How to Train for a Motorcycle Tour
You’ve invested in the adventure of a motorcycle tour. Here’s how to prepare so you’ll get the most smiles per mile and not be “that rider.”
Not Being “the problem”
Riding in groups on a motorcycle tour far from home is fun. That sense of wonder and discovery is infectious. Everyone you are with is more likely to be relaxed because they are “on vacation”. Far from their guarded home environment people are often more authentic and honest than they would be at home.
Indeed, if you really want to know someone, travel with them. Tours are often where life long friendships are made. It doesn’t happen every tour but us motorcycle tour guides know the common types of “problems”. When you’re “the problem” you usually aren’t having any fun either, so here’s how to avoid it.
What’s Your Plan?
Riding ability is always the big unknown for motorcycle tour operators. No matter how much a tour guide tries to learn about someones skills before the tour, you just don’t know until the first day.
Leod Escapes tours run at a quicker pace than your average motorcycle tour as we attract more skilled riders. Regardless of which tour operator you are with, there’s usually a range of skills within your group. While the general rule we say on Leod Escapes tours is “if you are trying hard to keep up DON’T,” you still don’t want to be the rider that is holding everyone up.
Crashes hold everyone up for hours. To get more enjoyment out of your motorcycle tour make a conscious effort to improve your riding skills before you get on the plane. Every time you swing a leg over your bike, you should have a plan of what you want to be working on: Braking? Vision? Smooth throttle? How about picking and executing a line? What’s your plan?
Train for the Destination
Ask your tour operator what you should practice for? It will make them so happy. For example for our Italy tours I tell our clients, they will be facing lots of blind corners that will require late turn entry and possible mid corner correction. How about executing low speed turns on cobblestones in the rain.
For our Alps tours it’s all about narrow roads and practicing how to take different lines on low speed switchbacks. Staying precise and smooth as there’s often no guardrail between you and a 2000 meter drop. For Spain it’s practicing smooth transitions from left to right and relaxing the upper body for mile after mile of curves.
For our Australia tour there’s a particular need to carefully read the surface of low trafficked roads and make a precise plan for each turn. Practicing emergency braking in a turn to dodge a wallaby is a good idea to. Take time to prepare for these potential hazards. It will give you a good excuse to go riding.
Coaching from Professionals
Credit goes to Nick Ienatsch for the phrase “The single best aftermarket purchase you can make for your bike is rider training.” It is so true. Modern motorcycles have outpaced cars with advances in tires, brakes, suspension and certainly horsepower. Human riding abilities have not evolved to catch up.
California Superbike School is undoubtedly the most successful rider training school in the world. Valuable lessons can also be learned from Yamaha Champions Riding School. Some track day organizations have good programs as well. If this advice seems a little centered on race tracks its because, the race track is the safest environment to learn the capabilities of your bike.
Be wary of riding buddy advice, just because a rider is fast doesn’t mean they are skilled at teaching. Some riders are fast because they take more risks, other riders are fast because they are more skilled. Luck runs out. Build your skills.
Touring outside your home country is a blast. The vistas, the different patterns of life, the hilarious billboards, but one thing that can screw you up is the road signs. On the first day you’ll be adjusting to a different bike, riding with different people and different road structures. You don’t have time to consciously puzzle out what the hell that sign means. Read up on signs for your chosen destination before hand. Here are some examples of what we see on Leod Escapes Tours.
Here’s a primer on Italian Road Signs: http://italyexplained.com/driving-road-signs-italy/
The Germans are a bit more “orderly” and therefore more complicated: http://www.gettingaroundgermany.info/zeichen.shtml
Some tips from fellow travelers about Spain’s odd road signs: https://wagonersabroad.com/driving-in-spain-spanish-road-signs/
Here’s the Road Signs for Australia, we’ve only seen the Platypus Crossing sign in Tasmania: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs_in_Australia
People are products of their environment and regions do develop their own habits. It’s hard for a local tour guide to explain their own culture. You have to have a basis for comparison. Here’s our biased take on some of the places Leod goes. Italian drivers are aggressive but skilled and they expect you to be just as a aggressive.
In an emergency Italians will turn the steering wheel before pressing the brake. Italians aren’t too worried about the rules. Germans follow the rules. In Germany and Austria the passing lane is for passing only, once you done passing, get the hell over. The positioning of stoplights is completely different in Germany and outsiders will find themselves often stopping too late.
Germans will show you five road signs all at once. In Spain, once outside of the cities you won’t see many vehicles at all. Spaniards just don’t drive that much and their skill level shows it. Overall your average European has spent time on at least a scooter growing up so they are in general more courteous to riders. Australians tend to follow the speed limits pretty closely on main highways because while tickets are rare, they are damned pricey.
Stay in Attack Formation
You many not be familiar with riding in a larger group. Practice keeping a distance of a two to three seconds between you and the rider in front of you at all speeds. If you’re not riding in a group practice doing this with cars so you get used to the distance and can do it automatically.
Hitting the rider in front of you is an all too common error, don’t be that guy. Don’t fall behind too far either. To keep the group moving and make sure no one gets separated the phrase is always “keep it tight, keep it moving.”
On the straights move into a staggered formation and as soon as the curves begin again go to single file so you can use the whole road. At stop lights two a breast is preferred so your guide can see if everyone is still together.
Smooth on the Brakes, Plan with your Eyes
Before your grand adventure, practice really getting hard on the brakes smoothly. This will help if you are one of the slower riders who needs to catch up in the straights and then brake for the next turn. Practice being mindful of where you want to enter a turn then scanning for the apex and exit point. This will help you enjoy your trip and give you more relaxed moments to view the spectacular world you’ve come to see safely.
Rehearsal and Practice
Gear up in all the riding gear you intend to take with you and take your bike out for a long day trip. Will this gear serve you well? Where do you always put your wallet, your cell phone, your motorcycle keys, your camera, your gloves, your helmet when you stop. Develop routine habits for these items. Practice doing fuel stops fast and being ready to go quick. These habits prevent mishaps when you are faced with all the wondrous distractions you’ve paid to experience.
Being the Traveler not the Tourist
You are going on this organized trip to experience another land on two wheels. We all know this is best way to see the world. Realize that unless you travel abroad a lot, most locals will spot you as a foreigner straight off. Body language is often the first giveaway. If this is your first trip in a non-english speaking land avoid the temptation to speak in English at double volume.
Guess which nationality is famous for this? Various tour operators vary in their approach; at Leod Escapes we focus about 80% on authentic local stuff and 20% on touristy spots. As touristy as some things are they are often still worth seeing. Be patient with people who speak only a little English.
Try to learn a few simple words and phrases. Curiosity is of course encouraged but asking complex questions in English will probably get you an inaccurate answer, if not a blank confused smile. While abroad you are an ambassador of your nation, be a polite and courteous guest. Cultural attitudes, regional characters and just plain acceptable behavior varies far more than most of us realize. If you feel you are being wronged, tell your tour guide and let them handle the situation.
Handle your High
You might be able to pound 4 beers at lunch and ride just fine but don’t do it. It will make your fellow riders nervous. Attitudes vary from tour operator to tour operator with regard to evening festivities. At Leod Escapes when the ride is done, we often encourage our clients to have a bit too much fun with the subtle reminder that tomorrow we have to ride again.
Game for Adventure
Things don’t always go as planned. Bikes breakdown, road construction happens, restaurants unexpectedly close, there’s a massive convention in your arrival city. Much as your chosen tour operator has hopefully tried to plan for all eventualities… rain happens. Take it in stride, you could be safely at home sitting on the couch binge watching Netflix but you chose to experience life and life is unpredictable. You will undoubtedly return home with some amazing memories. That’s why we all do this.
Now you know… so go!
Cat MacLeod is the General Manager of Leod Escapes
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