Introduction to Touring Motorcycles

Indian Chieftain motorbike

Long distance motorcycling usually takes a heavy toll not only on your machine but on your body as well.

If you are planning a 500+ mile interstate tour, probably any bike, including a 50cc scooter may get you there. But prepare for countless repair and refueling stops and unbearable back ache (alongside other kinds of pain) before you get to your destination, say three days later.

If you don’t find such an endeavor worth the trouble, then you need to get yourself a touring bike.

What is a touring motorcycle?

As the name suggests, touring motorcycles are bikes that are made for mid-range and long distance touring. This kind of motorcycle is usually designed for covering long distances on different types of terrain.

The performance and comfort of touring bikes falls somewhere between that of standard street bikes and sport bikes. Touring bikes are usually bigger than regular bikes and are usually more accessorized.

Some of the features that differentiate touring motorcycles from other bikes include:

  • Fuel tanks with a large capacity to allow long distances between fill-ups.
  • Excellent passenger accommodation; upright seating position for comfort on long trips.
  • Windshield and fairings that protects against wind and adverse weather.
  • Engines with large displacements and great horsepower outputs.
  • Expansive luggage space.

Types of touring motorcycles

Dressers / full-dress tourers

These bikes are distinguishable by their large size and ample bodywork. They generally have an extremely large windshields and fairings. This design has a very powerful engine with a large displacement.

Dressers are usually more accessorized than other types of touring bikes. GPS navigation systems, stereos and airbags are commonly installed on dressers.

These bikes are designed to ride on paved roads.

Adventure tourers

This type of touring motorcycle is designed with a mix of on-road and off-road riding for long range touring.

They generally come with high ground clearance for off-road riding, heavy torque and large displacement engines, large fuel tanks, and are equipped for high speed and handling.

Sports tourers

These encompass a hybrid between touring bikes and superbikes which allows for high-speed, long-distance touring while offering greater sport performance than dressers and adventure tourers.

Sport tourers aim to achieve a delicate balance between performance and comfort and the difficulty of achieving this feat make them relatively hard to come by.

Things to consider when buying a touring motorcycle

Photo by Matthew Self

Touring motorcycles come in different varieties each suited for different riding needs.

If you are planning to buy a touring bike, there are some factors you need to weigh to ensure you get one that fits your needs perfectly:

  • Budget

    You have to factor in the purchasing price of the bike as well as the cost of aftermarket modifications such as windshield, seat, luggage career etc.

    Fuel consumption is also an important factor to consider.

  • Type of touring

    If you do lots of camping trips then you will need a bike with extra luggage space for camping equipment. This factor will also call for a stronger bike to handle the extra weight.

    If your kind of touring involves staying in hotels or other fixed accommodation, probably all the luggage you will need is a change of underwear so a large luggage capacity won’t be that necessary.

  • The kind of terrain you expect to frequent

    For paved and mostly straight roads such as interstate highways, then a standard bike with 250-650 cc is good for you. For unpaved and twisting roads, the recommended bike would be a dual sport model with 650cc or more of engine capacity.

  • Frequency and length of trips

    These have a bearing not only on the luggage space, fuel range and comfort but also on the endurance that your bike needs.

    For longer and more frequent touring, go for a model with a tough build, ease of maintenance and repair and a reputation for reliability.

    If you are considering getting a used bike, less mileage is generally better but it may be wise to have a competent mechanic evaluate it for you.

  • Your body build and physical condition

    Fully customized touring bikes are usually heavy hence it is important for the rider not to exceed the safe seat height.

    Your height and body size have a great bearing on comfort and safety. You should be able to reach the pedals and handles of your bike comfortably.

    Some touring motorbikes have adjustable seat heights and it may also be possible to lower or lift the bike an inch or two using aftermarket suspension parts.

    Touring, especially off-road can be a nerve-wrecking experience hence you should be in top physical condition.

  • Touring experience

    Pro riders make riding look easy and fun, but you may find yourself contending with huge repair and medical bills.

    If you have little riding experience especially on off-road trails it is advisable to begin with a small or mid-weight touring bike. Handling heavy bikes with a great deal of torque could be dangerous for beginners.

  • Number of riders

    It is important to consider whether you will be touring solo or with a passenger.

    For the latter case, you will need a more powerful bike with greater luggage capacity than when touring solo. A two rider bike roughly requires a carrying capacity of 450 pounds and at least 60 horsepower.

Extra accessories

Photo by berobeeman

Tour riders often find themselves alone far away from civilization and on unforgiving terrain.

For this reason, it is not uncommon to see tour bikes equipped with GPS navigation, satelite radios, survival kits, skid plates (which protect sensitive parts during off-road touring), hard luggage, extra fuel tanks, air bags, air compressors and even heated seats.


Why would you want a touring bike?

Touring bikes are built to withstand the rigors of long distance touring while protecting the rider from fatigue and discomfort in a way that no regular bike would.

Many people prefer to install touring accessories such as a windshield, customized seats and ground clearing suspensions on regular bikes rather than buying readymade touring bikes from manufacturers.

While this may be cheaper, readymade touring bikes are usually built and customized using well calculated dynamics by professional engineers at the manufacturing plant. This means that they generally deliver greater touring performance than regular bikes and self-customized bikes.

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