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The Touring Motorcycle: A Guide to Aid Your Search & Purchase

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

In this Article

If you're looking to explore the one of the most exhilarating recreations around, this is a great place to begin. After reading this article, you should have a fair understanding of the following:

  1. The motorcycle touring genre

  2. The various sub-genres within the world of touring

  3. The chief attributes to evaluate when choosing a touring motorcycle

  4. Where to find more guides to aid your search

Let's Begin

So, after completing the motorcycle training class, you’ve found that you are now a full-fledged two-wheel addict. Even though you were only allowed to ride a maximum of 25 mph, in an empty parking lot or school yard riddled with red safety cones, you’ve caught the bug. You’re ready to tame the open road, explore the countryside, lean and counter-steer through those mountainous roads, and twist that throttle until you hear a sonic boom. Speed, however, while fun, is just the byproduct – you want to live on your motorcycle. There’s just one small issue you need to resolve – what type of motorcycle should you purchase?

What is a Touring Motorcycle?

First, let’s define motorcycle touring. Simply put, touring refers to long motorcycle trips, ranging from 4 to 8 hour single day rides (150-300 miles in length, no need to endure lodging expenses) to multi-day/week/month long excursions (don’t turn back until you hit an ocean). If this is the type of riding you intend to do, you’ll want to find a motorcycle that make your journey as pleasurable as possible. In my experience, I have found that the attributes that define the perfect touring motorcycle are as follows:


Have you ever taken a long car ride, stop for gas, and find that as you are attempting to exit the vehicle, your legs are so numb that they buckle as soon as they are subjected to the slightest amount of pressure; your back is so stiff that you cry out in agony as you’re attempting to stand up straight and walk the 3 feet from the car to the pump; your arms and hands are so numb that you can barely grip the handle of the gas pump? Now, multiply this agony by a factor of 10, and you will know the pain of touring on the wrong type of motorcycle.

Regardless of age, fitness, or athletic ability, you WILL be affected by riding fatigue. If you intend to experience extended motorcycle journeys, you’d do well to attain a bike designed to maximize comfort, which is to say, one that minimizes fatigue and stress on your arms, legs, shoulders, and back.

Standard Riding Position

The “standard” or upright riding position is the by far the most comfortable, in that it places the body in the most natural sitting position, places the spine in its natural position of rest, and maximizes blood flow to the extremities. This position consists of the following body alignment attributes:

  1. Back upright, forward lean of about 10-15 degrees, to help facilitate aerodynamic air flow and minimize drag; can be slightly more upright with a windshield as it will deflect air flow at higher speeds

  2. Shoulders stacked above the hips, slightly pushed back

  3. Hands set slightly lower than elbows, allowing for better blood circulation

  4. Knees bent at an angle of 80-100 degrees

To achieve these conditions, riders will want to ensure that seat height, handlebar height, and foot peg placement are installed/adjusted to meet these conditions.

Fuel Capacity

Have you ever been on a long road trip, and saw a sign reading “Next Gas Station -- 30 miles”? Generally, areas like this have extremely poor cellular phone reception and a small amount of traffic. These types of areas make for a great motorcycle touring experience, but you do NOT want to find yourself low on gas. Therefore it is essential to have a motorcycle with a fuel tank capacity large enough to ensure, with an average adult attention span, that you will never find yourself in a position where you have to push a 700-900 pound piece of machinery to the “next gas station”, 30 miles down the road.

Tank Size

My preference is to be able to ride for 3 continuous hours without having to stop for gas. I find that in the standard riding position (see above), at my age (41), this is the amount of time I can ride before I need some type of break (rest, food, etc.). On average, motorcycles get 35-40 miles per gallon, and I ride such that I can achieve the maximum bang for my buck. So, if I maintain an average speed of 65 mph (don’t laugh, I’m a tourer, I’m not trying to break any speed records -- in most circumstances), for 3 hours, getting 40 miles per gallon, I’ll want a motorcycle with capacity to hold about 5 gallons of gas.

Luggage / Cargo Space

Remember, touring = long distance rides. You may find that you are several hundred miles away from your home / starting point, after a long-day’s ride. Most likely, you’ll want to rest before starting your return journey. Or maybe, you’re on a multi-city/state/country tour (have you ever seen “Long Way Around”?), you’ll definitely need to carry some cargo with you to ensure your hygiene is acceptable (e.g. toiletries, a change of clothes, etc.). If nothing else, even if you’re only into 3-4 hour day trips, you’ll definitely want to stop for food -- do you really want to carry your bulky helmet around?

Cargo Space is an essential component to maximize comfort for the modern-day tourer; not only can you store your gear, but most cargo attachments come with locking mechanisms -- so your equipment will remain relatively safe whilst unattended. There are generally two types of cargo attachments for motorcycles -- that either come pre-installed (depending on the motorcycle) or are available as aftermarket attachments:

Top Case

Simply put, a “Top Case” is a motorcycle trunk (see pictures below). Top Case attachments either come as pre-installed features (top) or as aftermarket attachments (Givi 52 Liter Trekker Monokey Case, bottom).

Side Cases / Saddle Bags

Similarly, side cases or saddle bags are situated to the left and right sides of the motorcycle, adjacent to the rear seat (see pictures below); also coming either pre-installed motorcycle features or aftermarket additions.

The storage capacity for side cases / saddle bags are generally less than that of the top cases, but generally provide the rider with enough storage space for longer tours. When combined with the top case attachment, you’ll be able to store a sufficient amount of cargo to ensure that you won’t need to make too many laundromat trips along your journey.

Passenger Accommodation

As touring coincides with longer hours on the road, riders often like to enjoy the company of a companion. As passengers do not have the same type of experience enduring “rider fatigue”, it becomes even more imperative to ensure their comfort levels. The touring motorcycles that are best suited to accommodate passengers will include ergonomic components similar to those included for the pilot – e.g. (1) comfortable seat in the upright position, (2) foot pegs / foot plates where knees are bent in the natural seated position (80-100 degree angles), (3) back rests / arm rests, (4) grip handles.

Normal Touring, Adventure Touring, or Sports Touring?

So, what type of touring do you like to pursue? Three main types come to mind, and you can align your motorcycle purchase decisions accordingly.

Standard Touring

This is the type of touring we have been discussing thus far – with the main concentration attributing to maximizing rider comfort. Many standard touring motorcycles have V-twin engines, that are designed to deliver more torque/power at lower speeds/rpms; they come standard with luggage and passenger comfort accessories attached; they come standard with windscreens and other element-protecting accessories; and the pilot-riding position is either in the position discussed thus far, or in more of a cruiser position (foot pegs extended slightly forward, slightly lowered seat). The Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager, pictured below, is an example of a standard touring motorcycle.

Sport Touring

Sports touring motorcycles combine the comfort attributes of a standard touring motorcycle with the attributes of a sports bike, which include:

  • high performance inline 4 engines that producing more torque and horsepower at higher speeds and smoother acceleration

  • lighter weight (550-720 pounds wet)

  • superior suspension systems (better cornering capability)

  • superior braking systems

The Kawasaki Concours (shown below) is one of the popular sport touring models. It has the comfort specifications that a rider expects to find in a touring motorcycle (e.g. larger fuel tank, upright seated position, pre-installed side case luggage, etc.), as well as the higher performance specifications highlighted above, that make it ideal for twisting the throttle a bit more and carving up those canyons.

Adventure Touring

Adventure touring motorcycles combine the attributes of standard or sport touring bikes with added specifications to accommodate riding in more rugged road conditions (e.g. unpaved trails), while still being street legal. Attributes of adventure touring motorcycles include the following:

  • Dirt-bike chassis, with improved suspension for stability on unpaved or bumpy roads

  • Added lights, mirrors, and signals for visibility

  • Taller seats, providing a higher center of gravity and protection against road debris

  • Engines tuned higher speed performance

Here are some examples of popular adventure touring bikes:

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

Kawasaki Versys

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

Wrapping It Up

I hope this article provide some useful information pertaining to touring and what to look for in a touring 2-wheeled vehicle. Remember, as you evaluate your various touring motorcycle options, pay attention to the “touring motorcycle attributes”:

  1. Comfort

  2. Fuel Capacity

  3. Luggage / Cargo Space

  4. Passenger Accommodation

It’s important to point out that it’s not necessary to break the bank when deciding upon a purchase. As highlighted, there are many motorcycles that are custom designed to enhance the touring experience, but any motorcycle can be configured for touring, with the right aftermarket accessories. Sometimes, all you need is a relatively inexpensive, yet mechanically sound standard street motorcycle, a few lightweight duffle bags, some appropriately places bungee cords, and, most importantly: the desire to explore the open road!

If you’re looking to prepare for a touring journey, with your current motorcycle, please feel free to check out the other articles on this site pertaining to touring accessories:

  1. Research Guides

  2. Product Reviews

Also, please feel free to leave me a question or comment in the section below.

Good luck on your travels – stay safe – have fun – rubber-side down!!

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