I guess we all have an idea of what we need to take on a motorcycle tour, and that idea evolves over time until we have the whole subject nailed down -or think we do. We probably start out by packing far too much stuff and then realise we didn’t use some of it, so next trip we pare it down and try again.
I took my first truly long-distance trip on a bike – a Yamaha YR5 350cc two-stroke – 40 years ago and completed the journey from London to Rome in two days. Crazy, I realise now, but I was young, foolish and intrepid. I don’t remember what I packed back then, but I do remember enjoying every minute. I stayed in small hotels, negating the need for camping gear, which is what takes up most of the space.
These days my wife and I tend to pack about 60 lbs of gear for a 10-day tour. I’d love to get this weight way down, so if anyone out there has some suggestions I’d like to hear them.
The core item is a two-man tent I bought from Halford’s for about £50 about 12 years ago. It takes about 15 minutes to erect and packs into a manageable size to fit inside our Kuryakyn tour pack on the rear rack. It works just fine, has never let in a drop of rain and is only now beginning to show its age, with one of the glass fibre stay segments splitting. It probably weighs a few kilos, and no doubt a lighter option is out there somewhere, maybe saving a kilo or so.
We used a thick, blow-up double mattress until this year. It was quite heavy, quite bulky and needed a lot of pumping, but it was comfortable. This year we switched to a couple of backpacker’s mattress that self-inflate to about half strength and need a little lung power to finish the job. They are about an inch and a half thick in use, very comfortable and insulate you nicely from the ground temperature. The much lower height also creates more space inside the tent.
Then there are two simple blow-up pillows and two single, standard-shape sleeping bags. Together, this lot takes up a lot of space. The mattresses go inside a plastic waterproof sausage-shaped bag, and that gets strapped atop the Kuryakyn tail bag, which in turn takes the tent and sleeping bags.
That leaves us with the two Kuryakyn fabric panniers for clothes and a magnetic Oxford tank bag for odds and sods. The panniers are sort of okay. Our last two bikes came with factory-fitted hard panniers (Triumph Rocket III Touring and Honda Valkyrie Touring) which had their own flaws but at least were secure and looked better. However, the current Valkyrie came with ridiculously small Highwayman bags, and the options for finding hard bags were limited. You either pay a fortune for original Valkyrie bags from the Touring model ($1,000 if you can find them) or some modern lookalikes that all look a bit out of place or are pretty expensive, or both.
So replacing the Kuryakyns this summer with second-hand Givis may be the ultimate compromise. I didn’t manage to get the right bolts to fit them until after our Rome trip was over, but the end result looks promising. Okay, they’re not as sleek or cool as I’d like, but they do detach from the bike in seconds, seem waterproof, are lockable, and hold a full-face helmet each. I can’t wait to try them out on tour.
The Kuryakyns and the Givis are said to hold 35 litres apiece, but I think the Kuryakyns might be a bit smaller than that, even with the expansion zips deployed. What goes inside, then? This is where we could probably save some space and some weight. I tend to pack about five pairs of underwear and socks, five T-shirts, two pairs of shorts, two pairs of cargo pants, flip-flops, running shoes, two running shirts, running shorts, three pairs of running socks. Just typing this makes it look silly, and I already plan to remove a few of those items from the list next time out.
My wife’s clothing list is similar, but a little smaller. It’s a balance between going minimalist and washing your clothes every couple of days, or taking enough stuff to get you through four or five days before having to wash anything. Oh, and we also pack a small washbag and two microfibre camping towels, which take up almost no space and are great.
The Oxford tank bag is a godsend and a nuisance at the same time. It holds sunscreen, contact lenses, reading glasses, a helmet lock, two Kindles, maps, passports, mobile phones, a phone charger, insect repellent, and our tent light. On the downside, the magnets make it heavy and it has to be shifted every time you fill up, which with the Valkyrie is typically every 130 miles.
All of this means that there’s no room for, say, rain suits, so we compromise on what riding gear we wear. In summer, Peter wears Kevlar jeans, TCX boots, leather jacket and leather gloves, and reckons that if it rains she’ll eventually dry out.
I hate getting wet so opt for waterproof boots and trousers, a choice of waterproof or plain leather gloves, and a non-waterproof jacket, trusting to luck that summer in Europe won’t get too wet. Mostly, it works out that way.
For winter trips, I go the full Rukka waterproof route and Peter wears a one-piece Oxford waterproof sack-like thing that she hates, but concedes that it does keep her dry. We rode back from Manchester to London in torrential rain recently and she welcomed its contribution.
One friend with a Gold Wing solved the “what to bring” problem by adding a trailer, which is a solution that I can understand totally but would never want to try. Others try to manage without mattresses, or go solo which simply requires less gear. Others go for exotic gear like titanium tent pegs to save weight. And lots of people skip the whole camping thing and stay in hotels. There’s probably no single ideal solution, but I’d like to hear yours!