Motorcycle Touring - Preparation

A Complete guide to the motorcycle ownership experience

You've probably thought about it at one time or another: packing up your bike and hittin' the road. Some people actually do this type of thing, some on roads that aren't really roads-dirt and gravel routes that stretch way off the beaten path. If you're one of the latter, you're that rare and lucky creature known as the adventure-tourer. If so, chances are you've got a bike designed for just such duty: a BMW GS, Buell Ulysses, KTM Adventure or something similarly mule-like.

Because this type of cross-country-or cross-continent-travel demands more from a machine than a flat-tire repair kit and rainsuit, we figured a lesson in preparation was in order. To help us out, we contacted Nick Groves of Touratech USA (, the country's premier outfitters for such two-wheeled travel.

Stout luggage is a must-have for all the gear you'll need to carry, whether it's extra clothing, camping supplies, spare parts, dried food or whatever. For primary, large-capacity luggage, Groves recommends durable, lockable and waterproof panniers that will stand up to the rigors of off-road use and abuse. Check the Touratech site and other makers such as Jesse ( for a wide selection of metal and plastic hard-bag systems. You may want to supplement that with soft luggage such as Mag's Bags ( or a waterproof duffel such as an Ortlieb Dry Bag (www.ortlieb Tail packs and tank bags are useful for smaller items, and backpacks for hydration systems and valuables are always handy.

Tires and tubes
Dual-purpose tires are always a compromise, so it's worth it to install more dirt-worthy rubber. Groves says the optimum choice for most big-adventure bikes is Continental's TKC80s. The spokes on BMW GS wheels have their nipples outside the bead so the tires can run tubeless, but other makes use tubes. Install heavy-duty tubes or, if you're really going off the beaten path, bib mousses (essentially solid foam inserts) like those used in the Dakar Rally. Even if your bike runs tubeless tires, pack spare tubes in the appropriate sizes in case you cut the tread or a sidewall, plus a patch kit, tire irons and CO2 cartridges-a repaired tire is no better than a flat one without air.

Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers from companies like Garmin and Tom Tom have become so commonplace and easy to use that installing one on a motorcycle is now fairly routine. Prices have come down as well, so they're a lot more affordable. Learn to use GPS and you'll never be too lost. Handlebar map cases are also very handy. CycoActive ( makes a neat one that unfolds to reveal a large section of the country through which you're traveling.

Serious adventure-tourers know how important it is to protect their bike's engine and chassis parts from the effects of crashes, tree branches, mud, stones and all sorts of on- and off-highway detritus. There are a multitude of such bits, beginning with the ubiquitous crash bars, which keep engine cases-and, in a BMW's case, cylinder heads-from being mashed in a tip-over or higher-speed get-off. Other engine-protection parts include aluminum skid plates to protect oil sumps (and cylinders on BMW Boxers), pipe guards to protect exposed exhaust headers and even aluminum fuel-injection assembly guards to keep boots from harming precious Boxer potentiometer plugs. Chassis bits need protection as well, and to this end there are various guards for headlights, oil coolers, brake/clutch reservoirs and, of course, your hands. Boxers need their steering stops modified so even a mild tip-over doesn't break the stock stops off the frame. Surprise: Touratech offers a kit for this, too.

Auxiliary lighting is critical if you get caught out after dark, especially in areas where livestock wanders freely. Groves recommends PIAA or HELLA replacement halogen lamps or the new HID (High Intensity Discharge) units. An HID element replaces the filament of a lightbulb with a capsule of gas; light is emitted from an arc discharge between two closely spaced electrodes sealed inside a small quartz glass capsule.

Extra fuel always comes in handy, whether it's via a larger gas tank, an auxiliary tank or in jerry cans strapped to your panniers or luggage rack. A siphon to suck fuel from another vehicle's fuel tank couldn't hurt, either. Critical replacement parts such as levers, pedals, cables and hoses will help prevent you from being stranded. And you'll need tools; companies such as Cruz Tools and Motion Pro sell fully outfitted fanny packs, or you can assemble one yourself. Unless you ride a BMW (and even if you do), your bike's stock tool kit is unlikely to have everything you'll need, so it's worthwhile spending an evening in the garage taking your bike apart and noting what tools you need to do the job.

Even if you're not fording fjords like our hero (check out that intake snorkel!), your adventure-touring or dual-sport bike would benefit from some of the upgrades shown here. There's no worse feeling than being stranded in the outback.