Can You Go Overlanding on a Motorcycle?

Overlanding is often done in trucks, vans, and SUVs. But since motorcycles can be used for camping and off-roading, why not overlanding, too? Like the other activities, traveling overland on 2 wheels isn’t necessarily easy. However, with a bit of preparation, there’s no reason it has to be overly intimidating.

Overlanding vs. off-roading: motorcycle considerations

Although overlanding and off-roading are sometimes used synonymously, they’re not exactly the same. While overlanding often involves traveling over unpaved areas, it isn’t limited solely to it. Off-roading is part of overlanding, but so is long-distance touring.

A blue-and-silver and a red-and-silver 2021 BMW F 850 GS Adventure on a mountain gravel trail
2021 BMW F 850 GS Adventure | BMW

Because of that, the many overlanders turn to adventure motorcycles as their rides of choice, Revzilla reports. They combine the on-road comfort of touring bikes with dirt-bike-like off-road features and capabilities, such as skid plates and dedicated tires. The most advanced adventure motorcycles, though, such as the BMW R 1250 GS, can be heavy and expensive. Though that’s not to say there aren’t ADV bargains to be found, especially on the used market.

A rider jumps a white 2020 Husqvarna 701 Enduro through a forest
2020 Husqvarna 701 Enduro | Husqvarna

The downside of adventure motorcycles is that their on-road capabilities compromise their off-road ones somewhat. That’s where dual sports come in, Gear Patrol explains. They’re essentially dirt bikes with enough added comfort to travel on paved highways and roads. As a result, they’re lighter and easier to maneuver than ADVs, with more ground clearance and suspension travel. And some of the pricier ones, like the Husqvarna 701 Enduro, come with features like traction control, slipper clutches, and fuel injection.

However, their heavier off-road focus means these bikes aren’t as comfortable as adventure motorcycles over long distances on paved roads. Plus, for roughly half the price of the 701 Enduro, you can get a KTM 390 Adventure. It has less suspension travel, ground clearance, and power, but at 387 pounds, it only weighs 40 pounds more. And even if you bottom-out the suspension, you won’t lose control of the bike, Cycle World reports.

3 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayans in various colors
2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan | Royal Enfield

Adventure motorcycles also have one more advantage over dual sports: they’re usually set-up for luggage. That’s the case even with the $4999 Royal Enfield Himalayan.

What gear do I need for overlanding on a motorcycle?

Speaking of luggage, overlanding on a motorcycle requires proper gear, both for you and your bike. And not just the camping-related gear, such as tents, stoves, chargers, and water filters.

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In terms of off-roading gear, motorcycles and 4-wheeled vehicles have some things in common. Specifically, things like skid plates, off-road tires, long-travel suspension, and adequate ground clearance. But because bikes are more exposed than SUVs or trucks, you’ll also need handguards and windscreens, PikiPiki Overland reports. Installing crash guards adds extra engine protection. And heated grips make long-distance riding more comfortable.

Overlanding on a motorcycle also means dealing with the possibility of damage, both to yourself or your bike. For that reason, having both a tool kit and a first-aid kit is vital, Outside and Revzilla report. The tool kit doesn’t have to and won’t be as extensive as your home toolbox, Revzilla, and Motorcyclist report. But you should have all the wrenches your bike needs, as well as some pliers, duct tape, zip ties or wire, and fluids like oil and dedicated lubricants.

Finally, there’s your personal safety gear. Adventure motorcycle gear is similar but not identical to dirt bike gear, Revzilla explains. As such, choosing your gear is like choosing which bike you’ll be overlanding with: knowing the trade-offs.

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Dirt bike helmets, for instance, are lighter and better-ventilated than adventure helmets. However, they’re also louder, and more open to the rain and cold. You’ll also need to wear goggles with a dirt bike helmet. Adventure jerseys jackets, meanwhile, retain heat better than dirt bike jerseys, but typically come with built-in armor and better abrasion resistance.

Riding and safety tips

Going overland on 2 wheels means knowing how to ride both on- and off-road with added weight. Luckily, there are places where you can learn how to do exactly that, Men’s Journal and Revzilla report.

You’ll need to know how your bike responds to the throttle, how to correctly use your rear brake, and how to control it over mud, sand, gravel, and pavement. And, in case it falls over, how to safely pick it back up, Motorcyclist reports. If you aren’t comfortable on a particular motorcycle, you shouldn’t take it off-roading or overlanding.

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Also, before going on any trip, have your motorcycle serviced, either at home or by a trained mechanic, Revzilla reports. Off-roading is hard on your bike, on everything from its oil, air filter, and chain to its suspension, wheels, and tires. As a result, if you’re overlanding regularly, you’ll likely have to service your bike more frequently than the owner’s manual suggests. And in extreme cases, you may need to upgrade the components to deal with the abuse, Revzilla reports.

Speaking of servicing, you should know how to do basic repair and maintenance tasks on your bike before setting off. That’s one of the reasons why some prefer dirt bikes and dual sports over adventure motorcycles: they’re usually easier to service. Especially if they’re carbureted rather than fuel-injected. If you can, keep some room in your luggage to bring along a service manual.

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There’s a lot that goes into overlanding. And it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about what could go wrong. But whether you do it on an adventure motorcycle, a dual sport, or even a scrambler, the prep work doesn’t have to be impossible.

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