Thursday, August 6, 2009


Several riders who have seen my trip photos have asked my advice on motorcycle touring and camping. I'm not "experienced" by any stretch of the imagination; on a scale of one to ten I would give myself a three. I have gathered some information that may be useful, though, and well, I have a blog - I must be long on opinion too.

I am a motorcycling pragmatist. Even the bike I ride was used and very inexpensive. Everything I buy, use or wear serves a utile purpose. I am not encumbered by any social, peer or cultural constraints with regard to the gear I wear and live in on a trip. Here are a few tips that I hope you'll find helpful:

I'll not spend much time on motorcycle ergo's because if you're reading this, you most likely already have the bike. To each his own but generally speaking, some bikes are better suited for touring than others. If the seat, bar or peg position becomes the least bit uncomfortable on day rides, it should be addressed - seat cover/cushion, bar risers, etc. An upright, slightly forward rider position is preferable. Of course, do routine service beforehand and know how many miles to expect from your tires and chain. Begin your trip with new rubber if possible. You can always throw that old tire back on later and wear it out close to home. Pack tools, headlight bulb, fuses, spark plugs, tire plug kit and an air compressor. I also carry tie down straps for that fateful truck or trailer ride to town if I break down.

Plan a destination, or don't. Make a list from the numerous online sources of possible places to camp. Just be flexible and don't push it. Don't try to go farther than you're comfortable riding in a day. Adhering to a strict schedule can take the fun out of it. Navigation with a GPS unit is ideal but I do just fine with a detailed road atlas and an old hand held Garmin that I use for little more than a clock, altimeter and compass. Let someone know your general route and schedule and check in at regular intervals. Remember, cell phone reception is not 100%. A GPS locator beacon like the "Spot" is advisable.

I'll spare the ATGATT zealot sermon here except to speak from a practical standpoint. A full face helmet will block the wind and ear plugs or earphones will reduce wind noise. Wind and noise equal fatigue. Those long days in the saddle will be much more pleasant and you won't be as tired at the end of the day. Consider wearing full armor, ankles, knees, hips, back, elbows, shoulders, knuckles for the simple reason that you'll be riding in remote areas alone. No delusion, in a collision, injury is a given, gear or no gear but at least in case of a minor "get-off" your chances of being able to get up and ride are greatly improved with safety gear. Yes, this happened to me several hundred miles from home. I went down hard on my hip, elbow and shoulder and thanks to my gear I was able to continue. Your gear should also be waterproof. If you're out there, you will get rained on. If it's hot, bring a hydration bladder and "cool" vest. If planning a cold weather ride, use thermals and electrics, at least grips or gloves but remember a heated jacket liner will keep your core warm without having to bulk up with layers and the warmth can be adjusted as temperatures change through the day. It's a small investment considering electrics can eliminate the end of riding season PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) for good. Winter happens to be my absolute favorite time to tour. I just turn up the heat and I'm good down to 20 degrees! I love the looks I get too!

Camping, for me anyway, is simply a means to stretch the moto-touring budget. I carry what I need to sleep comfortably and be protected from the weather. Although size and weight may not be as crucial, backpacking gear lends itself well to moto-camping. Selecting the right tent is paramount so don't scrimp here.

Here is my tent criteria:
  • free standing two person (one + gear) and tall enough to sit up in to change clothes
  • wind and water resistant - aluminum poles and full coverage rainfly with at least one vestibule (3.5 season rated)
REI sells a good reflective space blanket that makes a good ground cloth or "footprint" under the tent and helps retain body heat. Look for a good quality closed cell or insulated self inflating mat such as Thermarest. The sleeping bag should be rated for the low temperature you expect to encounter. Down bags provide more warmth per pound, pack smaller and lighter but are useless if allowed to get wet. Poly fill bags are bulkier but still provide warmth when wet. I use a zero degree rated down mummy bag in winter and stow it in a heavy pvc dry bag. I have also learned to keep the tent well vented to prevent condensation from forming and dripping onto the bag.

On the road, I carry high protein snacks and energy bars and plenty of liquid and have one "sit down" meal each day. I do not cook much but I may in the future. Camp cooking can be very satisfying. I know a rider who buys a good cut of steak and a potato just prior to reaching the day's destination and prepares them on the fire. I've gone as far as coffee, oatmeal and various things on skewers. The MSR Pocket Rocket is a great camp stove and is so compact. Obviously the more cooking you plan to do the more gear you have to pack and wash. Sometimes however, eating out is just more practical. I also enjoy sampling local cuisine.

Well this is a start, although I feel I've barely scratched the surface. There is a wealth of information online. Surf the rider forums to see what works for others too. I'll add to this segment if there are questions or comments. The most important thing is to stop saying "someday I'll" and just get out there and do it!

1 comment:

  1. You are absolutely correct when riding in cold weather, heated grips and seats work well if your bike has that. Otherwise its heated pants and jackets. I have even put a couple of those heated packs you shake to make warm in my boots... had to move them around every hour or so. Great article~


About Me

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Salesman/insurance agent more than 20 years turned baker. Go figure. My wife Julana and I bought a little bakery ten years ago and now she is the premier cake designer in this part of the state. In the past few years I have developed a love for motorcycling. Can you tell?