Touring Tip: What is a Touring Motorcycle?

Apr 26, 2017 View Comments by

Touring TipAsk 10 people the definition of a touring motorcycle and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Many would think they need a large motorcycle with a windscreen, fairing, hard luggage, big displacement motor, and various electronics and other features for safety and comfort. But not all touring riders subscribe to the theory that bigger is necessarily better.

Today’s Panoply of Motorcycles
In the last few years there has been a noticeable trend of manufacturers offering smaller displacement motorcycles, particularly in the 300-500cc range. We at RoadRUNNER believe that virtually any type of motorcycle can be an enjoyable touring bike.

We tour on the full spectrum of motorcycles, including those with two or three wheels.

1. Two Wheels
Big Touring Bikes: Although these provide a comfortable highway ride for single or two-up touring, they are awkward to handle in tight spaces.
Cruisers: Designed primarily for being seen around town and for day rides, they can be outfitted for longer jaunts.
Standard/Naked Bikes: The basic, universal style of motorcycle is still around today, and makes for wonderfully uncluttered and simplistic touring.
Sportbikes: Not all fall in the “crotch rocket” category. Many feature an upright riding position for increased comfort levels.
Sport-Touring: This market segment attempts to bridge the gap between sportbike capabilities and touring comfort. Many of them, with their hard luggage and larger displacement motor, are in the 600-700-plus range.
Adventure Bikes: The relaxed ergonomics and comfort of travel enduros are quickly making them a favorite among many touring riders. They’re great on the road with the added bonus of off-road capabilities.
Dual Sport: These street-legal motorcycles are highly capable off-road, but less comfortable during long stretches on pavement.
Café Racers: OK, these bikes were never intended for touring, but I have done it and had a ball doing so. A large tankbag and small backpack was all I needed for several days of touring excitement.
Scooters: Larger-displacement scooters can make excellent touring mounts. They have adequate power, can be fitted with luggage, and offer a relaxed riding position.

2. Three Wheels
In most states, three-wheeled vehicles are considered to be motorcycles and are licensed as such. These include:

Trikes: Many of riders’ favorite two-wheel models are available in a three-wheel configuration, with one wheel in front and two in back—kickstands not required.
Can-Am: Two wheels in front and one in back offers a sportier ride than the trike configuration, and the touring models have spacious luggage capacity.

The Four C’s of a Touring-Capable Motorcycle
Although virtually any type of motorcycle can be used for touring, it has to be properly outfitted.

1. Can Go the Distance: A touring bike should have a fuel range of at least 150 miles, possibly 200 miles for riding in scarcely populated areas. Auxiliary fuel tanks can be attached to extend mileage.
2. Comfort: If a mount isn’t comfortable to ride all day, day after day, it will need modifications to make it so. This often requires an aftermarket seat, wind protection, and possibly the adjustment of other ergonomic components like handlebar and foot pegs.
3. Carrying Capacity: Although we are proponents of taking only the essentials on a tour, a bike must have adequate capacity to carry those items securely and safely. Many soft luggage items are available in the aftermarket to augment options available from the manufacturer. Pull-behind trailers are also an option.
4. Condition: Reliability is a key attribute of any touring motorcycle. Riders should thoroughly inspect and ensure that their mount is in first-rate mechanical condition before leaving their driveway. If a rider lacks the skills and tools to do that, then have a qualified mechanic complete the inspection and make any necessary repairs.

Seeing the world on a motorcycle is such a splendid experience, riders shouldn’t wait until they can afford the “perfect” bike to experience it. After making your mount touring capable, ride what you’ve got!

Text and Photography: James T. Parks


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