Say you don’t have the time or the resources to plan your own trip. Maybe you’re uncomfortable riding solo, and you’d rather have the camaraderie that can often be found on an organized moto tour. Or, perhaps you just don’t want the hassle of trip planning, but you want to ride in a particular part of the world. So you decide to go on an organized motorcycle tour.
Great. But how do you choose which tour operator to select? There are many things to think about when it comes to choosing a tour and tour operator. With all the available choices, it can get confusing trying to pick the operator just right for you. So here are a few things to think about when choosing your moto tour operator.
How long have they been around? The first thing you want to check is how long the operator has been conducting tours. Running a moto touring company is capital and labor-intensive. Tour operators come and go. Some are quite large, while others are quite small. Be wary of operators that are just starting out or don’t own or at least lease the bikes from a reputable company.
Tour operator experience?
Does the operator have significant experience in the area and kind of riding you want to do? Do they concentrate on a particular type of tour and are now just branching out into the area you want to ride in? An operator with lots of experience in the places where you intend to ride will likely be able to better navigate the issues that can arise during a moto tour and can tell you what to expect.
What skills do tour staff members have?
It’s essential that the operator has skilled staff. You’ll want to know whether the operator’s team knows the area where you’ll be riding well, have excellent mechanical skills, have some certified medical training, and other skills that will support keeping the tour going. You don’t want to be on a tour where the ride leader gets lost, or where there’s no-one that can help you with a mechanical problem or patch you up until professional medical assistance arrives.
How many staff members will be on the tour?
The larger the group, the more tour personnel are necessary. Large groups may need several ride leaders to lead riders in groups. Smaller tours will not need as many. Make sure the tour has at least one group leader for no more than ten people and that they have a lead rider and a sweep rider/vehicle. You always want someone from the tour to make sure everyone arrives safely.
What kind of bikes are available
You’ll want to know the make and model bike you’ll be riding before you go on the tour. Also, you should ask about the bike’s general condition, how old it is, and the average number of miles/kilometers on the odometer. If you want/need a lower/higher seat or suspension, ask if they are available and if there is an extra cost for them.
Ask what the operator does to keep the bike’s mechanically sound. This is especially important if your tour is going into areas that are more remote or in “third world” countries.
Size of the operator – You do not have to go with a big tour operator to enjoy your tour. But there are some things that larger tour operators can do better than small operators and vice versa. So consider the size of the tour operator and the resources they may have to make your tour a success.
Size of riding group(s) – Ask how many people will be on your tour. The size of the group you want to ride with is a personal preference. Lots of people can result in more camaraderie and friendships but can also result in complicated interpersonal and group dynamics. Smaller groups can provide more personalized attention.
Manner of ride group(s) – Ask the operator how they lead the tour and what the maximum tour size is. Must you ride with the group at all times? Can you ride with just the people you want to ride with? Can you ride on your own? You should consider all of these types of riding conditions before choosing your tour.
You should know what kind of support you can rely upon during the tour. Some tours just offer the bike, motorcycle luggage, and a leader for the route. But there are many levels of support available, so you’ll want to know what you can expect. Ask about the following if they are important to you:
- Does the tour operator bring a backup bike in case of a breakdown or crash? If they don’t what happens if your bike breaks down or you crash?
- Will a support vehicle be available during the tour? Does it carry your luggage, or do you only have space on your bike?
- How will the tour operator get help for you in case of injury or illness? Do they carry emergency communications equipment like a satellite phone that will work in remote areas? This is important even in countries where there is good cell coverage.
- Does the operator provide panniers, top boxes, soft luggage, etc. as part of the bike rental, or are they available at an additional cost?
- Do they carry spare and repair parts for the bike you are riding?
- Will a mechanic or someone with excellent mechanical skills accompany the tour?
- Will they provide riding gear or accessories like GPS and GPX files?
It’s important to know what is and is not included in the tour price. Add-ons can quickly and substantially increase your tour cost. Ask whether the following are included in the tour cost and, if not, include an estimated expense in your overall tour cost.
- Meals – Are all meals included? If not, which are not? You’ll need to plan for the added expense.
- Fuel – Depending on where you are riding, fuel can be inexpensive or expensive. Ask whether the fuel is included. If it’s not, you’ll need cash or an acceptable credit card.
- Currency and ATMs– Ask what currency(ies) are acceptable during the tour. Credit cards may or may not be accepted where you are going. As a result, you may have to have local currency or currencies like USD or Euro to pay for extras. You’ll need to plan for payment AND have the means to pay for it when you need it.
- Insurance – Ask about what insurance the tour provides, if any. Most tour operators offer coverage for the bike (generally expensive). Depending on where you plan to ride, your own motorcycle insurance may cover the rented bike. But you must check with your insurance company to make sure. Most do not provide motorcycle coverage outside of the country of issue unless it is specialized insurance. You should also consider personal health insurance as well as liability insurance in case you injure someone else. Finally, consider evacuation/repatriation insurance if you are traveling far from home. One helicopter ride can cost 10’s of thousands of dollars.
- Visa(s) – you may have to purchase a visa at a border. Ask whether it’s included in the tour cost. If it’s not, ask how much one costs or check the amount on the web.
- Accommodations – Make sure you know what kind of accommodations will be provided. Tours range from posh accommodations to wild camping. You need to know what the accommodations are so you can bring appropriate gear.
- Alcohol – Alcohol is generally not included. If you want to bring some, ask whether it is permissible under tour rules and local regulations.
At the very least, get a decent idea of the route you will be taking with the tour. It’s good background information and you’ll be able to give family members a general idea of where you’ll be riding and when you will be there. Once you have an idea of where you are going, you should pay attention to the following route concerns.
- Roads – Understand the types of roads/tracks you will be riding. What are the surfaces going to be like, as well as the difficulty of the planned terrain? Make sure that you have the capabilities to ride on any surface the tour may cover. Don’t try to learn how to ride in sand in the middle of Nambia. At the worst, it can be dangerous; at its best, it can be slow drudgery that holds up the group.
- Length of the ride day – Sure, you want to ride a lot. Twelve-hour days in the saddle on less than perfect terrain can be adventurous, but you’d better be in shape and ready to get up early the following day. Remember, you’re traveling with a group.
- Time to enjoy everything around you. – In the vein of long days, if you don’t have enough time to enjoy the sights and people around you, you have to decide whether you are OK with only having the ride experience at the expense of having the time to enjoy the views and people in the place you are traveling through.
Who is responsible for running the tour?
Associations – Some moto tour operators have associations with other moto tour operators. Even though you book and pay for a tour with one company, you may find that you are ultimately riding with a different tour operator. In these cases, ask who you can contact in case of issues and who is responsible for fixing them. Don’t get caught between two operators without understanding how problems (if any) will be resolved and/or who is responsible for the safe conduct of the tour.
Cancellation terms – Make sure you understand the terms regarding cancelation, not only if you cancel, but if the operator has to cancel. If the operator has to cancel, make sure you can get a refund, not just a credit. Also, make sure to plan your flights accordingly if you plan to fly to or from your tour’s departure/arrival point(s).
Do your homework
Homework – Always do some homework before signing up for a tour. If you are traveling internationally, have an idea of what the country is like. Gain an understanding of local customs and habits. Use the internet to find information from sites you trust. If you are traveling domestically, your homework is much easier, but you should still do it.
Online Reviews – Read reviews about past tours from people that have taken the tour. You can check the operator’s website, but also consider checking other sites and forums to get a feel for other people’s experiences.
All the above may seem like there’s a lot of homework to do before you leave. But knowing what to expect and how much it will cost can make your tour more enjoyable, affordable, and safe. Have fun!