“Rookie Mistakes” for Touring Riders

Distance RidingCONFESSIONS OF A VETERAN ROOKIE: Fred Rau is one of my favorite motorcycle writers and I enjoy reading whatever he has to say every month. Over the decades, his words have been all over the moto mags so you have likely read him, as well.

In and old issue of Motorcycle Consumer News (March 2009), Fred wrote an insightful article on “Rookie Mistakes,” that outlines some fundamental points about long-distance riding.

I found this article compelling because I not only have a lot of miles under my belt as a result of multiple coast-to-coast tours, up and down, and all over North America, but also because I find that as I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve become more interested in the fundamentals of riding and touring, since they form the bedrock upon which this whole passion of my motorbike enjoyment rests.

So, while I intended to enjoy Mr. Rau’s words with the self-satisfaction of knowing that I’ve got all the bases covered, I found that his article pointed out some of my own rookie errors! And worse than that, I agree with everything he brought up.

Anyway, I’m sure you have so mastered these fundamentals that they cease to register in your consciousness as a matter worthy of attention. Hence, I present them as a confession of my sins and to remind you of the simplicities that continue to benefit you.

I’ll highlight his rookie mistakes here:


ROOKIE MISTAKE #1: Heading out on a tour with brand new gear. The point is that any new gear should be tried out locally to ensure proper road fit, rather than spending all day in the saddle with a helmet or boots that are too tight after a hundred miles or so, resulting in an uncomfortable ride for most of the day, and every day afterwards, for the rest of the tour.

Although, over the decades I’ve managed to maintain this first point, this next one is a feat I’m still tuning:


ROOKIE MISTAKE #2a: Overpacking. This may be a relative point for different riders, but for me, I find I’m still in pursuit of some personal ideal of elegant simplicity that poses a balance between bringing as little as possible, vs. ensuring I have the majority of what I actually need. Even on multi-week, cross-country adventures, I have found that I could have enjoyed the experience a little bit more, had I brought a little less.

You will need to establish your own happy medium between what you need and what you don’t, but, just like Fred, I have never encountered a rider who didn’t want to bring more than what would actually be necessary.

This item is the hardest on this list to remedy without gaining real-world touring experience and learning that you don’t actually have to bring 24 pair of socks. Whether you stay in motels, hotels, the homes of friends and family, or camp along the road, the truth is that washing machines exist in more places than your own home.


ROOKIE MISTAKE #2b: Poor Packing. In addition to ensuring you have underwear and socks in sealed bags (and as much else as possible), where you pack them, or the order in which they are packed, become more important the longer you ride. How quickly can you get your rain gear? How accessible is that warmer pair of gloves? Do you need to rummage around for a snack?

The good news here is that how you pack your gear can be improved day by day while you are on the road.


ROOKIE MISTAKE #3: Riding without alternative funding. Dang! The idea of sealing and hiding extra cash and another credit card somewhere on the bike as a precaution against a lost or stolen wallet is not new. In fact, I’ve done that in the past past (long past). But since I’ve never had occasion to take advantage of such a precaution, I’ve let that slide out of my basic actions, a few bikes back in history. That will now be re-implemented as part of my touring “basics.”


ROOKIE MISTAKE #4: Riding without a spare key. Eghad! I’m not only guilty as charged! It’s worse than that. I’ve considered the same point over the years, and never rectified it. That’s double guilty! Losing a key to your bike could turn a glorious day of a vacation into an ignoble day of infamy. Conversely, for a prepared rider, it could be no more than a moment of inconvenience to pull out a replacement for a key that got dropped on a trail, or fell over a lookout, or as Fred notes, a key that “disappeared into the swirling water” of a flushing toilet.


Just as Fred notes that he could fill a book with such practical considerations, you, too, have observed or learned some rookie mistakes, whether by the school of hard knocks, or otherwise. Add your thoughts about “rookie mistakes” in the comments section below.

86 thoughts on ““Rookie Mistakes” for Touring Riders

  • Weather is important. I use Accuweather to stay ahead of rain, cold, heat. Dress in thin layers. Most bike trips are pleasure trips & allow more control for nicer riding for long distances. Pack only needed stuff and have readily accessible rainwear & snacks & headlight. Be like a light weight backpacker. Small compressible items, like tent, down jacket (JC Penny $60 puffer jacket) under motorcycle jacket if needed, etc.. A feather down sleeping bag is very compressible and worth the money. I have a REI Passage 2 (2 man) tent which is awesome for hot or cold weather (about $120). Biggest Tip! DO NOT HURRY FOr ANY REASON. I had 2 close calls because of that. THINK BEFORE DOING SOMETHING UNUSUAL like making a last second turn, etc.. No amount is “saved” time is worth an accident! I’m 67 & riding since 15. Have hot & cold weather gloves! Good tire and mechanics good b4 trip! Have fun, take pictures!

  • Been riding a long time on many bikes and got this out for a noobie who is riding with me but I think I got more out of it than he did. The take too much has always been a problem especially tools but sure has helped many others who did not bring tools. #1 be on a comfortable bike that you enjoy riding long distance, #2 Plan for rain and cold, #3 good tires and new oil, and maintenance, #4 get going, (take twice the $ you need , and 1/2 the clothes, electronics etc you think you will need. ) #5 Come back and share your experiences, good and bad. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  • It’s never easy to “do” this one…….but try to find out all you can about local traffic laws if you are touring a “foreign country”.

    I put it in brackets, because it applies even within ONE country. e.g. The National Parks system in the US, for example, has their OWN little (well, not SO little) fiefdom, replete with police force AND traffic laws. They can (and do) enforce their own rules of the road (much to our disappointment), as evidenced by the “lightening our wallets” by $75 EACH when charged with passing on a double yellow line. These lines appear on our Canadian roads as well, but “back home” they are treated as ‘advisories’…….not ‘gospels’ with offences attached.

    We had made the mistake of passing a pick-up truck pulling a horse trailer (at 15 MPH…..in a 35 MPH zone, no less!) where we had a quarter-mile of open road to do it……but good old Nat Park Smokey nailed us anyway. Just making his quota, I guess. Word of warning for Shenandoah visitors!!

  • A huge Chocolate bar is in my trunk which I have a small chunk at every stop. Bring things that are multi use. I use a camping stove that runs off gas so I have fuel for cooking and for emergency. MultI tools . Work on your bike with the tools on your bike.

  • Know your motorcycle and know how to do basic maintenance. Don’t wait until it is zero-dark-thirty in the rain on the side of a lonely road to learn how to plug a tire, replace a fuse, locate an electrical connection or whatever else. Learn these things at your leisure in the comfort of your garage.

  • May have raised this before but, when my daughter was first considering buying a bike I gave her “Dads five (5) Immutable Rules of Riding”. And these are:

    DIRR – 1 – Everyone else on the road is an idiot. Treat them as such and you will survive.
    DIRR – 2 – There is no such thing as safe slipstreaming. By the time you get out of the turbulance you are too damn close.
    DIRR – 3 – If the sign says “Rutted roads – Dangerous to motorcycles – they are not kidding.
    DIRR – 4 – Road kill smells and this smell will enter your helmet. Do not change your riding style because of this.
    DIRR – 5 – Bugs hurt and WILL get into places they should not be Do not change your riding style because of this.

    Also had “Dads Wise Counsel” – If you ride a bike you may be a better car driver but driving a car will not make you a better bike rider…

  • The most important thing I’ve learned as far as defensive driving goes is when a vehicle is in a position to possibly pull out in front of you whether at an intersection or a driveway of any kind is that watching the driver doesn’t do as much good as watching the tires of a car. For example the driver may look your way and you think he sees you, but you don’t know if hes more focused on whats on the road or whats on his mind. If the driver accelerates the car is going to go, a car is a man built machine and cant think for itself, so a car isn’t going to see you its going to do what the driver tells it to do.
    So my best advise is to watch the wheels on the car because you never know what the driver is going to do, I always try to look at least a mile ahead when I’m riding to see any possible dangers ahead and a way to get out of the way

  • My lessons:
    1. Stop every two hours for a quick break;
    2. Get lots of sleep every night; and
    3. Do not put “Wet-black-tire look” on your motorcycle tires.

  • No real tips from me but I do like reading others comments. I haven,t taken any extended trips but would love to soon and I think I would fall into the group that brings way to much. When I get ready to go I,ll make sure I double check with this sight to shave off the extra items that I won,t need. Thanks to all of you that post your stories with everyone to learn from.

  • A point of interest that hopefully someone will answer.

    I just received (today) the motor-cycle intelligence blurb on “Rookie Mistakes for Tourinbg Riders”.

    This is great – Keep the info comming!

    But I wonder abpout the deliver of the e-mailed product to myself. This item received today (May 29th 2013), the reader comments in same are dated backward from March 13 2013 (Al) down to November 10 2010 (Bill the Judge).

    Am I missing a link in the mailing system or what? – In short, why ios this so?


    Ian Fraser

  • Hi thinking of taking trip from Miami fl to ny city on 05 harley deluxe am 6 feet 220 lb. wondering , if good choice of motocycle. Any advise welcome

  • In 2008 I went on the South African BMW GS Challenge in the northern hot regions of our country. I was pressed for time, but had packed very well – only four days in and out.

    I had to finish and file a story before I left the morning and was very impressed with how I had finished that and left on time.

    Only late that afternoon, after having pitched my tent and gagging for a colf beer in the pub, did I realise the only footwear I had were my offroad boots.

    Rookie mistake? Pfffttt… WAY worse than rookie!

  • I just completed an 8,000 mile trip on my Ultra Classic, and I am SO glad I took both keys and fobs with me. Somewhere in the area of Silverthorn, CO I discovered that I had lost one of them. Lucky for me, my tour pack was not locked and I was able to retrieve the second key and fob. I kept it in my pocket for the remainerd of the trip. Without the second key, I would have been in real trouble.

  • No one I know around here want’s or can take long trips so when I do get to take a long trip you can bet you A– that I’ll probably forget it all. What ever happen to Road Buddies ?

  • Just like going off in a private plane or small boat, a prudent idea is to leave a ‘trip plan’, equivalent to a flight plan or boat plan, with someone at home base. Call back in once in a while to notify them that you are ok., and where you are. If some accident happens (and they sometimes do), creating a situation where you cannot respond, someone will start looking for you. Too much ER experiences to go into details.

  • From the UK travelling in Europe , Remembering to ride on the ” other ” side of the road , Buy a decent one piece waterproof oversuit for when it’s wet or cold , its as good as wearing two extra layers.

  • This article and reader tips couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m planning a trip to visit friends in Texas from Houston to Dallas to Jackson, MS and back home to South Louisiana as soon as I upgrade to my bigger bike. Although my XV535 could do it I believe, it has been fine as a starter bike and a short hop cruiser; but long distances and my comfort level are out of the question. I’m 6’1″ and 275 and the seat is horrible beyond an hour of riding. I won’t be able to buy my neighbors ST1100 just yet so a fine Virago 1100 has come up for sale nearby.

  • Hi folks,

    Aside from some of the other good comments I heard, there is one thing that my group of friends do before we head off on another trip. We each carry a copy of every other rider’s personal info, insurance info, contacts (with numbers), bike info, medical info (including insurance with phone numbers). This way if someone is hurt or incapacitated, we have the relevant info needed at the site.


  • I did a cross country ride and back this past summer. Rode from Baltimore MD to Vancouver BC through the States, and back through Canada. Set off June 10th and arrived back in Baltimore on July 18th. I took cold weather gear as well as summer gear as I was going to be going through the Rocky’s in Montana and the Cascade Mts in Washington State. No problems along the way, was nice and toasty, if not a little soggy from time to time. However, the ride back was a different kettle of fish. Riding through Canada, North of Lake Superior, I got hypothermia. The standing air temp was 76 degrees. The moving air temp was only 40 degrees because the lakes create their own weather, and winter and spring were late this year. I had on all my cold weather gear, but 8 hours riding for two days in 40 degree conditions was just too much for the body to deal with. Next time, I might have to invest in heated clothing if I do that trip again…

  • We have all made mistakes, some, more than others. Fatigue and tiredness can be a killer, some days you feel better than other. After a broken pelvis last year I find not that I tire far qicker than I did before the accident but i suppose at 75 i am allowed to.

  • I have riden several hundred thousand miles over the past twenty five years and have enjoyed 99.9% of them. Riding gear is a constant evolution. Testing new gear before a long ride is a good idea. Packing is easy–one on your back and two in the pack. Washers and stores are everywhere. I get one saddle bag and my wife gets the other saddle bag and the tour pack(she cheats a lot also), The cold weather and rain gear goes in a bag on the luggage rack. I have carried plenty cash and a couple of credit cards in the chain drive wallet–enough to cover most contigencies including possibly trading bikes if that situation should arise(but hasn’t and probably won’t). Trying to insure yourself against every possible continency can drive you crazy. I have found that 99% of what you think may be a problem will never happen–if it does just deal with it–this isn’t you first day on the planet. Carrying an extra key is covered with my wife carrying the spare key. One thing I noticed missing in your check list is a thorough maintenance check before the ride. I always put the bike on the lift and do a complete check on the entire bike. Mechanical things can break at any time but starting with anything weak is not good. I have learned to heed warning sign and act on them early enroute–a day of maintenance on the road can change a nightmare into a good trip. The last thing I want to say is that there a lof of wonderful people out there who are willing to help a little in a time of need. Be gracious and willing to accept help, and also be willing to give help. Ride long, safe and enjoy.

  • I rode my first bike in 1950 and have ridden or owned just about everything (even a Harley) since and that adds up to 60 years of saddle experience. My current steed is a 2004 Suzuki Intruder 1500 LC that is perfect for long hauls. However, that is the bike is perfect and it has nothing to do with proper planning by the rider. All of the above comments contain something of value to both the noobie and the ooldie. I plan to print out all and then cut and paste those I want to have on my “check list” for my next ride. One of the most important is stopping before you are tired and especially in really hot or really cold weather. Both heat exhaustion and hypothermia can be killers. I shudder when I see some knot-head without a helmet, but with not so much fear of a crash, but what the sun does to a brain and reaction time. Same for cold wind…the heart takes care of the brain 1st, so now the hands and feet get cold and stiff and slow to react. So, when planning a trip, plan for weather variables and don’t ruin your trip with an excursion to the nearest hospital. It can be cold in the morning, warm at noon and by 5 pm, freezing…plan ahead. And, even with the abundance of convenience stores selling gas, safely carry an extra 1/2 gallon just in case when you hit reserve, the next station has lost their power …now what?

    Good article and lots of good advice and not just for rookies…we all are never too old to learn from others. I am 76+ and still riding daily and still learning.

  • Sorry to harp on again…but heres another one to try and get right and it may just save you some blood and bruises.
    Your particular luggage set-up on the bike befor that long trip.
    Before you leave for that long run…. then go for a shorter one to trial the extra gear on board, for the effects by that thing we all crave on bikes called WEATHER, (like in particular the WIND ) on your machine’s new (or lack of) handling characteristics. Gear will change your centre of gravity dramatically and at different speeds and conditions, resulting in some pretty weird and wonderful moments of ridng experience for you -believe me, it still happens to me now.
    I see many riders struggling (if they are lucky!) with bed rolls,swags, sleeping bags, high loads, low loads, big bags, small bags, wives, dogs, other peoples wives (maybe) etc etc in all sorts of configurations and stacked on all shapes,styles and sizes of machines (just take a look around SE Asia for some novel and not so good ideas !!). I cringe…..
    One good wind gust from nowhere (as they usually are) and your gone… but more importantly maybe into the nearest hard surface !!
    As obvious as it may be, arrange and limit your gear accordingly on the bike, if its too much – then bloody well leave it at home.
    Load the bike, try it at the new weight and balance characteristics and go for a steady ride to feel it out and experiment with the changes made. Make sure its all well secured and If it does’nt feel right – then its not -so change it.
    At speed, winds can, and will, rip, pull, tear and almost undress you and the bike as you sit (and thats on a good day) all in the blink of an eye, and worse still, will blow you into oncoming traffic. ( you never realised you converted the bike into a hang- glider before you left)
    So always have a complete and loaded “dummy run” and see what goes before you take that long haul on a one- way ticket.

  • ON the riding fatigue of touring……..Be honest with yourself …Recognise your “own” particular signs of ridng fatigue on long runs and STOP and rest before you make that costly error.
    Signs could be : Blurry vision; slow reactions / responses: body aches and cramps: impatience to others: thirst and hunger:” trance” type thinking (of things other than the road!); thoughts like stopping “just after this next 30K’s”: the Bike feeling heavy and hard work……..
    These are just some I’ve experienced. General health,age and fitness all come into it, so be fair to yourself and ride within your means….if only to stay alive and enjoy the next one!

  • This site is always very insightful. Figured I’d add to the mix. It is extremely important to know your motorcycle, the maintenance performed, and the condition of your wear items such as your tires. However, just as important is knowing yourself. Someone previously said that taking breaks and not rushing is a great idea and I couldn’t agree more. Even if I don’Something I find very useful while touring is

  • Touring mistakes. depending on where you live of course:-
    Number one on the list is having the wrong bike.
    Not planning fuel stops before you leave.(Will you run out of fuel between stops unless you carry extra fuel?)
    Packing what you think you need and finding out you never needed it anyway.
    Riding at state limit or more is fine for short haul but on longer trips it pays to slow down and relax a little and arrive not so tired.
    Take enough food, water etc to last a few days in case the unplanned breakdown in the middle of nowhere happens.
    I generally tow a trailer and I take eskie (doubles as a seat), food, tent etc to camp out at night and have showers at fuel stops. The two side cases on my bike will carry a 10 litre fuel container in each giving me a 48 litre range. It also means I can avoid the nore high priced isolated fuel stops in Australia. The top case is there for anything I might need quickly. Rain Gear, camera etc, lock my money etc in there while riding as well.
    Over-estimating daily travelling distance.
    Oh! Comment about right bike………. In Australia we have some long distances between fuel stops and generally that relates to the western two thirds of the country. Any bike that gives at least a 400km plus range before reserve will be okay. Out here ther’s not many with those legs, my ST1100 is one, ST1300 and most larger BMW”s would okay, Goldwing with 25 litres with spare fuel would be okay.

  • One big rookie mistake is hooking up with someone that you have never ridden with before, and taking off for a several days trip on separate bikes. This can not only ruin an otherwise great trip, but can end up being a very dangerous one to boot. Know your buddies riding skills. Do some short day trips with him/her before planning a actual trip.
    At the same time be familiar with your fellow riders machine. Does your bike run 250 miles per tank while he or she has to stop every 150 miles for fuel. You already know your bike is in tip top road trip ready condition (at least you better) but how about your riding partners? Is it even going to make it past the county line? Are they leaving on a 5,000 mile trip with tires that only have 2,000 miles left on them? Remember if they are sitting on the side the road for hrs for mechanical problems then you to will be sitting there or wasting hrs and miles getting help., and then possible 2 or three days waiting for your buds bike to be repaired (do they have the funds to even fix it?)

    The same goes with a new co-rider. Hey she may have a Bo Derek bod but if she wants to stop every ten miles or does nothing but complain your trip is ruined. Know your co-riders wants, needs and likes before you toss her on the back for several days of travel.

  • Speaking as a woman touring rider with 7 years of experience, the first 3 as a co-rider and the last 4 as a rider on my own bike, I find that each year I pack much less “stuff.” Practice locally on weekend trips before heading out on a long journey. You will quickly learn that you really don’t need all that much and if you are missing anything, take a credit card and buy it. If you purchase anything extra along the way, most shops will ship it home for you so you don’t have to haul it along.

    Safe riding gear, heating riding gear, rain gear, gloves, boots and helmets are neccessities.

    All your make up and hair products are not.

    I’ve learned that it’s really easy to get along with very little Enjoy the ride, the view, the experience, the journey. Leave all the rest behind.

  • Anyone what to go on a west coast to east coast Run for the kids at St Judes Childrens Hospital? Not only for a great cause but riders may be lucky and place to recive a cash award or random prize! please contact me at patriotsrunmotorcycleevent for a fun and enjoyable 2011 Summer Run.

  • Love the articles and remember a lot of “Mistakes” over the years…. Since 1966 been riding and love the bike today as much as I did ears ago.. Harley Electra Glide (2000) and been to Sturgis twice, Canada, South Carolina and “WE LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY” Go out ad explore it!
    Mistake #1 – Over packing….taking way too much…relax, and buy a few T-Shirts along the way…Ship clothes home…. Thank you Fed Ex!

    Tools, minimal but Wire Ties, Electrical Tape, FUSES (!!!!!) and the wonderful Flat Tire Repair Kit and fixer/inflator (these are small and work wonders too!)

    SLOW DOWN……. Enjoy the ride, the scenery, and especially the people you meet along the trip..I have met so many wonderful people even stopping for coffee…. They look at hte icense Plate and wonder, “Did you ride all the way out here?” and where ya going….how long…..and after a few smiles and verbal interchanges the “Almost Always Closing Statement – I WISH I COULD DO THAT WHAT A WNDERFUL EXPERIENCE IT MUST BE”.. DO IT!!! Life is always geting shorter and the wonders are there for all to see..It’s just better on a Motorcycle!

    Enjoy to all Happy holidays, and go visit the family… BY MOTORCYCLE!
    Stache! best Wishes keep up the great articles!

  • I am 62 yoa, haven’t riden in about 40 years (’68 Honda 350 scrambler) . Retired and 6 months ago bought a ’87 GoldWing Espencade. Took my 1st “road trip” from Houston to Hope, Ark. with a buddy who came over from Flordia. We started our trip and about 200 miles in my cruise controll when out. I thought I had hit the kill switch by accident..but it was still “on”..twisted the throttle and the motor responded, but my digital speedometer showed “0” mph. Pulling over to a safe spot, I found that the assembly for the impeller on the front wheel had broken and was just hanging by its cable. The idea of doing another 550 miles of riding without Cruise Control wasn’t a very happy thought. I opened my saddlebag and found some electrical tape I had used earlier to get the 12v plug working again and realigned the impeller housing…and secured it with the electrical tape. Knowing this would not really hold for long I remembered I had some “tie-wraps” I had used to secure my “gremblin bells”, I located them and applied them around the assembly also. This “temporary” fix has lasted well over 2,000 miles.

    I totally agree with the article and would also add “tape and tie-wraps” to the must take list. On the tour I had my first real riding in the rain experience..and was very pleased I had packed some rain gear and was wearing a “full faced” helment.

    Two more items I carry are tubeless tire plugs and a can of tire inflater and sealer. they take up very little room and will be “priceless” if needed.

    Happy and safe riding form a old “rookie”.

  • Improper use of time is a mistake I used to make. Trying to go too far each day, and not keeping in mind that if you rest often enough and actually stop to enjoy the scenery, you will take longer than a car to reach your destination…Then you try to make up for lost time by going too fast.

  • Howdy, I come to your website weekly but I am most often a reader not a commenter. I decided I’d finally leave a note emphasizing how much I love visiting your blog as I think your writing is both exciting and useful. Keep your blog updated and you have a reader for life.

  • Underclothes, at least two clean sets (incl socks). Can wash at night and tie to rack if not dry by morning. Rain gear, absolutely necessary anywhere. If you don’t feel comfortable riding in the rain, don’t. But without the gear you will suffer. You can’t predict when it will start and if you’re in the middle of nowhere when the skies open, you’re out of luck w/o the gear. Comfortable footgear (sandals are what I carry) to put on when you take off your boots. Warm clothes because even in hot countries sometimes the nights get cold and definitely many mornings are cold. Spare water, a must. Spare fuel-optional. In many countries it’s really a matter of planning and common sense. Extra key, extra glasses, extra meds, all make sense. Clear goggles/glasses for dark skies, dark goggles for sunny skies. Definitely. Then ask yourself if I lost “this”, would it ruin the trip? If the answer is “yes”, then carry an extra “this”. But remember always, you’re riding to have fun…so enjoy and ride safe.

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