How to plan a motorcycle trip – effective free tools
Motorcycle Travel is Freedom! We did not fall into adventure motorcycle riding from one day to the next. Trip after trip we learned new tricks, because we wanted to have more fun and less worries. And believe when we say, some of the things we know now we learned the hard way! For many, riding a motorbike is linked with certain idea of freedom, adventure, discovery, etc. In order to experience that stress free, a certain hard work needs to be put in place in advance. The key to a great ride is to know how to plan a motorcycle trip beforehand and get the most out of it.
Smart planning is free
Doing adventure motorcycle trips as a solo rider you learn – sometimes the hard way – how to get more out of your motorbike adventures. Being stuck for 10 days in San Pedro de Atacama waiting for a slave cylinder can be expensive and boring, although bearable. But most probably the moment you need 24h to dig your bike out of the mud in a remote track in Bolivia you finally realize that having a less hassle travel is worth some advanced planning and hard work! Here’s the good news: more fun on a ride does not cost anything, it only involves some proper preparation.
Do in-depth research
This is one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip preparation. To start off with google maps, scour the internet for articles, travel stories, blogs of hikers, cyclists, bikers, searching open street maps for clues of interesting or unusual things to see. This way, you can stumble on ghost towns, haunted cemeteries, crashed planes in the middle of the desert, fantastic abandoned places and loads of spectacular landscapes that make each trip even more memorable. If your thing is to tick off the 10 most popular touristic spots of a given area, a Lonely Planet guide will do the job. However, if you’re into more remote places, you must do a proper research.
Some free itinerary building tools
MapsMe is a great tool to mark all the tracks, roads, locations, etc. you identify during your research. After having saved all the places you liked and would want to see, another fun bit is to try to connect these dots with what looks like the most scenic roads or tracks. For this, you can rely also on google maps, although always remember that those applications are never ideal and include bugs and mistakes. Therefore, a good solution would be to always have a backup app.
You can find the link for MapsMe here: https://maps.me
Basecamp is a track building program provided by Garmin. It is sometimes unfairly perceived as hard to use. Basecamp has useful video tutorials to get you started in no time. YouTube has also many videos showing real-life examples. A little patience will reward you with a very useful tool that is sure to make your motorcycle trip planning much easier. You can install Open Street Maps (see below) on it as well.
Free download is available here: https://www.garmin.com/en-US/software/basecamp/
For European paved route planning an easier tool would be ViaMichelin (https://www.viamichelin.com). It has a nice features, such as highlighted scenic roads and easy to find service locations. To see the highlighted road portions that indicate scenic roads, just scroll to the area of your interest.
There are many other routing applications available, free or payable. A simple google search will return pages of results. In this article you can find the basic and sometimes sufficient, easy-to-use and completely free solutions that work.
Experiment with routing options
Here’s a fun tip: toggle between the bicycle navigation options of MapsMe, Google Maps or Basecamp. This sometimes gives interesting routing options!
Planning for fuel stops & obstacles
When researching new remote tracks, it’s also a good idea to use the satellite views in google maps. This will allow you to get a feel if a certain route is going to be rideable – or if obstacles (impassable seasonal river crossing for instance) could make it too dangerous or impossible. Checking the distances between fuel stops also works great with MapsMe. This way, you’ll know if you have to carry extra fuel. Another nice feature of this application is the ability to quickly check the elevation profile of certain track sections: toggle from car mode to cyclist or pedestrian and elevation profile appears.
Save service locations
You do not want to learn it the hard way, so please remember, when you go to a country where the distances are significant, that it pays off to thoroughly research motorbike service spots, repairs, parts, tire locations, etc. You don’t want to end up hauling spare motorcycle tires or filters for thousands of km. You should save all those locations into MapsMe and your GPS, along with the websites and contact details of those locations before the trip. Being well prepared could save you tons of cash, days of effort and frustration on the road. For example, if you know that your rear tire has a life of approximately 6,000km – plan a rough route to make your way to a location where you know there’ll be a suitable tire. Don’t waste vacation time or energy in worries.
Open Street Maps vs. Garmin Maps
For navigation and motorcycle trip planning an Open Street Maps (OSM) is a great choice. We suggest this tool, because for us personally OSM is much richer then well known Garmin for example. However, bare in mind that the routing in cities can sometimes be wrong. In our opinion though, the extra detail in OSM outweighs potential shortcomings. Open Street Maps is also free! You can download your maps here for exemple: http://garmin.openstreetmap.nl. The option “generic routable (new style)” gives good routable results. Installing the maps in your GPS, if you use one, is very easy.
Off-road motorcycle tracks in Europe
In case your destination is Europe there’s a great tool – https://transeurotrail.org It’s a great starting point for experimenting with all these free to use tools to build your very own off-road adventure.
Smart planning can be totally free and can be a fun part of motorbike trip preparation. This will definitely help in making the most of your precious vacation time, turn each motorcycle trip into a discovery. With a little practice you will be completely fluent in using the free tools mentioned in this article. We wish you countless big and small discoveries in your next rides!