Bike Preparation Tips for Long-Distance Motorcycle Trips
Tips to help ensure your journey remains an adventure, not a misadventure.
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.
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.
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.
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.