The Art of Minimalist Motorcycle Adventure Touring

You don’t need the biggest, best and latest motorcycle to enjoy adventure touring – in fact, the idea behind minimalist motorcycle adventuring touring is almost the complete opposite. It’s about smaller and simpler bikes, packing light and taking only the bare essentials. Not only can it reward you with being able to ride to harder to reach places, but the cost savings can mean more money to spend on your trip. We chat with Martin Livingstone who has presented at Horizons Unlimited events in the past about what minimalist motorcycle adventure touring is to him.

But first, how do you define minimalist adventure touring? Like any idea or ethos, it’s open to interpretation and there’s no hard or fast definition. Some will argue that minimalist touring is taking the smallest bike possible with the absolutely bare minimum of gear. Others will say that bikes up to 650 cc in size can be included along with reasonable levels of gear, food and equipment.

“If you ask 10 people you’re going to get 10 different answers”, says Martin. “I suppose I consider minimalist adventuring touring to be more along the lines of 400 cc and under but some people consider 650 cc to be minimalist compared to the 1200 cc beasts that you see out there.”

At the end of the day, minimalist adventure touring is what you want it to be although it would be hard to argue that taking a 250 kilogram 1200 GS with panniers, drop tanks and a top box could possibly be minimalist. And hence that’s why smaller bikes like the Yamaha WR250R or Suzuki DR-Z400 are more in line with the idea behind minimalist riding.

Minimalist adventure touring can be many things, but a full loaded 1,000cc plus bike it is not.

Minimalist adventure touring can be many things, but a full loaded 1,000 cc plus bike it is not.

But it’s by no means only the size of your bike that counts towards the idea behind minimalist touring, but your gear as well. “Think about it in terms of making sure you pack light and only have essentially the things that you need to keep yourself going and keep the bike going” says Martin. For him, that means a small gas cooker, a can of soup for dinner and a spoon to eat it with – and perhaps a utility knife which can double as an all purpose tool. The reasoning behind this is sound – as you’ll need to refuel regularly, there’s no need to stock up on supplies as you’ll be required to head into town anyway. The only exception to this is plenty of water – including enough to cover delays due to breakdown or other emergencies.

As far as sleeping arrangements go, Martin uses a small and lightweight two person tent, a sleeping bag and pillow – all of which wrap up neatly into a roll bag and is tied to the back of his bike. “In terms of stuff that you need to pack there’s not really that much.” Packing lightly can be augmented by stopping in caravan parks, national parks or road houses that provide hot showers and a place to have a warm cup of coffee or tea.

Tools of course are a necessity and a proper evaluation of your bike (and the purchase of clever tools that can serve multiple functions) can help reduce how many items you need to bring. Most bikes will come with tool kits that allow you to unscrew a variety of different sized bolts – where possible though, try and reduce the amount of tools you have without sacrificing your ability to make running repairs. Smartly designed tyre levers like the ones from Terra-X double as a spanner set. A Leatherrman or similar is another way to reduce the amount of tools you need to pack.


Clever products such as these Terra-X tyre levers mean you can combine a variety of tools and related bits into one device.

So why do all this though? Surely having a nice shiny new bike with massive amounts of power in reserve is the better way to travel? In some situations, yes it is. But many people perhaps look to get into adventure riding and think the only way to do so is by the large ADV bike route – not only is that expensive, it can sometimes come at the cost of true adventure.

As Martin admits, smaller bikes that are often used for minimalist touring aren’t comfortable – especially when on long stretches of highway but that can prove to be an advantage. “It forces you to take your time – metaphorically you smell the flowers.”  So instead of trying to do a 2,000 kilometre journey in a few days you spread it out over a week or more. It allows you to see more and journey to those place you might otherwise have overlooked. “So instead of going for 200 k’s and stopping, you stop at 80 k’s and stretch your legs, take photos and stuff like that.”

Another big factor in favour of minimalist adventure touring is the cost in getting started. A brand new BMW 1200GS goes for about $16,000 in the US.  For that amount of money, you could buy a brand new Yamaha WR250R, upgrade its suspension, install safari tanks and if necessary a windshield and still have enough money left over to buy your partner a carbon copy of the bike plus money to spend on your trip.

martin livingstone drz250

Light, basic and unsophisticated – but it’s still more than capable of doing thousands of miles and getting you to out of the way places.

And that’s just the startup costs. Ongoing running, maintenance and repair costs for smaller bikes like a KLX250 or DR-Z250 is almost always cheaper – especially when you’re comparing it to big new European ADV bikes. If you drop your KTM 1190 Adventure, the price to fix scratches or dents on the body work is almost always something that you’ll have to go through insurance to fix. But a dual sport? Tape it up and keep going. “They’re all carbies and cable everything, no electronics whatsoever” says Martin. “It’s one of those things that if you do crash it, they’re kind of built to crash.”

And when the terrain gets tough, crashing is far more likely on big, heavy ADV bikes than they are on smaller machines and that’s basically down to physics. But it can also come down somewhat to fatigue, with the lighter bikes being naturally more at home in technical terrain and requiring less physical input

Of course, nothing is without its downsides. As Martin said, there are times that even he will choose a bigger machine over smaller ones. If he needs to get to places further away in a shorter amount of time, big bikes rule. When there’s limited places to get fuel, the larger tanks and therefore longer range of big ADV bikes is a major plus. And there’s no doubt that top of the line adventure bikes with nice big padded seats, heated grips and cruise control offer a far more comfortable ride.

But remember, people have been riding long distances on motorcycles ever since they were invented and for the vast majority they did it on small, simple machines. Simplicity and the pure enjoyment of adventure riding is what minimalist touring is all about.

Due to its popularity, the WR250R has a huge range of farkles available to make it a truly ADV capable machine. Photo courtesty Basher Designs.

Due to its popularity, the WR250R has a huge range of farkles available to make it a truly ADV capable machine. Photo courtesy Basher Designs.

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