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Bike Preparation Tips for Long-Distance Motorcycle Trips

 Tips to help ensure your journey remains an adventure, not a misadventure.

Published on 03.02.2016
prepping for a long distance motorcycle trip

The phrase “Adventure Travel” is quite often synonymous with “Long-Distance Travel” and sometimes in order to have an adventure, one needs to travel to far away places. Adventure Travel often comes with an element of risk but the objective should be to have an adventure not a misadventure. The line between these two terms can be thin and gets even thinner when considering the harsh terrain we encounter, and often seek out, during “Adventure Motorcycle Travel” specifically.

One way to thicken the line is to closely consider the general condition of your bike and its components, before departing on any long-distance motorcycle trips. Obvious? Maybe. But even if you are conscientious about this, it can be very easy to miss things when inspecting the competence of your motorized pack mule.

The intention of this article is to provide you with a thought process for departure, along with a checklist of things to attend to on your trusty steed before departing. Some of the proposals here may seem excessive and costly. And I would state that the proceeding concepts are directed towards a journey of 2,000 miles and beyond. When it comes to traveling, my personal objectives have always been managing risk and minimizing probability of error. The following preparation tips are grounded in those objectives.

long-distance adventure motorcycle ride
The harsh terrain experienced during an adventure ride increases the need for a well-maintained and properly sorted adventure motorcycle.

Why Roll the Dice? Start Fresh!

When inspecting your motorcycle, keep in mind that you want to get as far along as you can on your journey before dealing with any worn out components or fluids. So even though we are talking about what to inspect on your motorcycle, I would recommend that you create a list of items that you will change or replace before departing, regardless of condition.

Long distance motorcycle preparation
Leaving home on a bike that is fully refreshed can help you avoid scenes like this on the road.

My list of replacement items consists of tires, brakes, filters (air & fuel, if applicable), spark plugs, and fluids (oil, transmission, brake). My motorcycles are chain-driven, so I also give myself a new chain and sprocket set just to be extra safe. With the BMW GS’s I’ve owned in the past, I’ve made sure to change the final drive fluid before departure, though I was also in the practice of changing that fluid every 3,000 miles.

Deal With What You Know… Only!

Once you have dealt with replacement items, it’s time to move on to adjusting and tuning. And this is where we have to check our egos at the door. Be honest with what we know, and with what we don’t know. This is not the time to be making adjustments or changes based on what you “think” you can do. Anything you do to your motorcycle at this point should be based on what you “know” you can do.

I still have some emotional baggage from a journey years back, when one of the riders in our group attempted to do a valve adjustment on his motorcycle, which resulted in us towing him out of the back and beyond of South Dakota due to engine failure. It’s good to know how to handle certain technical tasks when in a pinch but when your departure date is looming, you don’t want to get in over your head with a garage project that could later jeopardize your trip.

long-distance motorcycle service closed
Take your bike to a professional before you leave because you may not be able to find one during your trip.

The point here is to perform only those adjustments about which you are humbly confident and leave the rest to the professionals. I check as much as I can on my motorcycle but I don’t check or adjust my valves or throttle bodies (when my motorcycle has them). I let a professional do that. Sure, I have enough experience to fiddle through it. Many of you have. But it’s where my confidence is the weakest. So I stay honest with myself and leave it to my trusted mechanic who does this type of work everyday for a living.

In addition to engine adjustments, I look for any lines or hoses that are showing wear or rot. This includes brake lines, radiator hoses, oil and fuel lines, and anything that transmits cables or fluids throughout the motorcycle. With my BMW GS’s, I always had my mechanic check the final drive. If it were showing wear, then I would have it replaced. I don’t want to be on a route like the Trans-Labrador Highway, stuck on the side of the road with a failed shaft drive scratching my head.

Continue Reading…

Before heading out on a long-distance journey, closely consider the general condition of your motorcycle and its components.
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Author: Jim Vota

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16 thoughts on “Bike Preparation Tips for Long-Distance Motorcycle Trips

  1. Pingback: Long distance prepping – D.I.Y. Motorcycle Adventures

  2. I think you touch on some good points about preparing your bike for a long trip.

    But, there are a few items on your “Items to Take Along” list that might need consideration.

    For example, the dead blow hammer. While yes, a hammer is useful, it’s a very bulky and heavy thing to carry. Rocks and dead wood however, can can be found laying on the ground anywhere in the world and do the same thing.

    Sprocket and chain set? Really, the whole thing? Yes, chains fail, and sprockets get chewed through, but I don’t think necessitate carrying an entire spare driveline. Chains are repairable with some simple tools and small spare parts. Sprockets wear predictably so replacements can managed like tires. I carry a small chain breaker, a few spare links and a spare master link for chain repair.

    The front inner tube and patch kit makes the Slime redundant, and even if one was tubeless, the front tube has more utility than the Slime for about the same weight. Not only will a tube definitely give you inflation on either wheel, it won’t cause a huge headache later.

    With the three things above: You just eliminated at least 5-10lbs of luggage.

    Also, I think that Gorilla Glue is kind of junk, and can’t imagine a use for it if you already have the rubber cement for tube repair. A bit of JB weld “steel stick” though… I’m surprised you didn’t mention it as it’s useful stuff for many types of emergency repairs. (include a small patch of 320 grit sandpaper if you bring it)

    • Very good points made in this comment! I would like to say that there is one way to travel long distance on a motorcycle. But there isn’t one way. And there are factors to consider. Terrain, weather, payload, distance just as a start.

      The point about the JB Weld is a wonderful one. And I hope others listen to it.

      My desire to have a dead blow hammer with me comes from experience. We had a friend bend a front rim once. There were no rocks around, or wood for that matter. But he did have a dead blow hammer. He got his rim back to fine, and didn’t ruin the rim in the process. I was sold at that point. I’ll handle the extra weight.

      Don’t know what to say about the tube and the Slime. I like to be ready for the unknown, I guess. The same goes for the sprocket and chain. There are some trips where this is not needed. But many of my trips are off road and can get aggressive. So YES, they come with me. Not interested in having a bent sprocket to bad chain. They ARE a bit heavy. But it’s a decision I made to have it as a priority item on LONG JOURNEYS.

      Thanks so much for your contribution! It is great to be able to learn from one another. 🙂

    • For extensive trips off the beaten path, it’s always good to have options for dealing with different situations. I always like to bring Slime for slow leaks on tubeless. You may not be able to find a small puncture or a patch could be leaking, so slime offers a quick fix that can seal a slow leak without having to resort to taking off the wheel and putting in a tube.

  3. When travelling remote areas (e.g. Atacama desert or the Andes in Southern America) I do always pack essential spare parts to get me back to the next town on my own, even after an accident: Clutch and break lever, clutch/throttle cable repair kit, tire repair kit (already mentioned in the article), chain repair kit. And if you mention spare bulbs, you should also consider fuses 😉

    As a best practice: Pack some water, energy bars and consider a few liters extra fuel in a separate canister or fuel bottle. Flipping the bike over in rough terrain or harsh weather conditions can you get in trouble with running out of energy, fuel or both.

  4. Great article. I’ll be saving the checklist for reference and reminder. I’ve learned my lessons about carrying extra gas and about starting every trip with brand new tires and brake pads. I’ve also talked to people who will replace their stator if their trip involves being in a very remote area. Mine went out in the middle of my last trip but luckily we were able to get to a shop that got us back on the road the next day. Needless to say, we made sure there we were on a good hill whenever we had to stop.

  5. Overall I tend to agree with your recommendations and list. Mine is slightly different, but as in one of your comments you admit that there are multiple ways to take a long road trip. Each person is going to have their own packing list and techniques. For example, I do virtually all the routine service on my BMW and am very familiar with it. As such I don’t do wholesale replacement of tires, brakes, plugs, fluids and filters. I know at what mileage they were last performed and the estimated mileage of an upcoming trip. If I’m going to cross that mileage or feel something will wear out before finishing then I will replace ahead of time or replace en route (mostly only tires for really long trips).

  6. Pingback: Preparing for a Long Motorcycle Tour – Battlefield Biker

  7. I like that you pointed out that it would be smart to check your ego when it comes to repairing your bike. My brother thinks that he can fix anything on his motorcycle. However, I don’t want him to have his motorcycle break down on him in the middle of nowhere. It would probably be best to have a professional take a look at it before you leave.

    • Emily. Thanks. Some people know more than others. But knowing what you don’t know…or what you might not know is important.

    • Wyn.

      Yes. I carry a big pack of them with me all the time, whether taking a short or long trip. They can be incredibly helpful in many situations.

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