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Five great hacks to make your motorbike tour hassle free.

Five great hacks to make your motorbike tour hassle free.

Top boxes, tank bags, extra lights and similar all have their special place in the adventure motorcycling scene and serve their purpose well. There are hundreds of online reviews about riding gear, luggage, cushioned seats and the latest tyre technology, all claiming to make our lives easier on the road.  Of course we’re free to pick and choose and spend our cash as we like. However, there are some simple, very affordable extras (some self made) that can make a huge difference to the comfort and quality of our rides especially on longer tours. A few may be obvious to some bikers, others perhaps not so much. Here are five I’ve learned to appreciate.

1. Tank cargo net.

 A normal cargo net (sold in most biker stores), stretched over the tank area just in front of the seat is good for storing gloves, sun glasses, small cameras, maps, pens,  hats, bit’s of paper, selfie sticks, any official document needed for upcoming border crossings, ferry tickets and so on. A cargo net on the tank area secures most stuff you generally want to keep handy both on the go and on a break at a standstill. A cargo net literally turns the tank space into a sort of dashboard and in many cases is just as good if not better than a bulky tank bag. A cargo net is cheap, practical and only needs three anchoring points on either side of the bike to be stretched into place in a few seconds. Easily removed as well.

Tank Cargo Net
Tank Cargo Net benefits.

2. Colour coded stuff bags

Ever had to rummage through your panniers for what seems like an eternity to find that extra layer of clothing or those paracetamols you need? Worse still, have you had to ask someone else to do it for you?

We all have a method for organising kit on our bikes and most will agree that finding the ideal set up is a constant work in progress with adjustments, great and small, constantly being tried out. Colour coded stuff bags are a great way organising our kit inside panniers. Stuff bags are reasonably tough, lightweight and cheap when bough in a set. They come in different sizes and fortunately in different colours too.  Think of them as separate files each distinguished by their own colour. To each colour corresponds different contents so, say… red for first aid and medication, grey for clean clothing, green for laundry, blue for chargers, cables, memory cards, batteries and so on. It all helps, especially when looking for stuff in the dark with just the tired beam of a flash light as an aid. 

Coloured Stuff Bags
Coloured Stuff Bags for filing your kit

3. Salame tool kit bag

There are toolkit bags galore to choose from on the internet, some of which are specially designed for adventure biking. There are zip bags, roll bags, fold bags with velcro, straps and plastic buckles.  However, in most cases once filled with tools these designs end up being overly bulky and difficult to carry.  The question is pretty obvious: do you really need padded packaging, pickles and zips fasteners for your spanners? No, probably not.

Salami tool kit bag closed
Salami tool kit bag closed

A cheap storing solution for sockets, drivers and wrenches is the salame tool kit bag, made out of a recycled piece of inner tube (car tyre) around 40cm in length. It’ll pretty much hold everything you need for the road: sockets, spanner’s, allen keys, ratchet wrench, all of it. The ends of the tube can be sealed by rolling, folding and then wrapping the lips with bands of extra tyre tube or strong elastic bands. The salami bag compacts the size of stored tools to a minimum, holds them securely and prevents them from rattling around. It’s light, tough, water resistant (almost water proof), cheap and easily replaceable. What more could you ask for?

Salami tool kit bag
Salami tool kit bag

4. Extra power socket.

Really a no brainier in todays gadget obsessed world. Smartphones, iPads, and other devices need to be charged to keep in touch with loved ones, picture taking and for those essential apps that aid us on our tours.  Most bikes these days come from the manufacturer with at least one cigarette lighter style power socket available, but these 12V outlets are often only powered up when the ignition is engaged. It’s good to have a plug that is permanently live and accessible say, under your seat for example. Some simple wiring from the bike battery with a fuse will do the trick.  Of course a USB adapter is also essential.

5. Large side stand foot print. 

Another important, often overlooked improvement that can make a real difference to a motorbike trip is the size of the side stand foot or ground pad. A bigger pad on the kick stand will prevent the same from digging into soft ground, and stop a bike from toppling over with luggage, accessories and perhaps an unsuspecting pillion as well.  Mud, sand, ice, even asphalt on a hot day need side stands with big foot prints in order to keep a heavy machine propped up. A bigger foot print makes parking a bike an easy, safe, care free ordeal and all it takes is a piece of hard plastic or piece of metal and some good fastening to make the difference. There are even ready-made kits available for certain bike models known to have poor side stand designs. Do not underestimate the advantages of a decent foot print.

Bike and desert 2
Large foot print at work!
Larger side stand foot print
Larger side stand foot print

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

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Tips for Overland Motorcycle Travel

Tips for Overland Motorcycle Travel

“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” Paulo Cohelo

I think most people would agree that experience is personal and often acquired at the price of mistakes, sometimes painful ones, too.

Below is a list of things I’ve learned about motorcycle travel over the course of almost two decades on the seat of a bike, riding to destinations near and far. It’s no exaggeration to say that on whole, acknowledging the truths below came to me via exhaustion, frustration, some profanity, wasted cash and a fall or two as well. 

Seasoned riders my find the list familiar but perhaps won’t agree entirely with my reasoning on every point. That’s fine, we all have our own take on what adventure riding should be and is. Regardless, I hope those in search of advice or guidelines will find the list useful.  It’s not exhaustive but there are a few pointers in it that should at least encourage some critical thinking.

1. Don’t over plan your itinerary

Trying to fill in a detailed route for a long motorcycle tour is generally futile and almost always as a waste of time. So many things can happen once you’re on the road that pre-made arrangements will get trashed no matter how carefully crafted. There could be dozens of reasons for this. Some of the most common are unpredictables such as the desire to group up with newly made road buddies, problems with embassies and visa applications, unexpected health issues, poor weather conditions that can lead to floods, land slides or hazardous road conditions. Political turmoil is not uncommon either and new “no go” zones with clashes between opposing factions can appear quite suddenly both in and outside Europe. More, very real scenarios can be added to the list and unfortunately robbery and unexpected financial challenges should also be included.

It’s best to have a “general idea” of which direction you intend to move in and which major sites, locations, cities you expect to visit eventually, and at some point. However, be prepared to accept that you may never make it to all of your chosen travel spots for the reasons just mentioned.

It’s also best NOT to make commitments to family and friends (or organisations of any kind) to meet on specific dates at specific locations. Engagements such as these generally turn out to be difficult if not impossible to honour especially on longer trips. Promises and engagements become nagging burdens you will resent primarily because they urge you (the traveller) to rush, race, speed through countries on a quest to honour your commitments. Of course, this is the exact opposite of what overland travel should be. The freedom of having your own transport should be an opportunity to explore towns, cities and parts of a country at a leisurely pace, preferably off the more beaten tourist routes.  It’s best to turn unavoidable obligations around and arrange for family and loved ones to join you close to wherever you might be at the time they intend to travel, regardless of whether that means a couple of countries behind or even ahead of your intended schedule.

Flooded roads in Malaysia
Back to the drawing board! Flooded roads in Asia. Many unpredictables on the road will rip up even the most carefully thought out  plans.

2. Know the weak points of your motorbike and don’t fret about breaking down

So called “terminal” or “catastrophic failures”  do occur to engines (some brands are more prone to this than others) but they are very, very RARE. Modern enduro-dual sport motorcycles if well maintained are designed to weather out the abuse that comes from rough roads and low quality fuel. Furthermore, dealerships of many major motorcycle brands are expanding their presence globally which ensures that spare parts are generally at hand closer than one might suspect. Of course there are many areas on the planet that are off the radar for Japanese and European brands but regardless, clever mechanics and skilled welders can be found in every community, anywhere in the world. 

With the above said it pays to do some research and find out what the known faults and weak points of your motorcycle of choice are. All bikes have them no matter what make or model. The internet is a powerful tool for this kind of research and all it takes is a few clicks to reveal hidden truths from owners all over the globe. Low quality factory parts can include weak suspension, poor lighting, flimsy rear frames. There are even “how to” YouTube tutorials to guide the less mechanically savvy through the required adjustments to fix issues with many of the more popular machines.  In my case I discovered that the F800GS notoriously eats up steering head bearings, has a poor stock fuel pump, and a front wheel rim described by some as being “made of chocolate”. 

Be aware of the shortcomings of your motorbike and act or plan accordingly. Either deal with the issues before you leave on a big trip or know how to fix the problems on the road if and when required. 

Fuel pump
Replace poor quality factory parts with higher end ones. In this case a new higher quality fuel pump.

3. Travel light and avoid top boxes and tank bags

It’s a fact (a harsh one for some perhaps) that you can tell how experienced a bike tourer is by the amount of luggage he (or she) packs. More gear means more weight and weight is your enemy especially when road conditions get rough and momentum (speed) is low. 

You really don’t need a lot of gear with you when travelling on a bike. Not more than perhaps a long distance push biker or a backpacker would carry. Some clothes, a camera, a first aid kit with medication, toiletries, a minimum of tools and consumables for the bike, an iPad (maybe), some maps (optional), a light weight sleeping bag and Thermarest, passport and bike documents. Anything else can be bought on the road if needed. 

All of the above should comfortably fit into a couple of panniers (hard or soft) on the side of the bike. Top boxes can be useful and tank bags even more so particularly when travelling with a pillion.  However, they both offer extra storage space (that will be filled), high from the ground that compounds handling issues at low speed especially for those shorter in limb. My personal preference: keep the the back rack free for strapping light items only and the tank area also free so that nothing interferes with the handlebars and manoeuvrability.

Some might argue that travelling with a light, small capacity bike is also important.  I tend to agree but there are travel forums full of reviews and suggestions as to which bike does what best. Ultimately, there seems to be no clear consensus on any specific brand or model.

Travel as light as possible
Don’t bulk up your bike, travel light, most things can be bought on the road if needed.

4. Camping gear, is it worth it?

Camping gear is bulky and can be heavy. Sure, camping and wild camping can be fun and cooking your own meals sounds attractive especially when confronted with the steep prices of eateries and guest houses in the west (think Scandinavia).  However,  especially when travelling solo, resorting to a bunsen burner to heat up a meagre meal of beans every day is time consuming, messy, seldom satisfying and unsustainable.  Once away from the high price zones of the world it’s easier to sit at any road side cafe and enjoy some warm local food for the price of a few dollars without concerning yourself with scrubbing dirty dishes afterwards. 

Making use of a tent or even a bivouac bag is also debatable. It can be a cheap option while in Europe but when travelling through countries like Turkey at the height of summer, with temperatures soaring way above 30ºC, the option an air conditioned dorm or room with the use of a shower makes perfect sense. Even more so in places like Iran where the thermometer is consistently well above 40º and there is little to no shade available once you leave the Caspian. Wild camping is still possible in the hotter parts of the world but it’ll be a rough, very rough for sure.

Wild Camping in the Caucasus
Wild Camping in the Caucasus.

5. Keep a diary/journal

Keep a record of the places you visited, the addresses you lodged at, the contact details of the people you met. Write it all down along with an account of your days on the road: what you did, who you met, what you felt, what you saw, ate and thought. Even if you never read or make use of your notes again it’s comforting to know that you can go back to your diary and recapture moments from your trip once memories inevitably start to fade. 

A young family welcomes me at my first road side stop in Iran.
A young family welcomes me at my first road side stop in Iran.

6. Get a good travel camera and learn how to use it

“I don’t trust words, I trust pictures”, Gilles Perres, photographer.

Documenting your trip with pictures or movies might not seem like a priority before you set off on an overland adventure but it often becomes one as you make your way through foreign lands. Several (not all) overland riders I have met wished they had taken better pictures or used more than just a smart phone to cover the highlights of their tour. Some argue “all the images are in my head” and perhaps they are (for a while) but good pictures to share are undoubtedly more useful. For some, photography is an art nourished by an individual’s creativity. For others it’s a means of telling a story.  Regardless, taking pictures can add value and a sense of purpose to your trip for a variety of the reasons that might not be apparent until you’re back home (a blog, a website, magazine article, stock, who knows…). More on travel cameras here.

Travel Cameras
Choose a good travel camera and use it.

7. Always wear protective riding gear and look after yourself

Falls, spills, accidents catch every biker by surprise and exert both an emotional and a physical toll. A helmet is compulsory in most countries these days and it goes without saying that it pays to always don padded motorcycle clothing and sturdy boots to minimise trauma, should an “off” ever occur. Broken collar bones, dislocated kneecaps and road rash take months to recover from and put an end to a road trip instantly.

Biker gear is ALSO essential to keep a rider protected from the elements and the SUN most of all. The sun is a subtle stalker that challenges our well being on the road constantly. Its rays may be welcome for warmth in colder countries but in hotter ones they are not a motorcyclist’s friend. Sun stroke, sun burn, sun rash, cramps and dehydration (see below) all have painful consequences and are best steered away from. Wear sun protection on exposed skin (face and bridge of the nose), always wear gloves. Use goggles or tinted safety specs to protect eyes not only from the sun but from the dust and fumes of other road traffic as well. 

Consider moulded ear plugs to reduce the persistent and damaging  sound of air gushing in and around your helmet. There are several articles published and available on line that confirm that the sound of air flowing around our ears under a helmet is enough to cause permanent damage to our hearing  even at relatively low speeds. Moulded ear plugs, although initially costly, are comfortable and reduce the level of exposure to air noise. Beware however, that some countries make the use of ear plugs illegal while driving motor vehicle.

Drink a lot of water. You need to drink water regularly to keep dehydration in check while travelling in hotter climates. Regular, frequent stops for gulps of water are a must!The price for not drinking enough water is drowsiness, fatigue, head ache …it’s no fun!

Watch out for bugs and insects such as leaches, ticks, mosquitoes, ants and spiders (scorpions) when wild camping. The bites of some of these are unpleasant to say the least and occasionally have consequences you do not want to be Googleing. Cover up, check the area around you before settling in for a night and use strong insect repellent.

Slow Drive, Long Life
Wise words on a lump of granite in India.

Finally, enjoy your ride and keep a friendly attitude. Smile and be well mannered with those you meet on your trip, if you can. Whether you like it or not you are in many ways an ambassador of the world you come from.

Travellingstranger 2018 ©. All rights reserved

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