Top travel experts have revealed their tips to the two-wheeled trip of a lifetime.
Pick your team and pick your bikes
“Everyone has different expectations,” says Geraint Hughes of dragonmototours.co.uk. “People on sportsbikes and cruisers have completely different ideas of the length of the ride, the speed and the length between stops.” Compatible bikes with compatible riders aren’t just important from a touring point of view, they’re key to staying safe. “If you are slower than the rest of the group it’s no fun constantly trying to keep up,” warns Alastair McFarlane of www.mcitours.com.
Work out where you’re going
“I’d always buy a map of the country, or more likely, several maps, broken down by region, with a bigger scale to give more details,” says Bill Roughton. “Allow yourself some motorway sections, but mix in scenic back roads as well. And beware sat-navs, which default to sending you the obvious route.” Geraint Hughes recommends visiting www.bison-fute.gouv.fr for the flow of major roads and roadworks in France as well as telling you if mountain passes are open.
Don’t overstretch yourself with the daily mileage. Geraint Hughes says: “A couple asked us how many days they needed to tour the whole of Italy. I said three months. Pick a do-able area, focus on it and interrogate the web for everything you want to do.” Work out a realistic mileage per day – if you’re going into the Alps or the Pyrenees the distances will take longer to negotiate. 200-250 miles a day is reasonable, but you can do longer for the outward or return trip to the UK.
Balance your diet
You might think a bike tour is all about riding, but that’s only half the story. Allow some rest days. “Personally, I no longer enjoy moving on to a different destination every day,” says Bill Roughton. “I’d suggest sometimes staying in one place for two or three nights before moving on again. Do something ‘non biking’ for a day – climb a hill, or take a boating day out on the river.” Alastair McFarlane of mcitours.com agrees: “What are your interests beyond biking?” he asks “You can have a lot of fun kayaking in the Ardeche Gorge or wine tasting in the Loire Valley. Or you may prefer visiting Ypres drinking Belgian beer and seeing the Menin Gate.”
Get your papers together
A small amount of admin at home can save you hours or days of delays if you hit trouble abroad. Make sure to put scans or backups of your travel documents online, get an EHIC card to cover you for emergency treatment in the EU, make sure your passport is current and double check that you’re insured. Steve Hotson of adventurebiketours.co.uk has got a credit card tip you might not expect, too: “It’s a good idea to carry two credit cards,” he says “and pay for all your fuel with one that does not charge a foreign loading fee – ie the Post Office card. This can save you up to £2 per fuel stop and help keep costs down.”
Get your bike sweet
It goes without saying that you should service your bike and get it in peak condition before you start riding it hundreds of miles on consecutive days. The last thing you want to do is break down on a motorway in France: all of them are privately owned. All the towing firm will do is take you to the next junction. Your insurance will pay for it, but you often have to pay up front.
Efficiency is key. Think lean. “Place all items for your trip out on the floor,” says Steve Hotson. “Divide them into two piles: one for items which you think that you could possibly manage without, and the other for absolute essentials. Get rid of everything in pile one and half of pile two. You’ll then be close to what you really need to take with you.”
It’s a gas, gas, gas…
Geraint Hughes is particularly hot on fuelling: “If you’re in a remote location and you’ve got half a tank, still top it up.” he says. “Especially as sat navs aren’t always accurate in indicating the next fuel stop. Businesses may well have shut down, and have you regularly updated the device? And when you do fuel the bike, make sure to fuel yourself and the pillion.”