Preparing & planning for adventure – Part 5: Introduction to trip planning

One of the questions I’m often asked by new adventure riders is “How do I get into adventure riding?”. For seasoned tourers it may be second nature, but for new adventurers it’s an important question that warrants more discussion.

Many adventure bike owners were previously road or dirt bike riders, so getting off the main roads or riding for several days was often not even on their radar.

Sensible packing will make a loaded adventure bike much easier to handle.
Now that you want to go adventuring, it’s worth noting that while your motorcycle is your means of transport, it’s also a means to an end. Typically, your bike will be one third of the whole package, the second third being the endless places you can travel to, and the third the connection it allows you with the environment and other people.

An adventure bike allows you to connect with the world like no other form of two-wheel transport. For many riders with years and years of experience, it’s not until they get an adventure bike that they truly realise that adventure touring is more about taking in your surroundings than it is about how fast you can ride, or how long it takes you to get somewhere.

An adventure tourer can ride as fast or as slow as they want, you don’t have the peer or expectation pressures that often comes with owning a sport bike or dirt machine and, in many ways, owning an adventure bike gives you an unwritten permission to ride how you want, without the stereotyping that can happen with owners of other bike types.

Planning a trip requires a number of key considerations, including where you want to go, how long you plan on being away for, and what riding experience you and your fellow travellers have.

As an example, it’s pointless planning a trip from Melbourne to the Flinders Ranges if you only have a long-weekend ahead of you – getting there and back would leave you no time for exploring. Similarly, if you’re about to set out on your first adventure ride, a trip across the Simpson Desert or down the Canning Stock Route may be a bit out of your skill set.

Over the coming pages we’ll look at the key considerations for planning your trip.

If travelling on your own is your thing, then you will generally be able to travel further distances in a day, and you won’t have to consider other riders in terms of where to stop, what sights you’re interested in seeing, and how long you want to be in the saddle.

For remote travelling, it is highly recommended that solo travellers carry a spot tracker (an emergency positioning device that triggers search and rescue in an SOS situation), so that those back at home can follow your progress, and it gives you a safety net in case something goes wrong.

Travelling in a group allows you to share the experiences with others, and then relive the moments later on, but it also requires some extra planning.

You can expect to cover less distance in a day when travelling as a group, while also having less flexibility to change your plans on the run. Pleasing everyone is the key, and you want to avoid disharmony in the ranks at any cost.

Groups don’t always need to travel together, or go the same way. As long as everyone knows the end of day destination (or the lunch stop), then your group may wish to split up and ride at their own pace, or go a different way, depending on each rider’s ability and how fast you want to travel. This can also be an advantage for slower riders who don’t want the pressure of having to push beyond their comfort level. This is what I generally prefer to do, but in more remote country we will stay together as a group.

Don’t be too ambitious with your end of day targets until you know everyone’s ability and comfort zones. When riding in a group, the front rider should never go faster than 80km/h on windier roads, because the group will spread out too far, and the riders at the back will need to go too fast to catch up again.

This may seem a little far-fetched, but consider our traffic light theory. The lights go green at the same time for everyone, but if you’re 10 cars back in the queue, then it will be several seconds before you can even move forward. Amplify this over 100 tight corners on a winding road, and you can see that a slower rider at the back of a group will soon be hundreds of metres behind.

A group of three to five riders is about right, but you can certainly have more. However, even a group of eight or 10 riders will often split into smaller groups during a ride.

You can have lots of different personalities in your group, so make sure everyone is well aware of each day’s route before the ride begins and what is expected. You can then give them daily updates on which towns they’ll pass through, and at what time they need to be in certain locations.

You’ll also need to plan some flexibility into your itinerary, just in case you encounter flat tyres or other unexpected problems. It’s helpful to include a short (easy riding) day in your itinerary, just in case you need to make up some time along the way. I always try to have a short day every third day on a longer trip.

Your major consideration is at what time of year you’re heading off and what the temperature will be. As a rule, riders in the south of Australia head north in the winter, and south in the summer, often to Tasmania.

Be realistic in planning how long it takes to get to your destination, and if you have limited time, consider trailering your bike some of the way if you have long distances before you get to the good stuff. Your travelling time is longer (and safer) in a car, simply because you won’t need to be off the road by around 4.30pm when the shadows start getting longer, and when the wildlife starts appearing. You can ride towards dusk if you wish, but from our experiences both in Australia and in Africa, the risk vs gain equation simply does not stack up.

If you’re new to adventure riding, simply owning an adventure bike doesn’t mean you can ride anywhere, so plan your trip based on your riding ability. Thoroughly research the areas you want to ride in beforehand. As an example, many times we rode past the turn off to Bubbler Springs on the Oodnadatta Track, but we eventually took the time to ride the short distance to it, and discovered a truly amazing formation.

If you can, it’s also worth getting some good rider training before you leave, which will make your trip more enjoyable, and safer, on a loaded bike.

The availability of fuel is also a major consideration, particularly if you’re heading into Central Australia. As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to get fuel every 200 kilometres or so, but that’s not always the case. If you have a fuel range of 350km on your bike, you should top up regularly, while a bike with a 500km range means you can usually skip every second opportunity – but do your research first.

It’s not uncommon for the service stations to run out of fuel in the outback, meaning you’ll have to wait until the next shipment arrives – which could be days away.

Also remember that fuel won’t always be available 24/7. Many places will close at 6pm and won’t open very early the following morning. Refuelling your bike the night before you leave is advised.

Australia’s a big country. You can see all of our landscape types on made roads and within reasonable distance of major towns, meaning, for example, you don’t need to ride to the Simpson Desert to see red sand.

Plan your trip thoroughly before you leave so you don’t miss any highlights, and then enjoy the ride.

If you’re travelling on main roads, then averaging 100km/h won’t be that difficult, but you need to allow for stops along the way for scenic sights, food and water breaks, and anything else that you may want to look at. Breaking your ride up gives you time off the bike, but also keeps you fresher as the day wears on.

If travelling in a group on twistier roads, your daily average will be reduced to around 300 to 350 kilometres (average speeds of around 70km/h, or five hours in the saddle), and this will come down even further (around 250km, or 50km/h average) if you are on tight gravel roads, such as on the Barry Way along the Snowy River.

Obviously your whole day won’t be ridden at such slow speeds, so research your route and make adjustments where necessary.

The rider comfort on an adventure bike is brilliant for long haul riding, meaning you’ll finish the day feeling far better than you would on a sport or dirt bike.

As I said earlier, you can travel further on your own, but we don’t recommend doing any more than 550 kilometres in a day – you’ll spend your whole day riding and won’t see anything.

In summary, if you have a 10-day trip planned, then an overall distance of between 3500 and 4000 kilometres would be perfect.

We’ll cover this in more detail in a future issue, but if you decide to live off the bike during your ride, then it gives you endless flexibility as to where you can stay each night.

With no accommodation bookings required, you can stop where and when you like – which may be an idyllic setting by a river that you spot on your travels.

As you’ll need to carry your camping gear and food on the bike, this form of accommodation is usually only undertaken by solo travellers or those in small groups. If you haven’t done this before, then do a couple of small local trips beforehand, just to fine-tune what you need on a longer trip.

Where you are travelling to will also have a bearing on your form of accommodation. If I travel north I will generally use a combination of a tent, pub or motel, but I’ll usually stay in pub/motel/guesthouse/B&B if I head south to Tasmania.

Staying in fixed accommodation also gives you the bonus of talking to the locals, who often give you great advice on local attractions that may not be on the map, or in the guide books.

If you’re staying in pre-paid accommodation along the way, this will usually need to be booked before you leave, meaning the distance you travel each day and the time you arrive in the evening is absolutely critical. It’s also worth remembering that if you don’t pre-book, it’s a lot easier to find a bed for one than it is for a whole group.

If you arrive at your destination late, then the meals at the pub may have finished, the bar may be closed, and you’ll have some very unhappy riding partners to contend with.

Finally, chat to other adventure riders who have done similar trips to what you’re planning, and get their tips and recommendations on what to see. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

The information above is easy to put into practice, but being well researched, well planned and well prepared will ensure that you maximise all the highlights and experiences, and your adventure ride will be one to remember.