I am not one of those people who was born brave. Most things scare me and a teacher even once told my Mum that I would never do anything in life because I was too shy and timid. Yet I’ve just done my fourth motorcycle tour of the US – alone. This is not an exhaustive description of how to prepare for a bike trip abroad and you should ask a trained instructor for advice about riding techniques (ie, not me!), but if you need to build confidence, these tips might help.
1. Take a good course. Learn to ride a bike rather than to pass a test. If that course includes counter steering, so much the better. I’ve spoken to seasoned bikers who take courses to improve their skills even after passing their tests and I also recommend gaining experience riding in your own country after passing your test and before going abroad. I learnt to ride here: Circuit Based Training
The advice I was given on my course has stayed with me through all my foreign bike trips and has been invaluable.
2. Know your limits, but have faith in what you can do right up to those limits. Hesitancy can be as dangerous as over-confidence.
3. Take advice from locals or people who have ridden in the area, especially regarding the weather and deceptive features of the road. That’s not to say that you should let people intimidate you or put you into an anxious frame of mind – just give yourself the opportunity to make an informed decision about your route. It also goes without saying that you should familiarise yourself with the laws of the road in the country in which you are travelling and – I can’t stress this enough – insurance requirements. Go with the peace of mind of knowing that you are covered and within the law.
4. If you do get caught in bad weather, keep your head. It’s always good to avoid possibly dangerous weather conditions, but sometimes bad weather can’t be helped. Once, in New Mexico, I arrived at the town where I was planning to fill up to find that the petrol pumps had been ripped out. My choice was to ride 40 miles North and risk running out of petrol, or 15 miles South and risk getting caught in the Storm of Doom. Not wanting to run out of petrol in the desert and then get caught in the storm anyway as it moved North, I rode South and got rained on, hailed on, and had forks of lightening striking on either side of the road – the least fun I’ve ever had on a bike. You should have the skills to ride in wet and windy weather if you’ve had the proper training – have faith in those skills.
5. On that point, try to plan so that you can stop when you need to. I had planned to be in Santa Fe on the night of the Storm of Doom fiasco, but the last thing I wanted to do was go back out in that. I stayed at the remote and aptly named “Desert Motel” after filling up and got up a few hours early the next day to get back on schedule.
6. Choose the right bike for you – but don’t panic if you have to ride something else. Before my first foreign bike trip in California, I wrote to the rental place describing my experience and the kinds of bikes I was used to riding and asking about their selection of rentals. I had a Triumph Bonneville for my first two foreign trips and loved it. Then the first time I went to Tennessee, I tried an Indian Scout and loved it equally as much. When I ended up on a Harley in New Mexico due to a mix-up, I was a little apprehensive because I had heard that they were clunky and difficult to ride – but we survived the Storm of Doom together so I got quite attached to it in the end. If you’ve taken a good course, you should have the skills to handle any bike. As my instructor used to say, “All bikes are just a frame and two wheels.” Do, though, make sure you choose a good rental company that keeps the bikes in a safe condition.
7. You are already cool because you are touring by motorcycle. Don’t feel like you have to prove yourself by doing silly things! There’s a famous tree on the Tail of The Dragon on the Tennessee/North Carolina boarder called the Tree of Shame. Hanging from it are the parts of motorcycles that have been crashed by reckless drivers. There’s no glory in adding to it.
8. Don’t be put off riding if you are a woman. It’s not just for big, hairy men; most Moto GP racers weigh less than I do. When you are on a bike, you are powerful, vulnerable and beautiful all at the same time and I can’t think of anything more feminine than that. Also, don’t let other people’s attitudes put you off: the only people who have ever expressed concern about the fact that I am a woman biker are people who don’t ride themselves.
9. Enjoy it. It’s ok to cry when you have to give the bike back. I do!
Many thanks to Circuit Based Training for reviewing the post and giving it an expert’s seal of approval! They also recommended these books, which might help you out: “Pass the bike test. (And be a great rider too),” by Sean Hayes and “Twist of the Wrist 2,” by Keith Code.