Motorcycle Overlanding: The Ultimate Guide


If you would like to travel the world, see different places, and explore on a bike, you are talking motorcycle Overlanding. The motorcycle you pick for this cross-country journey should be robust, versatile, and able to lug all the gear you might need while on the move.

Motorcycle Overlanding is traveling to distant places on your bike. The goal is not the destination but the journey itself. An overland ride can be done on any dual-purpose motorbike with a relatively powerful and reliable engine, strong suspension, and solid carrying ability.

Keep reading to learn the different things you must consider when choosing an overland motorbike and other important aspects relating to the journey itself.

Why Go Overlanding on a Motorcycle?

When you are on your motorcycle, you are literally out there. You feel the heat when it’s hot. You get drenched when it’s raining. And you smell like the place you are in.

Unlike traveling in a car, you are not cooped in and insulated. In a car, you experience things visually. When on a motorbike, all your senses are at play.

How to Choose the Right Motorcycle for Your Overland Trip

Motorcycle Overlanding or traveling across countries warrants a certain kind of bike build and design. Not all bikes marketed as “adventure bikes” may be ideal. Also, you don’t need the biggest bike or a motorbike with insane torqueOpens in a new tab. or engine capacity.

That said, choosing a motorcycle for overland trips is not that simple. It cannot be as simple as a particular model over another. There are quite a few things you need to look into or establish based on your requirements.

Let’s take a look at what those things are.

Choose the Right Size Engine

A bike’s cubic centimeter (cc) is the size or cylindrical volume of its engine. A bigger cylinder volume means the engine can take in more fuel and air, thereby converting more energy each cycle compared to an engine with lesser capacity.

All that translates to more engine power. There are other factors as well, such as the number of cylinders, ascertaining power, and performance.

For Overlanding, a bike with a 650cc engine is pretty standard as these bikes tend to strike the right balance between weight, size, fuel efficiency, and durability.

If you are looking at something smaller, make sure you don’t go below 450cc. A bike that falls in the 450-650cc range is invariably light, cheaper to maintain, and easy to handle.

Bigger bikes with 1000cc or more are usually not recommended because you won’t be traveling around at high speeds. Not to mention, the upkeep and maintenance costs of such large bikes are also high. That said, these bikes are quite popular among experienced adventure riders.

The Bike’s Suspension Is Key

A motorbike with a bad suspension would be a nightmare during an overland trip. A motorcycle’s suspension does two important things: contributing to the bike’s handling and braking and providing comfort and safety by isolating the rider from road bumps.

Motorcycles usually have two fork tubes for suspension at the front and a couple of shock absorbers for suspension at the rear. A solid bike suspension will be able to manage all the weight and cope with bad roads.

The standard OEM (original equipment manufacturer) suspension found on most non-adventure bikes isn’t designed to carry heavy loads and tackle challenging surfaces.

Most, in fact, barely manage potholes found in everyday roads. This is another reason you should look at bikes specifically designed for off-roading and touring your overland trip.

The Wheels Must Be Sturdy

Motorbike wheels come with alloy rims or spokes and steel. Alloy rims are strong and easy to hammer back into shape whenever the need arises.

Spoked wheels are usually mandatory on dirt bikes, off-road bikes, scramblersOpens in a new tab., and endurosOpens in a new tab. – primarily for their durability compared to one-piece cast wheelsOpens in a new tab.. Spokes can be easily replaced. Spare spokes also don’t take much space in your toolkit.

While traveling, you will possibly encounter a lot of bad or not-so-ideal roads, not to mention any rough terrain you come across on trails. If the wheels are not durable enough, it doesn’t take much for the rims on your wheel to break. A sharp, high pothole edge could easily spoil the party. 

Tubeless or Tubed Tires? 

Tube or tubeless? For reliability, tubeless tires are the best choice. With a tubeless rim, small punctures are easy to deal with. The repair work can be done within minutes using a puncture repair kit.

Tubed tires, on the other hand, must be separated from the wheel when punctured. Once the patchwork is done, you’ll have to put it back in place, which is a fair amount of work. Carrying a spare tube (if your bike permits) is recommended if your bike has tubed tires.

Choosing between the two won’t matter as much if you don’t have this tendency to puncture your bike’s tires.

The budget-friendly bikes usually come with tubed tires. However, there are ways to convert those tubed setups into tubeless ones. Watch this video to learn how you could do that.

Note, not all bikes are designed to support this tube-to-tubeless conversion.

Ensure Proper Ergonomics

Overlanding can entail traveling long distances at a stretch. If you’re going to spend hours seated on a bike, make sure it is built for long, continuous rides.

In other words, its ergonomics should be right. At no point should you feel discomfort or pain in your shoulders, back, or any other body part due to your seating position or riding stance.

Bikes offering a more upright seating position would be easier to remain seated on for extended periods. The seats should have relatively thick padding. And the handlebars must be fairly high as well.

Having said that, no bike can completely negate sore back risks. You could postpone the occurrence, but cannot fully avoid it, particularly if you ride for too long at a stretch and/or have back issues, to begin with.

To not hurt your back too much, get off the bike at regular intervals, and do some stretching.

Besides a good bar height and comfy seat, look at the seat to ground and seat to pegOpens in a new tab. distances. If your feet don’t lay flat on the ground or your knees bend acutely when seated, you’ll have issues riding the bike for long.

Check out Cycle-ErgoOpens in a new tab. to see how physically compatible you are with any bike.

Motorcycle Weight and Recovery Ability

When riding on not-so-ideal surfaces, it doesn’t take much to lose control and come down like a stack of cards. Even the smallest amount of instability could cause the bike to lose stability and crash.

If there are people around willing to give a helping hand, picking the bike up should not be that difficult. But when there’s no one in the vicinity, and you’re all by yourself, you would most likely have to do some serious lifting, particularly if the bike is a bit on the heavier side.

It’s not just the bike, but your equipment could also play a big role in your bike’s weight. When loaded with your gear, most bike’s off-road capability suffers. Fuel efficiency goes down as well. Make sure the bike is not too big and heavy for your physique.

Most of the time, people who come back from their first overland trip wish they had packed lighter. Now you know why!

Having said that, a big or heavy bike would work just fine if you’re not planning to off-road much or tackle any terrain that could cause you to take a dive.

The Fuel Tank Should Be Large Enough 

You want a motorbike that can hold between 5 gallons (20 liters) and eight gallons (30 liters) of fuel. When the tank is large enough, you don’t have to worry (as frequently) about finding a fuel station.

If your bike’s main tank is relatively compact, make sure you have spare fuel handy before heading to the wilderness.

Choosing a motorbike with a fairly large fuel tank beats out carrying multiple spare fuel containers any day. With storage space on a bike being as crucial as it is, losing storage space to extra fuel tanks is not ideal.

A large fuel tank can be great, but make sure that it doesn’t make the bike look and feel heavy. The right fuel tank size also depends on how fuel-efficient the bike is.

If it offers great fuel economy, a fuel tank that’s lower than five-to-eight-gallon in holding capacity should be acceptable. What are reasonable fuel economy figures? It’s around 50mpg (17.5kpl) for Overlanding.

Parts Availability

During your Overlanding trip, you will invariably come across the need to find replacement parts for your bike, such as sprocketsOpens in a new tab., chains, wiring loomsOpens in a new tab., lights, and statorsOpens in a new tab..

Therefore, look for a bike that you can easily find aftermarket parts and accessories for. If the parts availability for your bike is not that great, you should at least be able to carry some of them.

The Kawasaki KLR650Opens in a new tab. and Suzuki DR650Opens in a new tab. are pretty popular and have also proven their mettle over the years in terms of their on-the-road performances and parts selection.

The two are just a couple of bikes from the hundreds of bikes that may have a robust hardware and service support market.

If a bike is brand-new or has been recently launched, finding parts for it will be easy, but those components would also be expensive. Not to mention, newer bikes may also need specialist servicing techniques.

If you are planning to buy a new bike and parts availability matters to you, zero in on a bike after considering the places you’ll be taking it for a long trek.

Some bikes are more popular in certain regions and, therefore, finding the right technicians and parts for the same in those areas should be fairly easy.

Essentials for Overland Motorbiking

There are a few gears/equipment you must have onboard for your overland motorbike trip.

Hard-Box Pannier

To carry food and other items that you might need during stopovers, hard-box panniersOpens in a new tab. are mandatory. These boxes are typically spacious enough to carry things you need on the road but are not too heavy or big to hamper your riding experience.

Repair Kit

A repair kit could be prebuilt, or you may put in tools needed to build your custom kit. If you are pretty hands-on with bikes, you would know which tools should go in the custom repair kit.

Typically, you would need wrenches, hex keysOpens in a new tab., mini-ratchet, locking pliersOpens in a new tab., sockets, bits, etc.

If you haven’t repaired or cannot repair your bike by yourself or at least address the basic issues that your bike might encounter when on the road, learn those repair skills before Overlanding.

Tank Bag 

Tank bags come in extremely handy while on the road. They are great for storing your EDC (everyday carry) or all gear you need regular access to every time you pull over or stop for gas.

The tank bag is positioned right in front and is just a zipper away. This means you need not unstrap, unroll or unbuckle, and dig through your larger bags whenever you need something.  

Overland Motorbiking Packing Tips 

When on the road, you need to pack light, besides keeping a few other things in mind. If it’s your first time Overlanding on a bike, stick to the following rules.

Pack Things You “Need”

Pack items that you absolutely need on the road. The just-in-case and great-to-have items should be left behind. Most first-timers pack in all things fearing they might miss something later. Do not make that mistake.

Remember, it’s okay not to be overprepared. Just make sure you aren’t “underprepared.” When you pack light, you are likely to enjoy the journey more and worry less about the bike and the things you’re carrying.

Pack in More Versatile Items 

When buying equipment and gear, look for things that could serve multiple purposes. For instance, if you think you need a flashlight, make sure it can also work as a power bank for your mobile devices. Similarly, pack in clothes that could be worn in different ways.

Learn to Pack 

Pack and repack your items multiple items to get used to the thing and learn new and innovative ways to do it. For instance, packing in items, taking them out, and repacking them might help you learn the art of packing less. It’s because you become efficient at it with practice.

Motorcycles for Overlanding – Our Recommendations

  • Kawasaki Versys 650Opens in a new tab.: The Versys 650 is a slim, versatile, and upright bike purpose-built for long-distance road journeys. The steadfast suspension, adjustable windscreen, parallel-twin engineOpens in a new tab., etc. are some of its highlights.
  • Honda XR650LOpens in a new tab.: This traditionally designed, the non-flashy bike has won several overland races in the past. Enough said!
  • Triumph Tiger 800Opens in a new tab.: The bike boasts great ergonomics, solid on- and off-roading capability, low-ratio gear architecture, and several adventure biking-friendly tech.
  • Honda Africa TwinOpens in a new tab.: An extremely versatile bike, the Africa Twin CRF1000L boasts a resilient frame, classic body panels, and a robust architecture that renders it capable of traversing any terrain.
  • Suzuki V-StromOpens in a new tab.: The V-Strom 1000 is a completely stacked bike that’s arguably the best in the adventure motorcycles category, particularly if you consider its price.

These recommendations are among the best and relatively high-end too. If you like and/or have come across something less powerful and not in our top five, that’s fine.

The goal should be to pick a bike that you like and not choose one that’s trending or features on other people’s lists.

Conclusion 

Multiple things should be considered if you’re planning overland travel on your motorcycle. Starting from the bike, make sure it isn’t the most complex piece of machinery. It should be simple, made of fewer parts, and should be easy to fix if something in it breaks down.

The misconception most non-riders generally have about adventure riding or serious Overlanding is they need an expensive bike – something that costs upwards of $20,000.

The truth is less expensive bikes are equally capable (if not more) and are, in fact, more Overlanding-friendly, thanks to their weight, better fuel economy (due to lesser power requirements), etc.

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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