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What to pack for motorcycle travel

A medium back-seat motorcycle bag can hold enough clothes and personal items for a week long (or longer)  trip .
A medium back-seat motorcycle bag can hold enough clothes and personal items for a week long (or longer) trip .
Patty Davis

Each year, motorcyclists load up the cruiser or touring bike with T-bags for days, weeks, or even months on the road. For the seasoned motorcycle traveler, packing has become routine with many essentials regularly pre-packed for travel at a moment’s notice. For those new to motorcycle travel, the question most asked is, “What do I pack and can I get everything on the bike?”

The answer to the second part of that question is “No, but you don’t need to take everything.” The rest of the question on what to pack will vary with each motorcyclist and with each destination. There are, however, a few essentials necessary regardless of the travel or the traveler.

While this article will deal primarily with packing for vacation, there are items that should be on the bike or in the wallet everyday even if commuting to work or riding to a restaurant just a few miles from home.

Wallet: Money and credit cards go a long way in making an emergency just an inconvenience. Other wallet essentials are motorcycle registration and proof of insurance, AMA membership card for roadside assistance, HOG or GWRRA or other manufacturer group membership card for roadside assistance or links to dealers, phone numbers for emergency contacts (include your own cell number and home phone on this list), and list of medications and allergies. A blank check might be handy for those few locations that still don’t accept credit cards.

Toolkit: Roadside maintenance is always a possibility. The toolkit does not have to include every tool necessary for a complete engine overhaul but being able to tighten a cable, adjust floorboards, switch out a blown fuse, or any other minor repair can save the motorcyclist from waiting on the road for assistance. Items in the kit should include pliers, screwdrivers (Harley-Davidson offers an 8-1 tool that minimalizes space), wrenches, fuses, electrical tape, and tire gauge.

Rain Gear: Even if the trip is just five miles to a favorite restaurant, rain gear should be in a saddlebag at all times. Jackets and pants should be of quality material made especially for motorcyclists, reflective, and large enough to fit over regular riding clothes. Gear should also include rain gloves and boot gaiters.

Other saddlebag essentials: Bungee cords (in various lengths) and bungee nets are handy for securing items to your bike. Additionally, a kickstand board or plate can make all the difference when parking on hot asphalt.

Packing for a trip means adding to the above essentials. Once again, what is packed depends on the individual but guidelines can help with the planning.

Personal items: A basic toiletry case can be minimalized by using travel-sized items of one’s favorite brands. With the money and/or the credit cards from the wallet, items can be replaced along the trip if needed. An eyeglass repair kit is essential for those who wear glasses. If there is room, also pack an extra pair of glasses. For those who take daily medications, don’t forget to pack at least as much meds as you will need or fill prescriptions at a national chain pharmacy such as Walgreens or Rite Aid to make obtaining refills easier. All of this goes hand-in-hand with a basic first-aid kit which should include not only bandages but disinfectant wipes and first aid spray. Other items can be added as space is available including nail clippers, tweezers, sunscreen, and over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and headache medications.

Clothes: If needing to make more room for those essential items listed above, this is the place to start. Don’t try to pack a different set of clothes for each day of travel especially for travel lasting more than just a few days. Most places have laundry facilities. With a roll of quarters and the Purex Complete-3-in-1 packed away in the luggage, one can start over with clean clothes in just a couple of hours. Things not to skimp on will include gloves (summer and cooler weather), walking shoes for when the bike is parked for the evening, jacket, and a mixture of long- and short-sleeved tee shirts but again don’t over pack on these as you can use the money and/or credit cards in the wallet to buy souvenir shirts. Some items will depend on the environment. Travel to the Deep South in July probably won’t require packing heated gear but travel to the mountains or the Great Lakes regardless of the month may mean packing at least a heated neck warmer or even long underwear.

Bottom line when packing for motorcycle travel: Experience will be the best teacher. Upon return from the first trip, there will be many items unused but there will also be things to put on the list for the next trip. Also, don’t forget the maps for exploring some of those less traveled roads.

Next we will examine how to pack for traveling on two wheels and how to choose motorcycle luggage.


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