Planning a motorcycle tour

A (relatively) stress free approach to planning your next trip

I have planned a few tours now and have numerous trips completed that have been subject to a pre-planned route. Additionally, I’ve had a number of overseas visits that have largely involved riding motorcycles, particularly in the US.

Planning is part of the enjoyment of the trip

There is a lot of information out there on websites, in forums and other media such as podcasts, but I wanted to tell you about my approach to planning. Hopefully you will find this useful if you plan to do the same.

A service such as Bikeshuttle can remove many of the tedious motorway miles

My approach in bite size steps

1. How long is the trip

It’s important to have a feel for how long the trip will be. This will give you a rough idea of how many miles you will be able to cover. Also consider time and miles go hand in hand, as I will explain later. My average riding time in a day is around 6 hours. This may not sound a lot but if you’ve chosen the right destination I guarantee you will have many stops to whip the camera out or just enjoy the views. I also allow time for lunch and a few refreshment and comfort stops.

2. What are the road conditions and how many miles will you cover in a day

The milage covered in 6 hours on a motorway will be considerably more than that covered on a mountain pass full of switchback hairpins. You can take my 6 hours riding average and more than half the distance covered if the going is slow, albeit enjoyable. You could find yourself doing 400 miles and in the same period the following day you may do 150 miles.

3. Don’t be a slave to the destination, enjoy the ride.

You are there to enjoy the ride. There is nothing worse than racing to a destination and missing out on everything in between. Take your time, look at the scenery, stop for a while, savour it. If you leave yourself some time to relax you will get so much more out of the trip. If you are going to arrive at your destination early then do a quick detour and explore. You may look at your planning and think that you haven’t covered many miles or the ride time is only X hours, but trust me on this.

4. How many people are on the trip

Two’s company and three’s a crowd as the saying goes. Either way it comes down to your personal preference and what size of group you normally ride with. Personalities also factor into this but I find that whatever the number make sure you are on the same page. Some people want to follow and some people want to be involved in the planning. Whatever you do, agree on the plan before you go. There is nothing worse than a member of the group having their own itinerary. Stay on the same page and stay happy.

5. Start with a rough plan. Just the start and finish.

Ok, so now we have the basic pre-requisites and we are ready to start some meaningful planning. Before we continue, the next step is basic but I find it to be an important foundation. Where does the planning start and where does it end. This is especially important when a group is converging for a trip from a wider area. I usually agree on a meeting point both in time and location and agree the finish point where everyone goes their own way. Sounds simple but there is nothing worse than late arrivals and a sudden early departure requirement that jeopardises your weeks of planning.

Where To? I use the Motorrad Navigator V

6. Use a decent mapping service. Basecamp if you must.

Basecamp is a Marmite application, but love it or hate it, it does a job. However while it is an important tool in processing routes prior to transfer to your GPS (and my reference here is to the Motorrad Navigator), its not the only option. Personally I use MyRoute-app. Previously I have wrote on the benefits of this but essentially its the ease that you can define a route, while taking into account essential POI requirements such as fuel stops, etc.

I pay for a premium subscription which gives me access to Google maps, HERE, and Tom Tom among others. Typically I draw my route on either the HERE or Google maps, mindful of a typical daily distance/ride time, until I’ve defined a route from start to ultimate finish.

7. Google is your friend

The benefits of using Google though MyRoute-app is that I can see a detailed overview of the areas I am riding through. I can see fuel stops, businesses, potential lunch stops and accommodation. I find that Google can offer me a much greater level of detail than any of the other mapping systems. Additionally I use Google street view to check out the roads and views. I find this especially useful when I see a side road. Is this a gravel track of no value, or is it a nicely surfaced mountain pass with a vista that can take your breath away? It really gives you the confidence to see that you are taking the right road and not ending up in an industrial park in the middle of nowhere.

8. Google is your enemy (in the Alps anyway)

Beware. The flip side of this is in my experience Google is a little too clever for its own good. When planning in advance Google takes into account current road conditions. Planning a run through the Alps in July and defining a route in November? Forget it. Google expects the roads to be covered in 20ft snow and tries to take you a very, VERY, long way around.

9. Fine tune your route.

This is the time to visit the forums and ask any questions from people who have ridden in the area. Especially important if you are visiting uncharted territory, and certainly advisable to get the most out of your trip. There is nothing better than prior experience.

10. Group consensus.

Time to take stock of where you are at. If like me, you are left to do the planning with little interference then this is the opportunity to get the rest of the party involved. Better that someone mentions that they wanted to visit A or ride road B before you get to the accommodation booking stage.

Glamping in Bramans, France. The closest I have come to a tent.

11. What accommodation do you want

Camping, Glamping, B&B or Hotel? That’s your choice. Personally I look for a hotel or B&B although I have been known to glamp or use a hostel (Bramans, France on the last Alps trip and Applecross, Scotland on the NC500 respectively). Essentially this is defined by how many people you have and what their expectation is. It’s worth a discussion before you book accommodation.

12. Divide and conquer. Where to stop.

Ok, so now you have a provisional route. You’ve got the basics of where you want to visit, and your mileage (or daily ride time) is about right. The next step is to book the accommodation.

I usually follow my route until I have reached the desired daily miles covered, or the riding time taken, whichever come first. I look for the nearest place name and use a site like Booking.com (other sites are available) to search for local accommodation that is acceptable in appearance and has the right rooms available. It may be that at this stage you need to adjust your route to take into account the location of available places.

Having found the right accommodation I adjust my mapping software to take into account the location of overnight stop and then repeat the process until I have completed the whole tour. One of the benefits of using a site like Booking.com is that accommodations can be cancelled at no cost anything up to a day before. Useful if you have any mishaps and need to adjust your plans on the fly.

I do know that many people book while on the road. I do see the appeal of this but for me it’s just one more thing to distract me from the tour. The more I can plan ahead the less I have to think about when I’m on the road.

13. Slice and dice the route. Daily segments.

So, we have a route which is notionally divided by overnight stops but you’ve mapped out the entire tour as a single journey. It’s time to chop those days up. There are many ways to do this depending on what mapping system you are using. I tend to copy the entire route and delete the waypoints from days before and after the one I am focussing on. When I am finished I make sure that they are nicely titled so I can locate them easily on the GPS. At this stage I always make sure that I change the active map to the native map for the GPS system I’m using. In my case I use HERE for the Motorrad Navigator/Garmin system.

14. Basecamp. A necessary evil.

Whether you have used Basecamp or not I would suggest its good practice to use it to send your routes to the SatNav. I can’t speak for other systems but I have found that while MyRoute-app has plugins to send the route directly it is advisable to let Basecamp do a final route calculation using the same map and settings that you have on the device.

You may also want to add further shaping points at this stage to make sure that you stay on track. I may write a further post on this subject but there are plenty of posts elsewhere that go into detail on waypoints, shaping points and manual vs automatic calculation of routes. All I will say is that you should not use automatic calculation or you will lose all those hours of defining the roads you want to ride in-between your start and finish waypoints.

15. Take an analogue backup. The Itinerary.

My itineraries have been the butt of many jokes (I’m the holiday rep) but for me they are an invaluable backup. I would strongly suggest that you create a document that has your main waypoints listed, prints of the routes and addresses and booking confirmations of all the accommodation.

16. Research the local rules and packing requirements

Riding in different territories often comes with different rules and regulations. Research them. All the information is available online and covers the requirements to carry yellow vests, breathalysers, spare bulbs, documentation, first aid kits, reflective stickers on your helmets, use of speed camera arms on SatNav devices, use of cameras on bikes, “Vignettes” European Driving Stickers, etc. Many people don’t bother with many of the more innocuous requirements but I would suggest that it would at least be advisable to be aware of them.

You might want to start here

Enjoy the ride

17. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

I find that the planning is an essential and enjoyable part of the tour. The more I can plan before hand means the less I have to think about when on the road, and subsequently the more relaxed I will be and the more enjoyment I will get.

I hope that these tips will be of use to you whether it is your first time planning a trip of if you have been through the process before. Have a great ride and be safe!

Other considerations and further reading

I have only covered my experiences of tours I have taken in Europe. Other overland travel beyond may be much more complex involving visas and more local knowledge. I would encourage you to visit many the websites and forums that specialise in these types of trips, especially if you are not taking the option of an organised tour.

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