Living off of your motorcycle shouldn't be stressful.
You can pack everything you need for a weekend, week-long, or month-long motorcycle trip right onto your bike. Here are some tips I've picked up on my two-wheeled adventures:
1. How long is your trip?
Length can be measured in miles, days, or both. A little weekender to the campground 60 miles from home won't require nearly as much as a 500+ mile, week-long excursion across the country. For the remainder of this article, let's pretend this is the 500 mile-plus adventure.
2. When/Where are you going?
Weather is fickle: it's a pain in the ass and isn't always predictable. However, wherever your destination takes you, you don't want to get stranded without proper gear. I've been on trips where I leave my house looking like the Michelin Man, with every layer possible on my body trying to stay warm, and the next day I'm taking all the layers off and soaking my clothes in water at the gas station trying to cool off.
Have you ever hit an unexpected rain storm where the temperature drops from 80 and sunny, to 50-something and cold? Yep, bet you wished you had rain gear and thicker gloves that day. Getting sick from trying to look cool without gear isn't worth it. Learn about riding gear and get into it!
3. What's up with your bike?
Everyone has their own moto maintenance mumbo jumbo. Here's my opinion: If you're like me and are not the biggest fan of being stranded on the side of the road wondering why your bike is broken down, find a mechanic that you trust and GET IT SERVICED BEFORE THE TRIP. Also, STICK TO THAT MECHANIC.
Every bike and every motor has it's own weird tendencies. If you constantly go to different people to have your bike looked at, there's a good chance they won't notice something that the other guy (or gal!) did. You wouldn't switch up your personal doctor with every visit would you? Don't do it with your bike.
Get it serviced by a trained professional, and eliminate the chance of something happening that could have been easily prevented. If you have a friend who knows the ropes, watch them service it, or better yet, let them shadow you and do the service yourself. Seriously, learning how your bike works is the most useful tool of all.
4. Speaking of Tools— Bring Tools
Bring tools on the road. I personally carry tools that I can easily pack, such as specific Torx bits, Allen Wrenches, Vise Grips, Wire Cutters, Phillips and Flathead screwdrivers, etc. My buddy Dave over at the CVRST Project makes really great handmade tool rolls, as well as travel bags for your clothes and other junk.
Good ol' Google can also tell you what tools your bike needs if you still have all the stock/factory hardware on it. (I've tried to switch most of my hardware to use screws with allen heads. Makes carrying tools a little bit easier.)
Also, Blue Loctite is your friend! I carry a tube of it in my tool bag at all times. And zip ties, carry them with you all the time. Stash a few in your tool bag, you never know when you're going to have to rig something back together. A tire plug kit is handy too. They're pretty tiny and can save you a ton of time if you get a flat tire.
In all of my travels, I've only been "stranded" twice. The first time my stator went out on my 2011 XL, the second time my ignition started having issues on my 2003 XL. Both of these things are a little hard to predetermine the time they decide to go, but out of all the problems I could have dealt with on the side of the road, I'd say I've had it pretty easy in the 70,000 miles I've ridden in the last four years.
If you ride a newer model Harley, and you're not mechanically inclined, look into the Extended Service Plans being offered by the Motor Company. They're worth the dough if you plan to ride your bike all over the place.
5. What to Pack
The quickest advice I can give you is to learn a little about the backpacking culture and the importance of packing light and efficiently. I can pack everything I need for a two week trip into my 28-Liter Herschel Supply Duffel Bag and have space left over.
If you're on a budget, army surplus stores have good quality top loading bags for under $20. Any way you pack, make sure it's easy to get to your tools, jacket, etc. if you need them in a pinch.
Pro Tip: Learn to roll your clothes into little- adorable -burritos. If you aren't using a dry sack to keep your stuff dry, I highly suggest packing important items in Ziploc bags just in case you hit some rain.
- DO always pack: jacket, hoodie, gloves, rain gear (mine doubles as my pillow when I'm camping), extra shoes (if you don't wear boots, its nice to have a dry pair of shoes in case it rains). Always pack extra socks and undies— take it from someone who packed one pair of socks with them to Mexico. Long story short: I sacrificed my moto insurance papers over my one pair of socks at the gas station when I realized there was no toilet paper. Lesson learned. We all have those "last leg" undergarments. They have a purpose and this is it. They aren't always meant to make it back home. (And for the sake of running into a bathroom emergency like I did in Mexico, perhaps pack a tiny bag of wet wipes!)
- MAYBE pack: climate-sensitive items, such as thermals (real ones— not the ones that you buy for five bucks at the mall), gauntlet-style gloves with built in Gore-Tex, thick socks, etc. You can always add clothes on to feel warm— unless you don't pack them, like a dummy. If you're headed to warmer climates or places where the sun is a little overbearing, think about some lighter colored clothing options that still protect your skin.
- DON'T pack more than four T-shirts, regardless of how long your trip is. You're more than likely going to buy one or two, or you're going to find a friend along the way with a washer and dryer. (PS: When you're on the road, you smell, even if you change shirts every day. Just sacrifice one shirt and save the others for when you get to a stopping point.)
Girls are known for making 20 outfits out of five articles of clothing. Work it out!
- DO always pack: travel sized everything. Seriously, it saves a ton of room. Buy the itty-bitty tooth brush and the itty-bitty razor, tooth paste, deodorant, hair brush, and anything else you can find. If you plan to stay with friends along the way, keep that in mind. I normally don't pack shampoo and conditioner since my friends will normally donate theirs to the cause. Yay, friends!
- MAYBE Pack: tampons and other hygiene-necessary items if needed. You're an adult. I'll leave this part up to you.
- DON'T Pack: Your entire makeup collection. You've already got bugs in your teeth anyway. Put the makeup away until you get to your destination. Pack only what you need for a typical night out if you absolutely feel the need to bring it.
- Pack heat, if you're okay with that sort of thing. I've never met a single sketchy person on my travels that made me feel the need to grab hold of a weapon, but that doesn't mean I trust everyone I meet in the middle of nowhere, either. If you're traveling across state lines, be sure to know the laws. The last thing you need is to get heat for packin' it. Knives aren't so bad to have either. I typically travel with at least one of each. (Shameless plug goes out to my friend Matt Farris who makes some killer knives!)
- Bring snacks (the Burger King dollar menu isn't always your best option). Bring Cliff Bars, trail mix, or any other sort of food a backpacker would bring. Keep your energy up and STAY HYDRATED. Seriously, it can make or break how many miles you can accomplish in a day. Either buy a bottle of water and refill at every gas stop, or invest in a Camelbak. Drop the sodas, Gatorades and monsters— they're all just going to dehydrate you. If you need a pick-me-up, grab a bottle of orange juice or something.
- If your bike doesn't have one yet, look into getting a battery tender/pigtail installed. Phones die, but you can keep them charged while you're riding just in case you need to reach someone in an emergency situation. Zootfresh is out of Austin, TX and makes some adapters that can charge your phone on the go. As for heated gear, you can also use these adapters in the winter time— simply plug it in to your bike and stay cozy. Yay, technology!
- Gasoline reserve bottles are the cheapest insurance you can get. Sometimes there's long stretches without gas, and the worst thing to hear is your motor sputter to a stop without a gas station in sight. If you have a peanut tank (2.5 gallons or less), or you're averaging 100 miles or less to a tank, I highly suggest carrying at least a liter of gas on you. Lowbrow Customs and Biltwell both carry fuel bottles; however, if you want to make sure you don't lose your bottle to the road gremlins, buy one from REI that has a built-in locking mechanism so it can't unscrew from the cap (again, speaking from experience). A little baby bottle of Octane booster isn't a bad idea either. You can pick these up at AutoZone or any other auto parts store.
- If you're going to use bungees to strap your stuff to your bike, pack at least two ratchet straps in your bag somewhere just in case something happens and you need a tow. Also, know how to use them. You'd be surprised how many people can't properly tie down motorcycles.
I'm going to go ahead and say this is where things get a little expensive if you want to save space. But here's my two cents.
- Invest in a good mummy style sleeping bag with a temperature rating for at least 30°F. I purchased one from REI along with a membership and it's been the best idea I've had yet. Ditch the Mexican blankets/serape rolls. Sure, they look cool in photos, but they don't keep you warm on cold desert nights. Remember: Function over fashion and more importantly, get one that packs up to be fairly small. You can also purchase compression sacks and make super fluffy, warm sleeping bags the size of a spaghetti squash or smaller.
- One-person tent? Two-person tent? Hammock? Or straight up on the ground with a sleeping bag? That's up to you. One person tents are perfect for you and only you. But if you plan to share the road with a friend, perhaps share a tent. This also can free up space on both of your bikes. No need to double pack (again, this is backpacking 101.) If you want to be extra comfy and know there will be trees or sturdy stuff around to hang a hammock, I highly suggest purchasing the ENO two-person hammock & straps from REI. Don't share it though, keep that big cozy hammock to yourself (you're welcome in advance). These also have optional rain and mosquito/bug tarps that you can buy if you really want to go all out.
6. Pack it up!
This part really depends on how your bike is set up. If you're on a sport bike or a bike of similar stature, look into having a sissy bar made that has various hooking points for bungee cords and whatnot. The Haifley Brothers and Slims Fab both make some great sissy bars that can be quickly installed on your bike.
If you're on a Dyna, Softtail, or if your bike is equipped with saddlebags, you probably have plenty of room and storage figured out by now. I have LeatherPro's retro FXDXT bags on my FXDL and I highly recommend them. If you're on a rigid...I'm going to assume you're a packing pro by now and have the five-foot tall sissy bar with the monkey hanging out at the top.
Shake down runs are important. Go do a little test run and see if your pack shifts around before you set off on your trip. I still do this every time I change my packing set up.
All the "hard" stuff is over and it's now time to boogie!
It's all in your head at this point. If you tell yourself you've got this, you'll do 700 miles with a smile on your face. If you don't...well....bummer. But here are some final tips for the long haul:
- Try not to stop too long. Get the blood flow back to your booty and go. If I'm on my Sportster, which is damn near rigid, I try to keep gas stops under 15 minutes: gas, chug water, eat a snack, use the bathroom, and jam outta there to the next stop. If you're with a group, this will probably end up being a 30 minute stop. It is what it is.
- When planning your trip, I would say the ideal amount of miles in a day is 300-400. However, 600 is totally doable. Look at a map and get your route planned. If there's stuff you want to stop and see along the way, keep the miles low.
- When camping, I typically stop in whatever little town is close by and eat at a mom and pop restaurant for dinner. I don't sit and make smores and roasted weenies at my camp spots. I've lucked out a few times and have been invited to share meals with families and other campers staying in the same park. Use your best judgement, but most people are friendly and just want to hear about your trip.
- Ride hard, ride fast, and have fun!