools to bring along, especially if you are going solo.
Regardless, the average bag can hold a great deal, even for a long outing. Proper packing for any trip can save frustration, so keep that in mind when loading up the bike. You don't want to stow away items you want within easy reach. While this idea sounds sensible enough, it is amazing how we pack what we want easily accessible in hard to reach places.
Finally, prior to any long trip, it's a no-brainer to make sure the bike is in tiptop shape. Lube and tighten the chain, change the oil and filter, check the fork seals, and, of course, the tire pressure.