When you go on a camping trip on motorcycle, there are a lot of questions to answer: what kind of tent do you need? Which sleeping bag? What do you take with you, and what kind of luggage do you need to get all your stuff along?
How do you cook? This page tries to help you answering these questions.
Er is een Nederlandse versie:
Why go camping with your motorcycle?
Motorcycles are symbols for freedom. Going on a camping trip with your motorcycle is a perfect opportunity
to enjoy that freedom.
When you take along your tent and sleeping bag, you are able to breathe the outside air, not only during the day but also at night. Breathing the air outside, that's one of the most attractive aspects of motorcycle riding.
In short, camping is a pleasant activity, and it fits perfectly to a vacation on motorcycle.
When you know beforehand that you will spend every night in a hotel, you'd better leave your camping gear at home, but in other cases it's very convenient to take the gear with you: you get much more possibilities for spending the night that way. You might even pitch your tent at the side of the road when you can't find anyplace else.
On a camping trip, you should at least carry a tent, a sleeping bag and a sleeping mattress. So you should think about a way to carry your stuff on your motorcycle.
What kind of bags are available? How do you choose between them? What's important when choosing bags or cases?
Soft luggage: tankbag
A tankbag is convenient for valuable stuff that you want near you (passport, camera). Beside that, it's also the place for travel guides and maps, something to eat (but be aware of melting chocolate), pens, sunglasses, reading glasses, etc etc.
Place for the map
Find a tankbag where your map fits in such a way that it is protected against rain, and that it can be folded s o that it shows a rather big piece of the map.
In most cases, you take the tankbag with you when you visit a city, or drink something in a cafe. That way, you keep your valuables with you. Tankbags with magnets have the adventage that it's easy to take them off the bike, but they have the disadventage that the magnets weigh a lot. When you have to carry your helmet, possibly your jacket, and your tankbag at the same time, you don't want extra weight.
If you choose for magnets, make sure they are sufficiently strong. There are huge differences in the strength
of the magnets, between different tankbags, and many tankbags just blow off when you ride on the highway in strong wind.
Oh, and don't keep your credit-card near the magnets!
At the pump
When you fill up, you will like it when it's as easy as possible to get the tankbag out of the way. The easiest fasting mechanism in that respect is, of course, the magnet system (in case your tank is steel), but there are other systems (tankbags that hook at the far end of the tank, with a clicking mechanism near the buddy, that can be clicked loose to fold the tankbag away) that are also easy to use.
It's important that your tankbag doesn't obstruct the handlebars at the steering lock when it's filled:
you'd better check that out.
Many tankbags have the possibility to fold out: you can fill them up until they're really high, but when you don't need that much space, you can also leave them folded in. Sometimes it's just a matter of pushing; sometimes it's an ingenious system with zippers.
Small bags at the side are very convenient (pencils, sunglasses), as is an elastic mesh where your stuff sits visibly.
Most tankbags are not completely watertight (see the links below for an exception), but hold on in a
bit of rain.
At least the place for the map should preferrably be watertight.
There is often an accompying watertight cover for your tankbag, against the rain. My experience is that
almost always the wind will find a way under the cover, blowing it up so you will eventually loose it,
or take it off.
There might be exceptions, but in principle, don't be disappointed when a tankbag you like doesn't have such a cover. Buying small watertight bags for what may not get damp is smarter.
Where to find?
Shops with motorcycle gear have a choice of tankbags, most of the time. Here a few links to tankbags that you don't often see in shops:
The Ortlieb tankbag is watertight.
The tankbag of Andy Strapz is from Australia, and is very sturdy.
Touratech has tankbags for several big enduro's.
Soft luggage: Drybags
Drybags offer much room, are watertight (when you buy a good one), are sturdy and last for long (again, when you buy a good one), and they don't break when you let them fall (and will survive a fall on the motorbike as well, when the speed is not too high).
And what's more: they fit on every motorcycle: you fasten them with straps.
There are dry bags available for different circumstances. For your motorcycle, you need the strongest fabric available: you must be able to pull the straps very tightly, and they shouldn't mind a fall. When you want a dry bag that last longer than one vacation, don't buy the cheapest you can find.
Also very important: make sure the bag is absolutely watertight: when your sleeping bag is inside, the last thing you want, when pitching your tent in pouring rain, is a wet sleeping bag. The fabric, the stitching and the system to close the bag must be guaranteed watertight.
Packing and securing
The less your luggage moves on your motorcycle, the less you will notice it being there while riding corners. So a dry bag can better be stuffed full. Then you end up with a sort of boxing device, that keeps its form when you punch it. When you strap the bag to the bike, also in such a way that there is no movement possible, you have a stiff drybag that won't be noticed while riding.
It is convenient when the dry bag has a handle or a carrying strap, to easily carry ir to your tent.
To be able to fasten it to the motorcycle, there should be eyes to put the straps through.
The fastening mechanism should enable you to push the contents into a stiff packet. Most drybags have a
"roll fastening" at one of the short sides; those are perfect, in this respect.
There are also drybags with the fastening at the long side. It's easy to get your stuff out that way, but it's much harder to make a stiff packet out of those kind of drybags.
In general, there are no locks for drybags. So keep a bit in mind where you are, when leaving your bike. In most places, you can just leave them on the bike, especially when it's a bit complicated to loosen the straps, and when the contents fit so tightly in the drybag that it's hard to get it out.
Where to find?
Sometimes, motorcycle shops have drybags for sale, but you will have more choice in outdoor sports shops. In both cases, judge the fabric used, and the finish: not all drybags will survive a motorcycle vacation, let alone several of them.
The Ortlieb motorcycle dry bags are ideal for motorcycle vacations: they last for ages, and are completely watertight.
Helen two Wheels sells different soft bags, forming a super packing system together. Her site has great advice about packing using her bags.
bag from Andy Strapz is a variant of the dry bag.
The same applies for the Alpha rearbag from Wolfman.
Soft luggage: Saddle Bags
Saddle bags are a common phenomenon for choppers (in leather), and motorcyclists with a sports motorbike sometimes have them too (most of the time made of synthetic fabric), but the owners of motorbikes that are suitable for hard cases tend to forget the possibility of soft saddle bags.
But they do have big adventages over hard luggage: they are lighter than every hard pannier available,
and when you don't need them, you can stuff them in your tankbag or strap them on the buddy seat.
When your motorcycle falls over, there is no risk that they will break, and they won't pull
so hard at the frame that it bends, which is easily possible with hard panniers.
On top of that, they are cheaper than hard panniers, so it's easier to experiment, to see what works best for you.
To get an idea,you might read why Ted Simon decided to replace his Bernd Tesch (aluminium) panniers with saddle bags (Expedition bags from Andy Strapz, see below), in his journal.
Concerning the fabric, the same applies as in the case of the dry bags: as sturdy as possible.
Watertight saddle bags do exist, but most of them aren't really watertight: sleeping bags should be put in a
watertight bag of their own.
Concerning fastening them to your motorcycle: in some cases, you need to prevent the exhaust from touching the saddle bags. Depending on the bags and your motorcycle, you need a rack, or it's possible to use them straight away. Try it in the shop, or order them and experiment at home before taking off.
Concerning locks, again the same applies as for dry bags: in general, there are no locks. You might bring a metal wire with a lock, that you can adjust around and through the saddle bags, to prevent taking them off or opening them.
Where to find them?
Motorcycle shops do sell leather saddle bags for choppers; purchasing other kinds of saddle bags is often more difficult.
Saddle bags from Ortlieb are very sturdy and watertight. Ortlieb also has a smaller model.
Wolfman too has very solid saddle bags.
Apart from hard panniers, Givi also carries "soft luggage".
Hard luggage: Panniers
For some motorcycles, there are hard panniers available that are made for that specific type. For other motorcycles, there are standard panniers, with different racks to mount the panniers on the motorcycle.
You don't have to use straps to fasten the panniers, but you can hook them (more or less easily)
onto their rack (though sometimes, that's as hard as strapping a dry bag to the bike). Your stuff is dry
(well, in some panniers: most of them will leak during steady rain), and safe (when you can lock them).
Some panniers (like the BMW panniers shown in the photograph) have a lid that can store stuff, which makes it very easy to reach every item at the side of the road, without having to unpack.
Panniers are heavy: even when they are empty, you might notice their weight on the bike. Many panniers have a shape
that makes it difficult to really use the number of liters that they should contain, according to the
Another disadventage is that they are relatively vulnerable: when you fall, there will often be a hole in a pannier, or the fitting mechanism breaks.
Another disadvantage is the width of your motorcycle with panniers: they can make the difference between easy lane-splitting or no lane-splitting at all, and you may notice them when riding corners.
What is important?
The quality of panniers depends for a great deal on the quality of the rack: when there is movement in
the rack, or in the way the panniers fit to the rack, you will really notice your panniers, in a negative
way, during corners.
The panniers, fastened to the rack, should not be far from your motorcycle: otherwise they guarantee unpleasant riding behaviour.
Check how easy it is to get your panniers off the bike: when you're staying a couple of days on a
camping, you can leave the panniers in your tent.
It should be possible to lock them, and preferrably also to lock them onto your motorcycle. When they're guaranteed watertight, that's very pleasant, of course.
Where to get them?
Motorcycle shops often have several kinds of panniers.
Givi is a widely known brand for panniers.
Hepco & Becker have lots of panniers: some of them look like aluminium, but are made of plastic, so have the advantages of those.
Hard luggage: Aluminium Cases
Because world travelers, who have to take lots of stuff along, often ride with aluminium cases, many people
associate them with the idea of "adventure". The result is that you see them often on motorcycles
that are being sold for the same feeling: the travel-enduro's (yes, I know the attraction from experience).
But, apart from the associations, what are the advantages and disadvantages?
*The* advantage of aluminium cases is that they are big, that their content measures lots of liters.
For some people, another advantage is that you pack them from above (most of them, that is) instead of
packing the lid and the pannier from the side. That is a disadvantage as well, as you can only reach what
was packed last, and you have to unstrap your dry bag first, if you have one on top of the cases.
Another advantage of aluminium panniers is that you can use them as a stool, when they're up to such use (ask about that beforehand).
The disadvantage of all the space they offer, is that aluminium cases are very big. After you fasten them
on your bike, they will often be the first part of your bike that will reach the ground: they eat up your ground
clearance in corners.
The space the panniers offer you, also will make it more probable that you take too much with you. Too much often means too heavy as well, and the more weight you hang on your motorcycle, the more you will notice it.
Another disadvantage is, counter-intuitive, the lack of strength. Aluminium cases are, in case of a fall, more easily damaged than plastic panniers, and if the panniers are not damaged, the rack will be, or, worse, the frame. Most aluminium cases may damage your legs too.
What is important?
In the first place: decide whether you really need that much space. If you don't, aluminium cases are not the smartest solution. But anyway, you might also just want to buy them because they look adventurous.
Always check how broad they will be, on the rack, on your bike. As in the case of "ordinary" panniers, the rack is very important. With these panniers even more, because they can get much heavier (because of the space they offer). There may be no movement at all, even in the case of heavily loaded panniers.
Also check the finish of the inside: can you use the panniers immediately (when the inside is of aluminium,
everything will turn black) or do you have to invest in inner bags as well? What about watertightness?
Can you lock the panniers, and especially, are they easily removed from your bike, when you are on a camping and would like to ride without panniers?
Where to get them?
Aluminium cases are not (as yet) available in every motorcycle shop. You will have to compare different ones on the web, mail companies, and ask where you can have a look at them.
The Alu Koffer site of Carlos (in German) is a good start for comparing and finding addresses.
Touratech offers aluminium cases for several motorcycles.
Bernd Tesch builds cases and custom-made racks for every motorcycle.
Al Jesse is an American builder of aluminium cases.
There are even more possibilities for luggage:
Top cases are widely used: it seems very convenient to have it always on your motorcycle, for your lock
and your helmet for instance.
This photograph shows why they are not such a great idea: they are positioned far on the rear of your motorcycle. That means that they will make your bike behave horribly in corners (especially when what's inside moves from left to right and back, and especially when what's inside is heavy). What's more, the top case helps to shift weight to the rear. Too much weight on the rear means not enough weight on the front, which may lead to what is called a tankslapper. Your handlebars sway wildly from left to right and back, from steering lock to steering lock (*when* that happens: shift all your weight on the handlebars to put some weight back to the front).
Side bags for the tankbag
I never needed them and never tried them. If you need the extra space, try them out on your motorcycle before you buy them: when they prevent you from doing tight slow-speed corners, that's a strong disadvantage: maneuvring a heavily loaded bike is difficult enough as it is.
Always carry them with you: extra straps. Bungee cords may also come in handy, but only use them for light stuff (a bottle of water for instance): you don't want the elastic to snap, somewhere on the Grimselpass.
What do you take along?
Answer number one on the question: "What to take along?" is: "The least possible!".
Check for instance www.onebag.com,
the art and science of travelling light, for ideas.
Try to keep together what belongs together, and make a list of what you need:
When you want to cook yourself, or at least make your own coffee, try to pack the stove (see below), pans, cups, plate, knife and fork, instant coffee, instant meals and such, in the same pannier
Especially for clothes: take as few of them as possible, in an at small as possible volume.
A problem on the motorcycle is that when you ride southward, and cross the Alps or Pyrenees, your clothing will be for warm weather (leather jacket and trousers, for instance), while it may be very cold and wet up in the mountains. You could take a thin rainjacket and rain trousers (like are made for on bicycle), that you can wear over your leathers. You don't need any protection from that extra layer, and it will help against the cold too (a non-breathing watertight layer helps perfectly there) and against the rain, without taking much space.
Don't forget to pack a fleece!
Using trekking shoes as motorcycle boots has the advantage that you only have to pack some slippers
to be complete. Some underwear, something to swim in, an extra T-shirt, trousers, and a towel don't take
that much space. Don't try to take along so many clothes that you don't have to wash! On a vacation you can
wear something a few days, and washing can be done everywhere.
Clothes pegs come in handy when you are drying your clothes during a storm...
Maps, travel guides, language guides, notepads, pencils and such are handy (and fun!) to take along.
Concerning tools: when you have an allen wrench, a plug wrench, a wrench 10/11, a wrench 12/13, a philips screwdriver, an ordinary screwdriver, iron wire, lots of ductape, and a plier, you will be able to solve most problems. When you don't maintain your own bike, make sure you have a language guide with technical terms for motorcycles: that might be necessary when you end up in a garage.
And don't forget a torch.
Of course, there are the tent, the mattress and the sleeping bag. Use compression bags (available in outdoor sport shops) to stuff the sleeping bag; you can use them for the tent as well.
Passport, driver's license, green card, credit card, card of your health insurance, money, and you are ready to go...
If you like lists, this one: Motorcycle trip check list is a good start.
Weight on your motorcycle should be positioned as close as possible to the center of gravity.
(That's the reason that your bike behaves badly with a heavy top case). A tankbag is perfect:
that's the place for mapss, books and guides. When you have too many of them for the tankbag, you
can put what you don't need at that moment in a pannier or saddle bag.
Because of the position, the tankbag is also the best place for the tools.
You try to keep your cooking gear together in a pannier or saddle bag. In the lid of a pannier (or together with the cooking gear, your First-Aid stuff can be packed (don't take too much of that), with your toiletries.
Your clothes can find a place down in a dry bag: you only need them when you have your tent up and ready. Do keep a fleece and rain jacket apart, and put them on top in the dry bag, or in the lid of a pannier: then you can easily get them.
Tent, sleeping bag and mattress
Tent, sleeping bag and mattress are packed best in the dry bag. Keep the tent poles aside, and push
them between the rest (next to the mattress for instance). When you pack like that, the dry bag will
become a stiff packet, without movement.
The tent and the sleeping bag will last longer when you don't roll or fold them. It's a bit counterintuitive, but in both cases your gear will last better when you just push them at random in a compression bag. When you're at home again, take them out of the compression bag to let them breathe.
Water (in a plastic bottle that you can buy at every gas station) can be fastened to the dry bag with bungee cords. You never need extra gas, unless you are going to do a really extreme ride, like crossing the Sahara.
Tents with straight poles (one or two) may look magnificent; they need relatively many pegs and the poles take away precious space. By far the most widely used tents, and the most practical, are, at this moment, tunnel or dome tents.
Tunnel or dome?
In principle, a tunnel tent offers more space than a dome tent, with the same packing volume and weight.
Weight isn't a big issue when you're on motorcycle (as opposed to when you go on a walking trip for instance);
Another advantage of a tunnel tent is that it's easier to pitch it: you will be faster.
A dome tent, on the other hand, is stable, in principle, without pegs (you need less pegs anyway), and there are more possibilities for ventilation. The fact that you may camp without pegs means that you can also camp on rocky terrain.
Ventilation is very important, whether you go to warm or cold regions: without enough ventilation,
everything in your tent will become damp or even really wet. Of course, ventilation should not let in mosquitoes.
For good ventilation, you need it in the front, in the back and in top.
Poles through the inner tent or outer tent
Roughly speaking, there are two systems for the poles of tunnel and dome tents: poles that are fastened to the inner tent, or to the outer tent. In both cases, the fastening is often done by easy click systems, and sometimes by narrow tunnels of tent fabric, where the poles must be lead through.
The advantage of poles to the inner tent, is that you can pitch the innertent separately.
In warm weather, that can be comfortable.
The advantage of poles to the outside tent, is that you don't have to pitch the inner tent first, for instance in pouring rain. Sometimes, you don't even have to separate the inner and outer tent, and pitch the whole tent together. Very easy and convenient, and no problem at all during rain.
Whatever you choose, check the material of the poles: it should be aluminium. Fiberglass poles are cheaper, but break very easily. Throwing away a cheap tent relatively soon as such is not the problem, but poles breaking while you are on holiday is...
Zippers that can be used both from above and from below are very convenient.
Buy a big tent: a three persons tent at the minimum when you sleep with two; a two persons tent when you sleep alone. You will have space, that way, for your belongings in the inner tent. A hood at the front and or back creates even more space.
Buy the plastic for under the tent in a tent shop: that's plastic especially for tents, without "weakmakers" (I don't know the exact word) (they would destroy your tent). Fold the plastic under itself, at the rims, so it doesn't stick out of the tent anywhere. That way, water will not creep under your tent when it rains.
What about the price?
There are huge differences in price. The price depends on the fabrics and materials used,
on small smart solutions for for instance drying your clothes in the tent, on quantities, on the
country that produces the tent, on service after sales, etcetera.
In general, you pay a high price for less weight with the same surface. For vacations on foot, weight is very important; on motorcycle, it is less important. The most expensive tents are being made by small firms, that do a lot of research and experiments, and keep innovating. By buying such a tent, you support, as it were, innovations in tent fabrication. That's an excellent idea when you do have the money for it, but when you have a tight budget, you shouldn't think that you really need an expernsive tent.
When you are a first-time camper, or start doing camping vacations on motorcycle, you'd better
buy a tent that's not too expensive: the only way to find out what you really need is by using your
tent during motorcycle vacations: it's different for everyone.
There are shops were you can buy last year's models, for low prices. Those shops are excellent as a start.
Don't have the idea that your first buy should be a tent for the rest of your life.
Sleeping bag and mattress
The ideal sleeping bag is warm when you travel north, cool when you travel south, and has a minimal volume when packed.
Down or synthetic?
Sleeping bags made of down are almost perfect: they are light, they pack in a small volume,
and they are useable in a wide temperature range. Goosedown isolates better than duck down, so you need
less of it for the same warmth. That means that the advantages of down are most prominent in goose down.
Down is supplemented with feathers. The percentage tells how much of the materials used consists of down. The higher the percentage, the less material needed (you need far more feathers than down for the same degree of isolation), the lighter the sleeping bag.
The big disadvantage of down is that it stops functioning when wet or damp. Synthetic sleeping bags
are superior with respect to dampness: they isolate you almost as good when they are damp as when they're dry, which
can be very convenient on a camping trip.
Another advantage of synthetic sleeping bags is that they're cheaper than one made of down. Synthetic sleeping bags don't mind being compressed for a long time, which might be an advantage as well.
Mummy or blanket model?
A mummy model sleeping bag comes closer to the ideal sleeping bag: you have the same degree of
isolation with less packing volume and with less weight than with a blanket model sleeping bag.
But a blanket model sleeping bag has different advantages: you can zip two together to get a two-person model, you can zip one onto a piece of fleece, to get a two persons model with an extra isolating bottomside, and you can use the sleeping bag as a blanket, when it's warmer.
The minimum temperature that is often specified with sleeping bags, is about the temperature where you will not freeze to death. So don't make the mistake of trusting that you will sleep comfortably at that temperature.
Even the "comfort temperature" that is sometimes specified, isn't very helpful: it's
too different from person to person to tell anything useful (I for instance, should add a degree or ten).
Something on your head (never tried) appears to help against the cold at night. It is logical: most of your body temperature disappears by way of your head and neck.
It's impossible to give objective temperature ranges, apart from the just-not-freezing-to-death
temperature: it's just something that differs too much from person to person.
So the best advice is not to buy a very expensive first sleeping bag: just buy something simple, and find out, during your camping trips, what works best for you.
The optimum with respect to packing volume and comfort are self-inflatables. Don't expect too much
of the "self" in self-inflatable: when they have been packed for a long time, they will have
inflated a bit after an hour, but you will have to help them a bit as well. But you won't need a pump or something.
At home again, you will have to open the valve and stow the mattress away while lying flat: it will last much longer.
To be able to cook, you don't always need a stove. In Scandinavia for instance, you are allowed to make a fire, and in many countries (Spain for instance), there are parks with barbecues, for everybody to use.
In case you want to be independent of the possibility to barbecue: there are stoves for different kinds of fuel. The most widely used are propane and petrol.
Stoves on propane
Cooking on propane is the easiest way. You can buy the tanks almost everywhere. The problem is in
the "almost": Scandinavia for instance is an exception. When you choose Scandinavia to go to,
you will have to take enough propane tanks with you.
Another disadvantage is the time that you will be cooking: the stoves that are suitable for motorcycle vacations (rather small) take a long time: twice as long (to get a liter of water to boil for instance) as the average stove on petrol. There are exceptions to this rule: there are expensive stoves that need a special mixture of propane with something else. So ask information in the outdoor sports shop.
Stoves on petrol
Convenient of these stoves is that petrol is available everywhere, and that you always carry it
with you. However, when you use the same petrol (unleaded of course) in your stove as what you use in
your motorcycle, you will end up with very black hands and a very dirty, black stove, that's
very difficult to clean. It's smarter to use Coleman fuel (or benzine): it burns much cleaner.
For emergencies, the availability of petrol is an advantagem, though.
You have to warm stoves on petrol before you can use them. A demonstration in an outdoor sports shop (the salesman will like to do that for you: everybody loves to play with fire) will show you how to do that: it isn't difficult. When choosing a stove, check the controllability (well, what I mean is how easy it is to burn slower or faster) (the MSR Whisperlite for instance, very small and light and handy, almost only knows on or off), and noise (the name of the MSR Whisperlite has been chosen well: most other stoves on petrol make far more noise).
Stoves on methylated spirit are widely used in Scandinavia. You can't control how slow or fast they burn, and the fuel should not contain water (which means you have to buy it in the outdoor sports shop).
Buying your food at the market or the local shops is most fun, of course. Take at least salt and
pepper from home.
While traveling, ready-made dinners are convenient. You will find an enormous variety in outdoor sports shops, often very expensive. Those meals are meant for walkers, who have to measure every gram they take on theit back. As a motorcyclist, you're better of with meals from the supermarket.
As for coffee: supermarkets often have sachets for 1 person (instant espresso is very nice).
One or two pots with a lid that can serve as a frying pan, a plate, a cup, fork, knive and spoon, a wooden spoon, and you're ready. Aluminium pots may not be used for food that contains acids. MSR has an overview of different materials for cookware.
And don't forget the matches!
Your motorcycle on the camping
Most important: always lock your motorcycle to something solid, with a good chain lock.
Two motorcycles locked to each other is also a good solution.
That rule is especially important when it's not allowed to keep your motorcycle near your tent.
Motorcycle shops often sell small plastic plates for under your side standard, for when the ground is wet.
On really wet terrain, you can lean your motorcycle against a tree, with a handlebar, like on the photograph.
Never put your motorcycle so close to your tent that it will hit you when it would fall over! We once woke up at night, from a "plof" sound: it had started to rain, and the side standard had sunk so far that the motorcycle just dropped. Next to the tent, happily enough...
How to find a nice spot?
There are many ways to find a nice spot: find out beforehand and make a reservation, looking for a sign for a camping when it's about time to find something to sleep, or look for a spot somewhere in the wild.
Camping for motorcyclists?
There are some motorcycle campings, where you can only get a place when you are a motorcycle rider
(and come on motorcycle, of course). In practice, these campings are especially for *groups* of motorcycle
riders, with the parties and loudness that you would expect.
No problem of course when you like that, but you'd better be prepared for nights without much sleep.
"Ordinary" campings will in general never say no to motorcycle riders. There are campings, however, that say no to groups of motorcyclists (because of the probability of loudness, so to speak). So, if you go camping with a big group, you'd better ask beforehand, or go to a camping for motorcyclists.
Motorcycle magazines have guides with those campings, from time to time, but you will find them easily with google.
When you want to stay somewhere near the coast during summer, you will have to make reservations, especially in the better known areas. As long as you stay away from that (away from summer, from the coast, from the better known areas), it isn't necessary.
Of course, there is no recepy for finding a nice spot that works everywhere. There are huge
differences per country.
France is a real camping country, with lots of camping sites. Many villages and cities have a "Camping municipal", and those are often good and cheap places, often nicely situated, and not crowded. You won't find restaurants or tropical swimming pools on those campings, but there will (almost) always be clean toilets and showers.
Most motorcycle riders don't like to camp between caravans and bungalow tents. Therefore, camping sites without too many amenities are attractive. There are guides, of some countries, with small campingsites.
Search for a camping site at home, beforehand, has the advantage that you know where you are going to and what to expect, but of course, it clashes a bit with the idea of freedom.
In Scandinavia there is something called "all man's right",which means that you are allowed,
in principle, to camp everywhere, unless it's explicitly forbidden. The right doesn't mean you may pitch
your tent in somebody's garden without asking!
Camping in the wild is convenient when you are on a walking vacation: you walk along routes with suitable spots. On motorcycle, finding such a spot is more difficult: in general, you ride on a road (nice spots are not next to a road), with a speed that makes it more difficult to recognise a nice spot. In case you find something: if there is an owner of the land, ask permission, all man's right or not.
Whether you can easily find a camping site when you're there, or how long beforehand you should start
looking, depends on the number of camping sites in the region you want to visit. There are huge differences
between countries (and within countries between regions).
France is a great country for camping: you can be certain, almost anywhere, that you will find a nice place within an hour (most of the time within a shorter time). In other countries, it might be more problematic.
Sometimes the reason is, that spending the night in a hotel is cheap ; spending the night at a camping site is often more expensive in such cases. Sometimes the reason is that you are in a vast country, sparsely populated (Norway, Sweden). And sometimes it's the opposite: you are in a densely populated area with few campings, and the campings that you find are fully booked (many regions in Italy).
In those cases, a camping guide (or information about campings on your GPS) come in handy, but often, you will only find the bigger and more luxureous camping grounds; not the nicest spots for motorcycle riders.
A danger, when searching a spot for camping, is that often, you start searching long after the moment
you should have started looking: you are too tired already.
When you're tired, it's harder to take decisions. You will notice that you just pass camping sites, thinking "It's probably nothing", without really thinking about it.
So, before you decide to go looking for camping spots, decide to stop at every camping or possible spot that you see. Often, a place is nicer when you take the time to inspect, than you thought while riding past. A bonus is that you can stretch your legs, get a bit of rest, and will be better prepared to judge the next place, when this place isn't the place you want to be.