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 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 do you intend to go, and what do you have in mind for lodging. Most of the tours done with I Ride Rogue are between 1200 and 2500 miles, Some longer. They are typically done with camping in mind. This allows us to do tours with a lower budget and stay at a nice hotel or resort on one of the days during our trip.
First on your list of "must pack" items is a safety and repair kit. I pack tools that are specific to the type of bike that I am riding. If you have to borrow tools on a ride then you are not prepared. It’s not that folks don’t want to share! We just want you to enjoy your trip without ending up in a taxi.
Unless you're riding a fully-fledged touring motorcycle, you'll probably need to invest in some type of storage bags; backpacks work well when fastened properly. Other options include saddlebags (which rest or straddle the seat resting 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.
There are a number of companies like Aerostich, First Gear, Nelson-Riggs, Tour Master, and Wolfman that will get you on the way to packing like a pro.
While more detailed inspection and maintenance practices can be found, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's T-CLOCS method is an efficient way to inspect your bike before traveling:
Make sure both tires are properly inflated, using an air pressure monitor that you bring with you on rides. Don't risk riding on tires that might need replacement if you suspect a tire 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 or studied a route, you'll want to check the weather forecast and get an idea of what to expect in terms the elements. This is up to you. Your tour leader is not going to dress you or wait for you because of your lack of preparation.
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. I have seen guys pack weather gear that makes look the part of their ride and always regret it. Note! Leathers eventually soak up water and can be a real pain to dry out. If you are on a budget and the idea of buying leathers is appeals to you or you just can’t afford to put $800 to $1000 into a good riding suit. Rather than spending the money on something that is hard to get in and out of, will break your budget, or will freeze your nuts off. Let me suggest a few things. Carhartt makes black, breathable, raingear out of Cordura. The jacket has a snap on hood option, plenty of zip pockets with rain flies, and relieved elbow pads designed with riders in mind. It has matching pants that have a rear pocket, exterior access to interior pant pockets, full length zippers for pulling them on and of over your boots and snaps to tighten them up around your ankles. I wear a Columbia fleece jacket underneath for added warmth and the whole set up including fleece can be purchased for under $300. It gives me multiple options, keeps me warm, and packs nice when not in use.
Be sure to bring energy bars or trail mix and water; if hunger or thirst strikes while you're far from convenience stores or gas 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 gas too frequently; because of their relatively low cruising range, most bikes will barely make it across some of the North American 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 Over plan!
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.
Remember! You can do this. It is part of being a safe, knowledgeable rider who is a joy to ride with. If on the other hand, if you’re the guy who calls the pack 30 minutes late to tell us you’ll be another 30 minutes longer – we will not wait! You may think you are an old road warrior but you’ll have to enjoy a ride by yourself!