How to prepare for a summer tour

By MCN Technical Staff -

Touring & travel

 05 March 2009 14:00

What do I need?

The absolute minimum is a bike, some money for fuel and you. No, seriously. If you want scenery or interesting places to go on the cheap then the UK has it all. If you travel abroad a passport and documents are necessary. It’s only when you want those added luxuries that touring starts to become an expense. We’re talking about the cost of a tent to sleep in, or (if you’re splashing out) a B&B or hotel.

Is that really all?

Basic toiletries are next on the list of highly desirables, so is some clean clothing and comfortable clothes that you can wear when not riding. So some means of carrying such stuff is a must. A large rucksack will suffice, but is uncomfortable over distance. Full-on touring bikes have removable hard luggage (like suitcases), but for general use a set of soft luggage throw-over bags and a tailpack (straps to the top of the bike’s tailpiece/seat) is cheaper. A magnetic tank bag is ideal for carrying money, phone, maps and documents, as it’s easier to remove and carry at fuel/wee stops.

Don’t I need a big bike?

No. A large capacity bike is ideal because the engine will be relatively unstressed carrying a pillion and luggage. But as a rule any bike will do, even a 50cc slow-ped as long as motorways aren’t part of your route.

Is there a golden rule for touring?

Several. The most important, if you’re not a high-mileage regular, is not to overdo it. All-day riding is very tiring, especially when combined with tricky navigation or challenging mountain terrain. So avoid rides of more than a couple of hundred miles for the first few days. Overseas, the concentration needed to ride safely is more demanding. Check for tiredness and stop regularly for food and fluids.

1. Avoid last minute panics on departure day by rehearsing your packing before you leave – making sure your luggage will carry all the kit you’re taking. If you’re using soft luggage, take it for a test ride to make sure it’s secure and doesn’t foul your steering or exhausts.

2. Don’t forget security.  As at home, a big lock and chain is best. You may find lodgings with secure parking, but there will be times you’ll leave the bike somewhere vulnerable. With a tail-pack, put heavy security at the bottom and avoid placing chains in a throw-over pannier. Many lock-makers sell bags which keep the lock safe and accessible.

3. Make sure the bike’s consumables have enough life left to last the course (brake pads, chain, sprockets and tyres) and you’re not going to bust your service schedule. Riding at high speed and romping up and down mountains wears things out faster. Waiting lists at workshops are long at this time of the year, so get booked in now.

4. If you’re carrying a pillion, then factor them into the plan. You may be able to clock 800 miles a day, but for how long can they cling to your back like a baby chimp? Will their kit fit on the bike? What do they want to do? There’s no joy to be had in lugging whinging excess weight around, so get issues sorted before they arise.

5. Slap a tubeless repair kit under the seat. You may be covered by a recovery scheme, but a repair kit still lets you carry on riding – which can mean the difference between waiting on an isolated roadside or the hotel bar while the bloke from the garage arrives.

6. Carry a spare key and the correct documents if venturing abroad (see for the ones you need). Make sure you have the numbers you might need to report loss or theft, of cards or, God forbid, the bike. Also stash a couple of regional bank notes for similar emergencies.

7. Bits and bobs can be tour-savers. Bungee straps sort out luggage nightmares, gaffer tape holds cracked fairings, ripped clothing and worn out foot-sliding boots together. Even if you’ve got hard cases, carry bin liners for emergency waterproofing and to store separate sweaty kit. Don’t forget that clear visor in case you’re caught out late at night.

8. Pack as light as you can get away with and remember you’ll be wearing bike kit in the daytime, so you won’t need much. Buy lightweight trousers that unzip to shorts (which can be used on the beach, as modelled above) and which dry overnight if you wash them. Sandals pack flatter than trainers and don’t need socks.

9. If you’re mainly going to be wearing leathers, then get some lightweight waterproofs. But, staying dry is only half the story: wind/waterproof clothing, especially a one-piece oversuit, is worth two layers if the temperature drops, and it takes up much less space.

10. Consider a change of rubber – what’s the point in getting to the hills with squared-off tyres? Save cash by swapping your Corsa Extreme Ballistics for sports touring tyres until you get home. Whatever you go for, make sure pressures are bang-on or you’ll have fuel consumption, stability or wear issues.

11. Get hold of detailed maps and scan them to find the sauciest little minxes of twistiness you can find heading in the direction of your chosen destination. Better still, use the maps to set a rough agenda so you don’t flog out relentless motorway miles, but enjoy the ride. Or – if you’ve got the dosh – invest in a GPS system to guide you.

12. Don’t over-plan; you can’t account for everything. The weather changes, tyres deflate, Dai tells you Llannwantogo is left when it’s straight ahead. Pushing to reach a predetermined destination puts pressure on when you might just want to relax and enjoy. Start looking for somewhere to stay well before sunset and all will be well...