Long Tour Preparation

Story by Richard Szpin// Photos by Motorcycle Mojo Archives
August 1 2009

Mom said, “Always wear clean underwear!”

A “long ride,” in my mind, means lots of time and lots of road, a few weeks and a few thousand kilometres.

I have completed a number of long tours: the Canadian Maritimes, the American Maritimes, the American Midwest, the Canadian west to the foothills of the Rockies: each ride about a month, each over 6000 km. Not the longest ever, but for me, long rides for sure.

My worries? Enough underwear, enough pairs of jeans! As my mom always said, “Make sure you wear clean underwear!” That said, only partly in jest, I am less worried about the distance and duration on the road than proper planning and packing. Do I pack it or buy it on the road? What are the essentials? What’s optional?

I leave in less than one month on my next long tour. I will describe how I am preparing and you can choose what is applicable to you and your own long trip preparation.

Based on my experience from previous rides, new advice from riders and updating from my web surfing, this new tour will take me from central Ontario, through the Canadian prairies, across the Rockies and around British Columbia including Vancouver Island. Whew, likely over 10,000 kilometres in about 2 months. Definitely a long ride!

At the outset know this: I am not a camper. Riders who camp are an admirable bunch, lots of endurance, tons of tolerance and loads of rustic skills. I am not one of them. Being a grey haired sage in the saddle, I want the smell of freshly laundered sheets, the relaxation of a cold beer on a full-sized bar stool and the reassurance of a clean ‘porcelain throne.’

My previous western tour was an adventure; the wilderness of the Lake Superior north shore, the island hopping and bridge crossings to link the Great Lakes, the endlessness of the flat prairies, and the majesty of the foothills to the Rockies. This time my ride will be more a dream, to be done once in a rider’s lifetime.

Preparation for such a motorcycle tour requires planning, imagining, reviewing, more reviewing and then reviewing again. The unexpected can happen, it rains and temperatures fluctuate, sometimes dramatically at higher altitudes. Therefore, I am preparing well in advance, planning meticulously and packing mentally over and over again, many times before actually doing it.


Long rides demand stamina, endurance and fitness. I am taking stock of myself physically, a sincere and honest physical assessment. I am at the gym regularly, eating with more care, and doing increasingly longer rides from home to condition my body. Being more fit means a more enjoyable tour.


A long ride needs more considerations than a Sunday jaunt near home. I will be on the road for many weeks, therefore much more has to be considered, like having an idea of where I’m going.

For my mapping issues, I use my CAA Plus membership by taking advantage of their unique ‘Triptik Travel Planners’, mini-booklets customized with routes, tourist sites, and advice relating to routes and associated destinations. Also, as CAA provides maps at no cost to members, I will get 2 for each of my destination regions, one for highlighting and note making, the other, kept clean for ease of consultation in the evening or for replacing the first if it gets too worn and tattered.

Next, by surfing the Internet, I use map sites such as Google Maps and Mapquest. Google Map’s highlighting feature, which can calculate distances and highlights the route for each day’s travel, is really useful. I also do searches relating to ‘tourist attractions in…’, ‘things to do in…’, ‘accommodation in…’, ‘service stations in…’, ‘bike dealerships in…’ etc.

I am averse to booking accommodation in advance and on-line. Long rides can have many reasons for delays including breakdowns, detours and I can tire sooner than expected. Booking a hotel room in person has real potential advantages: last minute discounts, upgrading, complimentary breakfast and tips about the area I am visiting. But be very aware, if you are riding in a very popular area during a prime tourist season, it may be advisable to book in advance. Try being in Calgary during the Stampede and you will know what I mean.

Group riders are almost guaranteed discounts, as are members of associations such as the CAA or the Ontario Motorcycle Association.


Years ago I started using a GPS. These mapping gadgets are relatively inexpensive, easy to install and a boon to those who are easily directionally challenged. In the expanse of the Canadian west, the device may seem unnecessary, but for navigating in, about and out of the large cities, they are time savers and stress relievers. Additionally, they also can list locations of service stations, hotels/motels and eateries.

I also travel with a net book—a small computer—some are less than 20 cm in screen width with wireless capabilities. I am always surprised at how often a computer has enhanced my trip. I upload digital photos, I ‘journal’ my journey, web surf for information about the area I am in for accommodation, ferry schedules and rates, entrance fees to local attractions and even menus of local restaurants. I am careful to ask about internet connectivity at my hotel/motel as some have it free in a lobby or bar area only and room connectivity is extra.

Communication while on the road can be an easy matter, though dependent on the convenience or one’s phone calling needs. Cell phone charges can escalate tremendously with roaming fees (with Bell Mobility approximately $3 per minute, yes, you read correctly), the cost for having telephone connectivity right in your hand anywhere in Canada and the USA which can be very sporadic or non-existent in sparsely populated areas. On the other hand, a GSM phone (Global System for Mobile communication) can be significantly less expensive and is available through the Rogers Network. I purchase a SIM card and pay a relatively small activation fee (about $40) and then I buy a pay-for-use card and I have the convenience of the cell phone at a much lower cost.

Riding can mean surprises, accidents can happen, emergencies can occur. I keep my necessary documentation conveniently in one place. This tour I am creating two modifications: one, an emergency contact card listing information about myself, my emergency contact persons and phone numbers, and my medications; the other, a brightly coloured sheet of paper taped to the inside of my hard case with that same emergency information.

As of June 1, 2009, you must now have your passport, or an enhanced drivers licence, in order to cross into the USA so be sure not to forget them. I would assume the new NEXUS card for Canadians entering the USA may also facilitate crossing.

Lastly in this area of preparation, I prepare a mini-first aid kit, containing gauze, Band-Aids, anti-bacterial gel, insect repellent and insect bite ointment. The mosquito infestation in the Winnipeg area in the summer is absolutely indescribable.

Now here’s an idea, which sounds ‘off the wall’ at first glance but for a solo rider, it could be a lifesaver. Get the word “HELP” stitched or dyed in a bright colour on the inside of your jacket. If in trouble, take off your jacket and invert it showing the “HELP” to oncoming cars. An alternative idea to the jacket is to make a ‘flag’ with “HELP” on it. It beats waving by a long shot.


I have my bike serviced before departure: fluids, lube, brakes, tires, and such. I also wash and polish it.

My storage capacity is excellent for one rider, less so, obviously for when my spouse accompanies me. Here are the things I pack for my bike:

  • Wash rag & chamois
  • Emergency tool kit:
    • Small adjustable spanner
    • Multi-tipped screwdriver
    • Needle nose pliers
    • Multi-tooled knife
    • Mini socket set
  • Duct tape
  • Electrician’s tape
  • Plastic tie wraps
  • Green garbage bags
  • High intensity mini flash light (crank type is good idea)
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Bungee type tie downs
  • Large tie down straps (for bike tie down on a ferry)


Packing is personal and very subjective. My bike has four storage areas: two hard side cases, a large back case and a tank bag. When my partner rides with me, I relinquish three quarters of my packing space, as her appreciation of any tour increases with the amount she can pack.

Now, to help you with your own packing plan, here is my packing list:


  • Driver License
  • Insurance/Ownership
  • Credit Cards
  • Passport
  • Emergency Contact Card


  • GSM Cell Phone
  • Computer w/ Charger
  • Digital Camera w/ Charger
  • Memory Cards
  • Batteries / Related Chargers
  • MP3 Player / Ear Plugs


  • Visored Helmet
  • Riding Gloves
  • Riding Jacket
  • Neck Warmer
  • Sunglasses
  • Head Scarf
  • Riding Boots
  • Personal Riding Clothing
  • Chaps (keep jeans clean longer)


  • Helmet (Summer Type)
  • Latex Gloves (For Rain)
  • Rain Gear
  • Clear Lens Glasses


  • Bug Repellent
  • Sunscreen/Sun Block
  • Chapstick
  • Emergency First Aid Kit
  • Bottled Water
  • Granola/Power Snack Bar
  • Reading Glasses (2)
  • Jean Jacket and/or Sweatshirt
  • Personal Toiletries
  • A Couple of Changes of Clothes and Footwear

A long tour can be a fun adventure; so much to see, so many people to meet, so many photos to take. As they say, stop and smell the roses…I add, take a picture. You are on a long tour. Take the side road; explore the road you are curious about. There is so much to enjoy and experience. Do your trip in such a way that it becomes just ‘you and the road.’ If you are fortunate enough as I am, to have the time and the family that understands, do it!

Lastly, a comment about doing it solo. First, the obvious. You need to consider your own safety and security. But secondly, in doing a ride solo, you are doing it to experience ‘you with yourself.’ It is a time to sit, look at the sunset or sunrise, and feel the inner you. It can be a spiritual escape of self-examination and self-analysis. Enjoy the journey as a time to think, to experience and to feel. What a wonderful world! What a wonderful experience, riding in the wind for all that time.

Good planning and careful preparation mean so much to a long ride. They can turn it from a fun ride into a very memorable one.



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