Motorcycle touring is like religion: if you have to ask why people do it, you'll never understand the answers. You do it because you want to. And wanting to do it is also the only qualification you need.
Almost the only qualification, anyway. Provided you hold a full motorcycle license and complete a few fairly simple formalities, there is nothing to stop you going out of your door, starting your motorcycle, and setting off for anywhere in the world. Or you can fly somewhere, hire a bike, and ride it while you are there. You will almost certainly survive, and you'll learn a lot on the way.
But if you use this site before you go (and print it out and use it on your trip, too), you'll probably survive more comfortably and enjoyably -- though you might want a quick look at our health warning first.
In any case, planning can be fun in its own right, as well as (to a certain extent) a substitute for the real thing. Maybe right now you don't have the time or the money to go motorcycle touring in Europe (or India, or California). Maybe you don't even have the motorcycle. But maybe next year...
Maps and route planning is probably a good place to start. This part of the planning can be as loose, or as detailed, as you like. We've been entirely happy on tours where we have been lost most of the time, navigating with a map that showed only the major cities, but there have also been times where we have listed every single town on the way, so we always knew exactly where we were, and been glad of it. The important point is deciding how you want to do things, not having it forced upon you.
You don't need to speak the language, though it helps if you learn just a few words to show you're willing to try. In the paid-for country-by-country sections, we've usually provided a brief section on language, unusual road signs (so you have fewer nasty surprises) and a 10-word capsule vocabulary.
You probably have ideas already on clothing and other equipment, but the sections on helmets, clothing, and equipment may give you some ideas you hadn't though of before, or tell you some easier ways of doing things.
Closely related to all this is luggage and loading, so we have done a section on that, too. Remember that all these sections are free: the only things we ask you to pay for are the country-by-country sections.
When it comes to the bike itself, it's easy: ride what you've got. But if you are considering changing your bike to something more suitable for touring, you may want to read touring bikes. It will give you some idea of our prejudices. Also, unless you are one of those people who cheerfully rebuilds an engine between breakfast and lunch, you may find some of the information in rude mechanicals to be useful.
Insurance and breakdown services are hardly what most people would call fun, but they do make for greater peace of mind and they aren't hard to organize. The same is true about health. An abscessed tooth is no fun on a motorcycle tour. I know: I've had one.
When the time comes, you'll be ready. Some people try to tell you that everything is more difficult than it is. They tell you all the Terrible Things that will happen if you do not obey every single law, rule and guideline. But the truth is that there is no single Golden Key or Royal Road. If you know more than I do about a particular aspect of touring, or if you simply prefer to do things a different way, go ahead. I am not the sole Keeper of the Truth.
The advice in this site is based on more than a quarter of a century of motorcycle touring in Europe and elsewhere. I wrote the original "Motorcycle Touring in Europe" because when I first started to get serious about motorcycle touring, in the early 1980s, I couldn't find the information I needed.
My aim then was to make life easier, for myself, and for everyone who read the book. That's still my intention today, except that I've now got maybe a quarter of a million more kilometres (150,000 miles) of experience, and I'm writing for the web, not for a book.
Motorcycle touring is (to continue the ecclesiastical analogy) a broad church: it is many things to many people. The biggest division is between those for whom the ride is the thing, and those whose primary concern is the destination. The former may spend 8 or 10 hours a day in the saddle, descending only to refuel, eat, sleep and answer calls of nature. The latter way want to potter along for as little as a couple of hours a day, or even to park the bike for a day or two and explore on foot.
Either approach is fine, and most people are somewhere between the two. We certainly are. Some days, we'll blast down the autoroute just to get to the place we want to be, maybe 400 miles in a day (the most we've ever done is well over 500). But that's not really touring: that's getting to where you want to start your tour.
On other days, we may spend just as long in the saddle, or longer, but we'll be pootling around back roads, swinging through the bends, climbing above the tree-line, just enjoying where we are and how we are there. There was a day in Austria once, so perfect, so beautiful, that we didn't even stop for lunch (Frances tends to get ferocious if she's not fed regularly), though we did stop from time to time to take pictures. Something that's on this site, that wasn't in the original book, is quite a long section on cameras and motorcycles.
And there are days, too, when we'll park the bike and walk: usually in a city (especially Paris) where we just don't care to ride. This is one of the great things about motorcycle touring in continental Europe. You can park just about anywhere, including on the sidewalk (pavement -- click on naming of parts for a further discussion of the differences between American English and English English, the metric system, and other imponderables). This means that if you want to visit Paris or Zurich or Berlin or whatever, you can: you don't have to worry about parking, and traffic jams are a lot less awkward than they are with a car.
Motorcycle touring allows you to cut your coat according to your cloth. If you have the money, you can stay in the finest hotels, and eat in gourmet restaurants for every meal. If you are really strapped for cash, you can carry your house on your back (in the form of a tent and sleeping-bag) and live on bread and cheese and cheap red wine.
There's much more about budgets in accommodation and food and drink, quite apart from the section called cash or credit?, which deals with money generally. We reckon that as a pan-European figure, it's hard to get away with less than 50 euros a day for the pair of us (call it GBP 35 or US $60), while 100 euros allows a modest degree of luxury. Both figures assume a room with a private bath (as you get older, your bladder appreciates the shorter night-time trip to the bathroom), a light breakfast, maybe a picnic lunch, and dinner. If you can live without a private bathroom, you can knock maybe 10 euros off this. This is for two people, remember. At the extreme, camping and eating very simply, one person could probably survive on less than 20 euros a day, and half of that would go on petrol.
Some countries are more expensive, some cheaper, but they aren't necessarily the ones you would expect. Britain is horribly expensive (add at least 15 euros or dollars, or GBP 10, per day), and Switzerland is pretty expensive too; but there are some real bargains in Germany, especially rural Germany, while parts of Spain are quite surprisingly expensive. Small towns and villages tend to be cheaper than big cities or tourist destinations, of course.
In India, once you have paid for the motorcycle (bought, hired, whatever) and the insurance, two people can tour comfortably on an average of US $30 a day, with bursts of luxury at whatever your wallet can stand: it's easy enough to spend US $200 a day at many 'Palace Hotels' or somewhere like the Grand in Calcutta. US $30 is very much an average, though: it may stretch to US $45 one day, and shrink to US $15 another -- and that's always for a private bathroom and plenty of decent food, for two people. If you don't mind sleeping in a hovel, you can probably survive on US $5 or so unless you spend too much on petrol.
The biggest revelation for a British or American motorcyclist in Europe, and still more in India, is that you are treated like a human being. That is, you are not looked down upon as a second-class citizen, and possible thief, vandal, hooligan and defiler of virgins.
Three stories illustrate what I mean. One evening in Portugal, we arrived at a pousada (state-run inn, and quite expensive) just a few minutes before they stopped serving dinner at 9:30 pm. Once we had established that we could eat, we ran up to the room, dumped our outer clothes (it was November, and we had ridden through Lisbon that day), and went down to eat. We had already ordered dinner -- with no sign that anything was amiss -- when I wiped the corner of my eye with my napkin. It came away black. I checked in the back of the menu-holder. My face was filthy with diesel smuts: I had 'raccoon eyes' where the goggles had been, like a Hollywood version of a racing driver. I rushed upstairs to wash before the food arrived (roast kid for the first course) and when I had finished, the water in the hand-basin looked the same way as it does when you wash your hands after working on the bike. Yet no-one had even commented.
The second story was a wet, cold, rainy day in the Romantische Strasse, the 'Romantic Road', in Germany. We were riding from Koln (Cologne) to Munchen (Munich -- it is worth getting used to foreign spellings, because that is how they appear on signposts). We stopped for petrol. When I went in to pay, the lady in the filling station gestured to the weather (and Frances) outside and said, " Ach, das ist keine romantische. Wollen sie kaffee?" (This is hardly romantic; would you like a coffee?) For nothing. Suddenly that day was an awful lot more attractive.
The third was in India. We pulled into the hotel car park. Frances went in to check out the room. It was fine. I aked the car-park attendant where I should put the bike - a bright red, factory-owned Bullet. " Right here, sahib," he said. " That way I can see it. And admire it."
To round out this section, here are some more Articles of Faith, the reasons why people go touring. The Church of England has thirty-nine Articles of Faith: there fewer than half as many here, but you really should add in some of the ones above -- parking anywhere and being treated like a human being, for example. Feel free to add more of your own.
I The almost liquid cold of shadows in the early morning.
II The smells of the road. On the open road: pine forests; water nearby; tar from the road-menders; hot earth; wet earth. In the village: roasting coffee; bread baking; burning wood and charcoal; coal-smoke in an English winter; Indian food cooking.
III Being there. In a car, you are half way to watching a television programme: the windscreen (windshield) is the screen. On a motorcycle, you are in the heart of it.
IV Thinking time. On a motorcycle you have time to reflect on the Big Questions: what's it all about, why are we here? This is recreation (re-creation) in the strictest sense.
V Sleeping well. There is a difference between the tiredness of driving a car -- fatigue, boredom, back-ache -- and the honest tiredness, in every muscle, and from hours of concentration, that you get from riding a motorcycle. One makes you sleep well. The other doesn't.
VI Respect. Half the people you meet will think you are crazy. The other half will wish they had the cojones to do what you are doing.
VII Contrasts. A hot day: a cool shower. A cold day: a hot bath. Both mean a lot more than they do to a non-motorcyclist. The same is true of a picnic or a gourmet meal in a restaurant. All your senses are alive.
VIII Self-confidence. Any fool can drive a car. Most do. Riding a motorcycle is in itself a statement that you know what you are doing.
IX Exploration. You turn up a side road. It goes from a two-rutter to a one-rutter and then peters out in a rice paddy. So you turn round. Or you don't. And then there's the sign to the crocodile farm -- and the one that says 'Unsuitable for Motors'.
X Other motorcyclists. Sure, there are the poseurs, the week-end warriors, the wannabees. You are touring; you are riding for real. Other riders recognize that. The ones that matter, anyway.
XI New experiences. There are a lot of things you try on the road because (let's be honest) there's no alternative. A few of them, you wish you hadn't. Most, you're glad.
XII Self-sufficiency. The motorcycle is your little universe. Sooner or later, it's true, you have to stop to buy fuel, to eat, to sleep. But until then...
XIII Non-motorcyclists. At least, when they're not driving. That is, people in hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, filling stations. The people who stop to help you. It's hard to remain aloof from a place where you are riding a motorcycle. You know that. Others sense it.
XIV The smell of the motorcycle: hot iron, oil, petrol (gasoline, benzin, essence...)
XV Adrenaline. Speed; poor surfaces; other road users.
XVI Banging your head against a brick wall: it's good when you stop. There are always days you ride too far, too fast, with too many hassles. And there's always tomorrow.
XVII Superiority. Look at everyone else on the road (who isn't riding a motorcycle). Go on: deny that you feel superior.
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last updated: 04/1203
© 2003 Roger W. Hicks