The summer isn’t over just yet, so there’s still ample time for a road trip… on two wheels. Even with current stratospheric gas prices, there’s still nothing like an open-road motorcycle road trip to escape the rigors and monotony of work, free the mind, and take in the scenic routes of this great country. Although we wouldn’t recommend a full-blown road trip for beginner motorcyclists, practicing good riding habits with ample time in the saddle and the use of solid safety courses, you can start planning for longer rides that cross state lines and then some.
What to Look for in a Road Trip Motorcycle
A worthwhile motorcycle road trip calls for the right steed, and that means hitting the road with more than your iron will and your cafe racer. Motorcycle road trips require more than just a fun set of wheels because you’re going to spend a lot of time in the saddle at highway speeds, and you actually want to enjoy the ride rather than just suffer to get to your next waypoint. You’ll want to steer away from small, sporty, and lower displacement motorcycles because they don’t check the right boxes for road trip riding.
Truly worthy road trip motorcycles fall into the touring, sport touring, or ADV (Adventure) Touring categories. These types of motorcycles provide a more upright riding position, cruising power, bigger fuel tanks, rear cargo capacity, taller windshields, and the right technology to keep you safe and steady on your long-haul rides. They might not be as aggressive or as taut in handling characteristics as a sport or naked bikes, but that’s partly why they excel at road trips. Before we get into our selection of the best road trip motorcycles, here are important characteristics to look for in a good long-haul bike.
1. An upright riding position.If the style and seating position of your bike cause you to lean forward to grab the handlebar, then that’s not a sustainable posture for long hours in the saddle. Granted much of your comfort level depends on your body type, but the general rule is that the more upright your riding position, the better. It puts your body in a more natural state of rest. Also, keep in mind that your handlebar height shouldn’t be too high or too low. If they’re too high, your hands and fingers won’t get good circulation. Too low, and your arms and hands get strained.
2. Larger gas tank. As good as some efficient gas cars can be, they can’t hold a candle to a solid long-haul motorcycle. It’s not uncommon for a touring motorcycle to get between 50 and 60 mpg. Granted, smaller engines are generally more efficient, but a touring motorcycle will still outdo just about any vehicle, shy of an all-electric one. Also, look for models with larger tanks than the average three-gallon number. For example, the BMW R GS 1250 Adventure has almost 8 gallons of capacity at 50 mpg. That’s nearly 400 miles of uninterrupted riding.
3. Larger displacement engine. You don’t have to get the biggest engine available, but more than 1000cc will certainly help move your motorcycle, you in full moto gear, and all of your luggage at highway speeds for hours at a time.
4. The right seating configuration. If you’re looking to travel solo or with a companion, make sure you do your homework. For companion riding, a large and accommodating passenger seat is imperative. Most touring bikes have a very noticeable and large seat for a passenger to join. Other motorcycles do have a passenger seat but oftentimes without the support of a padded backrest. Don’t bring a partner who will just end up hating you for your Marquis de Sade ways.
5. The right technology. Features like cruise control (radar-based adaptive is best), adaptive suspension, and selectable ride modes make road trips easier to manage and far less straining and exhausting. If you can relax your hands and take the strain off your body, all the better. Most good touring, sport touring, and ADV touring bikes provide great features like this, and they can be game-changers.
6. Cargo capacity. You should choose a bike that either has standard hard bags or has the ability to bolt them on. There’s no way you should ever do a long road trip with a huge backpack strapped to you. Most good touring bikes have built-in bags, at least pannier versions, if not a top case, as well. Look for lockable ones that provide security when you’re parked.
The Best Motorcycles for Road Trips
BMW K 1600 GTL
The big touring Beemer is worth the big asking price. GTL stands for Grand Touring Luxury, and it’s a proper name. Not only does it look sleek and imposing, but the 1,649cc 24-valve six-cylinder engine churns out 160 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque for effortless highway cruising. It also has Dynamic ESA (electronic suspension adjustment with automatic load leveling), adaptive headlights, a 10.25-inch TFT display, heated grips, heated seats, programmable handlebar buttons, and a convenient smartphone charging compartment. It also accommodates a passenger with a large padded backrest and twin handles. Hard bags provide almost 30 gallons of storage so you don’t have to worry about packing light. The 7 gallon gas tank and 37.7 mpg equal up to 263 miles of riding.
This is Indian’s way of going after the luxury touring set, and it has all the makings of a contender. The Pursuit is essentially an Indian Challenger bagger motorcycle with a top storage box added. The engine is a potent 122-horsepower 1,768cc V-twin that has no problem moving the 900+ pound steed. The bike is docile and calm at triple-digit speeds and sporty and aggressive when taking on winding roads. It also gets touchscreen-adjustable suspension, Brembo brakes, heated seats, a power windscreen, and a 200-watt audio system with Apple CarPlay. Passengers get regal treatment with a plush, diamond-quilted, heated seat and grab handles, as well. The hard bags give the Pursuit a whopping 37.9 gallons of storage, and, in terms of tech, the Pursuit comes with Indian’s Ride Command+ which includes a 7-inch touchscreen that displays bike info and controls settings, navigation, music, and more.
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
This one came out of left field. An HD adventure touring motorcycle? Yes, and it’s a significant first effort. It’s better for larger riders with its tall height, and there’s plenty of power on tap with the new Revolution Max 1250 V-twin that delivers 150 horsepower. Even fully laden, it’s still taut and aggressive. The fairing and windscreen make it right for road trips, and the upright riding position means it won’t disappoint when you’re in the saddle all day long. One of the bike’s best features is the optional Adaptive Ride Height that lowers the bike when it comes to a stop. It also has an astounding eight ride modes including Sport, Road, Rain, Off-Road, Off-Road Plus and three custom modes. The Pan America doesn’t come standard with bags, but you can get them from HD directly and pack up for your trip.
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS
Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS is the right kind of old-school touring motorcycle. The two-tone teal and white paint job isn’t for everyone, but the booming 1,700cc V-twin engine surely is. The full set of locking hard bags and small storage compartments allow you to take just about everything you need, and the advanced ABS means excellent braking control. The large frame-mounted fairing and windscreen provide superb protection from wind and road debris, while features like electronic cruise control and voice navigation prompt capability make it truly useful for those nearly endless road trips.
Honda Gold Wing Tour Automatic DCT
The Gold Wing has been the gold standard for touring motorcycles, and it’s not letting up. While it has been powered by the same 126-horsepower 1,833cc six-cylinder engine for the past couple of decades, the power delivery is smooth and capable. The silky manners can be mostly attributed to the Gold Wing’s optional and unique 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which can also operate in semi-manual mode with shift buttons. The big Gold Wing even has an airbag, something you don’t find on other bikes. The Gold Wing Automatic DCT also provides the passenger with excellent seating comfort that no other touring bike can match. Combine it with 40+ mpgs of fuel efficiency, well over 200 miles of range on a full tank, and capacious 30+ gallon storage, and you’re ready to hit the road for weeks.
Harley-Davidson Road King
You could literally see Arnold riding the Road King on a movie set. It has a classic, masculine presence that equates to a commanding ride. The Road King’s name is appropriate given its ability to eat up the miles without skipping a beat. The booming 1,746cc V-twin engine moves the touring bagger with alacrity, even at highway speeds. While it’s not festooned with tech, the Road King is delightfully purist with its easy 6-speed manual transmission, low 26.3-inch seat height, and a removable fork-mounted fairing. The six-gallon fuel tank is plenty big, and 226+ miles of range provide hours of uninterrupted riding pleasure.
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
There’s a reason why so many long-distance riders choose the BMW GS. It can haul gear, rider, and passenger over terrain that would kill a regular touring motorcycle. The R 1250 GS Adventure is the top dog in its ADV lineup, and it has some serious road presence with its tall height, bevy of driving lights, and one huge fuel tank. The twin-cylinder, 136-horsepower dual (water and air) cooled 1,254cc boxer engine with variable cam timing is protectively caged for truly off-pavement adventures. It also has multiple riding modes, a high-res TFT display, heated grips, and protective hand guards. While it won’t beat the comfort of a low-riding bagger, its riding position helps make up for it. The R 1250 GS Adventure is also surprisingly potent and agile for a bike of this size, so it’s not just for pavement straightaways and trails.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
Another ADV bike that’s worthy of miles upon miles of riding is the 1290 Super Adventure S. The S is actually aimed more towards pavement than dirt, but it can still handle both. The 160-hp V-twin engine delivers excellent power, and the Super Adventure S’s engine is now 3.5 pounds lighter. Features like adaptive cruise control and adjustable suspension make it a road-trip delight, along with its 6.1-gallon gas tank, and a new dual-radiator system that moves hot air away from the rider. The seat height adjusts 0.8 inches, and the windscreen can move up to 2.2 inches. Rounding things out are a 7-inch TFT display, Bluetooth connectivity, and waterproof smartphone compartment with USB charging.
Ducati Multistrada V4 S
A Ducati for long-distance touring duties? Yes, because the Multistrada (“many roads”) V4 S is a jack-of-all-trades sport-touring motorcycle with the heart of a beast. The engine comes from Ducati’s rocket-fast Panigale V4 sport bike, but in the Multistrada V4 S, it’s been tweaked and slightly detuned for a lower but still really serious 170 hp and 92 lb-ft of torque. Its upright position makes it great for longer rides, but you can still throttle the hell out of it for high-speed delights. The brilliant half-fairing and windscreen are also one of the best combos on earth for excellent wind management. Plus it has radar-assisted adaptive cruise control, electronic Sky-Hook suspension, and a quickshift feature that combine for near-effortless road trip riding.