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Common Tread

Double Duty: A bike hiker's guide to packing extra light

Apr 15, 2015

I will take long trips on any machine I happen to have in the shop. Why? I dunno. Why not?

Because of this, I have learned to trim the amount of stuff I haul with me on my bike trips. I’ve done hundreds of thousands of miles on bikes from Savages to Street Glides and from CBs to ZGs. Sure, baggers make long-hauling easy, but some choppers and smaller bikes leave only tiny areas in which to cram crap. By extracting every possible use out of the items I have at hand, and forcing items to do more than their designers ever dreamed of, I can live on the road with surprisingly little.

Editor's note: Warning — these are extreme measures from an extreme camper. RevZilla offers no warranty, express or implied, on the advisability of using "nature's lip balm." Even if you haven't seen the infamous "signal fire" scene from the original On Any Sunday movie, you should know to be cautious using gasoline and matches. And if you can burn your whiskey for fuel without regret, you might want to consider a better grade of whiskey. Or maybe that's just me.

Know thy kindling

Were you one of those kids who used to light stuff on fire all the time? Great. That’s gonna help you here.

If you need kindling to get your nightly campfire rippin’, don’t spend all evening looking for scraps of dry wood in the dark. When everything's damp and you can't get a flame started, burn what you have handy! Got a few leftover peanuts or potato chips from that gas stop 80 miles back? Those are super-flammable. I usually have an MSR bottle full of whiskey strapped to the sissy bar. That stuff burns well, as much as I hate to do it. And even though it may sound totally obvious, there is fuel in your tank, too. A quick yank of the fuel line can give you a little blast of go-juice. It should go without saying: Be careful! A little goes a long way!

Hang out with FRED

On the road, I will sometimes score canned food for dinner. I will always drink beer. (These facts are probably related to the coining of the term “fartsack.”) I used to carry a P-38 can opener, also known as a "John Wayne." I would also carry a bottle opener, and then I’d scrounge a spoon or something at whatever roadside joint I came upon. Then someone turned me on to the FRED. The Australian Army issues a device to their troops called the Field Ration Eating Device, or FRED. This tool is a combination bottle opener (for the beer), can opener (for chili) and spoon (for stuffing my face). One tool, three jobs. As far as I am concerned, this is a full kitchenette.

Pack your unmentionables

Mrs. Lemmy is a patient and resourceful woman. Rather than throw away my hole-y old socks and britches, she saves them for me, and I take them with me on runs for one last usage. This way, I don’t have to pack stinky clothes on the return trip, which frees up souvenir room. Remember that last tip about the kindling? Cut the tops off your cotton socks that you wore all day; they’ll be dry, and those work as kindling, too. Shred ‘em up with your jackknife.

Fritos and chili
It ain't classy, but the dishes are easy. Note my trusty FRED parked in my Frito pie. Photo by Lemmy.

Make your dinner work harder, too

If you want to class up that can of chili, buy a big bag of Fritos to go with it. Set up camp, drink beer, and munch half the bag of chips. (Or use them to start your campfire. These are also quite flammable.) Fire up the chili ‘til it’s warm. Flip the can over into the bag, and mix. Instant Frito pie that you can eat with your FRED right out of the bag. When you’re done, you can simply toss the “dishes” And the bean can? Save that. We demand double work from all parties. We’ll be using that for coffee in the morning.

Don’t mess up your morning routine

coffee in a can
Keep the beans out of the chili, but I'll take plenty in my coffee, please. Photo by Lemmy.
Speaking of coffee... skip filters and a coffeepot. Take a lesson from the cowboys and make your coffee like you're fixin' tea. Toss your coffee grounds right into a can of boiling water. Wait a bit for them to steep and settle to the bottom, then get to drinkin'! If you're cowboy-tough, just chew on the couple of grounds that make it into your pie-hole. If you're not, spit 'em out.

Tents are optional

Tents take up minimal space, but if you’re hurting for room, you can get by without one. I have spent a few warm nights using the dirt for a mattress and the stars for a blanket. You can step that game up a little bit, too, with bivy tents and bivy bags. I have a bivouac bag that is just fine to use out in the open. If you’re broke as a joke, just pack two tarps and some rope. Lay one on the ground, and pull your bike and a buddy’s bike over it at each end. Lash down the tarps, string up a guyline, and you’re home free.

The ultimate in light traveling. This whole setup can be scrounged up for $10 to $15. Photo by Lemmy.

Skip a pillow

Pull the saddle off your bike. Seats are usually cushy and soft, and if you force yours into being a pillow, it wakes up in the tent warm and dry in the morning. No dew!

Don’t forget the standbys

Of course, there are some more common ones that bear repeating, too: Your side stand can be used as a bead breaker, your beer can becomes a jiffy stand plate after you park for the night, and if your lips are getting chapped, lay your finger on the side of your nose and grab some of the oil that collects there for emergency lip balm. Baby wipes cover pretty much all your bathroom functions for the times you're not near a river.

Look, is all this cutting and skimping necessary? Of course not. You can haul out your wallet and camp in a Best Western if you want, and I wouldn't blame you at all. But if you're the type to do things the hard way, maybe some of these tips will get you by on the same shoestring budget I always seem to tour on. Antique chopper parts ain't getting any cheaper, ya know?