The 10 Best Touring Parts & Accessories
Despite a sluggish economy and an overall dismal motorcycle market, the high-end touring segment is hotting up. BMW’s impressive new six-cylinder K1600 series is stealing the spotlight this year, but Honda is counterpunching with a nice upgrade to its iconic Gold Wing. In addition, there are several luxo-touring cruisers from Harley and Victory.
More and more Baby Boomers have turned to luxo-tourers in recent years, foregoing some boulevard cool for cushy creature comforts. And once you’ve tasted the long-haul lifestyle, a craving for parts and accessories naturally follows. This has not gone unnoticed by factories and aftermarketers, who would like nothing more than to supply some chrome-coated sugar. Honda alone, for example, offers no less than 47 accessories for the latest Gold Wing.
So we thought we’d take a look at some of the available touring accessories and compile a list of the 10 best touring items you should place on your must-have list to optimize your open-road adventures.
1. Navigation Systems
Global Positioning Systems rank only second to the ubiquitous cell phone when it comes to gadgets and gizmos we wouldn’t dare leave home without. Only a few years ago, GPS for motorcycles was George Jetson-type stuff, with few people owning them, and fewer still understanding how the hell to work the damn things. Instructions were abstruse, satellite signals slow, and our matured Baby Boomer minds even slower. That was then; now they’re relatively idiot-proof standard equipment for the savvy tourer.
Trip planner programs are available that allow personalized tours to be uploaded from a home computer or Internet to an onboard navigation system. Routes can be shared with friends, family and fellow riders, or password protected to keep what happens on the road left on the road. Weather and traffic conditions, accommodations, eateries, attractions and alternative routes can all be part of your digital plan.
2. Moto Audio
The days of riding while whistling to yourself like a crazy person, or with a Walkman stuffed in your jacket and ear buds squished under your helmet are long gone, daddio. Now most big touring rigs come with or can accept super-stabilized CD players, XM, FM, AM and every other M radio, and speakers so loud they will blow the knobs off your old home stereo.
The latest advance in mobile audio is the tidy and convenient MP3 player. Almost all touring bikes have the ability to interface with an iPod/MP3 player, and the best ones also integrate the player’s navigation menu into their cockpit displays. Some can connect via Bluetooth.
3. Windshields & Fairings
While some consider wind in the face an integral aspect of the primal biking experience, others would prefer to keep bugs out of their teeth. Many modern motorcyclists would not even consider taking a trip around the block without a windshield, babying their pretty faces like a momma’s boy. The fact is, however, that a windshield can keep a lot of road debris, suicidal insects, wind, heat, cold and even rain off your body; strength-sapping elements that come blasting at you with exhausting force. When dueling with the wind, a shield can be your greatest ally.
But you have to pick the right one. Windshields come in a variety of sizes, colors and tints, from quarter to full, from crystal clear to opaque, offering varying degrees of protection, aerodynamics and lucidity. Some stock fairings come with electronically adjustable windshields, which is one of the most practical features we’ve seen in a fairing.
Since no one as yet has invented any practical wipers for motorcycle windshields, it’s better to have a shield mounted a couple of inches below your line of sight. This can create a relatively calm pocket around the rider, with air rushing over a helmet rather than in a face.
If it rains, the rider can look over it; if it’s cold, he can tuck under. If the shield is too short, it doesn’t offer much protection. Fairings offer even more protection, maybe a glove compartment or two and can come with stereo system capability.
4. Electric Heat
Some say true biking is dead, lamenting the bygone days when much greater grit, fortitude and mechanical wit was needed to operate and maintain your motorcycle. Others say good riddance to bad rubbish. Modernization has allowed more people to join the ranks, and has them riding longer, happier and through more nasty and miserable conditions.
When I was tougher and dumber and riding year-round in New York City, I had to dress in so many layers I looked like the Michelin Man. Even then, hands and feet would quickly ice, and after a few more stoplights, I couldn’t feel my face. Ah, good times.
Nowadays, your buttocks and most vital extremities are kept warm and toasty with electrically heated handgrips, seats and even floorboards. Add a heated vest and it’ll feel like you’re still in bed sipping hot cocoa. What’s next, air conditioning?
5. Communication Systems
The ability to communicate with one another hands-free at 75-per separates us from the primitive civilian. While motorcycle hand signals are used by old schoolers and curmudgeons, wireless technology makes everything else a bygone novelty.
For immediate communication, helmet-to-helmet/bike-to-bike intercom systems are available for those who don’t always enjoy the silent Zen of the highway. These systems can also be voice-activated. The downside to Bluetooth is a helmet headset is required and range is limited (generally restricted to unobstructed line-of-sight), but for helmet-to-helmet chatter, and in most short-range situations (some makers claim up to a mile), bike-to-bike communication is practical. We’ve previously tested the Sena SMH10 and the Cardo Scala Rider G2.
Some luxo-tourers have the option of being equipped with CB radio. This bike-to-whatever option boasts a long range so your riding buddies stay reachable. Like the Internet, anonymity reigns on the citizen’s band, and this can translate to good or bad information, and a lot of what we might not want to hear.
Also in this communication category are Bluetooth headsets that handle the functions of a mobile phone. Since our hands are otherwise engaged, an urgent call can be made or answered without compromising our safety, or even slowing down. This is a lot better than the old stop ‘n’ dial, even if does appear we’re talking to no one but ourselves. Bluetooth creates a dedicated wireless connection to a variety of communication instruments, not just mobile phones. It has become a handy companion to any rider.
6. Seats to Thrones
If you’re sitting in the saddle for hours at a time, blood flow to the gluteus maximus is constricted, resulting in what is technically known as “bike butt.” This unpleasant condition can be relieved by stopping every hour or so, getting off your posterior and jogging around your bike, or having your passenger vigorously massage said effected area in-flight, which is my preferred method even though it sometimes results in being featured in other people’s vacation photos.
Most motorcycle makers offer seat upgrades, usually going from firm to plush with the addition of foam and/or gel.
A cheaper solution can be found in seat pads. Not just for hemorrhoidal Boomers anymore, seat pads can add sustainable comfort to the long-haul ride. Made of various kinds and combinations of gel, foam and memory foam, wrapped in leather, vinyl or sheepskin (faux or real), pads can be strapped down or simply sat on. For the sheepskin variety, carrying a rain cover is a good idea.
7. Onboard Video Cameras
Miniaturized web- and nanny-cam technology has made taking moving pictures of our motorcycling life easier than ever. Not long ago, the only option for making a moto-movie was duct taping a clunky video camera atop your helmet like some kind of weirdo beanie.
Now, the selection of mobile video systems is huge. The cheapest versions record in standard-def, with a price premium to be paid for HD recording. Some, like the GoPro Heros we frequently use in Motorcycle.com shoots, fit into a waterproof case. The latest camera from Contour also logs the recording location based on GPS data. We tested a Contour HD here. A wide assortment of mounts are available, but many will cost extra.
8. Radar Detectors
Staying a step ahead of a lawman’s long, hairy arms takes vigilance, savvy, and as in most things in America, cold cash. Welcome to the clandestine world of sneaky high-tech, early detection gadgets. Our good government hasn’t inked us with bar codes or implanted surveillance chips in our brains, at least not yet, but they do take our measure by laser, radar and whatever technocratic means necessary.
Anti-detection countermeasures are on the market, if not legal in every state. Even in areas where they can be legitimately used, police officers tend to frown upon anyone who is found out-detecting the detectors. If they can’t write you a ticket for speeding, there’s always some equipment violation a cranky cop will find that will make your day.
You have a few choices: just slow down and obey the posted speed limits at all times, trade your big, bad bike in for a wee scooter or bicycle (the same laws and penalties apply to all motorized and non-motorized vehicles), or buy the latest, best damn radar detector and front/rear laser jammer you can find.
9. Mounting Systems
For all the clever cell phones, radar detectors, cup holders, chrome cigar cases, iPods, u-bar locks, nitrous canisters, tool bags, saddlebags, GPS, and other biker bric-a-brac, motorcyclists have used every oily drop of their imagination and ingenuity to somehow take it with them.
Mounting systems are available for handlebar, frame, fairing and helmet, and probably portions of the biker anatomy modesty prohibits us from mentioning. But rest assured, if you want to carry it with you, there’s some kind of bracket, brace, tie, sling or thing that will attach it to your person or machine, either directly or via a waterproof, crushproof and vibration-resistant box that straps or clamps to your bike. If it makes touring easier or safer, that’s fine. But if you keep surrounding yourself with more stuff, you’ll soon be in a car.
For the long-distance rider, back support is a must. Not only does this give your spine a break, but it takes pressure off your butt and legs, making those 500-mile-plus days a lot more comfortable.
Backrests moved from the exclusive domain of passengers to the rider cockpit some years ago, with innovations that included removable rider rests for short-range cruising. Some factories offer seat upgrades that integrate adjustable backrests, which can also serve as a handy anchor when strapping down gear. Since Barcalounger has not built a bike seat yet, a nice backrest is the next best thing to riding in your living room.