Want to have a two-wheeled adventure? The shows, the marketing and the magazines might all make you think you need a $20,000 BMW to do it, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter what motorcycle you have, no matter how little money, you can get out there and do it. Here’s how to go adventure touring on a budget.
Believe it or not, but a lot of those ridiculous ADV bikes are actually terrible off-road. Why? They’re heavy! Like insanely, inconceivably heavy.
Most standard motorcycles or all-rounders are perfectly capable of riding down a dirt road just as well as a GS or SuperTen or Tiger. Sure, a highly modified ADV bike complete with significant crash protection, dirt ergonomics, heavy duty suspension and dirt tires can be a real weapon in the hands of a pro, buy you shouldn’t kid yourself — you’re no desert racer. For you, a little less weight is going to make an awful lot of difference. And, once you are actually on the dirt, any old dual-sport is going to be approximately 1,000,000 times more capable than any 500 lbs + tourer. If you’re looking to buy something specifically for adventure, we’d recommend a used dual-sport.
Just be aware of your bike’s limitations and plan accordingly. If you’re throwing luggage on an R1 and heading for the mountains, we’d probably try and stick to graded fire roads over short distances only. Whatever you have, it can get you into the outdoors.
What you wear is going to be more important than the bike you take. Over multiple days in the mountains or desert or anywhere in the great outdoors you’re going to encounter a wide variety of temperatures and weather conditions. It’s your gear that will get you through that comfortably.
The best advice here is to take stuff you’re familiar with. ADV riding frequently involves long distances a long way from nowhere. Three hours into three days of solid rain isn’t the time to learn that your suit leaks or that the collar snap flaps against your helmet incessantly at highway speeds. Gear you know and trust can be relied on; no matter how much you spend on fancy new stuff, you have no guarantee it will work for you.
There are a couple unique requirements of adventuring to keep in mind though: 1) You need serious boots. Supporting the weight of a bike, luggage and yourself on slippery, uneven surfaces is a huge test for any footwear. As is standing for long periods, where your entire body weight is directed through narrow pegs. Any get off will also be a serious test of your boot’s safety. You want tall, waterproof, supportive, armored, tank-like dirt bike boots, nothing less. 2) You’ll be riding off-road, where your chances of falling off increase and you’ll be experiencing that increased risk a long way from help, likely in an area without cell phone reception. Really, safe gear can be the difference between laughing it off and dying of dehydration in the desert because you can’t ride or walk with a broken leg.
Riding off-road often means going slow and working hard. And going slow and working hard means visor fogging. You don’t need a fancy ADV helmet or a dirt bike helmet with goggles (which will be miserable on the highway). Taking your normal street helmet that you know is comfortable will work just fine, but take the time to fit a Pinlock or similar anti-fog visor insert. You’ll want to be able to keep the visor closed to protect your eyes from flying debris, but you’ll want to be able to see where you’re riding, too.
Google is a great way to get an overview of an area and route, but rely on a paper map for actual navigation.
Planning is what’s going to make your trip possible. I’m an Eagle Scout and the whole “Be Prepared” thing has never steered me wrong. In fact, going more prepared than necessary will make your experience more flexible, more enjoyable and arm you to deal with the (sometimes very) unexpected.
First, you’ll need to pick a route or destination. Spend some time reading forums and magazines (not necessarily motorcycle ones, don’t limit yourself), then pick a place you want to go and start looking at maps. If this is going to be your first off-road trip, keep it simple and achievable. There’s no need to head to Alaska to find adventure, your nearest mountain range will do just fine. Make sure you compare your goals to local regulations. Can you take a motorcycle there? The answer is probably important. Can you have a campfire? I know I like sitting around one at night.
Also consider the logistics. If your bike has a 100-mile fuel range, then a route which involves traveling 600 miles between gas stations is likely impractical. If you’re going on your Bonneville, then deep sand could defeat you. Bite off an adventure you can chew, then consider it a learning experience and scale up as you gain experience.
Important factors to consider when planning a trip are: fuel range and availability; road or trail difficulty and current conditions (is that pass snowed in?); and distances and time. Remember that, in the dirt, your fuel range will halve and your travel times will at least double.
It’s also a good idea to arm yourself to change plans mid-trip. Sometimes, you may find a route is blocked due to extreme weather. Even something as simple as finding a campsite filled with screaming children can cause you to change plans. Give yourself options.
Whatever you do, buy a paper map or several to cover your entire trip and spend some time before you go studying them and marking them up with locations of fuel stops, hazards, campsites and anything you want to see along the way. Paper maps are cheap and don’t break or require batteries; GPS units are nice and all, but not in any way necessary. I don’t use one.