While there’s nothing better than a motorcycle to discover the open road, it’s also one of the more limiting ways of enjoying America’s byways leaving riders faced with carrying clothes and gear on their backs or tucked away in the various pieces of motorcycle luggage attached to the bike.
Clutch and Chrome has a range of proven ideas and advice to help pack more efficiently and possibly take more on the next motorcycle trip. It should be noted however, there’s nothing worth packing that sacrifices the safety or handling of the motorcycle.
Speaking of which, riders should check the cargo weight limits of not only the motorcycle but any luggage being used. At heavier loads some adjustments might be needed for the motorcycle’s tire pressure and suspension.
Packing for a road trip can take many forms over different motorcycles
If the motorcycle manual can’t be found to reference these weights and adjustments, use google to find it online or, the ultimate fall back for any biker, find a forum that specializes in the motorcycle’s brand or model and post a question.
The manual should mention the increased weight will lengthen braking distances as well as affect the motorcycle’s low-speed handling, with both slowing down and pulling away. All of this should be taken into account when riding with the additional weight. In a perfect world, well before the trip itself, a trial run of packing the motorcycle and riding around on familiar roads should be considered.
There are some golden rules to packing that will fit nearly any motorcycle and every road trip.
If traveling in a group, space can be saved with a little coordination. Compare packing lists and eliminate duplicate items. Only one roll of duct tape and one set of tools needs to be brought, just make sure everyone knows who's carrying what during the ride.
However, it is advisable for every rider to carry a multi-tool. While not perfect, they can offer a range of tools in a compact place and are usually no larger than a pocket knife and consequently easy to store.
When it comes to toiletries, buy the small travel size of your favorite shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant at a supermarket or drug store. Not only will this save valuable room, but they can be refilled with the free supply found in most motel rooms.
Instead of packing folded clothes, buy a box of 1 gallon zipper lock plastic freezer bags and roll your clothes tight enough to fit inside. Jeans are the most difficult, but after a few attempts you’ll be amazed how tightly they can be rolled.
There are a few schools of thought when packing clothes using the plastic freezer bags. Some recommend putting a day’s worth of clothes in one bag, with the logic that it’s easier to pull them out together when needed. With an average sized pair of jeans barely squeezing into a bag by themselves, it seems only the smallest people can follow this method.
Another idea have all the similar clothes in the same bag, so for example, if a shirt is changed on the side of the highway, only the bag containing t-shirts needs to be taken out. Some people will go as far as to pack sleeveless t-shirts, t-shirts and long sleeve t-shirts all in separate bags.
Either way, by using freezer bags not only are clothes kept dry, but the plastic allows the bags to slip in and out of tight luggage spaces with less effort.
If riders don't want to use freezer bags, clothing and certainly electronics should be put into larger plastic bags before being packed away. This will keep all these items dry and protected against the elements.
Some motorcycles are easier to pack than others such as Harley-Davidson's touring models
Looking for more room? Riders should think their way through the trip.
Are commemorative t-shirts going to be bought during trip? If so, less shirts are needed to be packed. The same can be said for any other inexpensive items which can be bought along the way. With space being at a premium on the motorcycle, credit cards and cash are lighter to carry and take up far less room.
For those who don’t like to wear event apparel at the event itself, another great practice is to mail home whatever is bought, saving valuable space for the trip back.
Nicknamed our 'throwaway idea', riders can pack their rattiest underwear or any worn items of clothing and literally throw them away once they've been worn. It could be thought of as a last ride for that favorite t-shirt.
Any heavier items should be packed in luggage that will sit the lowest on the motorcycle and most of the time this would be in the saddlebags. Obviously the items can’t exceed the maximum weight limitations of either the saddlebags, hardware used to attach the bags to the bike, or the load points on the motorcycle itself. We’ll go more in depth on weight distribution in the next section.
Once all the items that were spread out on the living room floor are now rolled, packaged or tucked away in the luggage, everything needs to be strapped to the motorcycle.
Loading the motorcycle
When loading a motorcycle keep as much of the weight close to the bike’s center of gravity. The lower the better and of course towards the tank and engine, with the load evenly distributed on both sides of the motorcycle.
The most commonly required items should be in the most easily accessed luggage. This would include bottles of water, rags, medical kit, weather gear and an extra shirt.
Special attention should be paid to how close packed luggage is to the motorcycle chain or belt as well as the exhausts. In a similar thought, items shouldn’t block the air flowing to the engine, especially if the motorcycle is air-cooled.
If any luggage or items are attached using bungee cords, pay attention to the hooks touching paintwork or chrome. Even though they may be coated with plastic, the constant rubbing could scratch or dull the paint or chrome. Small pieces of plastic or rubber can be placed between the bungee cord and the motorcycle, just make sure to take extra as replacements for any that are lost along the ride.
For motorcycles without a large front fairing consider attaching a rolled up leather jacket or rain gear to the handlebars with bungee cords. Make sure whatever is attached in this area doesn't block any instruments, limit the handling or ability to control the bike or affect the air flow as mentioned earlier. If this is possible, the practice can put a jacket or rain gear close at hand if needed in a sudden downpour at otherwise wasted space otherwise.
While on the subject of keeping things close to hand, wallet, credit cards and valuable electronics should be stored in lockable luggage permanently secured to the motorcycle. Otherwise, use a magnetic tank bag or backpack that can be taken when leaving the motorcycle alone.
This rider obviously didn't read any Clutch and Chrome articles
Putting it all together
As mentioned earlier, riding the motorcycle fully packed along familiar roads should be undertaken well-before the trip itself. The test ride allows riders to adjust to extended braking distances and the altered handling at lower speeds as described above.
This test ride also gives the loaded luggage and items packed time to settle and shift from the vibrations of the motorcycle, road and maneuvering of the bike. Special attention should paid to how the luggage and items move, ensuring they don’t find themselves touching any hot areas or moving parts such as the engine, exhaust pipes, chain, belt or tires.
Not only will any of this ruin the luggage and items packed, but could be deadly to the motorcycles performance and handling.
Once happy with the way the motorcycle is packed, make notes! Although some may consider it overkill, pack and unpack the motorcycle a few times. This will create an effective routine that ensures everything is put where it should be, secured as it’s needed and nothing is left behind.
It also will increase the speed and efficiency of packing the motorcycle, leaving more time to be spent on the road and less with the logistics of luggage.
Are there any tips we’ve missed? Do you have routines or packing hacks we didn’t mention?