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Best Motorcycle Touring Bikes

Created: 18 Dec 2018
Dec 18
The Honda Africa Twin - just one example of a good Motorcycle Touring bike

We get lots of requests for advice regarding the best touring bike. Of course the stock answer is the one you are riding! Yes this is rather an over simplification, but the answer is used to encourage you to get out there and tour regardless of what bike you are riding. This is purely my personal opinion, but I think there are several factors that I think you should take into consideration.

Touring in the UK.

If you are touring in the UK you are on familiar territory. Distances are relatively short, there are plenty of garages/dealers in case of breakdown and help from friends is usually just a phone call away. 

For this reason we personally allow motorcycles of a lower cc. and older bikes to tour with us in the UK and Ireland.

Touring on the near Continent.
Here I am including places like Southern Ireland, maybe a trip to the Battlefields of Northern France.

Again generally low cc bikes and older models are fine. On our tours we insist that you take out some form of breakdown Insurance. Lower cc bikes are a little more stressed, and of course older bikes can be more unreliable so it is just common sense to protect yourself and ensure that you can get your pride and joy home.

European Tours
Yes the logical reasoning is that if you are going to travel on the continent there will be longer distances to travel, and due to limited time this can involve many hours of travel on the motorway. Here the bigger cc bikes win out as their engines are obviously not working as hard. These bikes are generally more comfortable so you get less tired and keep your concentration longer.

Bike type
Whatever you ride it has to be comfortable. Whenever I catch the ferry I am always amazed at the diversity of bikes everything from sports bikes to large tourers. Sports bikes I believe are more focused and will be a great deal of fun on the mountain passes but I think the tourers win out when getting there.

Fuel Range
Something that perhaps you do not consider when buying a bike, but if you plan to go touring you will soon find that it is a serious consideration and something that we have to allow for on our tours.

If you are taking an evening ride to your locally bikers café it’s not going to be a big problem, but once you get into the wilds of Northern Scotland or cross country in France on a Sunday then you can soon find yourself desperately looking for fuel.

As a general rule I would say a bike should have a range of at least 150 miles, this gives you a general rule to travel 100-120 miles between stops with a margin for safety. Even if your bike can do 200 miles plus it is always a good rule to top up whenever possible especially if travelling with other riders, they will not thank you for having to go off route to look for fuel.

When we first started our the two bikes we never allowed on tour were the Honda VTR1000 SP1 and the Yamaha Vmax – both which had very short fuel ranges. Thankfully things have changed; there are more fuel injected bikes which tend to more fuel efficient, and our customers with bikes such as the Honda NC750X constantly get 80mpg or better whilst touring.

Petrol is also much easier to find in Europe on a Sunday due to our credit cards been accepted at the new 24 hours supermarket stations. Spain is great as there seems to be a station round every corner, but Italy is now a nightmare as most stations are unmanned on a Sunday and only accept bank notes. Even certain motorway stations will not accept credit cards.

Yes, when touring you will need somewhere to keep your smalls. Here again the designated tour bikes will win out as many have either built in luggage or luggage that has been specially designed for that particular model. However, there are numerous manufacturers which supply luggage which can be used on your model of bike.

Soft luggage: is generally the saddlebag style that throws over the pillion seat. I personally do not like these, I have seen too many slip melting on exhausts, becoming dangerously close to the back wheel or seriously unbalancing the bike.

Hard luggage: in the form of moulded plastic/GRP or aluminium boxes are the two choices generally seen. On bikes such as my own Pan European they are moulded and I have inner bags which allow me to leave the boxes on when taking luggage into the hotel. The new Adventure bikes now have predominantly aluminium boxes, again with the option of inner bags. Unfortunately some of these are getting huge, fine if you are going around the world, but for normal mortals are just too wide. This now means that they are often unable to filter and effectively become as wide as a Fiat 500. A good rule of thumb is that they should be no wider than your handlebars, that way if you can filter through traffic your boxes are going to follow!!!

Top Boxes: Some people love them, others hate them saying they make the bike unstable. Your choice, they can very useful for storing helmets, clothing and much more. Many riders just have just a top box with a waterproof ‘stuff’ bag bungeed to the pillion seat, a good option I think.

Tank bags: great for keeping all your personal effects in plus things you want to get to quickly like camera, however, some are ridiculously high blocking off instrumentation and I am sure impair the riders ability to ride properly. I would also put back packs into this category.

Shaft or Chain: larger tour bikes in general have shaft drive as this is maintenance free whilst on tour. Chain on the other hand has to be kept correctly tensioned and well lubricated. However, modern chains are so much better and it would never put me off buying a particular bike because of this.

So the best motorcycle touring bike is the one that meets your needs. If you are new to touring you will initially ride what you have. If motorcycle touring is for you, then the chances are that you will want to be more adventurous and travel further afield. From what I have seen with our customers you will then seriously consider the more orientated tour bikes which provide you with comfort, fuel range, and easy luggage carrying abilities.

There is no end of choices on the market at the moment, because I travel a lot of miles, I personally ride a Honda ST1300, but Adventure bikes that can tour are now the preferred choice and it is no accident that such bikes such as the BMW R1200GS have gained so much in popularity.

As I said previously these are my personal thoughts and over the years running White Rose Tours I have had every type of bike on tour possible. Match your tour choice with you and your bikes ability – then you have the best Motorcycle Touring bike.

Comments (1)

  1. Alison:
    19 Dec 2018 at 02:17 PM

    Try before you buy!! Find a bike that 'fits'!! Go to a dealer with an extensive range of bikes. Take a mate with you to hold up the bike from the back as putting the bike on the centre stand does not give the same feeling. Sit on every bike in the shop ... sports bikes, tourers, off-road style bikes etc. Put your feet on the pegs and hands on the handlebars .... you will know immediately if the riding position is going to be comfortable!! What suits one person, doesn't necessarily suit another! For me, the most important thing is being able to get your feet flat on the ground (not tiptoes) as this will give you confidence in your motorcycle and your ability!

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