Guide to preparing your bike for riding on the continent
Guide to taking your motorbike to France and Spain including tips on your machine, recommended equipment, essential kit as well as information about riding gear and luggage.
France and Spain are huge countries ideal for motorbike exploration with countless miles of virtually traffic-free roads, fantastic scenery and plenty of high-speed bends guaranteed to set the pulse of every true biker racing up into top gear.. Before you go, you need to make sure that you and your bike are prepared for riding on the continent.
Contrary to popular belief any machine can be used for touring, although some are obviously more suited than others for long distances and carrying luggage.
Whatever bike is chosen it should be serviced and thoroughly checked over beforehand. Time spent in a workshop is not time wasted at the side of the road!
Obviously anything that looks worn or likely to fail should be replaced beforehand. At the very least make sure you have a basic toolkit, especially if the bike is chain driven as this may need to be adjusted en route.
While modern bikes are very reliable some basic spares are always handy bike levers just in case the bike gets dropped, or bulbs to deal with failures, but do not get carried away and load yourself up unnecessarily, invest in a good service beforehand.
Tape and cable ties are also useful for dealing with emergencies and do not take up much space. A small canister of chain lube and water repellent spray are also useful additions, as is small sachet of hand cleaner.
One area to be particularly careful of are the tyres. Make sure there is sufficient wear left to do the entire journey and get you home again without the tyre becoming illegal. Adjust the pressures to deal with the extra weight in accordance with manufacturers recommendations.
You may like to carry a spare tube or a tyre repair kit if it is a tubeless tyre, to allow any small punctures to be plugged to enable you to get to a bike shop for a permanent repair or replacement, rather than be stranded waiting for help.
The suspension should also be adjusted in-line with the manufacturers recommendations to take account the extra weight of the luggage and or pillion. A spare key is always worth considering, especially if you have a pillion who can keep it safe for you.
If using a 'naked' machine consider fitting a screen for long journeys. Also consider heated grips if travelling at colder times of the year
Unless your number plate incorporates a GB identifier you will need to attach a GB sticker to the rear and a headlight converter at the front to dip to the right avoid blinding drivers at night.
Riding gear will always be a personal thing, but you need to plan for all types of weather. Being too hot is just as dangerous as being too cold and if you are wet through, it can lead to loss of concentration.
With modern synthetic materials you can now get base layers that breathe and deal with temperature variations and are easy to wash and dry overnight.
You can also get waterproof socks if your boots are not designed for touring with waterproof membranes. If leather is you choice, you will need a good over-suit and a spare pair of gloves are a useful addition, preferably of a different grade (warmer -cooler) to the ones you will be using.
Most people find modern Gore-Tex fabric suits with built-in armour are best so as not to have to carry over-suits, or having to stop every time they encounter a shower. If riding at cooler times of the year, or heading for the mountains, it may pay to consider electrically heated garments and or heated grips for greater comfort and machine control.
If you are touring, a pair of trousers and or shorts and a fleece and a pair of trainers will deal with most evening activities and cut down on the amount of luggage you need to take. Thin fleeces can always be used to bulk up riding gear if the temperature drops dramatically!
For general touring a 'Flipfront' helmet provides the best compromise as it does not have to be removed every time you want to speak to someone, of just get an extra deep breath of mountain air when stopping to take photographs.
If you are using a helmet with a tinted visor a clear spare is a must. Likewise a pair of sunglasses if using a clear visor unless your helmet has a built in sun visor. A cleaning kit is also useful to maintain it in a clean safe condition.
If you are carrying a pillion you may wish to consider an intercom system so you can communicate on the move. Alternatively it can be used to get verbal directions from any Sat Nav in use.
Any item of clothing should be well worn in and comfortable as there is nothing worse than new boots rubbing, or finding a new helmet is far too tight when the temperature rises!
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Essential kit at a glance
- Basic toolkit
- Bike levers
- Spare bulbs
- Tape & cable ties
- Chain lube
- Water repellent
- Hand cleaner
- Spare tube
- Tyre repair kit
- A spare key
- GB sticker
Carrying luggage falls into two basic categories, hard luggage which is fitted to the bike, or soft luggage attached temporarily to the machine.
Nowadays there is plenty of choice available of both types and your choice will probably be made by the type of machine you are using.
The advantages of hard luggage is of course it tends to be more waterproof and secure and can often be quickly detached and carried into an hotel like a suitcase. You can also get insert bags which are often easier and a cleaner option to take in rather than detaching the whole box.
Soft luggage is far more flexible and of course cheaper, but will need to have any items carried in waterproof bags inside in case it leaks, even those with waterproof covers!
It is very important though when strapping this type of luggage onto the bike, either by its own straps and or 'bungees' that it is secure and will not move. The very last thing you want is something falling into the back wheel and locking it up throwing you from the machine!
Always read any manufacturer's instructions and try and put it low down so as not to affect the centre of gravity and thus the machines handling. Use netting, sticky plastic film or similar, to avoid damaging any paintwork, or seats.
Motorcycle trailers are legal depending on size and some may well find this is the best way to take all they need, especially when camping. But, check local regulations before setting out.
A small magnetic tank bag or small rucksack is always useful for storing documentation and important items that can be easily removed from the bike when you leave it parked for greater security.
It will also be useful when on the ferry to carry a change of clothes up to the cabin for use when on board to make the journey more comfortable. However, avoid carrying all your luggage in a back pack as it is tiring and leads to rider fatigue and you have to take it with you at all times, even when having a quick coffee!
Lastly the golden rule here is to make sure that having loaded your machine, whether it be hard or soft luggage that you undertake a short journey to make sure things are tight and the load has not upset the bikes balance before you finally set off.