Motorcycle trips demand far more planning than the equivalent journey in a car. Though riding provides an inherent sense of freedom, practical limitations require motorcyclists to think ahead when choosing to hit the open road.
For starters, most motorcycles are limited in their storage capacity. Though all-out touring bikes such as the Honda Gold Wing and the BMW K1200LT offer numerous hard cases for the storage of extra clothes and gear, long distance riders are often forced to make tough decisions about the details of their trips, and how much of what items they need to pack.
Important Points to Consider
The first questions you’ll want to ask yourself when planning a trip pertain to how long you plan on being gone, where you intend to go, and what you have in mind for lodging.
First on your list of “must pack” items is a safety and repair kit, which we’ve covered in a separate article.
Unless you’re riding a fully fledged touring motorcycle, you’ll probably need to invest in some type of storage bags; backpacks don’t count. Options include saddlebags (which rest straddle the seat and rest on either side of the rear wheel, and are also known as panniers,) and tank bags, which sit directly atop the fuel tank (and often have handy clear plastic windows for displaying maps.) While hard bags offer more weather protection than soft bags, they are also costlier, add more weight, and require more involved installation. Centrally positioned tail bags are another option if you need even more storage.
Inspect Your Bike
If you have to get your bike serviced, then get it done about a week before your trip, so if something wants to go wrong you still have time to get it sorted. The following method is an efficient way to inspect your bike before traveling:
Make sure both tyres are properly inflated, using an air pressure monitor that you bring with you on rides. Don’t risk riding on tyres that might need replacement; if suspect a tyre will not last long enough for a ride, have it replaced.
Are your cables (clutch and brakes) and controls intact and working?
Make sure your headlights (high & low beam), turn signals, and brake lights work.
O: Oils & fluids.
Check everything from engine oil and coolant to brake fluid.
Ensure that the frame, suspension, chain, and fasteners are all secure and intact.
Make sure the center stand and/or side stand isn’t cracked or bent, and that springs properly hold the assembly away from the pavement when stowed.
Packing for a long distance motorcycle ride is a delicate balance between bringing enough items to ensure comfort, and not overloading yourself with unnecessary weight and bulk. After you’ve planned your route, you’ll want to check the weather forecast and get an idea of what to expect in terms the elements.
A good touring suit is an excellent investment, and when choosing your clothes, consider packing several thin layers of clothing, rather than a few thick ones. Flexibility is the key to staying comfortable; it’s far better to have the option to stop and shed or add layers as necessary, than to shiver or sweat your way through what would otherwise be an enjoyable, scenic route.
Be sure to bring energy bars or trail mix and water; if hunger or thirst strikes while you’re far from convenience stores or fuel stations, the nourishment will come in handy and keep your riding skills sharp.
When loading up your bike, always put heavier, more solid items on the bottom and sides closer to the bike (to centralize weight.) Lighter items should go on top. If you don’t have saddlebags or tank bags, you should consider using bungee nets to secure loose items. If you must travel with items secured by a bungee net, ensure that they are snug and will not get loosened by winds or g-forces. Again, placing heavier, wider, and more stable items at the bottom will provide an anchor for looser, floppier pieces (like sleeping pads or pillows.)
Finally, equip yourself well. Always wear a full-face helmet for maximum protection– not only against accidents, but also from the elements. Full-face helmets can provide a shield from rain and cold winds, and if constructed with ventilation, can also provide a certain level of comfort in warm weather. It may feel constricting in heat, but the overall benefits of choosing safety over style are vast when considering your long-term health and well being.
Plan, Plan, Plan…
Though it’s tempting to hit the open road and simply follow your nose, don’t forget that you’re more vulnerable to the elements, fatigue, and potentially serious injury on a motorcycle. Prepare yourself with clothing appropriate for the weather. Plan a route and, if you don’t have a portable GPS system, do whatever it takes not to get lost– even if it means taping directions to the top of your fuel tank. Err in the direction of filling up with fuel too frequently; because of their relatively low cruising range, most bikes will barely make it across some of the cross country stretches of highway that are sparsely populated. When in doubt, fill up.
Pace your travels realistically. Don’t try to ride so many hours in a day that it might affect your reflexes or decision making ability; after all, most of the fun is in the journey, not simply in reaching a destination. While riding, be sure to stop whenever necessary– whether for a snack, a stretch, or a nap. The simple act of taking a breather will make the ride all the more enjoyable.
…But Don’t Overplan!
Once you’ve prepared sufficiently, enjoy the possibility of the unexpected. Riding requires a certain amount of discipline and logistical planning, but part of the joy of the journey is the process. Be open to re-writing your plans when necessary and you’ll have a blast no matter where you end up.