Choosing the right motorbike for your motorcycle tour!

Having ridden hundreds of thousands of miles on two wheels on a variety of motorcycles and seen what customers and other riders have ridden along challenging routes, there is one thing I have come to a conclusion on, it really doesn’t matter what bike you ride, it’s how comfortable you want to be doing it!

Sahara Desert in Morocco on the Africa Twin CRF1000

As bikers, we have been exploring and traveling to the furthest corners of the globe for may years, some have completed unimaginable challenges on the most unexpected motorcycles. Have a read about Ted Simon, who set off on a worldwide expedition in the 1970’s with a Triumph. If you haven’t read it already, it is an absolute must and for me signifies the beginning of motorcycle world touring, it also provides a ton of useful information and inspiration for the new generation of modern adventure riders

My current choice of bike is the fabulous Honda Africa Twin CRF1000 2016, whilst it isn’t the most comfortable long distance touring machine, it does provide me with a full day of smiles and satisfaction as well as reliability (it has 50,000 miles on the clock). I love the versatility the Africa Twin offers, you could be ridding on tarmac in the morning and comfortably churning up the trails in the afternoon with ease. It is an all rounder but that said, it is more suited to off road adventure riding, than it is planted on the motorway all day.

Croatia Abandoned Airfield

Admittedly, and I am reluctant to admit I must add (because of their exuberant price tags), the BMW range of bikes are well engineered and designed to suit those that love touring and punching out the miles. They are well planted on tarmac roads and offer the rider a level of comfort few other manufactures can match. For the more adventurous riders or style consciousness riders, the BMW GS/A range is constantly improving, reliability and styling is improving but they are well adapted for dual sport riding. If you don’t mind popping it in to the garage every 6,000 miles, then the GS range would certainly be a good contender for touring on. My only gripe with the BMW range is the low service intervals and high costs maintaining them through a dealership. Yes they retain their value better than any other manufacturer but with prices up to £18,000 for an adventure bike… Hmmmm

If you want to ride with a pillion then you need to consider their comfort obviously and the choice is plentiful these days. A good starting point is to consider a bike with a low point of gravity. Taller bikes for some can obviously be very heavy and cumbersome, add a pillion and all your kit and it’s easy to end up kissing the tarmac.

Camping in Wales with the Triumph Explorer 1200

Sports tourers make good choices for two up riding, they are low to the ground, handle well and often come with clever luggage options, as well as being nimble and efficient, Kawasaki GTR1400 would make a good choice as would the Honda Pan European ST1300, both are nippy, smooth and comfortable and will easily eat miles all day long. If you prefer the higher view point, the BMW range such as the GSA, GS, and RT all make perfectly good touring machines for two up riding as do the Yamaha Super Tenere 1200 and Triumph Explorer 1200 (but it is top heavy mind). To be fair, most modern bikes these days will keep you rolling without fuss for many miles, due to the advances in technology, it’s whether or not you feel comfortable and are happy to throw a large bike around the bends that will be the decision maker along with servicing interval ranges.

Big bikes seem to be all the rage at present, for some it provides more of a footprint to allow motorists to notice you better, for others it’s an ego thing or just because you believe a smaller bike won’t be able to cope with all your luggage, perhaps a pillion as well. However, I feel this is just a myth, other than the advantages of speed and torque, smaller engine bikes can be more than adequate. I’ve often seen and read stories of riders and pillions heading off on flamboyant journeys around the globe with bikes that have engine sizes of 600cc or less, carrying all their luggage and in many cases, a pillion as well.

Take Spencer Conway for example.

 

Someone who has traveled through every country in Africa and more recently has completed an exciting and comprehensive tour of South America with an additional rider for some of the trip, on the back of his Yamaha Tenere XT660Z. Its not always about the size, it’s what you do with it that counts 😉 and Spencer loves his Yamaha, so much so that he turned down the opportunity of a sponsored bike to complete the south America Expedition. Mind you, he did have to replace a few components on the bike, including the rear swing arm before setting off, as the bullet hole in the swing arm would have failed the MOT!

South Africa Motorcycle Adventure tour
Riding through the game reserve in South Africa on Triumph Tiger 800 (BMW F800GS in the background)

For those wanting to ride on trails or dirt roads then a motorcycle that has longer fork travel is preferable. Adventure bikes have come a long way in recent years, thanks to the likes of Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor showing us that two men (an actor and a guy who’s never grown up) can circumnavigate the globe on “adventure” bikes. Longer suspension travel provides comfort over rough terrain and soaks up the bumps far more easier and tend to be more rugged machines. That said, many of them are just street bikes beefed up to take on board the gnarlier terrain but they work and are more equipped and adapted to deal with off tarmac scenarios.

Posing for my achievement on the Tiger 800 with the South African Mountains in the background

I rode a Triumph Tiger 800 around South Africa a couple of years ago, admittedly when I arrived at the hotel and saw the bike sat outside I had no idea that it would cope so well traversing over some of the toughest mountains I could throw at it that were dirt trails lined with rocks, stones and ruts. It impressed me so much that when I returned to the UK I made inquiries to downgrade my Triumph Explorer for the lighter 800 version

So, what have we learnt? You don’t need to have a big bike to enjoy the journey, unless of course you want to stay in the motorways all day. In fact, as Nick Sanders has proved and Ted Simon and many more like them, you can ride anywhere on anything. For a few quid you can even adapt any bike to suit your comfort if everything else about it ticks your boxes.

In the meantime, enjoy, have fun, get out there and remember, life’s too short, we only have one chance at fulfilling our dreams 👍🙏

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Chris Seagal
Motorcycle tours guide and explorer. RoSPA Advanced Motorcycle Instructor (Gold)

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