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So Many Roads, So Little Time
Since we get asked a lot of times by enthusiastic bikers about how to go about motorcycle touring in different parts of the world, over the years from what we have researched, read, learnt & experienced first-hand, I am putting down here the essential pointers for doing bike rides around the world. Ofcourse, most of our motorcycle trips are fly-and-ride, therefore you will find information & resources most relevant to that in this section.

First & foremost if you are on a business/visit/tourist visa you need an International Driving Permit-IDP in ALMOST ALL COUNTRIES where you can legally rent a bike (some states in USA make an exception for a specific period of time as long as your country's license is in English). But my suggestion is you carry an IDP & have peace of mind. Normally here in Saudi Arabia, most travel agents issue the IDP within 24 hours. Its valid for 1 year and the issuing authority is the local automobile association. So you will have to find out in your respective countries who makes the IDP. To make a start ask reputed travel agents or the transport department or the local automobile/touring association for directions on this.
Health Insurance:
Health insurance is compulsory in Europe for visitors but in general I would recommend taking it for any foreign travel for the period of your visit just in case of any medical health emergencies such as sickness etc. Don't mistake this insurance with motorcycle accident injury as some health insurance policies in their fine print may consider motorcycle riding as dangerous activity and exclude it. Since myself & wife are Indians, we normally do it with one of the many Indian Insurance companies, who do health insurance for foreign trips at a reasonable premium.
Accident Insurance:
This is compulsory everywhere and normally included in the bike rental, but the level of coverage could vary and IMPORTANTLY, most bike rental companies will take upfront a refundable deposit of anything from equivalent of US$ 1000 to US$ 3000 and above as 'insurance deposit' depending on the length of rental period. In some accident cases, they take away an insurance excess of US$ 1000 etc for the bike damage repair, but otherwise they just take the 'replacement value' of that item you broke. Also god forbid, in the event of personal injury, the hospitalization in that foreign land is covered by this insurance.

As for renting a bike & doing the trip: There are 3 main options:

OPTION-1: Rent only the bike & plan your trip, route, stopovers, accommodation etc by yourself. This is normally the least expensive and I personally prefer this option simply coz it gives you more flexibility, you ride at your pace, stay in places you like and decide everything by yourself. Also, for me planning the trip and doing all the research on places, accommodation options, local cultures, food etc is part of the adventure and gives me a wider knowledge of what to expect from the trip. If you remember, we never made any room reservations on our Europe trip. Every evening we just went & searched for a suitable bed & breakfast accommodation. But, may not necessarily work in all countries!

OPTION-2: Renting the bike on a self-guided trip organized by a bike touring company. This is a little more costlier, but here they rent the bike and also give you the options of a few pre-determined scenic routes to select from and you ride by yourself. They make the hotel reservations based on your budget. Here about 60% of the main headaches are taken care of by the tour company and ofcourse, he takes a small profit for that. Most times, well worth the extra money you spend coz they select accommodations that are safe, clean and have a good track record.

OPTION-3: Doing a fully guided trip as a group of 8-10 bikes, with a guide lead-rider and a chase van behind to carry luggage/ spare bike etc. This is the most costliest as they normally use premium late model bikes, stay in luxurious hotels and take care of almost all your needs. Some even have a lavish BBQ dinners, relax at spas etc etc and also sometimes have a professional photo/video grapher documenting the ride so you have a CD at the end of the ride. You will be met at the airport and after the trip dropped back to the airport. Ofcourse, all included in the bill you pay for…. all First Class! But here, your expectations from a trip may be different than whats provided. Maybe you are not keen on spending one off day in a spa or going on some traditional wine tasting spree etc. Sometimes, group riding could take away some of the fun as you get engrossed on staying within the group rather than enjoying the scenery. And if it's a fast group, you will be doing a catching up act half the time!- so there are some factors to be considered, but overall it's a nice experience since everything is taken care of by the tour company- you only need to keep your credit card or cash ready for the premium bill!

Be aware that option 2 & 3 are mostly done by bike tour companies (such as Edelweiss, Ayres Adventures, Admotours, IMTBike etc) and most of them DON'T own the motorcycles but rent them from renting companies and put their mark-up. So if you are going with option 1, then search & rent from the actual renting source rather than the tour company. Try googling for the source or even ask bike dealerships in that particular city about good rental outfits. Also, if you are renting for more days, then the kms is unlimited. Alternatively, in some countries, individual bikers also rent their personal bikes at much lower rates, but then the dependability of that bike or damage etc will have to be mutually agreed upon between the two of you. Some of the forums listed at the bottom of this page could be an excellent source to hook up with such private renters.

Here is an interesting site that really attracted me into my first foreign trip on a budget! The author, Alex is an experienced bike tourer and gives you very relevant insights into doing your own tour versus a fully guided premium tour:


As for choice of bikes, I am not an off-road adventurer and prefer all my touring on well paved tarmac especially since I carry a very important parcel on my back- my wife . I generally prefer BMW bikes not to flaunt the prestigious 'Blue & White Roundel', but simply for their functional value in touring. Almost everything is well thought of on that bike for long distance touring. Mostly renters offer the R1200GS, R1200RT, R1200R, F800GS, F650GS. Less expensive but adequately capable & reliable touring options from Japan also include the Suzuki DL650/DL1000, Bandit 1250, Honda ST1300, Varadero, Transalp, Yamaha FJR1300, Super-Tenere, TDM-900, Kawasaki GTR1400, KLR650 etc. Here you have to decide on bike based on solo or 2-up riding. Most of the 650s/800s are suitable for solo riding with luggage while few rental companies may not even permit 2-up riding on a 650 bike. Whereas if you have a pillion & luggage, plus all the steep climbs on an alps trip, you definitely need a more powerful bike. I like removable hard luggage cases coz they can be locked & left on the parked bike when you go sight-seeing and its easy to remove & carry into your hotel room. Nothing against Harleys, but my personal opinion is on the flat long interstate highways in US, they may be fine, but with never ending twisties & hairpins like the European alps etc, Harleys may need a lot of work from you, but if you are up to it, they are also fine & reliable for touring, but you may need to get used to their forward foot controls, which personally are not very comfortable for my lower back. It must however be noted that there are spectacular parts of Latin America, Africa, Australia etc that need to be explored on unending miles of dirt tracks. So if you are up for the challenge, go for it- Its really worth the plunge.

Crucially, while taking delivery of the rental bike there is a special excitement & tickling in your stomach about the dream ride, your bike, the whole experience etc, but its VERY IMPORTANT, to make sure you take your time & inspect the bike thoroughly for all damages, scratches or other suspect things and convey it to the renter to put it in writing as these things suddenly get visible the day you are returning the bike & you may end up with a hefty bill for damages!!

For basic accommodation, you can carry your tent-pack/sleeping bag and use camping sites. In Europe, US, Australia etc, they have a proper set-up for camping sites with provisions for running water, electricity (charging your mobiles, cameras etc) and common toilets etc. It works out very cheap as well and definitely adds to the whole adventure experience, but somehow that's not for me!

However, for those like me, I like a proper bed, pillow and probably heating/air-conditioning for a good nights sleep at the end of a days tiring ride so I can get up fresh for the next day ride rather than setting up my tent each day and making a fire, fighting off mosquitoes etc. I don't need fancy hotels, but budget ones with clean sheets, clean attached toilet and if possible a secure place to park the bike for the night. For those with deeper pockets, 3 or 5 star hotels make the experience more……oomph!

Europe has plenty of Bed & Breakfast(B&B) and they locally call them by various names like Gusthof, Pension, Zimmer Frei etc. This I think is an excellent accommodation option for bikers. I went with that. Its basically the house of a person, where lets say his family lives on the ground floor, while they rent out 5-6 rooms on the first floor. They will have a separate guest dining room with an attached pantry and they serve you breakfast there. Wi-fi internet is also normally available free of cost but may only work in the dining room. The price is indicated outside on the main door of their house written with chalk (Euro 12 or 15 or 20 per person). These are clean & homely places, but they mostly only accept cash, no credit cards. In the smaller towns & villages, you can almost knock on any door and politely ask if they have rooms and they will tell you if they have a B&B or guide you to the nearest B&B. Hotels will be definitely costlier and you don't find too many in the remote alpine towns & villages. Interestingly, on the way to Salzburg city, we were advised by a local at the petrol station to take a B&B about 30kms before Salzburg and the cost savings were substantial when compared to the hotel prices in Salzburg.

I always consider the local food to be a major part of the bike touring experience as that is one of the elements to taste & absorb the local cultures of that place. So even if I have an Indian restaurant at arms distance in a foreign city, I always try & avoid it for 2 basic reasons- Firstly, Indian food may be a delicacy there and you pay exhorbitant prices and second a dosa or murg tikka masala that you have in Salzburg or Paris is not going to taste anywhere close to the authentic stuff that you will have in Chennai or Delhi. Ofcourse, as Indians, we may have a few more problems on the selection of foreign foods- for example vegetarians will find it tough in Europe and will have to make do with cheese, bread & fruits, or muslims like me have a problem in Bavaria which is traditionally famous for a lot of pork dishes. But anyway, you have to find the right mix, but make sure you ask in advance what are the general lunch timings in each country (we had that problem on our first day in the Alps!). Also, after our experience in the Italian alps, on future trips to non-english speaking countries I plan to carry pics of chicken, fish, lamb etc!!! BTW, one good thing in western Europe is that most of the tap water is of drinking quality & the locals drink from it (mineral water is expensive). So do I need to say more than - Carry an empty bottle always with you....

Me & wife as tea addicted Indians know you don't get strong tea with milk in most western countries and hence on our bike or other trips we carry few tea bags, some sugar/milk powder sachets, spoon and a tiny electric hot water kettle. Works perfect for us as good tea is always welcome at any time of the day.

My trip plans always start with a conventional map (google maps come in later). Atleast you can actually see what roads are there, which cities along the way and physically look at the approx distances etc. (then you can search on google maps about the distances etc). Once a rough route is charted, then googling for the importance/history of the places and touristic attractions, other bikers who have ridden on this route etc. Michellin maps also show 'scenic routes' with a green line along the road, so you can make your selection there. Again, I color-photocopy the specific parts of the large map for each day's ride, so I can easily fold it & place it in the map pouch of my tank bag (rather than folding in all combinations the huge original map & damaging it). The next day the next page replaces that.
GPS are getting more & more important for trips, but even now you can manage most of your trips without it, but sure a GPS is useful esp in big cities, as it will give you an easy way out searching for hotels, restaurants, tour sites etc.

I use a combination of map & GPS for the ride so I basically follow the map and know my exact location by a mere glance on the map rather than pressing buttons on the GPS to get other vital information (I am not flying a Boeing 747!). So the GPS is more of a back-up so I don't get lost and waste time going in circles. In the cities, I blindly follow the GPS instructions as that takes away a lot of the stress of looking at street signs & other landmarks to reach your destination with all the traffic etc. This is not fool-proof, but it's a good option.

A secret formula for this is to first check out some of the routes done on premium fully guided tours by the famous tour operators on their website. Here you will get a general idea of what all places/routes are covered, distances, time & days taken, safer parts of the country etc. After that you decide on the no of days you want to ride. Then set a daily minimum/maximum distance you want to ride (my personal choice is 200-300kms per day as I have found that as a optimal mix together with my wife for riding fun as well as sight-seeing/food/photo-op stops etc). Then you can decide based on your personal choice of how much mountain passes, coastal rides, historic sites, deserts, forests, lakes, tarmac, off-road etc you want to do. Then start googling with relevant search topics and also peep into some international touring websites or even maybe put up queries there (below I have listed some of those resourceful websites as well). This way you will know what to expect from the trip and will not keep your expectations higher than required! Lastly, my self-imposed rule for international bike touring- NO RIDING AFTER SUNSET IN AN UNFAMILIAR PLACE. Its not just the safety aspect, but road/driving conditions at night and especially dangers from wild/stray animals crossing the road or mechanical break-downs in a country where you are not very familiar with the language etc.

Its important to decide what time of the year you want to tour in a particular country. Although we cant dictate to the weather gods, we can surely plan the trip in climates that we like. Ofcourse if the unexpected downpour comes, we have to be prepared. For example in South Africa or Australia or New Zealand, the summer is in December, so you dont have to go with heavy winter riding gear and then end up like a pressure cooker! Also, once you have selected your route, I would suggest to drop into the websites like www.weather.com & others to find out the present climate in those places (min/max temps, rains, fog, snow etc). Similarly, many of the Alpine passes and US mountain roads are closed during certain months of the year due to snow, landslide conditions etc, so you have to check in advance when they open.

Again this can vary from person to person, but my check-list has the following items for an overseas bike trip:
International Driving Permit & Indian license (Bike & car)
Medical Insurance policy
Mobile phone
Helmets, Jackets, Pants, Boots, Gloves
Light packing raingear
Undergarments & socks
Thermal innerwear top & bottom
Mittens, wollen gloves, wollen cap
Pullover jacket & track pants (for evening strolls on foot)
Casual sports shoes/keds
Eyeglasses (extra pair also), sunglasses, contact lenses
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Shaving gel, Blade
Tablets for Vomitting, Lose-motion, Gastric probs
Creams for Itching, Cuts & Dry skin
Small pack of wet-tissues
NEW! Preventive Homeopathic medicines (against common Flu, Swine flu…)
Puncture Kit, Mini-air compressor, masking tape
Maps & GPS
Laptop, Charger, External Drive, Pendrive
Camera Still, Camera Video, Chargers, mini-Tripod
Tea-bag, sugar, milkpowder sachet, spoon, dry fruits
Bike Intercom, charger & attachments
Notepad & pen
Mini-Electric Kettle & mini-hair dryer (for fast drying of rain soaked clothes)
Electrical extension cord (suitable for Euro or US plugs)- Very Important!!
Empty small plastic water bottle no 1- For fill-up and drinking
Empty small plastic water bottle no 2- (if Indians ask me why? well toilets in the west only have tissue paper...!)
Some countries will require you to compulsorily carry some things, which I suggest you always check in advance from the place where you rent the bike. For example in Austria it is compulsory to carry a first-aid kit on your bike, they also require a special highway permit sticker affixed on your bike for the duration of your ride. Similarly, some other European country requires a reflective vest to be put on if you are stopped on the side of the highway. And yes there is a rule in Europe your helmet must be a CE certified helmet, although they may rarely check. BTW, in Italy it is illegal to ride even with one hand on the handlebar!! Similarly malaria vaccination in Africa etc.

I have seen many people comment- some countries are annoying for travel, others comment they are less safe or a few others comment they are notoriously dangerous. However, a lot of times the media, national travel advisories or other sources paint a country very negatively and most potential tourists end up with that impression. Here it is important to understand that every country will have its good, bad & ugly, therefore its up to you to do the right research and also take a lot of local advise as they would give you the best pointers of what is safe & what is not. There could be a small part of a city that is outright dangerous, whereas as there could be a large part which is as safe or less safe as any modern city in Europe, US or elsewhere. Ofcourse, common sense and not flashing your valuables and constantly keeping guard of your personal belongings would go a long way before you simply do something foolish and then brand that country as unsafe. There is a common ploy I read in many places where pooh or spit is deliberately dropped onto you from top and a 'good samaritan' instantly coming to help you clean it (and your pocket!). All said, if you are ever stopped by bandits with an automatic gun in the middle of nowhere, don't be James Bond, but simply & politely give them what they want (this in some cases will help you returning to your country in the passenger section rather than a box in the cargo section of the airplane!!)

I always peep into the following websites to get info in the section TRIP PLANNING or REGIONAL FORUMS as well as review & enjoy trips of other riders that have done such trips in the RIDE REPORTS section. There is a wealth of bike touring information there & if you put your query there, lots of like minded bikers who are always eager to answer your silliest of silliest questions.









If anybody has some more pertinent information on similar useful motorcycle touring websites around the world, please do share them with me in the Guestbook so I could put it up here. Thanks.

Lastly, a very friendly advice to all international bike touring enthusiasts- Touring on a bike gathers more attention from people than making the same trip in a car or tour bus. Therefore, always keep in mind that in your own right you are like the people-to-people ambassadors of your country in any foreign land, and irrespective of how the media may portray your country & its people or the host country & its people, always try and leave a good & lasting impression about your country and its people thru your actions, deeds & respect for the cultures & people in that foreign land.

All the above topics are what I can think of for now. If anything else comes up as times change or with more wisdom(!), I shall keep editing & updating this page.

Ride safe and enjoy your travels.


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