Tour Planning Nuts & Bolts

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

Planning a tour isn't something I've had to do for a while. Christian tells me where he wants me to go, and I always do as I'm told!

Joking aside, where to go and what kind of tour you're looking for are the two most important decisions you'll make. Everything else pretty much follows.

What kind of tour?
1. Road trip or sightseeing? Most often, a tour will be a mixture of riding for the fun of it and visiting interesting places. But you should decide which is more important to you.

2. Destination or journey? Is where you're going more important than how you get there?

3. Solo or group? Obviously, this has a considerable bearing on your planning.

4. Where, when and how long? If you already know where you want to go, when's the best time to go, and how much time should you allow?

5. Camping or motels? Or a mixture?

Route planning
So now you know roughly where you're going and when. How do you decide what roads to take? First, estimate your daily mileage. A comfortable pace is maybe 200 miles a day, which gives time to linger over lunch and stop to smell the roses; 300 or more if you're prepared to put in the hours. If you're making time on the Interstate, it's not difficult to average 50 mph, including gas and coffee stops, so 400 miles a day becomes feasible. But don't try to travel too far: Fatigue can be lethal.

Applying these guidelines should give you a rough idea of the distance you can travel in the time you have. Next, prioritize the places you want to see and the roads you want to travel. There's lots of helpful information on the Internet.

For destinations and sightseeing, federal, state and local guides are always helpful. Any reliable search engine (Google, Dogpile, or Ask Jeeves) will turn up what you need. For my tour of southeast Oregon, I used resources from the Eastern Oregon Visitor's Association, www.eova.com, Oregon Parks & Recreation Dept, www.oregonstateparks.org, and Oregon Tourism Information, www.traveloregon.com. I always look for any Scenic Byways in the region I'm visiting at www.byways.org.

For great riding roads, try Destination Highways, www.destinationhighways.com (Washington, Oregon and Northern California), Mad Maps, www.madmaps.com (California), www.motorcycleadventuremaps.com (Blue Ridge & Smoky Mountains), www.motorcycleroads.us (national), and www.pashnit.com (California again).

Two further considerations: weather and traffic. Obvious no-nos would be Yellowstone or Yosemite Park in August (traffic) and much of the Rockies in April (snow). But it's also worth knowing that winter storms make much of the Oregon and Northern California coast miserable from mid-October, yet this is often a great time to visit British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, hundreds of miles further north. Online weather guides like www.weather.com are invaluable, and you can also get historical climate information from www.worldclimate.com. More portable, the World Weather Guide by E. A. Pearce, Times Books, ASIN 0812918819 is a useful reference.

For detailed planning, you'll need maps. AAA and Rand-McNally are a good start, but get a detailed local map, too. I've often found that roads marked paved on one map are shown unpaved on another. Don't rely solely on GPS maps: always have paper backups.

Leave a couple of days free in your schedule. Serendipity is one of the charms of motorcycle touring, and some slack will allow you time to linger in a special place.

Equipment planning
I have a checklist I refer to before every tour. I don't always take everything on the list, but it ensures I haven't forgotten anything important. Though you'll want to make your own list, mine includes these items: multi-tool, cell phone, maps, flashlight, camera, film, batteries, sunscreen, notebook, pens, rain gear, first-aid kit, puncture kit, disc lock, cash, etc.

Make sure your bike is primed for the length of the trip. Tires? Oil changes? Chain? Scheduled maintenance? Make sure your AAA membership is up to date, too, and that have funds available in your credit card account for emergency repairs.

When packing for a trip, take half the clothes and twice the money! Simplistic, perhaps, but most of us do pack too much. Cycle World's Peter Egan famously travels with his oldest underwear, so he can simply trash it along the way.

Make sure your riding gear will survive the trip. There's a big difference between getting caught in a shower riding to the coffee bar and spending all day plowing through a rainstorm. At 60 mph with a still air temperature of 50 degrees, the wind chill factor is 25 degrees. Do the math! If you're wet, evaporation will reduce body temperature even more. Motorcycling and hypothermia don't mix! If in doubt, buy new gear and test it well before you go; perhaps you'll need to add a heated vest, too.

[We'll be providing recommendations about the tools to take and how to pack your bike for a tour in upcoming issues of RoadRUNNER.]

Contingency planning
If you plan for the worst, it'll never happen, so a travel first-aid kit is a must. If you're roaming alone, make sure someone has a copy of your route and approximate schedule. I plan to add a CB radio to my travel gear this year. There are many areas out of cell phone range, but truckers still rely on the CB for emergency communications.

If you're traveling outside North America, a whole new set of factors come into play, like passports and visas; disease prevention; emergency preparedness; carnets de passage, etc. If you're contemplating such an undertaking, specific preparations beyond the scope of this article are necessary.

To help you decide if this is something that appeals to you, read One Man Caravan by Robert Edison Fulton Jr. Whitehorse Press; Jupiter's Travels by Ted Simon, Jupitalia Productions; and Ten Years on Two Wheels by Helge Pedersen, Elfin Cove Press.

Alternatively, you could take an organized overseas tour with Lotus Tours, www.lotustours.com, Himalayan Roadrunners, www.ridehigh.com, Chris Haines Motorcycle Adventure, www.bajaoffroadtours.com, Lateral Vision, www.centraloz.com, or New Zealand Bike, www.nzbike.com.

Happy trails!