Can’t we just ride the darn thing?

Preparing your motorcycle for a trip can be daunting task.  Lets look at what to prepare before you head out on your next adventure.  We’ll be working on this from a “safety first” perspective – so you can go on many more adventures.

Motorcycle Tires

Unlike a car – a motorcycle only has two tire.  And we need them both functional to get down the road.  If one tire fails while you are in motion – you have your hands full, very very quickly.

Tread Depth

Based on how far you plan to go – you need to make sure you have plenty of tire left.

Do you need new motorcycle tires? Use the Penny Test, if you cover Lincoln's hair - you're good.

If you use the penny test, you can easily figure out how you’re doing on tread.  If you put the penny in, head first and it is deer than Lincoln’s head – you are good.  When it gets where you can see all his hair – its time for new.

Modern tires have wear bars in the tire.  They give you a very good idea of how much tread you have left.  As soon as the wear bar is flat with the rest of the tread…its time for new rubber.


If you notice cupping or uneven surface on the tires, this is not good.  You’ll need to look at replacing that tire.  It’s hard to see.  it can be felt by running your palm over the surface.  You’ll feel the cupping.

The biggest cause of cupping – under inflation.  Carry a tire gauge when on motorcycle trips.  Keep the proper inflation levels.  Make sure the tire gauge you buy will work with your tires/rims.  Motorcycle rims, tires and disc brakes are tight spaces.

Flat spots

Another, more common tire issue is flat spots.  These tend to happen to tires when you drive on more highways than curves.  When the bike is ridden more upright.  This can make the motorcycle unstable when corning – as you tend to fall into a curve over the ridge that is formed.

Some new tire manufacturers have began blending different types of rubber in touring tires – this puts a harder rubber on the top curve and then softer compounds on the outer edge.  This allows for a touring tire which wears well on the highway – but grips the corners when you get to where you are going.

Oil Check/Change

Depending on your manufacturer recommendations and the length of the trip you are planning – you may need to change your oil prior to leaving.

At a minimum, you need to change oil one a season – if you let oil sit longer than that you can accumulate moisture and that is bad.


You will want all your lights working properly – headlights, all turn signal and tail lights.


Its amazing the difference aftermarket lights will increase what you can see.  There are three types of bulbs available.

  • Halogen

    • basically a direct replacement bulb for most motorcycles – some of the best bulbs are by Phillips.
  • HID Lights

    • It can be a very technical job – but the upgrade can be very dramatic.  Many of the vehicles you see on the road today with very while light patterns are using HID.
  • LED H4 Motorcycle BulbLED

    • These have become very popular for their brightness – as well as cost.  They can be easily replaced with minor modifications.  And they are very durable in high vibration use – like motorcycles.

You want to ensure both your high and low beams working properly and that the lenses for your headlights are clean and clear cracks.

Many riders are not big into riding at night, and that makes sense.  On long trips it can happen – so make sure your lights are working the best they can be prior to leaving.

Turn Signals

Turn signals on motorcycles need to be as bright as possible.  Which sometimes goes against the style people like on certain bikes.  eBay and Amazon are littered with turn signals for bikes – some are good and bright and others look good.  But you can never see them from behind.  Anything you can do to make yourself more visible – please do it.

Note: If you do add aftermarket signals to your motorcycle – make sure they are far enough away from the head and tail lights to be seen from a distance.

Brake Lights

Brake lights have to be the most important light on a motorcycle.  Motorcycles are hard enough to see when all the lights are functioning correctly – but a super bright, flashing brake light will get drivers attention.

Here is a great LED, flashing brake light you can add to any motorcycle with little modification.  Its a HUGE difference – when preparing your motorcycle for a trip.

Flashing LED Brake Light
Flashing LED Brake Lights are very good warning to cars coming up from behind.

Motorcycle Battery

When was the last time you placed your motorcycle battery? For many riders it’s never.  If your battery is more than 5 years old – think about changing it.  That’s about $25-$30/year not to be left looking for a jump start.

ST1300 tore a part to find the hidden battery
This is a picture of my buddy with his Honda ST1300 literally tore apart on a side road – rural Tennessee.

What can happen is you add more load to motorcycle when you add gadgets and charging to a bike – and sometimes the battery takes the brunt of the pain.  Trust me when I tell you the last thing you want to do is be looking for motorcycle battery on a Sunday in the middle of Tennessee.

My buddy pulled over and used the kill switch to shut off the bike – what he didn’t do was turn off the key.  He battery was weak, just weak enough to not start after having the key sit on for a few minutes.  That was not the only time it happened on that trip – but it was fun to jump start a 2006 bike with my vintage 1978 Gold Wing.

Yusa Motorcycle Jumper Cables

Alongside a good battery – grab a set of motorcycle jumper cables.  They have “small place” friendly clips.

Note: You need to know where your battery and/or where you can jump start your bike.  Some batteries are deep within the inards of plastic fairing – or need side panels removed for jump starting.  Its best to know this ahead of time too – there is not always cellular service available in the middle of Tennessee.

Motorcycle Tools

Its good to do some work on your bike before you leave – it gives you an idea of what tools t takes to work on your bike.  You don’t want the weight of an entire toolbox – but a few of the essentials can be very helpful when your bike breaks down.

There are some nice motorcycle specific tool kits available.  It’s a good thing to have before your negative battery cable comes loose in the middle of NW Iowa.  Then your riding partner has to run to wal-mart for tools.  Not cool.  Trust me – true story.

Braking System

As much fun as it is to twist the throttle, make sure your brakes are working as good.  Brake fluid needs to be changed periodically – brake fluid attracts moisture and water is bad when it comes to brakes.  Here is a great “how to” over at instructables.  Check your owners manual to determine what type of fluid your bike needs.  Remember – fluid for the whole bike is less than $20.  It’s cheaper than brakes or an ABS module – which will get ruined if you run water in brake system.

Other Motorcycle Accessories

If you add accessories to your motorcycle for the trip, test them on a pre-trip run.

  • If you add farkles to the handlebars – make sure you have full turning range.  Sometimes add-ons will hit the windshield or tank bag.  My buddy with the ST always honked the horn when he turned hard right.  The horn button would hit the tank bag.  It would scare the crap out of anyone in front of him.
  • Make sure any wiring is water proof.  Electrical shorts will ruin a day of riding in the rain.  Use silicon and heat shrink whenever possible.
  • Handlebar risers will change the geometry of a bike-  so test drive that in corners and straightaways.  You want to maintain as much control as you possible can.
  • If you worked on your brakes – give them a test.  Its always good to see how quickly you can stop the bike when you want to.  Not when you have to.
  • Depending on how many accessories you added – you may want to do a charging system test.  Not all bikes can handle the extra load on the battery and alternator.  Its best to be close to home when you break down.  There are some inexpensive voltage meters – which can be added on with little work.

Motorcycle Bags – Out of the Way

Making sure you can have easy access to your fuel tank seems silly to think about.  But I always test access to the fuel cap.  If you are using a tank bag or map pocket, it can make fueling up harder.  I like to fill up prior to getting off the bike.  If the bag placement allows – its easy.  Then I can get fuel and move out of the way quickly without too much hassle.

Same goes for a tail bag or additional add on luggage.  Make sure you can get into your saddle bags or trunk with the bags on.  When you want access to a bag, taking 4 straps to take off first can be a pain.

Camera Access

One of things I like most about taking a motorcycle trip is getting good pictures.  I like to ensure easy access to my camera.  Its a great view from your bike.  I have a GoPro (and have also used other action cameras – that are much cheaper).  Another “must have” is various RAM mounts.  The two I can’t live without are the brake fluid cover RAM mounts.  Then the one that attach to the brake and clutch lever mount.

Conclusion – Preparing your Motorcycle for a Trip

The biggest reason I like to plan ahead is to enjoy the ride.  You want your bike to be the thing you don’t worry about.  So you can catch the open road, the great views and time to clear your head.

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