“What’s the best motorcycle to take for a long-distance trip?”
– an age old question in the motorcycle adventure and travel community. At first glance, one of the purpose-built adventure bikes from any of the main manufacturers in today’s market would seem like a wise choice right? Potentially yes, but the only catch? Most adventure bikes in today’s market have heavy price tags, often between $9,999 for middleweight 600-800cc machines – getting closer to $20,000 for the 1000cc+ juggernauts! Because most of the fancy features aren’t really essential to having an enjoyable trip, we only need the basics that would deem it suitable for adventure. Longer fuel range, more capable suspension, decent luggage carrying capacity and a functional screen to keep the rain off our chests will do nicely.
Often a motorcycle we already own could benefit from a well thought-out transformation, taking it from faithful commuter to prepared for anything. A bike you know your way around and one that you can depend on is a great starting place to build your own adventure bike at home for much less money. So to give you a better idea of the modifications that’ll best prepare your motorcycle for adventure, we’ve compiled a list that you can use for reference.
Keep the mantra ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ in mind, and make use of forum discussions to get an idea of what brands for the parts are worth committing to, or steering clear of. Of course, acquiring all of these parts will still tally up, but it’ll be a damn sight cheaper than splashing out on a new steed from the dealership. Decide what has higher priority for the kind of riding you want to do, and wherever possible, search auction sites for used parts in good condition to save money on the build.
DIY Adventure Bike Mods
The first thing you should upgrade if you haven’t yet, is your rubber. I think they are the most important part of the motorcycle, our only contact with the ground. That’s why it’s so important not to skimp on price and find a tyre that performs great on your bike in all conditions.
Pick a pair of tyres that are suited to the style of riding you will be doing, it’s often worth sacrificing some dry weather performance for some all-weather characteristics.
If you’re running tubeless tyres get yourself a repair kit, and for those that ride with tubes, install some heavy duty inner tubes to prevent nicks and punctures.
Long Range Fuel Tank
First and foremost, it’s pretty difficult to immerse yourself in the thrill of the ride when you’re constantly having to stop for fuel. Imagine reaching a stretch of road where there’s nowhere to fill your tank for a couple of hundred miles!
Increase the motorcycle’s fuel capacity with an aftermarket adventure tank. With a greater range range, you’ll have the confidence to explore remote locations without getting stranded.
Automatic Chain Oiler
If your bike doesn’t have a chain – skip this one.
Next up is the chain. On a long motorcycle trip the chain has to deal with a lot of punishment, changes in climate, salt, road grit, water, vibration, and they all have a detrimental effect on your chain. If the chain is left to become dry or full of dirt for too long the increased friction will wear the chain more rapidly.
Cleaning and lubricating the chain can be an annoyance, especially if you cover several hundred kilometres every day.
Chain oilers work by dripping just the right amount of lube onto your chain while you ride, so you won’t need to stop and check the state of the chain. These kits are universal and often require mounting to the swing arm or frame. Locate a place for the fluid bottle so you can easily check the fluid level without having to remove anything.
The next thing you’ll need if you want to go off the beaten path are some good lights to illuminate your way. Some of the places we find ourselves in on our motorcycle rides are away from the cities and very dark. Hidden dangers like potholes, wild animals and fallen objects can create terrifying moments in the dark. The best way to improve your lighting is with LED auxiliary lights. Compact, rugged and plenty powerful if you get good ones, they can be positioned where you like so that you can see clearly on the darkest of nights.
You can experiment with the positioning of the lights by parking your motorcycle facing a wall. Making your circle of light into a triangle triples your visibility to other motorists (at least in theory). If you’re already planning on fitting some crash bars to your bike, they make an ideal location to mount the lights.
Crash Bars/Bobbins/Skid Plate
In case you drop your motorcycle, which you probably will sooner or later, you want to have the peace of mind that nothing major can be damaged. Crash bars can protect your engine and bodywork in the event of a fall, while bobbins can be mounted on the frame or wheel axles to add extra protection. Skid plates or bash plates as they are also called protect the oil sump and bottom of your engine from rocks and are often made from steel or aluminium.
The safety of your bottom is more important than you might think. An uncomfortable seat with no support for your behind reduces the time we can spend in the saddle and causes us to shuffle into different positions which can put a strain on other parts of our body like our back. A comfortable seat will keep you more focused on the riding ahead and less concerned with the cheeks you can no longer feel due to numbness.
There are aftermarket seats for a large range of motorcycles but they can be pricey. If you don’t see a seat for your bike, consider finding a custom seat builder to have your original seat remoulded, recushioned and upholstered to fit your liking, sometimes this can be a more affordable option too.
Being exposed to the elements, naturally you’re bound to experience every kind of weather imaginable. Having a screen to shield yourself from incoming wind, rain, hail, snow and any stones or debris flying around is a great addition to any bike. Taller screens offer more protection but can also introduce some rather interesting handling characteristics if caught in a crosswind.
There are many universal screens out there, however for that glovelike fit that we’re all looking for, search for aftermarket screens for your bike. The windscreen will also does a great job of keeping any bar-mounted devices nice and dry.
Let’s be honest, the standard suspension a majority of motorcycles come with from the factory is not as good as it could be. Not always disappointing but sometimes. This means satisfactory performance in almost every category, and nobody wants to ride a wobbly motorcycle on a dangerous road or trail!
Aftermarket fork springs and a change of fork oil is an affordable upgrade for the front suspension of your bike. With adjustable suspension it’s possible to find a specialist who can correctly set-up your suspension for your weight so the suspension performs exactly the way it should. You’ll notice more responsive handling in every circumstance, allowing you to take turns with more confidence.
Mobile Holder & USB Charger
Our mobile phones have an enormous range of uses on our travels. Even for those of us that prefer a more unplugged experience, we can’t deny the practicality of a mobile phone when all other options have been exhausted. From phone to camera, GPS navigation to flashlight, smartphones can do it all, unfortunately their biggest downside is their battery life, the more we use them the faster they drain, and when it’s gone – it’s gone, or is it?
USB charging ports within easy reach on your controls are a godsend, keeping your devices full to the brim while you enjoy the delights of the open road. They are a doddle to wire up and even work in heavy rain if you buy a waterproof one! Pair it up with a secure phone mount on your handlebars or fuel tank and you’re ready to have the most relaxing ride with a miniature computer at your fingertips, just make sure you pull over somewhere safe before using the phone.
Regardless of how well you’ve mastered the art of packing light, everyone needs to take some belongings with them on a long motorcycle adventure.
You have 3 main options here, 1 – find a luggage mounting system made specifically for your bike, 2 – use a saddlebag system that doesn’t require a frame, or 3 – have a frame made to measure. The advantage of having a luggage rack made to your requirements is you can design it specifically for the size of bags/boxes you’ll be using.
Having a well designed luggage mounting system will prevent any accidents involving bags coming loose and will allow you to keep your belongings safe, dry and organized.
Always favour low-mounted luggage racks where possible as this keeps the center of gravity as low as possible to prevent any unusual handling traits. A top box is a great addition to the rear fender as it adds plenty of space and can double up as a backrest for your passenger, should you be carrying one.
Always when you think you won’t need them is the time you’ll really wish you had them. Other than a great pair of winter gloves, heated grips are the best way to prevent the cold from creeping into your hands (making them unusable and sore!) Warmer hands means more comfortable riding and less time spent trying to regain the feeling in your fingers!
We could probably keep going all night with other useful parts and modifications that would help make a great adventure bike at home! but we made a good start nonetheless and the essentials are to start making your own adventure bike conversion.
What did you think of our list? Which adventure bike modifications are your favourite and why?
Don’t forget to check us out on our socials and YouTube for more adventures and until next time… ride safe and journey well.