This is a motorcycle road trip gear review, in installments, from my 23 days living on the road and off of my motorcycle. I keep a personal “motorcycle diaries”, cataloging “lessons learned” and “bring next time”. These are some of my notes. More gear review categories can be found here.
For packing for a motorbike road trip, it is definitely helpful to know what other adventure motorcyclists do. But I think the most helpful in many ways, especially for gear size, weight, multipurpose use, and creative food options, is to go to the group that have it down: backpackers and bike packers. Besides, they have to move all of this stuff under their own steam. Ultralight gear where possible also means a lighter motorcycle and more space for the desired but unnecessary items.
Location of items is important, for efficiency and in case of emergency.
- Ease of access for emergency or quick pit stops (first aid kit, food, water, warmth and waterproof layers)
- What you want locked, what might be good to keep unlocked
I had sleep stuff in one pannier, plus easy to get to waterproof and clothing layers, and I had all of my electronics in the other pannier, plus easy to get to food. If I did not have a fancy camera and other accessories to play with, or did not want to bring my laptop, nearly all of the space of the electronics pannier could have been used for something else. The Ortlieb dry bag strapped to the back of my motorcycle was mostly taken up by the unforgiving cylindrical shape of the bear-resistant food canister, clothes, cookware, and human and machine first aid kits.
Because I have a history of tipping over across my motorcycle riding learning curve, one thing I have thought carefully about is where to place items. I usually tip over on one particular side, so kept my camera and electronics in the opposite pannier. I like having things locked, so in the event that the romanticism of a motorbike road trip is not enough to keep thieves at bay, I could have the expensives and the essentials locked. But in case something happens, I want to be able to get to tools I need, and being locked and under pressure in a pannier if the motorcycle is on its side and cannot be picked up without help and in the event that help is far off – I have strapped to the top items like first aid kit and tools from which I might be able to rig a self-rescue effort. At least I would be able to eat and stay hydrated. And if there was someone around to help, they could get into my top bag easily enough to get to the emergency items. If I become separated from my motorcycle in an unfortunate event, I have basic essentials on me: SOS Spot communication device, emergency/hazard indicators, noise makers (whistle and bell – what if I am hidden in a ditch and cannot yell), a knife, ID and money, snacks, and water in a non-hard plastic Platypus bottle. Maybe this extra attention to where items are packed seems superfluous; however, I have gotten myself into enough situations that if helpful strangers were not nearby, where those items were packed would have been critical. Several months after my road trip, I heard from a friend that Simon and Lisa Thomas, the couple who have been riding around the world for the last twelve years, advise the same thought on ensuring one has easy access to an emergency aid kit – so even the extreme experts are conscientious of where items are packed.
Reducing space taken
- Nesting items
- Affixing items to another item’s surface
Select items that nest into themselves, or pack using the nesting principle. For example, in my nesting Stanley double mug-bowl, I fit my Snow Peak stove, lighter, matches, string, water purification tablets, emergency mirror, and fuel canister recycling puncture tool. If packing this way is not natural, play Tetris every day for the couple of months leading up to your trip.
- Straps used
- Mailing items to yourself
- Primary lodging set-up
Not all panniers are waterproof, so consider getting waterproof bags for inside the panniers. I had a nonwaterproof bag on top of my pannier, and when it got wet, it was difficult to open. Although the bag’s contents were fine wet or dry, I would next time have waterproof bags for everything.
Straps used make a huge difference on my willingness to access the contents inside of a bag during a rest. ROK Straps are the easiest to use that I have come across.
I think most people get hard case panniers for their ability to lock. Although it would not prevent theft, I did get an extra long cable lock to wrap around my waterproof Ortlieb bag on top of my motorcycle (although I could live without the items in the Ortlieb bag, were they to be stolen). I also brought a shorter cable lock to weave through my helmet, and an arm and a leg of my motorcycle gear. The gear’s not worth much if you have to cut it up in order to steal it. Locking these items allowed me to go on hikes without worrying.
Mailing items to yourself is also an option. Backpackers on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) do this all the time. On my motorcycle road trip, I had a few days long mountaineering course in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. I did not want to carry my climbing gear during the full length of my trip, and arranged with the guide company for them to receive my mailed gear.
Finally consider your lodging set-up. Despite how quickly I tried to scoot in the mornings, it invariably took me two hours from waking up and starting the camp tear-down process and eating breakfast, to being ready to leave. A backpacker friend that did his first bikepacking trip told me he had a similarly surprisingly slow experience. If you want to leave more quickly, stay in a hotel, or stay for a few days in the same spot, where you do not have to break down or build camp every single day. [Update: Another friend told me it only takes him half an hour to break down camp, eat, and take off on his motorcycle. However, he does not cook a breakfast, just does the add-boiling-water meal; he also does not repack his bags in the morning with the exception of simply putting away his tent. Since this original review, I tried the just-add-boiling-water breakfast requiring no washing; that, and not having to repack a bag around a bear-resistant food canister, reduced my morning camp tear-down time to an hour between getting up and starting my engine. That was without rushing or trying to especially speed up my pace.]
See the rest of the Motorcycle Diaries