Seeing the world by motorcycle gives you a completely different perspective on travel. With no physical barrier between you and the world around you, there’s a sense of absolute freedom, and an intimate connection with the landscape that only motorcycle touring can achieve.
If you’re thinking of embarking on your first overseas motorcycle tour, you’re in for an eye-opening, exhilarating journey. Most likely, it will be the first of many – provided you come back in one piece!
We certainly don’t want to scare anyone off motorcycle touring – far from it. But that fact is, some travellers put enthusiasm ahead of experience and safety.
Dreaming of two-wheeled adventures in far-flung, exotic lands? The journey starts from home.
GET A LICENSE, A BIKE AND LOTS OF PRACTICE
Any decent tour operator requires proof of a license from your home country at bare minimum.
Some unscrupulous rental companies might rent you a bike no questions asked.
If you have an accident without a valid licence, your insurer won’t want anything to do with you. Also, being unlicensed and getting pulled over by police almost never goes down well.
Once you do start touring overseas, proper travel insurance is a must. If your tour agency doesn’t arrange insurance for you, purchase a policy that covers motorcycle activities. Some insurers only cover bikes up to a certain engine capacity, so ask if you’re unsure.
Spend as many hours as you can riding with experienced buddies until you feel safe and confident 99% of the time.
It takes considerable practice to truly familiarise yourself with the control, feel and capabilities of your bike, navigate traffic and avoid hazards, from tricky corners to potholes to other road users pulling sudden moves without warning.
I RECENTLY GOT MY LICENSE, AM I GOOD TO GO?
In short, it depends on the tour company.
We believe letting a rider with just a few months experience loose in unfamiliar territory is a recipe for disaster.
For most MotoDreamer tours, we ask that you’ve been riding a 500cc or larger motorbike for at least one year.
Our “expert level” tours are restricted to experienced riders only.
WHY EXPERIENCE MATTERS
If you’ve passed your test, you’re probably competent enough to be a safe, if exceptionally cautious rider in local traffic conditions. What the learner’s course can’t teach you is how to adapt your riding style to out of the ordinary conditions.
The more you ride, the more exposure you’ll have to things like crappy road surfaces, crappy weather and crappy traffic, as well as cool (but technically challenging) things like steep inclines, and twisty roads with corners coming at you constantly.
Honestly, whether you’re ready depends on how you can handle widely varying conditions. We recommend at least two years of regular riding before you take on a new country on an unfamiliar bike.
Handling skills, and the visual perception and spatial awareness you’ll need to evade dangerous situations before they happen can only be learned through experience.
While skills gained at home can’t prepare you for everything, they will contribute to the calm but quick-thinking mindset and reflex-like control you’ll need to overcome unexpected challenges.
An adventure rider should be comfortable but constantly switched on – not overconfident, and not nervous and on-edge.
You might be willing to take the occasional risk at home, but once you’re outside your comfort zone, risks become riskier, and consequences potentially more serious.
GROUP TOURS VS RENTING
No matter how prepared you feel, in a new country, you’re bound to be hit with moments that catch you off guard.
Many popular touring destinations are in developing nations or remote regions, where poorly maintained roads are the norm and traffic rules are often optional.
City riding can be especially intimidating, chaotic, and easy to get lost and confused in, so having an experienced guide can go a long way to prevent getting overwhelmed.
While getting out of the city to remote places beyond the tourist trail is the essence of adventure riding, being well away from civilization has its risks.
If you have a breakdown, an accident or other medical issue, you can find yourself a long way from help.
That’s why we highly recommend an organised tour for your first adventure abroad.
Research every tour company on your shortlist carefully. Press them on safety, and find out exactly what you’re getting for your money.
Apart from all in-country logistics, every MotoDreamer tour includes:
- A professional tour leader on a motorcycle
- A choice of late model, well-maintained motorcycles
- Small group sizes
- A chase/support vehicle for luggage, tools and safety equipment
- Mandatory third party and rider medical insurance
- Motorcycle liability reduction insurance
- All required permits
- Group activity and entry fees
With a quality group tour, you don’t have to worry so much about stuff that regularly stresses adventure riders out, like:
- Navigation (no GPS device is 100% reliable!)
- Language barriers (eg. asking for directions because your GPS is driving you in circles)
- Getting stuck with a dodgy bike
- Being stranded alone on a desolate road with a flat tyre or mechanical problem
Once you you’ve done a fair amount of motorcycle travel, you might feel the urge to strike out on your own. Many experienced road warriors still find themselves drawn to group tours for the convenience, comfort, the added safety and of course, the awesome company!
WHAT ABOUT GOING OFF-ROAD?
Riding on dirt requires learning a whole new set of skills. The bike will bounce, jiggle and slide, as well as steer and brake in unexpected ways compared to cruising along on smooth asphalt.
With a good group of riders and a tour leader to guide you, you should be able tackle a little rough riding with minimal off-road experience. But heed every tour’s “difficulty rating” and check what conditions you should likely expect. Will there be just a few gravel sections, or days straight of rugged terrain and river crossings?
An off-road training course will undoubtedly teach you some valuable lessons. At the very least, spend time practicing (preferably with experienced companions somewhere that’s not outrageously remote) before you take on a long-distance off-road adventure.
Adventure riding can be life changing. Just earn all the experience you can first to make sure it’s the good kind of life-changing.
Travel well, adventurer, and ride safe!
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)