GS1200, Multistrada, Tiger Explorer, FJR1300 - these bikes are all synonymous with touring and doing long miles, but they're all well in excess of 1000cc and are physically very large. Comparatively, I have the very small Versys 650, and at 6'3" tall, it's possible for even me to tour on it. Here's how to tour on a small motorbike.
The picture above shows my little Versys 650 on a recent tour in Scotland. During the 7 day tour, I managed to cover close to 2000 miles on the little beast - including the 400+ miles of motorway on the way home from Inverness (that was fun...honest).
Smaller capacity bikes are often physically small as well, so you need to bear that in mind when choosing, and packing you luggage. For touring, I have a set of hard panniers that carry my bike-centric equipment - puncture kit, air compressor, tools, warm kit, wet kit, spare kit etc. This is all equipment that I won't need when I'm in a hotel room, or off the bike. So I can leave the panniers attached for the entire trip.
I also have a 40 litre tail bag that straps to the back seat of the bike. This holds all of my clothes and toiletries, so I know it's the only bag I need when I pull up at my hotel for the night. It also has an interior canoe bag that is 100% waterproof (it's been tested in Scotland. Trust me, it's waterproof), so I know my clothes will stay dry.
Finally, I have a small tank bag that holds things like electronics (phone, charger, camera batteries etc.), my wallet, house keys, sun glasses etc. This is the important and useful stuff that I need to have to hand. Having all this in the tank bag means I don't have to worry about keeping the useful stuff within reach.
Having a logical system for managing your kit when touring on a motorbike is massively important. Between all the bags, boxes and pockets, you end up with a tonne of places where things can get misplaced. So having a good system means you don't have to worry about where your stuff is, and you can concentrate on enjoying the ride.
Also, don't over-pack. You don't need 90 pairs of socks, 15 t-shirts and 6 pairs of shoes. You're on a motorbike trip, not a fashion parade. Trainers, a few t-shirts, underwear for every day, and a couple of pairs of walking trousers that zip off in to shorts is more than enough for the entire trip.
The big tourers...and my little Versys on the end.
My little Versys puts out just 60BHP from its parallel twin engine. Not a great deal, right? Well, considering that whilst I was in Scotland, I was in the company of Goliaths such as the 160BHP Multistrada, there wasn't a single time when I thought the Versys was lacking in power.
This is because the Versys is a twin, which means it has lots of low down torque. Sure, the Multistrada would leave me for dust in a straight line, but plonk me on top of my little bike and give me a twisty road, there aren't many bikes I can't keep up with.
Many people like to go with the "POWERRRR!" mentality that Jeremy Clarkson so often spouts, but that's not always the most important thing, especially when it comes to motorbikes. Sometimes, having a lighter, more flickable bike (even when fully laden with luggage) is more fun than a monster powerhouse of two wheeled doom, where you can only use a fraction of its power.
Do you need a big bike?
The big question - do I need a big bike to tour on? Quite simply, the answer is no. Not in my opinion at least. Now, when it comes to touring with a pillion, I think that's where these larger machines really come in to their own; and it's why I'll probably upgrade to a larger machine when I'm ready to buy again.
However, for the time being, my little Versys 650 is the perfect balance of power, touring pedigree and damn right fun. I think I'll be sticking with it for the time being, even if the bike does look like a butt-ugly thing that's been beaten with an ugly stick.
Seriously, the old model Versys is one seriously ugly bike. The new version on the other hand, damn!
What do you guys think, is it possible to tour on a smaller bike? Do you need a bigger machine for a serious tour? Or, are you the other way? Have you gone full on mini-tourer and been touring on a 125? Let me know in the comments...