Packing Up for a Long Motorcycle Trip
By Jeff Sinason
Weeks before I'm ready to leave on a long motorcycle trip, I start getting excited. Often I get to the point where I can think of anything else. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that I spend the time getting prepared for it. I usually put this off to the very end. I've learned however over the years that this means that my packing never matches what I will really need for the trip. Proof, last year I was in Sturgis with nothing more than a sweatshirt and leather vest riding around in 45 to 55 degree weather. DUMB MOVE. Anyway, to try to avoid that I've started putting a list together of the stuff I need to pack for every trip and where I want to store it on the motorcycle. To help me build the list I put everything in categories to help keep it a little more organized. The categories I use are:
- Things to keep the Motorcycle Rolling
- Things to keep the Motorcycle Secure
- Things to keep the rider going
- Protective clothing and gear (Riding Gear)
- Camping Equipment
- Miscellaneous Stuff
Things to keep the Motorcycle Rolling
Regardless of your mechanical skills, on long trips you will usually end up having to fix something on your motorcycle. It's just the nature of motorcycles. At a bare minimum I always carry tire patch and CO2 cartridges to perform those road side tire problems and hope I don't have far to go till the next motorcycle shop. If the shop is a fair distance away you should have tools that would allow you to remove the tire and hitch a ride. Since I ride a Harley Davidson (not balanced and not rubber-mounted) I always carry a complete set of wrenches, Torx, and Allen wrenches, along with a bottle of LocTite to tighten up those parts that think it would be better to end up on the side of the road. I also carry a small multi-tool that includes a small LED flashlight because it seems I always breakdown after dark. In my tool pouch you can almost (important word there) always find extra fuses, an extra sparkplug and extra light bulbs. And the two most important things, zip ties and electrical tape. After all with those you can fix just about anything that would keep you from making it down the road. I've found that for most brands of motorcycles you can find pre-packaged tool pouches that have a good set of tools lined up for you. Sometimes the quality of the tools may be questionable, but hey all they're going to do is ride around in your saddlebags and they'll do in a pinch.
Things to keep the Motorcycle Secure
If you plan your trips like me (NOT) you don't always end up staying at the most reputable establishments. It's always a good idea to lock your bike and have some way of locking the wheels. At least that way you'll keep the lazy motorcycle thieves from getting away with your bike. I always carry two keys for every lock with me when I travel. There's the ones that I carry in my pocket or attached to my belt, and the ones I carry deep in my bag for when I lose the other ones. As for disc lock I really recommend them. They are small, strong and provide a pretty good deterrent. They don't however address the case where someone comes with a lift and just hauls your bike away. For that you need to carry a heavy duty cable or chain lock to tie your bike to a solid structure. I personally don't like these due to the bulk and weight that they add to the saddlebags, but then I have pretty good insurance to replace the motorcycle if it's stolen.
Things to keep the rider going
Taking care of the rider is every bit, if not more so, important as keeping the motorcycle going. When we are out there in the wind there are millions of things that affect our ability to be comfortable and safe. Some of these I've discussed in other articles. First and foremost we need to make sure that we are protected from the sun. Getting sunburned on your arms, hands and face can absolutely ruin a good day of riding. I carry a stick sunscreen that has a SPF-30 rating and is waterproof and dries instantly. I use it on any skin that I have exposed to the sun. In addition I always carry a lip balm. Chapped lips can be a very painful thing on the road.
Both sunburn and chapped lips can sneak up on you without you being aware of it. Other things that I pack are a first aid kit that includes bandages, pain reliever and antiseptic ointments. Injuries on the road can become infected very easy due to the road grim that we are constantly hit by.
Perhaps my most important piece of equipment is my cell phone. I always carry that with me and make sure that it's always charged. Today, there is probably no piece of equipment that is more important than a cell phone in case of emergency. I usually carry a charger for use at night and a 12v car charger. Luckily I've installed a lighter on my motorcycle that allows me to charge my phone from the bike. This way I never have to worry about being stranded with a dead phone.
While I'm talking about phones, please make sure that you have I.C.E. number coded into your address book on the phone. I.C.E. numbers are the first thing that emergency workers will look for In Case of Emergency. Having these number(s) in your phone can greatly increase your chances of getting proper medical care. Two basic considerations for the numbers should be:
- Make sure the numbers are current. It won't do any good
to have a number that is no longer valid specified as
- Make sure that the person that answers that call has
some basic knowledge about your medical history. Things
like known allergies, blood type and doctors' name. By
providing this basic information the emergency medical
workers will be able to make much more informed decisions.
Protective clothing and gear (Riding Gear)
On long trips you are most likely going to hit every kind
of conceivable weather. No matter how hot it may get in the
middle of that sunny summer day, there's probably some cold
miserable weather waiting out there for you. If you're in
the middle of the desert you're sure to run into some rain.
After all you are on a motorcycle. To be prepared, I save
all of the space in my saddlebags for riding gear. My usual
- My colors. Can't ride a bike without those.
- Leather Jacket preferably one that has a removable lining
and good ventilation.
- Chaps. Make sure they fit well and are in good condition.
- Fingerless gloves and full fingered gloves
- A couple of extra doo rags. I'm always losing those
- Face mask of some sort. I've got a windshield on my
bike and that protects me most of the time but in heavy
rain, hail and the cold a neoprene face mask really helps.
- Sunglasses and/or goggles. I personally like the convertible
combos, which can change from sunglasses to goggles and
have interchangeable lenses. My personal favorites are
the SG-1 from WileyX.
- Rain Suit. One of those cheap sets from Wally World
won't do. Sure they may keep you dry for awhile, but more
often than not you'll get 30 miles down the road and the
suit will be flying behind you like streamers. Don't skimp
here. A couple of bandannas will always come in handy.
- If the weather is going to be extremely hot then a polymer
crystal cooling bandanna is a great piece of gear to be
carrying. I usually carry this in a small baggie that
helps keep it fresh and keeps other things from getting
wet from it when not in use.
Of course as has been said millions of times "Dressing in layers is the way to go". Being able to add layers and take off layers can substantially add to your riding comfort. As far as clothing is concerned keep it to a minimum. Carry enough for a few days and plan wash stops into your trip. This will help keep your load manageable. The key is to pack for all the conditions you are likely to run into but keep the load as sparse as possible. Get creative and figure out multiple uses for different pieces of clothing and the best way to extend the wear-ability of the clothes. After all if you get caught in the rain without your rainsuit, those clothes are good for another day. Aren't they?
Even a scummy old biker like me likes to clean up every once in awhile. And since I often alternate between camping and motels I carry things to wash up with. These would include a towel, washcloth and those little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo you can get at most motels. It helps that in my day job I travel all the time so I've got a life time supply of those.
I'm also trying to keep the last few remaining teeth that I have so that means I have to carry my toothbrush and toothpaste. Since I've got long hair I have to carry a brush to get the rat's nest that forms in my hair every day out. Usually on long trips I don't shave, but I always have a razor with me. I just use the soap to lather up on my face instead of carrying shaving cream.
One last item you should never leave without is toilet paper. There's nothing worse than suddenly needing it when you're out on the road and not having it. I usually start out with a small quantity which would take care of the duties a couple of times. If I end up using that up, I usually restock courtesy of the next gas stop or hotel.
All of this is carried in a small bag that I always have packed so I never have to worry about it. If I use something, I replace it and it's a thoughtless act to throw that in the T-Bags.
Camping equipment is probably one of the hardest things to carry and pack on a motorcycle. This is based mostly on the fact that it usually bulky and doesn't necessarily pack down real well. Even when they pack down the bags seem to be longer than you would want. They usually end up being to tall if you tie them on standing up, or to wide if you try to have them laying down.
For a tent, I've found that the small two man dome tents work best. They are easy to set up, have plenty of room to spread out in at night (if there's only one person in it), and they pack down pretty nice. My tent originally came in a flimsy nylon bag that I knew would hold up to rolling down the road so I replaced the bag with a sturdier one. My tent is usually bungeed onto my T-Bag and additional one to attach it to the motorcycle.
On the other side of the T-Bag, I have my mattress. As the years have gone by that ground has gotten harder and harder. I use one of those self-inflating mattresses that blow themselves up. While they're not the most comfortable, it sure beat sleeping on the ground. In the morning all you have to do is open the valve, roll it up and it's ready to go. I got a bag to carry the mattress in too.
I've always found that carrying cameras on a motorcycle trip can be a pain. The old styles (film based) have a tendency to take up to much space. And the digital camera require to much accessory stuff, like chargers, place to download the pictures and such. For a while I was carrying Advantix cameras, since they can be relatively small and take good quality pictures. Now I've never been a fan of the panoramic views but that is available on them. I'm now carrying a digital camera and have bought several different memory cards for it. This way I can use the cards like regular film and don't have to carry all the stuff to download the pictures until I get home.
Other important items are a wallet, credit cards and money. Can't keep going without these. And the one thing that I consider the most important, a notebook and pens. When I'm on a trip it's great to be able to keep notes about what you saw, how the motorcycle was running, where I stayed and interesting characters I meet along the way. It's also important cause if you're like me and suffer from CRAFT disease (write me if you want to know what that stands for) it's a great way to refresh your memories of the trip years from now.
Now that the bike's all loaded up one last thing to remember is that with all the additional weight of the stuff you're carrying the motorcycle is likely to handle differently. Remember to try to keep the weight as low and as close to the center of the motorcycle as possible. This will help keep the front wheel from getting to light or making the motorcycle a little top heavy. Make sure everything is strapped on real well. Good straps and bungies will give you a good dose of peace of mind knowing that your load is secure.
Be Safe … Enjoy the Ride
Jeff Sinason aka Tools is an avid traveler on his motorcycle.
He is also the owner of Bikerwares
which is an online store that has a great selection and great
prices for motorcycle
eyewear and goggles and much more. He is also the owner
Articles which is a great information resource for bikers.
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