Everyone rides for different reasons, and we all bring different skills to the table when it comes to planning and executing a once in a lifetime motorcycle trip.
Where you go, who you go with and how you do it are therefore all intensely personal decisions and reflect the type of person you are and, perhaps more importantly, the type of person you’re looking to become. Read all the advice out there, but don’t be swayed from what you want to do simply because a RTW trip seems more glamorous – or even worse, because you saw it on the Long Way Round.
Understand your motivations, and then commit entirely.
If you’re not in a position to live life on the road (family, work, money) you can always get your adventure hit in shorter, easier bursts to tide you over until more favourable conditions arise.
The million dollar question: ‘Why even bother with a big trip?‘
Well, by law of averages, the longer you’re on the road the more chance there is for something to go wrong, and this is the quintessence of adventure travel. The easy transit days don’t tend to stick in your mind as firmly as disaster days – it’s all part of the parcel. Step into the unknown and you’ll be justly rewarded:
- Self Reliance – There are lots of situations you can get yourself out of, with a little forward thinking. Fixing your own problems can give you a massive buzz of accomplishment, not to be underplayed. However…
- Trust in Others – Way more pertinent for solo travellers, but any group might hit a snag where they need to rely on help from strangers. This can feel daunting at first (as we live our lives wrapped in cotton wool) but realising the world is generally out to help you, not get you is truly game-changing.
- Grit – there’s not enough of it in the world. The wallpaper won’t peel off neatly. The kettle broke just as you had the builders round. You failed a GCSE once and never picked up the pieces. So what? You’ve been through worse remember?
- Drop the False Idols – The social media world we live in is way to superficial. When celebrities are ten a penny, why not be your own superhero? If you genuinely love what you do (larking about on a motorcycle), that passion will attract genuine and meaningful connections that can last a lifetime – not just followers.
Each one of these is a true reason to saddle up and hit the road. You’ll come back brand new, and better than ever. The beautiful landscapes, wonderful people, delicious food and exotic wildlife are all cherries on the cake.
I’m going to put myself out there and say that the choice of motorcycle is largely irrelevant to adventure motorcycling.
- Nathan Millward rode a Honda CT110 ‘postie’ bike from Australia to England
- Nick Sanders has ridden around the world on a Yamaha R1 Sportsbike
- Mark Beaumont took a sportsbike around the world in 195 days..
If you’re susceptible to marketing, it may seem like you need a fancy BMW that costs more than a mortgage on a small house to go travelling on. That’s total bullshit.
I’ll put my hands up and admit that I’ve always been a little counter-culture, so I’m inclined to slam the big adventure bikes and the midlife crisis they usually emblazon to the world. I can’t help but think these riders have missed the point. However, I have to admit that along with the cons (weight, purchase and part cost, being a douche) there are an attractive list of pros (reliability, fuel capacity, strength and springy suspension, being a douche). But…
The single biggest factor you should consider when buying a bike for a road trip is that feeling you get in your stomach when you look at it.
That’s right. Every other problem is surmountable. Not enough fuel range? Carry a jerrycan. Seat to narrow/wide? Get a local shop to trim to fit or buy a sheepskin. Not quite as competent when the tarmac stops? Slow down a little!
Royal Enfield’s are leaky and under-powered, but still hundreds of pilgrims take them into the Himalayas every year. It’s because of the feeling, the tradition and the adventure. All of which you can find in any bike with a reasonable price tag. Remember – the more expensive the bike, the more expensive the deposit for the Carnet du Passage. That could be precious money in your holiday fund.
I won’t profess to being an expert in the complicated logistics of motorcycle trip planning as I actively seek to avoid it, and for good reason. Over the last few years navigating the complex web of visas, border entry requirements, temporary import documents has only become more difficult. I’ll lay down the basics below:
For travel within the EU area (for UK citizens), you’ll need:
- Original and copies of driving license
- Original and copies of V5 registration
- Duplicates of certificate of motor insurance. Most insurers will provide 30 days EU cover as standard. Bennetts currently provides 90 – plenty to get around Europe in! Some countries, like Macedonia, Turkey and Albania are exempt from this cover and will require you to buy insurance at the border (scams are possible).
- International driving permit (IDP) which is issued at post offices throughout the UK. Check online first.
- EHIC – At least until we’re booted from the EU.
- Travel insurance, if you’ve got it.
Outside the EU area:
- Carnet Du Passage – Essentially a tax passport for your bike, you’ll need to sort this out before you leave. It provides customs with evidence that you’ve both temporarily imported a vehicle in and out – getting a stamp on both occasions. This proves you haven’t sold the bike and circumvented local tax laws in the process – but for it to be issued requires you to secure up to 400% of the vehicles value (Iran, India, Pakistan, less for other countries) with hefty payments and potentially against your assets. This is one of the reasons RTW travellers have to sell up! (More information here)
- Visas requirements are the same for any foreigner entering the country. By and large they can be organised before departue, with some only being able to be organised from the UK. Often airports can issue e-Tourist visas, but these won’t be available to overland travellers.
- Temporary import permits could be required for countries that aren’t covered by the Carnet.
- Guides -It used to be just China that requires all foreigners on motorcycles to use an approved local guide and submit an itinerary. This means you’re paying for a +1 to accompany you during your stay and watch you like a hawk. It has been possible to avoid, but very few and far between. It’s possible some self guided assistance is emerging, but I can’t vouch for it. Thailand has also gone this way very recently. Full itinerarys and guides necessary to import a foreign vehicle. Boo!
How great would it be to have some real espresso to enjoy a perfect purple dawn in rural Tajikistan? Pretty great, I bet.
And lets be fair, there’s a few bolts in the engine case that require a dab of Loctite™ and the correct torque settings. That’s a 100ml squeezer and a torque wrench included too, and a new set of tyres because, you know, ‘tyres’.
The list can go on and on and on, but at some point you’ll be systematically going through everything and throwing half of it away. Redefine what is actually essential and what’s just a nice to have. Here are some quick things to consider:
- One set riding gear – I’m sure you can decide what this looks like. I’ve always had good experiences in normal jeans and an armored jacked, but then again I’ve never crashed in that. Good kit could be an wise insurance policy off the beaten track.
- Climate dependent clothing – i.e. if it’s hot, take some shorts – if it’s cold then take thermals. You can always wear your biking clobber or buy a scrappy t-shirt if necessary. Remember, as you gain 100m in altitude you’ll loose 1°C – that can soon add up to something a lot cooler than down in the valleys.
- Basic Tools & Repairs – if you’re in a group – great – split a good kit between you. Otherwise preferentially arrange your repairs/services en-route to avoid most mechanical disasters as you can’t carry tools for everything (and it’s so easy to get carried away here…)
- First Aid Kit – but don’t go carrying around suture stuff if you don’t know how to use it. Mainly I mean pain killers, re-hydration sachets (you’ll not want to scour the streets for a pharmacy when you need them), disinfectant wipes, plasters and bandages will suffice. UV gets stronger at altitude, so if you’re going to the mountains consider some lotion – specifically for face/lips.
- Camping Gear (if necessary) – buy the smallest, best quality gear you can afford but remember it’s not the end of the world if it’s a little bulky. It’s just more of a faff to strap down each day. Seriously consider whether you’ll even camp though – cheap, indoor accommodation can be found in most parts of the world.
- Camera – Action cams, compacts, mobile phone – you’ll want something to record those memories down. Nothing is quite as sour as realizing all your photo’s are crappy quality. If you need any tips check this post out by Thorsten Henn.
Whatever you decide on, just remember it’s your adventure – make the most of it!
Good luck on your travels.