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Motorcycle touring—4 lessons for beginners

Koleston logoKoleston 5/22/2015
An overloaded motorcycle is an easy beginner mistake to make. An overloaded motorcycle is an easy beginner mistake to make.

By Ben Schoeffler


There are many reasons that a person buys a motorcycle. It might be for looks, for the thrill, to have a cheap vehicle to commute with, or to go on long road trips. Usually the reason you buy your motorcycle will also help determine which type of motorcycle you buy. I want to tell you about a type of riding that many younger riders in the city don’t often consider: motorcycle touring, or road tripping on a motorcycle.

For a long time I had a Kawasaki Ninja ZX6R. The Ninja is a sports bike in every sense of the word—powered by a high-revving, inline four-cylinder engine, covered in aerodynamic fairings, with a riding position that has you bent over like a lot of the motorcycle racers. It was no leaned-back, easy-riding Harley, that’s for sure.

Because I rode a sports bike, I did things sports bikes were supposed to do. I commuted in the city to my job and I sped around twisty roads on the weekends. I never really considered taking it for a longer ‘touring’ trip because I had a sports bike. Long touring road trips were for cruisers, not for me and my bike.

It wasn’t until one weekend when I rode with friends for over six hours in the mountains that I realized I had the potential for longer rides on my motorcycle. If I could handle a day full of twisty roads, I could definitely handle long stretches of freeway in equal comfort.

My first touring trip was from California to Nevada to visit a friend for some weekend camping. It was a half-day journey one-way, so this was my test to load up my motorcycle and see if I could survive a mini-tour.

I bought some soft saddlebags that I packed with clothes and essentials. I also strapped a large daypack to the rear seat of my motorcycle with bungee cords and strap downs. It was my first trip, and to say I overpacked would be a bit of an understatement. My motorcycle was so loaded down that my packs squashed me uncomfortably into the tank of the bike.

Lesson #1: Pack light!

Riding a motorcycle trains your mind to plan for contingencies. Usually it’s things like, “If this car merges into me, where is my escape route?” That way of thinking can also start to transfer to other areas of your life. For me it manifested itself in overpacking for my first motorcycle road trip in an attempt to plan for everything that MIGHT go wrong.

It was a simple weekend trip and I packed everything I could think of: multiple pairs of clothes, shoes, books, even pots and pans. I didn’t use half the things I thought I would, and bringing so many items caused me to overload my motorcycle in an unsafe manner. I learned from that mistake quickly, and now I pack light when I go on road trips.

Lesson #2: Low and forward

Being new to the whole touring scene, I simply strapped on all of my gear to the rear of my motorcycle. Looking back on the pictures now this seems comical. It really wasn’t an ideal situation, because it forced my motorcycle to carry all of that extra weight high and in the rear. This compromised the stability of my bike. You really want to keep any load on your motorcycle low and as far forward as possible. Saddle bags are great, tank bags are even better.

Lesson #3: Take frequent breaks

Riding for hours in a car isn’t that big of a deal, and most people can do it fairly easily. Riding non-stop for hours on a motorcycle is much more demanding mentally and physically, which means you experience fatigue faster.

When I go for longer trips I take a break every two or three hours. This is a great time to top off the tank, grab a bite to eat, and stretch your legs. Even being off the bike for five minutes can really recharge you so you can put 100% of your focus back on riding.

Lesson #4: Choose your path

There are usually several ways to get to a chosen destination. The most popular way is most likely straightforward and relatively boring, but faster. Alternative routes often offer more to see and twisty roads that can make the journey as much fun as the destination. Besides, isn’t that why you ride a motorcycle—to enjoy the ride?

Pull out a map or use Bing Maps or Google Maps to plot a destination that offers some fun roads and maybe takes you by a place of interest. Better yet, plan your trip so you won’t be traveling during high commute times when you are near cities. That way you won’t be frustrated by sitting in traffic with a fully loaded motorcycle.

Motorcycle touring is a different type of riding than either city commuting or canyon carving. It’s a slower pace, more mindful, and it comes with different challenges. Even if you don’t have the ideal setup of a comfortable Goldwing motorcycle, you can still take touring trips and experience the joy of the open road. You will learn more about your motorcycle, your limits, and a lot about yourself.


Ben has been passionate about riding ever since hopping on the saddle of his first bike, a Suzuki GS500. While living in California for seven years, he gave up his car and relied 100% on his motorcycle for his day-to-day transportation. From that first GS500 he graduated to a Honda f4i, and eventually a Kawasaki Ninja ZX6R. It didn’t matter if it was raining buckets or the weather was so hot it softened the concrete, he rode 365 days a year.

Because his motorcycle mentors taught him so much as he was learning to ride, Ben wanted to pay it forward. He started in order to guide new riders as they start their riding journey. He’s passionate about learning and teaching the skills needed to stay safe while riding a motorcycle. When he’s not working, you can find him in Boise, Idaho riding a Triumph Speed Triple motorcycle through the local mountain roads.


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