Dual-Sport Adventure Riding
How would you define freedom and adventure? For many people, hopping on a dual sport motorcycle and seeing the world (even if it's only a small part of the world) is a great way to experience both freedom and adventure.
Of the four basic off-road riding disciplines (motocross, trail riding, trials, and dual-sport), dual sport adventure riding requires the most planning. Motocross and trials riders have their vehicle a stone's throw away in the parking lot, and since trail rides don't usually go longer than a day, there's no need to pack a tent, sleeping bag, or any long-term heavy or bulky supplies - a small tool kit and cell phone will usually suffice. A dual sport journey however, requires you to carry your home away from home right on the motorcycle and also requires a gas station somewhere on the horizon, which means you need to plan an itinerary.
Motorcycle license: Even though it's an on/off-road bike, you'll need a motorcycle license when riding on the street. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a Basic Rider Safety Course that teaches new riders how to ride a motorcycle. Many States accept the completion of the Basic Rider class in lieu of a road test (check with your State's DMV to make sure). This is especially convenient if you haven't yet purchased a dual sport bike and don't have access to a licensed driver and motorcyle to use for the road test. Taking the class also offers an opportunity to network with other riders, and the instructor can offer tips for buying the best dual sport bike based on your size, weight, and personality. The MSF Basic Rider Course post has more info on the Basic Rider Course.
Get some outdoor experience: A motorcycle journey is an amazing and unforgettable experience but it's not all romance, and planning an adventure trip in the comfort of your climate-controlled, bug-free, hot water-equipped, appliance-laden home is not quite the same as camping outdoors, where you'll be washing up with cold water and sleeping on the hard ground. Those who have some camping or backpacking experience will have an easier transition than those who have never pitched a tent or slept under the stars before.
If you don't have any experience with the outdoors, see if you can beg or borrow a sleeping bag and try spending a few nights in your backyard. You can Rube Goldberg a tarp to use as a tent if you don't have one. Spending the weekend at a local campsite is another option. You'll be able to test yourself in a (sort of) real environment without being too far from home. You'll meet other campers and you can pepper them with questions about camping and the best camping gear to buy. YouTube has hundreds(+) of videos about camping, so it's a good idea to spend some time viewing the many hours of information. Everyone will be at a different stage of camping experience, so start with "beginning camping" as a search term and go from there. Assuming you enjoyed your first experience outdoors, the next step in your dual sport adventure plan is deciding on a destination.
Decide on a destination: Planning a dual sport adventure is fun, but it's also a bit of a Catch-22 situation. You need to plan your trip but aren't sure if you can afford it (how much the gear is going to cost?), but you can't buy the gear until you know what type of location or climate you'll be visiting, which means you'll need to plan the trip first. So . . . decide where you want to go. If you've never been on a dual sport ride before, make your first trip a short one. The Moroccan Desert is exotic and exciting, but it's not a good choice for a beginner's dual sport adventure trip.
When deciding on a destination, consider the weather, safety factor, local amenities, and wildlife. Learn as much as possible about the environments you'll be travelling through. Almost every State has a Department of Environmental Conservation, State Tourism, or Department of Natural Resources site, so visit the various websites to get an idea of the environs you'll be living in, even if only for one night. Some States offer only basic campsites, but some have cabins, shower facilities, etc.
Books are your friend: The Internet is a great resource for planning an adventure trip, but once you've decided on a definite destination, get a paperback guide book. Bring your iphone, ipad, laptop, and helmet cam to record your adventure, but the guidebook should be paperback. Electronic devices are still somewhat fragile and the constant bouncing, and dust, coupled with fickle batteries, can render electronic devices useless. The paperback will survive almost everything and if you should find yourself lost and need to start a fire, you can use the pages as kindling to start a much-needed fire. Amazon has a good selection of adventure guidebooks along with the added plus of the "Look Inside" feature and user reviews. Use dual-sport, off-road riding, and adventure motorcycling as search words for the books.
Dual sport gear: Now that you have a destination and basic itinerary, you can start to price out gear. Good quality gear isn't cheap but you'll have it for a long time, and if you decide not to take another dual sport trip, quality gear is easier to sell and brings a better price than cheap gear. The time of year you travel also comes in to play when purchasing gear. You may want to travel in the spring to avoid the summer crowds, but the nights can still be very cold so you'll need to fork over some additional cash for a better quality tent and sleeping bag. Camping gear is discussed in a bit more detail in the Motorcycle Camping post. Choosing the best dual sport bike is the most difficult (and expensive) part of the equation and the basics of choosing an off-road bike are covered in the Dual-Sport Bikes post.
There are many more pieces of the planning puzzle that need to come together, but this article should get you headed in the right direction. Research can be a time consuming and sometimes frustrating process, but it will ensure a comfortable and unforgettable adventure. Don't read too much into it though - you'll want to be prepared, but at some point you'll need to just get up and go.
You'll never have all the answers but, then again, why would you want them?