Just because you’ve put your bike away, or you’re planning to, doesn’t mean you have to sit home twiddling your thumbs for the next few months, waiting for Supercross/MotoGP/World Superbike season to start.
If you’ve got vacation time left, you can start planning a ride in an area of the world where the sun is still shining. Hop on a plane, and go for a ride! It’s that easy (well, except for the problem of paying for it). Here’s what you need to think about before you go.
Should you use a rental bike, or bring your own?
This is sort of tied to the self-guided vs. organized tours question below, but it’s a good place to start: Should you rent a bike in a foreign country, or should you bring your own bike?
Renting a motorcycle should be fairly easy, as long as you’ve got the money (or a credit card). They’re included with almost every decent motorcycle tour, and there are rental outfits in just about every country, covering a range from 49 cc Chinese scooters in Cuba to the latest Indian touring bikes in the US, and everything in between.
Bike rentals can be very reasonably priced if you’re dealing with a private outfit, or even a peer-to-peer system like Riders Share. The bikes might not be as new and shiny as something you’ll get from EagleRider, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, Mark had an excellent experience with an older rented TransAlp this past summer. The key here is to use the power of the Internet to find a well-liked renter, with good user reviews, and stay away from fly-by-night outfits.
Speaking of EagleRider, it’s the biggest rental outfit in the US, but it has branches in other countries as well, including Mexico and Spain. Hertz is also offering motorcycle rentals now, in the US and Spain. Indian has announced a rental program through its dealers, some Harley dealers offer their own rentals, and even Yamaha has a rental program offering off-road bikes through some US dealers.
What if you want to bring your own bike? At this point in the year, you’ll likely miss out on the special motorcycle transport pricing offered by Air Canada and Westjet, but it never hurts to ask. At least you know they can accommodate your bike for overseas flights, even if they won’t give you a discount at this point. There are other options (Lufthansa, in particular) for shipping by air, and even businesses that specialize in this service. Check with the cool kids at Horizons Unlimited for more info here, as they’re always up on the latest deals.
You can also ship your bike via sea, if you’ve got the patience to wait for a long voyage followed by paperwork nightmares—not an ideal scenario, if you’re trying to put together a trip in a hurry. And then there’s the land transport option: If you’re only going to the US, there are many Canadian dealerships and even private individuals who run bikes to the southern states in winter, either for rides to Daytona and other rallies, or to bomb around off-road in the desert.
The land transport arrangement is usually reasonably-priced, but they tend to be advertised by a sort of word-of-mouth, friends-of-friends arrangement. Check with your dealership if this interests you, as they’d be the most likely to know about locals doing this sort of thing.
And of course, you can also use a truck or van or even a trailer to haul your bike south yourself.
So should you bring your own bike, or rent? It comes down to money, and whether you’re on a self-guided tour or on a paid tour (more on that below). Add up the dollars, and a motorcycle rental may prove more cost effective than bringing your own bike, particularly if you’re going overseas. And, if you’re on a guided tour, the operators may not want you to bring your own bike, for various reasons (questions about reliability and fuel range, mostly).
But if you’re one of those riders who simply has to ride their own bike wherever they go, then by all means, do so. Just realize it may not save you any money, and may actually prove to be a big hassle. Do you want to miss half your trip because you couldn’t get your bike through customs at a port or airport?
Should you plan your own route, or ride with a touring company?
Planning your own ride has some advantages. You can set your own pace, you’re not held down by other slower riders, you’re not being pushed by faster riders, and you can make the stops (photos, bathroom, lunch, whatever) that you want. And it’s less expensive.
It’s also a lot easier than it used to be. Even 10 years ago, you were most likely stuck planning a route via guide books, which were possibly outdated, or road maps which only gave hints as to which roads to take. Now, there are many websites that can help you plan rides in most areas in the world.
A guided tour has its own major pluses. You benefit from an experienced guide, who should know the best roads, scenery and stopping points in the area. If something goes wrong en route, it’s their problem to fix, not yours. All you have to do is show up, with no days/weeks/months of ride planning ahead of time. You aren’t always bound to the tour schedule, necessarily, but the organizers do have a plan to keep you busy.
And then there’s the third option: Riding a pre-packaged tour that someone else put together, without a guide. Outfits like Eaglerider and Hertz offer these, and to a certain extent, they offer (most) of the best of both worlds.
Which is the best option? It depends where you’re riding. If you’re in the US, do you really need a tour guide? Maybe for off-road tours, probably not for street riding (Editor ‘Arris had an excellent experience with AdMo Tours in 2010). But overseas, even though you can find English speakers in most of western Europe, a local guide will make things easier. For Costa’s experiences touring with Edelweiss in 2015, click here.
What documents do I need?
If you’re headed out of country, you need a passport or a NEXUS card for the US. Of course, you’ll want a valid driver’s licence. Your Canadian driver’s licence is good for the US. If you’re just renting a bike, it’ll probably be okay in the rest of the western hemisphere as well. But if you’re going to Europe, or paying to ride with a guided tour, they may want you to have an international driver’s licence. The easiest way to get one of these is through the CAA, which also offers roadside assistance in North America for motorcycles.
Other paperwork you should think about: Make sure your registration is up-to-date, and on the bike. Make sure your motorcycle insurance policy covers you abroad, if you’re taking your own bike. Likewise, make sure your life insurance and health insurance are going to cover you in a worst-case scenario.
Where should I go?
Anywhere you want to, or can afford to. One thing to keep in mind, though: It’ll be hard to find bike rentals or guided tours in northern or central Europe once it gets colder — they don’t fancy picking crashed tourists off the side of the road in the Alps, particularly because the roadsides there involve massive chasms. And do you really want to pay big money to escape winter, only to encounter more cold? We thought not.
If you’re truly cash-strapped, then your lowest-priced options are either the US, or maybe a bike rental in the Caribbean or Central America.
If you’ve got more money, well, the US is still an easy-to-arrange destination, with plenty of options in the southwest, and a few in the southeast, mostly in Florida. If you’re looking for something more exotic, Morocco is a good place to try out the whole desert riding thing. Farther-off spots like Australia or Thailand can offer stunning views and unforgettable experiences, but you’ll lose a lot of time getting there (and probably a lot of airfare money, too). If you’re headed that far from home, you’ll want to have an extra-long vacation.