How To Plan A Motorcycle Trip

I love motorcycle trips. I love the weeks of planning, the feeling of setting out for an adventure, being out on the road in a new and interesting place with your friends, and coming home with new memories and experiences. Many of you may be the “set out on your bike with nothing but an extra pair of socks and underwear and a tent” type, but others of you aren’t and need a little help in how to plan for such an adventure.

Some of this information may seem a bit overboard and you’ll have to excuse my enthusiasm, but I’m a planner. As much fun as our trip to Arizona and back was, I also took supreme satisfaction in the dudes being stoked on a lunch spot I found for us weeks prior to the trip or a road I’d found a way to fit in to our route that was fun to ride. I’m sure many of you don’t get to go on trips as often and you’d like and so I present to you this guide; that you can both make the most of your trip as well as avoid many of the mistakes that disrupt or halt a road trip altogether.

Photo by: Sherman Thomas

Step 1: The Destination

The first thing you have to think about when beginning to plan a trip is how much time you have and where you want to go. Take into consideration your previous riding and how many miles you think you have done/can do in a day, how often you will need to stop for gas or to rest, and then give yourself some wiggle room for when things don’t go as planned. The most I have done is 350-400 miles in a day, but I can tell you from experience that with my bad back and lack of an ass, I can’t do that for more than a day and I am much happier doing less miles over multiple days.

On our trip to Arizona, I rode my Bonneville with cafe bars and knew I had a range of 250-300 miles a day and could only do 70-85 miles before getting really uncomfortable on the bike. When Wes and I rode to Nevada for the Taste of Dakar, I was worried about the 300 miles we would have to cover but didn't really have much of a choice. I could have done closer to 100 miles at a time if the gas tank had let me. When riding to Seattle on the F6B, I knew I had a range of 400 or so twisty miles or 600 straight miles and that I could do 150-180 miles before needing a break.

Once I have my destination, I like to try and break it equal increments over the amount of days I have allotted for my trip and then find smaller destinations or places that would be fun to stop at on the way to our final destination. Next, I looked at what kind of places would be fun for the nights we needed to stay somewhere between home and our final destination. You have to take into account the miles and hours you hope to complete the ride in and give yourself extra time to get lost, run to atm to get money for an entrance fee, or just hang out longer than expected.

On the way to Arizona, the Salton Sea was a little out of the way, but were in the right direction and about the target distance away and had some really cool stuff to do when we got out there. Joshua Tree was another option, but worked just as well for the day between Arizona and home. Similarly, on my trip to Seattle, I planned my routes through areas so that my rest stops were places I would enjoy rather than just gas stations every 150-180 miles.

Step 2: Lodging

The first thing you have to decide when considering lodging for a multi-day trip is whether you want to camp, stay with friends, or stay in a motel somewhere. Again, consider your personal riding history, endurance and abilities as well as the weather conditions when making a decision. As much as we all dream of sleeping under our bike and the stars, sometimes it’s simply smarter to book a room somewhere. Mixing the two can work well for a longer trip where it’s worth packing all the gear to sleep outside most nights and shell out for a motel (or more accurately for a shower and a bed) one or two of the nights, but for shorter trips it isn’t worth lugging all the camping gear to sleep outside a night and in motels the other 2 or 3.

Regardless of which way route you choose, the next step is to spend some time with your friend Google and his cousins Yelp, Expedia, and Advrider. Depending on the time of year, things like pools, AC, heaters, fire pits, lockable parking, and other amenities will become more or less important depending on what you want. The same rules apply when researching camping spots and about the attractions you'd like to see. Find out things like how to pay for the campsite or how much cash you'll need to enter a national park. It's no fun to get kicked out of a campsite after you're all set up and have had a beer or two or to ride an hour to a national park to find out you don't have enough cash to get in. Keep in mind the audience you’re planning for and try and find a motel or camping spot or attraction that best fits what you and your companions want out of your trip.

For our Arizona trip, we ended up getting a friend to come drive a chase truck so two of our buddies could join with their less-than-reliable bikes and we mixed camping with motels because we could put the camping gear in the truck. I spent an afternoon reading Yelp and Expedia reviews of the seediest motels near the Salton Sea with two major things in mind: pool and price. We were all fairly poor, but knew we wanted to end our first day in a bed somewhere and I had dreams of riding through the hot desert to end our day in a motel pool with a cold beer in hand. I spent a second afternoon reading about people’s experiences in different camping areas around the Joshua Tree (the North side of the park is better than the south) and trying to learn where to buy adventure passes, what time we needed to be there by, and any extra rules we’d need to follow when inside the camping area (it would be a felony for Wes to wheelie on federal grounds). For the Seattle trip I focused more on weather reports, since I knew it would be wet in places, and on any additional steps I would need to follow since I would be showing up after most people had gone to sleep.

Step 3: Gas and other stops

This is another area you will need to take into consideration. You or members of your group might need to stop in certain time or distance intervals for gas or for a rest and you will need to find and plan places along your route accordingly (assuming your route takes you somewhere that the gaps between gas stations are more than a few miles). If you're travelling in desolate places, the Googles may not be up to date with hours of operation or if places are even open. If there's any chance that you'll be pushing the range of someone's smaller tank, I’d call ahead just to be safe. Carrying a spare canister of gas is always a good idea if you can find the room.

For our Arizona trip, that meant planning for our friend’s sportster’s gas tank and for our sissiest member’s spine and butt (mine). His tank was fine for about 80-90 miles and my back was ok for 70-80 miles, but seeing as how most of our days were 200-250 miles and I was the one planning it, we stopped for gas every 70-75 miles or so and I blamed it on the Harley and lack of gas stations. Seeing as how we were talking about Arizona and summertime, I went online to make sure that all signs pointed to the gas station actually existing and being open. While on the trip, we found that one of them no longer existed and barely made it to the next one on fumes.

If you are like me and you want all of your road trips to feel like some movie where every place and person you experience fits into the quintessential road trip, you’ll also probably want to look into where you’ll find fuel for your body. I spent a ton of time reading ride reports and reviews on yelp and asking friends for recommendations about different restaurants and bars that would be near our destinations (the Ski Inn in Niland/Bombay Beach is an awesome food spot if you're doing the Saltan Sea/Salvation Mountain thing). If winging it is your thing or you’re fine finding some chain restaurant you can trust along the way, this step isn’t necessary, but doing so led to a better and more complete experience of the places we were visiting and to some of the most memorable parts of our trip.

Step 4: Maps and Roads


View Larger Map

The final step is to place all of these locations onto a map. I like Google maps best, although I’m sure most other map sites have the same features I use. My first step is to click the “get directions” box and place the address we will be departing from in the start box. From there I just start putting in addresses in the order I plan to stop at them, clicking the “add destination” button to add the next stop until I have my entire trip drawn as one giant route. From there I can look and see if there are any special roads or routes that look like more fun and I can drag the purple line of my route so that it incorporates the change I want and the site makes all the necessary changes as I update it. Once I am happy and have a map that uses every road I want and stops at all of the necessary places, I print a version with the whole map, the turn by turn written directions, and smaller maps of any sections that could be confusing later on. From there I just have to make copies for every member of the team for them to keep in case anyone is separated and we’re ready to set off on our journey.

Hopefully this little guide helps. If there is anything I forgot or that you would like to know or to add, feel free to add them in the comments section. I imagine within the community that reads this magazine, there is a wealth of knowledge and ideas I haven't yet discovered.

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