A Wealth of Experience
In a club like ours there’s a lot of knowledge about motorcycling. From recommended camping equipment to fitting a helmet, good routes to all kinds of places and places and things to avoid – if you don’t know ask – someone may save you lots of time, money and effort. Here are some tips members have sent in for you to enjoy.
I hope you will find this information useful, I have assumed that whoever reads this is a complete touring novice, that way, hopefully, I won’t have left out any information for anyone who is, and may have included some tip or other for those who aren’t. I have also assumed that, being Europe it is likely to rain and have advised accordingly. Worst case scenario and all that. I have also assumed that the reader will be camping but if you intend to hotel it on your tour just ignore the camping advice.
In an ideal world you would be best advised to travel with someone who has some experience. If, however, you are of a more adventurous nature I suggest you get a European guide of some sort from the motoring organisation to help you with the differences in road signs, there aren’t that many but some you will never have seen before. Above all don’t forget to ride on the right hand side of the road, except in the British Isles of course.
If you need any further advice, just ask any experienced rider. I am sure they will be only too pleased to advise you, especially if you are buying. Mine’s a pint of bitter, by the way. I hope you enjoy your trip, but if you don’t it’s not my fault, you obviously weren’t trying hard enough.
Whatever you ride, it is possible to tour on it, I have seen people using bikes as varied as R1s to a step thru’ monkey bike, so no excuses about the machinery being unsuitable.
Make sure it is in tip-top condition including extra pressure in the tyres to cope with the extra weight. If necessary get it serviced at least two or three weeks before you go, that way you will have time to rectify any faults that may arise or obtain any parts needed.
If you don’t already have a E.C. registration plate you will need a G.B. plate for the bike.
Those of you who have never ridden a long distance before will find a certain part of your anatomy getting somewhat numb and uncomfortable. There are several ways to combat this problem. Water or gel filled seat covers are readily available but I find the old fashioned method of draping a sheepskin over the seat is the best bet, the disadvantages however are that it raises the seat height a shade, only a problem if your inside leg measurement is on the diminutive side, and if the sheepskin gets wet it takes forever to dry.
To tour abroad you must hold a current full driving licence and carry it with you, likewise M.O.T and insurance documents, it is a fineable offence not to carry them.
You will also need fully comprehensive insurance. Most companies will cover you for foreign travel, you may need a green card however, check with the insurance company before you go.
Get an E111 from the D.H.S.S., this will cover any medical treatment you may need and is valid throughout the E.C.
It is a wise move to take out personal and vehicle recovery insurance as it can be expensive getting home in case of emergency and it covers all your kit. Check with your insurance company and or the motoring organisations as to the cost and cover provided.
Different countries require you to carry certain items of kit, check with the motoring organisations as to what the legal requirements are.
If you intend travelling outside the E.C. any decent travel agent will know of any visa requirements.
Last but not least you will of course need a passport and must keep it with you.
Don’t believe what the manufacturers tell you about it being waterproof, it probably isn’t. Pack everything in plastic bags, it’s no joke having to dry out your kit before you even have chance to use it. Don’t pack everything in one bag though, put several items in a bag and use several bags. That way if the luggage leaks and a bag is split only the items in that bag will get wet.
Try to load the panniers as evenly as possible – weigh them if necessary and keep the heaviest items at the bottom so as to keep the centre of gravity as low a possible thereby helping the bike to handle better.
The exception to this rule is if you use a tank bag. It is worth packing some of the heavy items in the tank bag so as to bring the weight further forward thereby distributing the load more evenly.
When packed, load it all on the bike and ride it around the neighbourhood a few times to get used to it, you don’t want any nasty surprises on your first day out. Remember the extra weight will affect acceleration, braking and handling.
Don’t be tempted to wear a rucksack, it will make your back and shoulders ache and if the worst happens it is likely to cause serious injury.
Starting with the tent, if you haven’t got one already, buy as good a one as you can afford, remember this will be your home for the duration of the tour. They are usually rated by the season they are intended for, 1 for summer only to 5 for serious winter camping. You will need one big enough to take you, your passenger if you have one, and all your kit. It must fold down small enough to get it on the bike and not be too heavy. Ideally you should be able to erect the outer part first and attach the inner to it. This is so you can put it up, unpack and repack in the dry if necessary.
Practice putting it up and folding it at home before you go, you don’t want to look complete prat trying to follow the instructions, written in pidgin Congolese, Japlish or whatever when you arrive at the campsite – or do you?
If you already have a tent make sure it is still waterproof, reproof it, don’t take the chance. Just because it didn’t leak last time doesn’t mean it won’t this time.
Try to pitch your tent in the lee of buildings, hedges or even other tents, away from roads and railways and on higher ground if possible.
Most campsites in Europe are family orientated so you must be on site fairly early and always remember to keep the noise down at night. Don’t forget to clean up after yourself.
It may be wise to buy a campsite book before you go, it will give you an idea of what facilities are available, the location of the site and what time the gates close.
Sleeping bags. Again, buy a good one if you don‘t have one already. Like tents they are rated by the season, A 2 to 3 season bag would be suitable for most people. The packed size and weight must also be taken into consideration, particularly if you have to carry two. Make sure you pack it or them in waterproof bags.
Beds. Foam mats are light but bulky and I don’t find them comfortable. Light weight, compact airbeds are available and are fairly comfortable. If you travel solo you can probably afford the extra weight of a canvas airbed but you will have to inflate it, I use an electric pump. Anyone can be uncomfortable, I won’t.
Cookers. Lots of lightweight cookers on the market. Fuels range from gas, meths, paraffin or petrol. I use one gas cooker and one petrol, the reason – gas is pretty well available all over Europe and the petrol cooker uses the same fuel as the bike so I always have plenty of fuel available. Both cookers fold down small and weigh very little, the gas bottle is the heaviest item. If you’ve have never used them before practice at home before you go. What ever you do, don’t cook inside the tent.
Pots, pans and cutlery. Lots of cookware sets are available, go for a decent quality one but don’t forget the weight and bulk considerations. Personally I use an ex military billycan set and a non-stick frying pan. The billycans fold one into the other and can be used to pack items like lighters, tea towel, small cooking oil bottle and small washing up liquid bottle, pan scourers etc. Don’t be tempted to use those aluminium cutlery sets that clip together, they’re crap. I use stainless steel canteen style flat cutlery, a bit heavier but they will last for ever.
Don’t forget the tin opener and the spatula, non-stick if possible. To save weight use sweeteners instead of sugar. Take your own tea-bags, I haven’t yet found a decent foreign tea, coffee abroad is good though.
Drinking water taps are usually marked as such but if in doubt use bottled water. Make sure it is not carbonated though, you really don’t want fizzy tea. Yuk!!
Other useful items. A small torch, one that clips on the belt so you don’t lose it, is best. A multi adapter for those who use electric razors. A couple of hooks on suction cups will be useful to hang your towel and/or wash bag on whilst in the washroom as would universal sink plug, on a long piece of string attached to the wash bag so you don’t lose it
And whatever you do don’t forget at least one toilet roll per person. Pack it somewhere you can get at it during the journey and if you do have to use foreign conveniences take it with you. I am sure I am not the only one to get caught out, but that’s enough information on that subject for now, suffice it to say it won’t happen again.
A folding brolly may come in handy.
A light weight rucksack is handy if you go walk-about or shopping.
Clothing - What to pack
Make sure all your riding kit is up to the task that every thing still fits properly and is not too tight. Ensure that waterproofs are still waterproof and always carry spare gloves .
I assume that you don’t want to spend vast amount of money buying specialist lightweight clothing. Ideally, then, you will need a minimum of three changes of clothes, except jeans and trainers. One set on and two clean to start with, if you have room for more so much the better.
Tracksuit bottoms or joggers are useful for lounging around in or as pyjamas if the temperature drops.
Trainers or shoes should be packed with small items, underwear, socks etc. there should be no hollow spaces. Try to use closable / resealable plastic bags and squeeze the air out before closure, you want to carry clothing not air. You will be surprised at how much you can pack into a small space and if at the end of packing you have some space left in your panniers don’t worry. You don’t have to fill them up but any extra space can be used to pack swimwear, shorts, cameras, odds and sods, etc.
Guys – you’ll need to pack your washing and shaving kit and towel large enough to use after you shower.
Girls – you’ll need to pack your washing kit and any items of a feminine and personal nature, but you don’t have room for hairdryers, spare hairdryers, bath robes, ironing boards, travel irons or a towel the size of a small African country, a standard towel will do.
A concentrated soap called Travel Wash is readily available from camping shops to do the clothes wash with, don‘t use too much though. We nearly blew up a washing machine in Finland with this stuff, so much foam came out it was like something out of Dr Who.
Another way of washing clothes is to wear them in the shower and as you wash yourself you wash the clothes and you wont have to carry the Travel Wash or pay for the washing machine token. You will need somewhere to dry them though.
All of you will need some plastic flip-flops to wear in the shower, no need to come back with a varuka or worse.
If you want to stay free of insect bites use Wrights Coal Tar Soap, the bugs hate it, perfumed soap or deodorant of any kind will attract them like roses.
Shorts are the best thing to wear to and from the showers, that way the bottoms of your jeans or joggers don’t get dragged through the water on the floor of the changing room.
Odds and Sods
For anyone who has to take regular medication there are a number of travellers pill dispensers on the market, no need to carry all your drugs though, just enough for the trip plus a couple of spare days worth, just in case. Make sure that you carry a repeat prescription in case you lose them, but don’t carry it with the drugs or you will lose the lot.
You may also want to carry some pain killers and/or hangover cures, anti diahorrea pills in case of Delhi belly, indigestion tablets and cold relief capsules (non drowsy ones).
Some sort of lens cleaner for visas and glasses is a must, a small first aid kit and some insect repellent to use during the day when the coal tar wears off.
Don’t carry travellers cheques with your cheque card or passport.
Make sure you have enough cash on you to last a day or so, cash machines can sometimes be a bit scarce.
A can of bug spray may come in handy, you spray it inside the tent and zip it up before you go out for the day or evening.
Suntan lotion and/or after sun moisturiser can save you a lot of pain and discomfort.
A hat with a decent peak will keep the rain off your glasses if you wear them and keep the sun out of your eyes and off the bald patch.
Don’t forget spare batteries for torch/camera and extra films.
If you carry a mobile phone, remember the charger or an emergency charger kit available from phone shops. Being a smart-arse I charge mine from the bike if required. Program in the breakdown and emergency numbers, that way you will always have them with you and make sure you have plenty of credit on the phone.
You may want to carry a small folding seat and possibly a lightweight waterproof jacket so you can go walkabout without having to wear your riding kit all the time.
Remember, the idea is to take as much as you need, not as much as you can carry. Don’t overload your bike.
If you are travelling in a group make sure all the riders know exactly what the route is or is equipped with a decent map. Put the slowest rider directly behind the leader and keep close eye on the rider behind you, except the rider at the back of course, that way the group stays together.
Don‘t travel with too many in group, six bikes is the maximum for safety.
If you go with the intention of enjoying yourself regardless of what happens, you will, if you are not looking forward to it either don’t go or change the attitude. Remember you can’t change the weather don’t winge about it, if you have taken all the precautions I have mentioned you should be able to cope.
It may sound like a lot of stuff to pack and to remember but if you start organising yourself early I think you will be surprised just how easy it all is, make a check list if necessary, plan ahead. Once you have done it you will find it easier next time and as time goes on and you become more expert you may want to change or add to the gear that you carry, personal preferences and experience will dictate.