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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 doesnít mean that I spend the time getting prepared for it. I usually put this off to the very end. Iíve 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 Iíve 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)
  • Hygiene
  • 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. Itís 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 donít 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. Iíve 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 theyíre going to do is ride around in your saddlebags and theyíll do in a pinch.

Things to keep the Motorcycle Secure

If you plan your trips like me (NOT) you donít always end up staying at the most reputable establishments. Itís always a good idea to lock your bike and have some way of locking the wheels. At least that way youíll keep the lazy motorcycle thieves from getting away with your bike. I always carry two keys for every lock with me when I travel. Thereís 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 donít 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 donít 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 itís 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 Iíve 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 itís 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 Iíve 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 Iím 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:
  1. Make sure the numbers are current. It wonít do any good to have a number that is no longer valid specified as your ICE.
  2. Make sure that the person that answers that call has some basic knowledge about your medical history. Things like known allergies, blood type and doctorsí 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, thereís probably some cold miserable weather waiting out there for you. If youíre in the middle of the desert youíre 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 list is:
  • My colors. Canít 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. Iím always losing those things.
  • Face mask of some sort. Iíve 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 wonít do. Sure they may keep you dry for awhile, but more often than not youíll get 30 miles down the road and the suit will be flying behind you like streamers. Donít 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 ďDressing in layers is the way to goĒ. 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. Arenít they?

Hygiene

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 Iíve got a life time supply of those.

Iím also trying to keep the last few remaining teeth that I have so that means I have to carry my toothbrush and toothpaste. Since Iíve got long hair I have to carry a brush to get the ratís nest that forms in my hair every day out. Usually on long trips I donít 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. Thereís nothing worse than suddenly needing it when youíre 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 itís a thoughtless act to throw that in the T-Bags.

Camping Equipment

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 doesnít 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, Iíve 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 thereís 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 theyíre 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 itís ready to go. I got a bag to carry the mattress in too.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Iíve 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 Iíve never been a fan of the panoramic views but that is available on them. Iím 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 donít have to carry all the stuff to download the pictures until I get home.

Other important items are a wallet, credit cards and money. Canít keep going without these. And the one thing that I consider the most important, a notebook and pens. When Iím on a trip itís 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. Itís also important cause if youíre like me and suffer from CRAFT disease (write me if you want to know what that stands for) itís a great way to refresh your memories of the trip years from now.

Now that the bikeís all loaded up one last thing to remember is that with all the additional weight of the stuff youíre 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 Ö 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.



  Comments

This sucks & Rocks...no thanks man, I havn't taken a long ride in 26 years...things have changed I know but you reminded me of a lot of things ..I just hope my new Triumph Speedmaster holds up better than my 67 Bonne!!! Thanks Again
- Jimbo

Hey Jeff! That's a good write up. I understand the last minute packing thing...but I am trying to avoid that. I am using the excitement of the upcoming trip as motivation to pack and repack...and in the process to discover what fits and what doesn't. The first multi-day trip for me is less than 2 weeks away now and I am PUMPED! I have gone over my packing list several times and made numerous modifications to it. I am hoping by the time I actually leave, I will have things well organized and the items that I take will actually reflect what I really need. I am expecting the trip to be about 1500 miles total. Your observations on preparing have been helpful. My thanks! :) Cheers!
- Tom


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