As summer approaches, many of us are looking to head out on our bikes for a long weekend away. But rather than just winging it, a little planning can help make for a safer, more enjoyable and hassle free adventure – as Adam Child explains…
A weekend away on your bike might be pottering around your local roads for 50-100 miles, a nice B&B, and back again. This could be on your own, with a pillion or with a group of like-minded individuals. Or you could stretch out a little further and do 500 to 1000 miles, around the UK or a quick nip into Europe for a long-weekend. The beauty of biking for me is the freedom that it brings and the simple enjoyment of riding, whether that’s blasting around Europe on a ZZR1400 on a Bank Holiday weekend or pottering around Yorkshire on a classic Enfield.
But before you head off for your dream weekend, check out our simple guide and check list. You really don’t need a support crew and a fully loaded adventure bike with ropes and panniers to have fun – an adventure isn’t defined by the danger or the miles covered. It’s your adventure, after all, so do what makes you happy.
Sound obvious but make a realistic plan. Don’t stretch yourself too much, it’s not a competition as to who can cover the most miles. Factor in regular stops for fuel, both for the bike and you. Remember you’ll be riding unfamiliar roads, possibly in bad weather, so your average speed will probably be lower than you are used to. Your regular 20 mile commute to work might take you less than 20 minutes, but an unfamiliar 20 mile route at night might take you double that.
Personally I prefer an old-school map wedged inside a tank bag, as I like to have some idea of where I’m going, however some prefer a modern satnav. Whichever your preference, have a backup. I’ve frustratingly got lost when my paper map got wet, and we’ve all let our satnavs or phones run out of power. Phones are obviously a great backup, but what happens when you are out of signal or can’t get 3G?
All too often forgotten. Treat everywhere as if it was home, if you use a secure chain at home, then do the same on your travels. Just because it’s picturesque, don’t assume criminals aren’t lurking. This also applies to leaving helmets on mirrors or leaving panniers unlocked. When you’re booking your hotel don’t just ask about whether or not a pool or breakfast is included, make sure they have secure bike parking too.
Make sure your rubber is in good condition, and there’s plenty of tread left, while you’re down there make sure the pressures are correct, see your owner’s manual or check with your local dealer. Take into consideration the bike you’re riding and the miles you’re about to undertake. If the rubber on your Suzuki Hayabusa is close to the limit, and you’re planning a 2000 mile weekend, it’s time for a change.
How close are you to your next service interval? When was your bike last serviced? If something is making a funny noise or the rear shock is a little bit bouncy, it’s only going to get worse. Give your bike a once-over, plus a visual check too. Are the chain and sprockets ok? Do all the bulbs work?
The rules and laws are forever changing in Europe so do your homework. In France you need reflective clothing for both rider and pillion, and even a breathalyser. In some parts of Europe, it’s mandatory to have a first-aid kit. You’ll also need your licence, insurance and logbook for riding abroad.
Have you got recovery? Does it cover Europe? Are you going to take a puncture repair kit? Are your tyres tubeless? Tyres are reasonably easy to plug, which should at least allow you to get to the nearest hotel or garage.
Don’t attempt loading up your bike on the morning of your trip, especially if you’re new to it and taking soft luggage for the first time. I always load up my bike the evening or day before, if I can. If you’re fitting aftermarket soft luggage, even non standard panniers, make sure they fit in advance and that you’re doing it correctly. Make sure straps are secure and that bungee hooks aren’t rubbing against expensive bodywork. If it’s your first time, have a dress rehearsal a few weeks beforehand. Fully load your bike, making sure everything is fitted correctly and go for a short ride. Take photos on your phone as a reminder. This may sound slightly over-the-top but I’ve lost count how many poorly loaded bikes I’ve seen ride onto the ferry at Heysham heading to the TT.
Panniers can hold around 10kg each and a top box, dependant on size, another 15-20kg. Add in a pillion at, let’s say, 60kg (just over nine stone), and, once fully loaded, you’ve added 100kg to your motorbike. A KTM 1090R only weighs just over 200kg, by adding luggage and a pillion you’ve increased the bikes overall weight by around 50% – are you going to be comfortable with that? Again, before embarking on an expensive weekend away, fully load up your bike with pillion and luggage and ride a familiar easy route to get used to the extra weight and difference in handling. If it’s possible you can alter your bikes suspension to compensate for the extra weight, adding pre-load to the rear for example.
Keep dry and warm –
Think about where you are riding and the time of year. You want to stay warm and dry above all else. I’d rather have spare waterproofs and gloves, than the wife to have nice shoes, pack wisely. A top tip is to dedicate a pannier or tank bag solely for waterproofs and spare gloves, Buffs and so on. When it starts to rain you don’t want to be unpacking your panniers full of clothes to reach your winter gloves, and equally you don’t want to pack away wet gloves on top of your best shirt or spare pants. Just have one compartment for wet/dirty kit.
Have fun –
Touring is not a race. An adventure isn’t defined by the danger or placing a flag at the top of a hill. Touring 30 to 60 miles on a Honda C90 is an adventure. Expect the unexpected, plan for a breakdown, plan for bad weather… Expect the worse and you’ll be fine. You will get lost, you will nearly run out of fuel, and you won’t be able to find your hotel, we’ve all done it. It’s all about the journey and you’ll look back with fond memories.