Tips on Preparing Your Motorcycle for Your Next Long Tour

Your bike will be rearing and ready to roll if you put these tips to use

Preparing your bike for a long tour
Make sure your bike is ready to roll for your next long trip.Cruiser

Preparing your bike for a long trip shouldn’t be too different from preparing it for a Sunday afternoon ride. The major differences in the two kinds of rides are, first, that you’ll be riding it further, and second, that you will probably be carrying more weight on your bike.

Stretching Rubber
If you are planning a long trip with lots of miles, you can anticipate more wear on most moving components than you'd normally see in a comparable period. Exceptions include brake pads, which probably won't see much wear unless you travel mountain roads.

The biggest equipment issue is tire condition. If you are unsure whether or not your tires have enough tread to make the trip—or if they are already showing noticeable mid-tread wear—replace them before you embark on a long ride. If you are on sabbatical and expect to wear even new tires out on your trip, make plans to replace them before they wear out. On an Alaska ride we arranged to have tires shipped to dealers in Fairbanks so we could replace them before we started home. If you simply walk into a dealer to buy tires, you will probably get stuck with whatever is on the rack or, if nothing fits, what they can get delivered in a hurry. You can call ahead and arrange for the dealer to have the tires you want, stop into a dealer you will be passing again a few days later, or mail-order some tires to be shipped to some place along the way. It will pay to know not only the exact tires you want but also to have a fall-back option if they are not available.

If you install new tires, don’t wait until the night before you leave. Give your tires a few days of riding to reveal any mounting problems, seat thoroughly and scuff in. Monitor pressure to see how well they hold air, and be sure to inflate them to the higher pressures recommended for additional loads. It is the air inside, not the tires, that supports the load.

While traveling, visually check your tires and wheels at every stop. This will improve your chances of seeing a wound that might otherwise be obscured by the fender, etc. Before mounting saddlebags each morning, check pressures, which will provide warning of a pinprick puncture, too. If you do sustain a puncture, don’t consider going a mile farther than absolutely necessary with an external repair. Get a proper repair (plugged from the inside or a fresh tube or tire) at the first motorcycle shop you come across.

Chain of Events
A long trip will also accelerate wear on your belt or chain and sprockets. A broken drive system will at the very least strand you, and a chain that comes off could lock up the rear wheel. If it's stretched, tight, or worn, replace the entire assembly. If your belt has most of the recommended mileage on it, why not replace it before leaving? On the road, either system should be checked daily for wear and damage. If it's my bike, I lube the chain at every gas stop. I have heard all the claims about self-lubing chains and I know what kind of mess all that lube makes, but I am absolutely certain that all chains last and work more efficiently if they have lots of lubricant.

Your engine should be given a tune-up, fresh lubricants and clean filters. Tight valves, loose primary drive chains, or little leaks should all be addressed lest they strand you on the road. I’d also want to make sure that my wheels were aligned, the steering head bearings had no tight spots, there was no rust in my tank, my brake pads had plenty of meat, and my fork had enough fresh oil.

The extra load will fall mostly on your rear suspension, so if your suspension is getting a little slushy or if it started out on the soft side, the rear shocks should be replaced. The aftermarket can set you up with better and more durable components. If you expect to make frequent long hauls with luggage and your spouse aboard, you should opt for a set-up calibrated for the extra weight.

Check Points
Before packing up in the morning, take a couple of minutes to check critical items besides wheels and drive. Lights, controls, fluid levels (brakes too), fork seals, etc. should all be eyeballed before you clean your windshield.

Make sure that your luggage is secure. Use extra bungee cords or nets on items like tail packs and tankbags. Be sure luggage is well clear of wheels, drive train and mufflers and that what you add to the front of the bike is not blocking air flow to the engine. The area just above the front fender and below the bottom triple clamp should be kept clear to avoid blocking cooling air. I once crashed when a tailbag broke a mounting strap and fell into the rear wheel. I have seen poorly secured saddlebags and a duffel drop off right in front of riding companions on different occasions. We once had a hard saddlebag mounted by the bike's manufacturer that caught fire because of its proximity to the muffler. Your first day in particular should have an easy schedule because it is when most of these things will come to light and need to be resolved.

Assuming you don’t do something damaging (like tie your sleeping bag on the fork and block the air flow), those long runs at highway speeds are great for your bike, especially if it doesn’t get daily exercise. If you tend to its needs before departure, it will enjoy the ride as much as you do.

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