17 Lessons from 17 Days of Motorcycle Touring

After a temporary hiatus from being a motorcycle cling-on I was excited and nervous to head off on our 2 week adventure around Europe. We’d spent several weeks planning the route, booked most of our accommodation (Europe in summer is crazy busy), sorted out what was going in what panniers and then before we knew it, the day of departure had arrived.

Looking back it was an awesome adventure! We had almost perfect weather, we rode some amazing roads and whilst it was a little bit testing at times (but what adventure isn’t), we’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I think we could handle an ever longer adventure next time around…

To help you plan your next motorcycle road-trip here are 17 lessons we learnt from 17 days on the road.

Lesson #1: It Takes A While to Get into the Groove
When I did finally get on the bike (limited space and tight pants can be tricky), I realised I’d forgotten how to ride on the back of a motorcycle. I was struggling to hold on and sliding around all over the place. I bumped into Neil and his helmet every time we stopped and when we stopped for gas I couldn’t get off. I was the worst pillion ever! Whilst I was trying to get my motorcycle groove back, Neil was getting to grips with the added weight and the new tyres. Add peak AM traffic into the mix and the first 50 kilometres were a bit of a challenge. By the time we reached the Eurotunnel car park I was exhausted but I’d gotten a bit of confidence back, and then we got on the train…

Lesson #2: The Roof on the Eurotunnel Train is Really Low
Once on board the train (which is a lot easier to board than the slippery-surfaced ferry), Neil jumped off and I followed suit and bang! I hit my helmet on the roof of the train. That was the straw that broke the camels back and I decided the best option was to have a cry (in front of 3 random bikers). Once I’d recovered I’d realised I’d broken the tab off my helmets sunglasses mechanism which once on the road became super annoying. To avoid another head banging incident I opted to walk to the front of the carriage and the lovely Eurotunnel man stopped the vehicles behind us so I could jump on from the platform. Much better.

Lesson #3: July in England is cold, July in Europe is hot
On the way to Folkestone I’d worn my jacket with the liners in, a thermal top and a neck tube. I hate being cold on the road. Once on the continent I started overheating so the liners came out and the neck tube came off. For the remainder of the trip, the neck tube came out once every couple of days (mostly motorways), the thermal top got a couple of outings but the liners and the raincoats remained in the dry bag. It was t-shirts and open vents 90% of the time. I like to think that the raincoats kept the rain away so for the sake of sunny weather I’d take them again, just in case.

Lesson #4: Don’t take too much stuff. Just do some washing instead
I’m sure you’ve heard the pack what you need and then take half mantra before. For motorcycle travel this is especially true as space is at an absolute premium. After quite a few miles, we’ve managed to get our gear down to a tank bag, a dry bag and two panniers. One for my stuff and one for Neil’s – although Neil share’s his with the tools as well so it’s slightly unfair. We try to pack the bare minimum with the intention of doing a few loads of washing along the way.

In Thailand we usually hand our laundry over to a lovely lady who takes it away somewhere magical and returns it neatly folded and smelling amazing all for the cost of a couple of beers. On the road we tend to do bits and bobs when required. If you need to do a big load and you can’t find a washing machine, shampoo in the shower or basin with a little bit of arm muscle works well enough.

Lesson #5: Yammie deserves the best drink we can find
Yammie started the trip off roaring to go and then we stopped in France and fed her some 91 Octane and she turned into a sluggish beast so we fed her something better and she rapidly improved. Sometimes you get a crap batch of fuel and sometimes the fuel composition in other countries is different to what your bike is used to. If in doubt, go for the highest octane you can find.

Lesson #6: Sunburn inside a helmet is not fun, wear sunscreen
On a glorious day off in Austria we walked for half an hour in the midday sun to the neighbouring village for lunch. Being the fair-skinned girl that I am, I managed to pick up a bit of colour. The next morning; in all my pink-faced glory, I threw on my helmet and was promptly reminded just how burnt I’d managed to get. Scratchy helmet padding plus sunburn is not comfortable, just wear sunscreen people.

Lesson #7: Full gear isn’t cool (when it’s hot) but neither is not having any fingers or elbows
When the temperature starts to creep up I really hate my motorcycle gear. My hands are sweating in my gloves, my trousers are stuck to my legs, the zips in my jacket are open but I’m struggling to get any air movement happening and then someone rides past me in a t-shirt, jeans, sneakers and no gloves and I instantly think “Ahhh that would be so nice right now”. And then I think about how much I like riding on the back of a motorcycle and how impossible that would be without my hands, arms or feet and I don’t hate my gear so much any more.

Lesson #8: If you’re overheating, your tech probably is too
When the temperature heats up and you get all hot and sweaty spare a thought for your GPS/iPhone/navigation/camera system. Several times, after long stretches of midday riding or sitting in the sun at road works our iPhone(s) overheated inside the navigation case/tank bag and turned off. It’s not so bad if you’re stopped but when you’re flying along a motorway looking for an exit, look down and the screens blank it’s not helpful. Pulling over and tipping cold water over the back of the case helped cool things down a little bit but it was 5 to 10 mins before it had cooled down enough to turn it on again.

Lesson #9: Google doesn’t like tunnels or mountain ranges
We’ve never made an investment in a proper navigation system. Paper maps (LONtoMOR), street signs and/or our iPhones with Google Maps have worked pretty well so far. Until you find yourself at a t section in a mountain pass with no GPS signal, wondering what direction you need to head or in a tunnel which splits out into another tunnel and Google has zero idea where you are or how to direct you.

Lesson #10: Google does like sending you random places
On our second day in France part of our route through the Alsace region was closed due to road works, Google proposed a new route, so we accepted. This new route started out very scenic, then turned into a gravel road, which then turned into a goat track through the forest. After a bit of convincing from Neil we carried on through the shrubbery, drove across a farmer’s field and ended up back on the main road. Nice one Google.

Lesson #11: There are roadworks everywhere in the Alps over summer
When most of the winter sees your roads covered in snow and ice, the best option for repair work is during the summer months. We encountered road works all through Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia resulting in slippery, uneven surfaces, delays (sometimes 30 mins or more) and impatient motorists. Sometimes road closures work in our favour though. Austria’s longest road tunnel – the Alberg tunnel was closed, which initially resulted in some Google confusion but once we’d figured it out we took a very scenic detour over the Arlbergstrasse, a road we would have missed otherwise.

Lesson #12: Rise and shine, the passes are better in the AM and during the week
A lot of roads in the Alps are must-ride roads (the Stelvio or the Grossglockner for example) and come lunchtime they’re chock-a-block with motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists so the earlier you can ride them the more fun they’ll be. Due to their altitude, some also suffer from intense weather patterns which means visibility will be better in the morning before the afternoon cloud rolls in, and don’t even think about riding the big ones during the weekend. There’s enough traffic during the week without adding Sunday motorists into the mix!

Lesson #13: Switchbacks are not my friend
A lot of people love switchbacks, I am not one of them. The first couple are fun and then they become a chore. The constant zig zagging and stop go acceleration is exhausting and by the fourth or fifth one my arms are tired from holding on and holding myself up. Motorists don’t know how to drive them either, frequently cutting off motorcyclists and cyclists or refusing to move over when there is space to do so. The Stelvio Pass has 48 switchbacks, of which I probably enjoyed the first 10 and then I’d had enough. Switchbacks are not my friend.

Lesson #14: Neither are cycle races
I don’t mind cyclists or cycle races, in fact I quite enjoy watching cycle events sometimes, even if it is only to scout roads worthy of riding when they’re not under race conditions. I am not a fan of cycle races when you’re trying to get from A to B in 35 plus heat after an already long day of riding. Day 11 of our route from Portoroz to Corvara in Badia was supposed to take 4 and a half hours. Add the Maratona dles Dolomites sportive into the mix, with closed roads, cyclists and stop start traffic and we finally reached our destination 8 hours later.

Lesson #15: Take a day off or maybe even two
Our previous overland motorcycle trips have been a bit too rushed for my liking. We’ve raced around from place to place, sightseeing en route where necessary and then bunking down for the night and repeating it all over again the next day. We’ve had fun, but at the end of the trip we’ve been exhausted! This time around we sacrificed a few stops (namely Lake Como), so we could take some days off in Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. We gave our bums and the bike a rest, did a bit of sightseeing, had some sleep-ins and drank a bit too much and it was great. No more rushed road trips for us.

Lesson #16: I don’t really like riding with other motorcyclists
For some reason, some motorcyclists seem to lose all sense of sensibility when they ride together in groups and by groups I mean more than 3 or 4 bikes. They drive erratically, they drive too close to each other, they don’t look out for one another and they don’t obey the road rules. Don’t get me wrong, I like being part of the motorcycle crowd. I enjoy looking at other bikes and I like talking to other bikers, I just don’t like riding in groups with them. It scares the crap out of me.

Lesson #17: I really like travelling on a motorcycle
There is no better way to explore the world than on a motorcycle. Sometimes it’s cramped, sometimes I get rained on and sometimes it’s exhausting but I love it. It’s an experience like no other and it makes me feel like a bad ass. Win!

Have you been on a motorcycle trip? Share your tips for travelling below.

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