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Common Tread

Don't forget these five things on your next motorcycle trip

May 18, 2018

Are you planning a big summer trip? Naturally, you're packing your riding gear and clothes, your tool kit, and your camping gear if you're planning to sleep outdoors. But there are a few other things that are easier to forget.

Your list will vary, so add your tips in the comments below, but here are five things I think are essential for a multi-day trip.

A plan for what to do about a flat tire

For some people, the plan is some combination of a cell phone, a credit card and a roadside assistance plan. That's fine, but I would still encourage you to carry and know how to use a tire repair kit. (See Lemmy's tutorial, if you don't know how.) That's especially true if you're traveling far off the beaten path, but even if you're not, a temporary repair can save you a lot of hassle. Here's an example from one of my trips.

It was 7 p.m. on a Friday, I was 350 miles from home and 40 miles from my destination for the weekend when I noticed the bike wasn’t handling very well. A quick check showed 22 psi in the rear tire and a closer examination revealed a nail in the tread. In that scenario, the best that roadside assistance could do would be to get my bike to a closed motorcycle shop. I'd just be stuck in a different place. Because I had a repair kit, I was able to get to my destination and handle the situation more conveniently the next day.

repairing a tire with a plug
Plugging a tire can temporarily get you moving again, instead of stuck by the side of the road. RevZilla photo.

If you have tubeless tires, that means a plug kit. (Don’t do as I did and forget to check your kit before leaving. I found that my old tube of rubber cement had become hardened cement.) If you have tires that use inner tubes, you’ll need to have the means to raise the bike and remove the wheel and tire. Carrying both a patch kit and spare inner tubes gives you double insurance.

In either case, don’t overlook a method for inflating the tires. Compressed CO2 cartridges save space, though you may need several. Other options are a small foot-powered pump or an electric one that attaches to your battery.

Remember, a plug in a tubeless tire is a temporary repair to get you down the road when the dealership is closed, like my situation above. I had the tire replaced the next day.

Of course when you're performing roadside repairs it's possible for a wrench to slip, leaving you with a gashed knuckle. Which is why it's good to have…

Basic first aid supplies

It's a good investment of space to carry a few small bandages and antibiotic for that gashed knuckle. An over-the-counter pain medication can help with sore muscles at the end of the day. Even though none of my skin is exposed when I ride, thanks to my gear, I've learned that a day of riding in the sun can turn my nose red, even through a tinted visor, so I like to have a travel-size tube of sunscreen. For some people, eye drops are essential, especially during a hot, dry day riding in the wind.

on the road
On the road. It's a good place to be. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
Naturally, you'll need to remember any prescription medications you take, but do you also rely on prescription eyeglasses? Carry an old pair as a spare.

Just as it’s easy to bash a knuckle, it’s also easy to drop a key from a gloved hand and see it skitter deep into the bowels of a major urban storm drain system, never to be seen again. Which is why I always carry a…

Spare key

A lost key is another scenario in which roadside assistance can help, but you may waste half a day. Or, in a matter of seconds, you could pull out your spare key and ride off without delay. You can tape it to the inside of body work, use a magnetic key case, or go for the low-tech reliability of attaching it to a hidden spot with a zip-tie. Maybe you have more peace of mind keeping the spare key on yourself, instead of your motorcycle. Either way, it's cheap insurance against an unnecessary hassle.

We go on motorcycle trips because they're fun, but nobody has much fun if he or she is uncomfortable. That’s why another thing you never want to forget is…

That one thing you just have to have

This one’s personal, so the answer varies. For me, two things I always have to have are multiple gloves and ear plugs. Compared to some Zillans, I’m not that bad of a gear hound, but I am picky about gloves. I never leave home on an overnight trip without at least two pair of gloves and I often take three kinds along so I’m ready for everything from chilly mornings to hot afternoons to rainy evenings.

I also can’t live without earplugs. Wearing them keeps me from getting as tired and will help preserve my hearing as I lurch into my senior years. They’re also small and light and easily lost, which means carrying a spare set or two costs nothing and can pay off big.

What’s your must-have comfort accessory? Your sheepskin seat pad? Make sure you carry a cover to keep it from getting wet in the rain. Both clear and tinted helmet visors? Carry a spare in case those little plastic mounting tabs snap.

All those are great, but there's something else I think is the most important of all. Never leave home without…

The traveler's attitude

Sure, we all have different personalities, and we've written about the OCD approach to planning a tour and the totally relaxed rider's guide to travel, as well as one rider's three personal tips for a perfect tour. There's no right or wrong way — just ways that are right or wrong for you. But they all do have one thing in common. They factor in enough flexibility to be able to go with the flow when the road throws a detour at you.

riding in the rain
You can't control the conditions, but you can control the way you react to them. Yamaha photo.

I simply call it the traveler's attitude. For the OCD rider who plans everything, it means intentionally planning a little slack into the schedule. If you plan a 10-day tour with hotel reservations made in advance every day and spaced apart at your maximum daily mileage, you will be stressed and unhappy if anything goes wrong, even if it's just bad weather, a mechanical issue or you just plain get tired. Of course if you're following the relaxed rider's guide to travel, you don't have everything planned out to begin with, so it's easy to change the schedule in an instant when you spot an interesting road you want to explore or decide on a whim to detour 50 miles to get a photo of the world's largest ball of string for your Instagram account.

The traveler's attitude means looking at the "Road Closed" sign and thinking, "Great, I can explore a new route," instead of fuming and letting it ruin your day. The traveler's attitude means not raging at the universe for sending an epic thunderstorm your way on your one big vacation trip, but instead realizing it will make the story (and maybe the photos) better. The traveler's attitude means finding enjoyment not just in a trip that went off without a hitch, but also taking satisfaction from your ability to handle the unexpected obstacles.

That attitude may be the easiest thing to leave behind and also the most important factor in whether you enjoy your time on the road.