Preparation for the Motorbike Road Trip

See the post-23-day motorcycle camping road trip gear review


Never actually alone, as it is quite easy to make (and I mean literally make) imaginary friends.

Is the follow-up question people inevitably ask when I state that I am going on a motorcycle road trip through the Canadian Rockies, then down through Montana and then back across Washington. I assure them that on my personal curriculum vitae, I have a seven week solo (camping) road trip (on four wheels) through the rural western United States; this is just a different vehicle. I also explain all of the preparation I have been doing for this, from weekend motorcycle camping trips, an off-road motorcycle class on the big adventure bikes, an introduction to motorcycle maintenance, and careful gear and motorbike planning. However, I think their underlying the question is as much about safety as it is their own fear of loneliness, and hence disbelief.

A little over four years ago, before I went on my seven week solo road trip, I had realized that if I always waited for there to be someone else to participate with me in what I wanted to do, then I would be waiting forever and never get to do most of what I want to do. I am also very specific about the people who I invite to participate in some or all of a trip; I have learned from past negative experiences that especially for extended trips, I would much rather go solo than be stuck with persons with certain prejudices, or individuals with whom only a small part of myself is engaged and fulfilled.

Just as I had prepared for my 2011 solo road trip by camping alone one weekend in a familiar wilderness, sleeping in my RAV4 the first night, and forcing myself to sleep in my tent the next to see that the experience really was not something to be scared about – so I have prepared, more specifically, for this trip. Not all of my preparations have been for the sake of this particular trip, but for the goals I have for motorcycling, which as merely a concept in 2009, was to do a motorbike trip across Asia. In 2013 I got my motorcycle license, and a motorbike. Now in 2015, I will be embarking on a three week, nearly 4000 mile solo motorcycle road trip – as a piece of my preparation for that eventual motorbike trip across Asia, or wherever strikes my intrigue.

Here have been my preparations:

I have been keeping a “motorcycle diary” to log my mileage and hours on the bike, “lessons learned”, and “bring next time”. This has not only helped me track my progress, but has helped me to calculate projections of the minimum that I would be capable of on an extended road trip, and ensure that my pack list is both robust enough and refined.

Motorbike Camping

Solo, pair, and group motorcycle camping from one to four nights is what I have done so far. This has been helpful in 0745_a1_desat_CRdetermining gear preferences, packing and load set-up, how and what to keep relatively secure versus more easily accessible, strap/tie-down options, etc.

Gear Preparation

Duct tape on the Nalgene – a backpacker trick.

Homework, trialing, and lists. Gas canister, spare and temporary fix supplies, methods for powering electronic devices, bear resistant food canister, options for securing certain items. Because I am someone who tends to think of the potential situations downstream and how to prevent them in the first place or be prepared to address them should they arise, I also tend to pack more than is probably necessary, so keeping ultralight backpacking principles in mind helps me both determine appropriate gear to purchase and ways to reduce down my gear. This includes mailing some gear to myself so that I can have it available for a mountaineering/alpining glacier travel excursion, but not have to carry it the whole trip.

Motorbike Preparation

A nice spot for extra zip ties.

Preparation of the motorcycle is closely related to the gear preparation, spares and temporary fix options, extra fuel, how to load everything well.  Comfort that leads to safety, such as adding a windshield spoiler to reduce the turbulence, is part of the motorcycle preparation. IMG_0654In addition, because the levers on my motorcycle are not notched and are (knock wood) the only thing I have broken on motorbikes, I sawed notches into my levers to direct the break-off point should the notches be engaged.

Route and Sleep Planning

Of course, there is the actual road trip planning. I am used to land systems in America, such as BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and NFS (National Forest Service) camping rules and options. Riding in Canada is unfamiliar to me; I do not know the availability or frequency of availability of certain resources, crowdedness or uncrowdedness of campsites, or frequency of fuel along the routes I am taking. What I enjoy most about road tripping is having a structure so as to have a purpose and not miss out by passing something by – but also leaving a lot open to the moment, such as where to roll out my sleeping bag for the night. Being on a motorcycle instead of in my car means I have less capacity for implementing Plan Bs. I cannot push another hundred and a half miles on a motorcycle when tired like I can trust myself to do safely in a car.  This means a little more planning is involved, at least at this point.

Solo Excursions

Riding and motorcycle camping by myself has the benefit of forcing me to calculate a situation and potential directions it could head on my own, and gives me the opportunity to figure out situations on my own. If men are present, they tend to jump in so quickly to fix a situation that I do not learn. I am already an almost overly cautious person in many ways, so if I ride solo, I take as few risks as possible. This is smart, but also means that I am unfortunately not making as much progress in my physical skills as quickly as I could be.

Riding Practice

Tarmac. I have spent time on five lanes of freeway traffic, to the preferable wide open highway, and winding mountain roads.

Off-road. A few introductory dirt bike rides whet my appetite for off-road on a motorcycle. IMG_9697Intimidated by my larger BMW GS which weighs almost four times the amount I do, I took RawHyde’s Intro to Adventure and Base Camp Alpha courses to practice and learn off-road technique and handling of big bikes on a GS that weighs over four times the amount I do. Came out with exactly what I wanted: increased confidence and skill. Came out with some unexpected, too: seeing for the first time that the big adventure motorcycles can seemingly handle anything so long as the rider is capable; and a temporary visual record of my efforts and progress, despite wearing the taller, more protective men’s boots since women’s boots are designed less protectively. bruised legs Our instructors kept reminding us that the off-road skills are “perishable”, and still feeling like foundational learning would be better on a motorbike more proportional to my size, eleven days after the RawHyde course I became owner of used Yamaha XT250 for dirt riding practice.  IMG_0235Believe it or not, my 105 pounds can actually muscle and move that little one’s 300 pounds.

Picking up my downed motorcycle. Someone helped me figure out the right knee angle with which to help me pick up my BMW 650GS by myself if I tip over; IMG_9709however, at this point I can only do so when it has the panniers on, since it is already that much up off of the ground. This is where being my size and female is both a disadvantage (I have strength but not necessarily enough for the required job), and advantage (men are very quick to help a damsel in distress). I got the XT250 for the dirt because I practiced picking one up when set down fully on its side, and was able to pick it up. I will say, however, that a downed motorcycle makes a great bench, if it decides to take its lowside nap in the shade.

I find that flipping the windshield spoiler around backwards is actually more effective for reducing helmet turbulence.

Comfort learnings. When my motorcycle was in the shop for regular maintenance, I was given a Ducati Monster as a loaner bike. While riding that I learned that headaches and jaw aches from helmet turbulence vibration and noise was not because of my helmet, but the relations among the motorcycle’s geometry, my position, and the wind flow at/around my helmet. This led me to realize the discomfort and pain could be minimized or eliminated (thinner helmet jaw padding; windshield size in and of itself or aid of a spoiler).

Placement of essentials. I know it is safer to ride with other people. When I am unable to ride with others, I consciously ride where I know other people will be, so that I know aid will become aware of my situation relatively quickly, should there be a situation. Anticipating the different potential scenarios needing aid, and knowing that the panniers are locked, I may not be able to pick up the motorcycle without help, etc. – I am careful about what I keep unlocked and accessible and on my person. Cell phone; and as back-up, my Spot satellite messenger device. Water and food. First aid supplies. Etc. Not finding small, lightweight emergency indicators that can easily be carried around on a motorcycle, I designed and made my own, to fit my criteria. 5786_CRHigh visibility orange ribbon with a thick line of 3M Scotchlite reflective material down its middle: color to trigger attention, and visible when the moon or other light hits the reflective center. (Seattle Fabrics, by the way, is an outdoors gear fabric wonderland). I designed these so that if I was down and could not get up, they are small, lightweight and easy to carry on my person, and something that can be thrown in each direction oncoming traffic may arrive from. A minimum of four; one indicator might be considered random, two or more, deliberate. I made the ribbons loop, so that regardless of which side they land on, the bright orange and reflective tape will be face up. They are three dimensional hence more possibility of being seen. They are not flares so I will not be accidentally burning down a forest. I weighted them with quarters because coins do not get swept away in wind (though we will see if the way my design loops if they are too much of a sail). And I sewed the quarter weights in so that they will remain flat – again so as to take up less space.

Motorcycle Maintenance

I have always really wanted to know how things work. A couple of friends, knowing this, have invited me to help them when they have worked on their motorcycles. I finally found a motorcycle maintenance course, two levels, participated in the first but the second was canceled because I was the only one signed up. Hopefully I can soon take the second level course. In the meantime, I tinker on my pre-owned Yamaha XT250, because the stakes seem lower than tinkering on my BMW 650GS. You never know what you might have to figure out, fix, or rig out in the field.

handguard install_c_CR

These have been my deliberate preparations, and learnings in the field.


See the rest of the Motorcycle Diaries

See the post-23-day motorcycle camping road trip gear review