Motorcycle Road Trip Checklist: 7 Steps for a Safe Ride
You might think that carefully planning a trip defeats the purpose of adventure that so many associate with motorcycle travel. You wouldn’t be completely wrong. Sticking to itineraries isn’t in the spirit of motorcycle touring but you’ll find that having a pre-ride routine will prevent you from getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.
When I went on my first solo trip, I barely knew anything about motorcycle travel. I took off following Bob Marley’s mantra that “every little thing was gonna be alright.” My lack of preparation put me in some difficult situations on several occasions but it was a huge learning experience. This travel wisdom is what I’d like to share with you.
On the Road Checklist
#1. Have your papers handy
Always keep you travel documents with you, either in your jacket or tank bag. Before you set off at the beginning of every day, check that you have your license and registration, passport, and entry papers for you and your bike (if traveling abroad).
#2. Check your tires
Tires get worn out faster than you think. It’s a good idea to keep track of how many miles you’re putting on your tires and when you should buy a new one. Before heading out on a ride that will cover hundreds of miles, check for any extra wear or perforations. A worn down tire is a ticking time bomb that may literally explode under you. Trust me, I know.
#3. Check your fuel and oil levels
Topping up your fuel before you leave is a no-brainer, but it is also wise to check your oil levels. Some bikes, like the Kawasaki KLR 650, are known for having some oil leakage issues which require paying closer attention. Check for oil spots on the ground under your bike.
#4. Lube your chain
One of the first things I learned (the hard way) was that chain drives need to be lubricated every 500 miles or so. It also needs to have a bit of slack on the underside, about an inch in both directions to avoid stretching it out. Keep your chain clean and lubed and you won’t have to worry about messes like the one below. Belt drives offer easier maintenance but it’s still a good idea to check for wear.
#5. Fasten your luggage
Even if you have panniers that are bolted to the frame of your motorcycle, it’s wise to check that everything is fastened correctly. Budget travelers may opt to use cargo nets and elastic bands and they need to make sure that they’ll hold properly. If some hooks aren’t fastened correctly you might start to lose luggage along the way and you might not even notice. It sucks to have to backtrack 15 miles on a dirt road looking for your missing gas canister.
Have it and stay hydrated! This is very important.
#7. Feel awesome
Being well-rested prior to a long ride makes a huge difference. It will help you be more alert and also happier. Long rides can be tough so it’s worth being in a good state of mind. An awesome soundtrack can keep you pumped for hours too.
Being mindful of you and your bike while traveling will keep you out of trouble, but there are also steps you can take prior to leaving home that will make things even easier. Get these tasks taken care of from the start.
#1. Service your bike
Take it to your trusted mechanic or service it yourself. The point of this is to identify any potential issues you may have (wiring, battery, transmission, tires, brakes, etc). It’s also recommended to get all fluids changed while you’re at it.
#2. Pack the right gear
You’re not going to have much space to bring everything you want so bring the essentials. Packing light will also make your trip more enjoyable. Just make sure you have weather-appropriate clothing and a few tools and spare parts.
#3. Get your travel documents
You will obviously need to have your license and registration with you at all times, but if you’re planning on international travel you’ll need a valid passport and additional permits such as visas and insurance for specific countries. Wikipedia has a fantastic up-to-date page on Visa requirements for U.S. citizens, as well as similar pages for citizens of other countries.
Bonus: Learn how to repair your bike
This might not apply if you’re riding in the United States and have good roadside assistance, but if you’re riding through some remote village, this skill will come in extremely handy. This goes extra for those traveling on more sophisticated motorcycles with on-board computers. You’ll wish you had learned to do some basic maintenance when a mechanic operating out of a shack gets a bewildered look while trying to check your BMW’s engine.
Do you have any routines you perform before every ride? I’d love to hear about them. Leave a comment below!