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Motorcycle Touring - Take a Long Trip on Your Motorcycle

By Walter F. Kern

The dictionary defines a tour as "a journey for business, pleasure or education often involving a series of stops and ending at the starting point." Thus a tour is a complete circuit.

Motorcycle touring has always been a part of motorcycling. Early riders wanted to jump on their motorcycles and ride to see what was over the next hill. Of course the roads weren't too good in those days and travel could be slow. Bill Stermer in his book, Motorcycle Touring and Travel: A Handbook of Travel by Motorcycle, says:

"The bike on which most people choose to tour tends to be the one they own at the time."

This was certainly true early on before the advent of the heavyweight touring motorcycles of the last twenty-five years.

Ann Ferrar in her book, Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road, New Ed., says that long distance touring started as early as 1906 by W.C. Chadeayne who rode coast-to-coast on a motorcycle when roads as we know them were non-existent. Ferrar also relates how the earliest touring pioneers were women:

"The daughter-mother duo of Effie and Avis Hotchkiss achieved a personal victory over the continent. It was 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I. Effie had been working on Wall Street. The 'rush and clatter and monotony and tension' began to wear on her nerves, so she bought a Harley. With her mother, Avis, she embarked on a circuitous, five-thousand-mile journey to see the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Three months later, the Hotchkisses rode the sidecar rig onto the beach and christened the Pacific with a jar of Atlantic Ocean water they'd carried with them. They rode back to New York and were the first known women to make a round-trip, transcontinental motorcycle journey alone."

They were probably the first tourers by the definition above.

These early pioneers were tourers without knowing it. All they really wanted to do was ride their motorcycles to a particular destination and have fun doing it. The journey itself was the best part. That is the essence of touring.

Learning to tour is usually evolutionary. First you learn to ride and then progressively start riding longer and longer distances. You carry just enough on the bike to survive. As the distances increase, you find you have to stay overnight. Thus, you begin to carry more and more on the bike and require more storage places. A tank bag is added, then saddlebags and then larger hard bags. You find that the bike is getting too small to carry what you need and still allow you to be comfortable on the machine. You purchase a larger bike, perhaps with a fairing and a trunk. You may be getting in the heavyweight class now such as a Honda Gold Wing, a Harley-Davidson dresser, a BMW touring bike, or other heavyweight tourer.

You can even create a map of the states you've ridden in, such as the following map that depicts where I've ridden.


create your own personalized map of the USA or check out our California travel guide

Touring is usually done in small groups but solo riding is popular too. Some even participate in guided tours and leave all the planning to experts. Many riders tour annually to special rallies such as the Sturgis Rally held in Sturgis, SD the first part of August. The 68th anniversary of this rally is being celebrated in 2008. Not everyone can make it to this rally expected to draw from 500,000 to a million riders so you can always view the Sturgis Web Cams to see what's going on.

Individuals may tour for pleasure or to promote a cause such as the recent Pony Express 2007 Tour to raise funds for breast cancer research.

As you tour more and more you'll find that your list of things to take along changes. At first you are a minimalist and take a change of clothes, a credit card and a cell phone. Then you start adding on. You have to "take your stuff." You may find that a packing list becomes a necessity so insure that you haven't forgotten anything. I use such a packing list and I makesit available on this site.

For a complete guide to motorcycle touring, the book by Bill Stermer mentioned above is a requirement. Bill covers everything about touring in one place.

Some can't get enough of touring and think nothing of riding from New York to Chicago for a good cup of coffee at a favorite café. Some have ridden around the world. Jim Rogers wrote Investment Biker: Around the World with Jim Rogers to document his trip around the world on a BMW motorcycle.

Others participate in individual tests of personal endurance such as the Iron Butt Rally or the Four Corners run. There is no limit to the distance you may be compelled to go on a tour.

Touring on a motorcycle is one of the joys of life at least to us who are experienced motorcyclists. Don't try any long distance touring until you've mastered all the secrets of riding and handling yourself in traffic and all kinds of weather.

Touring is a total experience. It's you and your machine working together in nature, allowing you total freedom to travel anywhere on the face of the earth and return.

Touring is a complete circuit -- one that will make you a complete rider.

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