All bikers have their opinion about what works when it comes to packing luggage on a bike for a road trip. Some have a “system”, perfected for their individual needs, tested and reliable. These systems usually have lots of commonalities but it’s the pet hates they share that are most interesting. Here, listed below, are the most common: the pet hates with luggage on a motorbike, the thorns I have learned to avoid myself when packing my gear.
Bulk on the rear rack or in top boxes
Yes sir! It seems that the general rule for motorcycle baggage is that this should be arranged low and forward, essentially as close to the bike’s center of gravity as possible (the engine area). Anything stored “high” is a hazard that will make a two wheel machine harder to handle. Weight on the tail rack increases the difficulty in maneuvering through slow traffic, steering in tight spaces and riding on uneven ground. It renders a bike “unstable” and will reward the rider with injections of unwanted anxiety especially at slower speeds.
Weight stored high up on a motorbike such as on a tall tail packs acts just like a lever that wants to wrestle a bike to the ground on its side. Even the fittest of bikers will struggle to keep the bulk of a 200Kg machine (or heavier) steady on one leg when maneuvering at slower speeds. As a consequence motorcycles are dropped and levers, turn signals, mirrors even fairings get damaged. No fun at all.
Some say that top boxes and tank bags are a “safer option” for the storage of valuables (cameras and laptops). Clearly there is truth in this and these storage systems have practical advantages say for short daily commutes. However, on longer rides you have to ask yourself whether a laptop or a bulky DSLR are at all necessary. Vibrations, bumps and jolts, are all part of the riding experience, hardly safe environment for lenses and hard drives.
Low cost, smaller solid state tablets, even smartphones are good enough for e-mail and social media these days. They are lighter, more durable choices and easier to pack inside a saddle bag rather than top box. Good quality mirror-less cameras are also available in small, rugged, light weight formats, too.
Security and safety? Leaving valuables unguarded in a top box is unwise anywhere at any time regardless of whether the box is locked or not. Why bother with a top box at all?
For sure, tank bags are useful for easy access and storage in pretty much the same way top boxes are. Inevitably though, they bear the same drawbacks as well. As mentioned above, weight stored high and away from the center of gravity of a bike acts as an undesirable lever that kicks in at the slightest loss of balance.
Furthermore, it’s a fact that some tank bags interfere with handlebars, cover up clocks and dials, push onto light switches, horn buttons and turn signals. Useful to point out as well is that most tank bags leave scuffs, scratches and cause wear on a bike’s body work.
Get bigger panniers (saddle-bags) for your stuff if you really need to. Best is to learn to carry less gear with you on your trip. Leave the tank area on your bike clutter free or at the most go for a cargo net.
Wearing a backpack is also a pet hate, especially on longer rides. The extra weight on a rider’s shoulders and back will eventually tire him or her. Back packs make taking off a riding jacket annoyingly difficult and they also block ventilation. Again, bulk carried high from the ground leverages imbalance in tight spots or on off tracks and should an unlucky fall occur, the pack on one’s back could increase the risk injury to spine and ribs.
So, my recommendations start with: no top boxes! Only strap light items to the rear luggage rack. Stuff like extra layers of clothing or a light weight camera that can all safely fit into a SMALL waterproof stuff bag.
No tank bag. Try using a cargo net for small items.
Avoid back packs. Keep extra drinking water in bottles inside or strapped to panniers. Camel bags or similar are popular these days but they are more trouble than they’re worth. They need to be cleaned regularly and will make you sweat under your riding jacket.
Ultimately, comfort and safety are a priority on a motorbike. For the solo rider, luggage must be kept to a minimum and packed carefully. Just the essentials should be carried, what fits in decent sized panniers, no more. Some extra cash in pocket will take care of the rest, on the road if needed.
It goes without saying that many ride with a pillion: a spouse, partner or friend. This scenario involves a bunch of considerations that can go well beyond the needs of a solo rider. Tank bags and top boxes might come in handy here at the cost of some riding comfort. It’s generally wiser to compromise here and allow for that extra bulk on the tail rack to fit those all important cosmetics, high heel shoes or spare bottles of whiskey.
Honda, Kawasaki, Harley Davidson… there are many motorcycle brands these days with lots of models to choose from. In fact, there’s enough variety out there to make enthusiasts feel overwhelmed. However, despite the turnover in designs from manufacturers, many bikers remain loyal to a particular brand, model or style of motorcycle for reasons that can be interesting to explore.
Feelings, good ones…
Marketing professionals tell us that successful brands (not only motorcycle brands) are connected to feelings, positive feelings, feelings of empowerment and fun. Good warm “vibes” of thrilled satisfaction are what we crave for on the machines we own. So, the owner of a Hayabusa knows the rush he can expect when he opens up on a highway. Similarly, a scooter aficionado no doubt loves the buzz of pulling away the quickest at the lights, leaving the traffic in its tracks.
Image…oooh, so cool…
For some, the choice of a brand or style of a motorcycle involves buying into an image. Design, speed, power, ruggedness, adventure, fashion…. most motorbikes promise something from this mixed bag of desirables. As a result, the bikes we own reflect some of our personal values, what we consider virtuous, appealing, attractive, even manly (or womanly), perhaps. Our machines are often symbols of who we aspire to be. The owner of a GS probably tours or wants to tour and appreciates some degree of off road adventure. The owner of a Gold-Wing is the same but has no intention of ever leaving the paved path.
Many bikers get hooked on a bike brand and style because they are active in communities that value them. The Moto Guzzi clan, the Cafe Racer scene, and the Lambretta and Vespa “die hards” are examples of this. There are enthusiast clubs like these in almost every country. It seems like the desire to belong to something bigger than ourselves as individuals is what keeps them going.
Partners, like a pal?
Most riders would agree that they choose a motorcycle like they would a partner, a buddy to take care of and with whom to share adventures. We grow to appreciate the quirks of our two wheel friends, sometimes become flag carriers for a model, be this a sports-bike, cruiser, adventure bike or other. Eventually the idea of changing becomes alien and disruptive.
Of course, we trade our old machines for newer models. However, more often than not, some element of style persists in our choices, in the same way our values and tastes remain unchanged.
A friend of mine started biking at a young age on a Honda XR 650. He then moved on through the years to a Harley 883, a Suzuki Katana, a BMW K1300R, a Kawasaki Ninja, a KTM 990. What’s his ride these days, now that he’s in his fifties? An old, beat up Honda XR 650. He says, with a smile, that he should never have left the first one he owned.
Bikers all belong to one loving motorcycle family within which there are tribes, divisions and boundaries. So, there are sports bikers, touring bikers, adventure bikers, hog lovers, off-roaders and maybe a couple more groups, too. Each category has it’s own vision of what a motorbike should look like and what motorcycling should be. It’s no secret that sometiomes views clash with more than just the exchange of polite banter.
Also true is that some riders fail to figure out where they belong. They roam from one group to another, uneasy, clearly confused and viewed with suspicion by friends, family and other bikers, too.
There are also those, maybe the most troubled of all, who ride a sports bike or a Harley by day but secretly cherish a motocross machine they keep hidden in a shed out of sight.
Of course, none of this really matters. What counts is enjoying our rides regardless of what our bikes look like.
An Old Twin Shock
Motorbikes never interested me until the age of twelve. It was then that a school buddy of mine received a “hand me down” battered 80cc motocrosser from an older brother. As a result, I was at his home one afternoon, invited to check out his new two wheel toy.
For sure, the old twin shock scrambler had seen better days. I remember it leaked fluids from tank and engine and stank of Castrol fuel mix. It had worn tyres, the suspension groaned, the handlebars were out of square. But, despite her shabby appearance, the note from the old girl’s exhaust made it clear there was life in her yet.
That afternoon I took my first steps into handling clutch, gears and throttle. I fell, got bruised and grazed. I tore my sweater and stained my jeans with oil and mud. I lost control of the bike more than once and convinced myself the thing had a mind of it’s own. It behaved like cornered animal that just wanted to flee or be left alone. By the end of the day I was aching all over but had a grin on my face none the less. I was hooked, I was a budding biker, I had found my tribe, I was and off roader.
Over the years I’ve owned a few bikes and ridden plenty more. Some I liked, others not so much. Of course, things change as you age but that off road edge has always influenced my choices of brand and style when it comes to motorcycles. Here’s a list of the machines that made the biggest impact.
After promising results at school I managed to persuade my father to shed some cash on my fourteenth birthday and became the proud owner of a second hand 50cc trials bike. Completely different to a motocrosser (and not much more than a moped), the Italjet was heaps of fun for a kid of my age and didn’t pass unnoticed with its wacky colour scheme either.
I rode the small bike for years and learned a thing or two about balance, clutch control and riding over obstacles though the lack of real power from the small Minarelli engine never got me to any competitive might.
When my working days arrived and after a spell without a motorbike at all, I hunted for a machine with some sort of off-road flavour. I hoped to find a second hand Kawasaki KLR 650 but then stumbled upon a rarely seen KLX, the KLR’s beefed up cousin. As soon as I saw the bike I knew it had to have it. It was just over ten years old with less than twenty thousand kilometres on the dial, only one owner. The bike looked clean and I bought it on impulse there and then.
I loved the KLX very much. It’s torque, reliability and upright riding position were fun on any day. Once again I owned an eccentric machine not many people recognised. In fact, the only KLX 650C I saw on the road was the one I owned for five years.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Vibrations at over 110km/h annoyed me at times and the big bore single craved for oil especially during the warmer season. But, it did the job and the bike also introduced me to the world of motorcycle travel. It took me to France, Greece, Turkey and to the dunes of North Africa and back, albeit only just.
KTM 525 EXC
My North African trip on the KLX fuelled an appetite for further off road adventure. Still with the Sahara in mind I went for the kill and bought a third hand KTM 525. I thought this might be the best tool for mud, white top roads and whatever off road adventure I fancied. It was however, a big mistake. The 525 was a beast of a machine with way more power than anyone, other than a professional, could hope to manage sensibly. There was no compromise with this Austrian behemoth. It was either a full white knuckle ride, battling to keep rubber on the ground or nothing at all.
Needless to say the 525 filled me with anxiety every time I rode her and in the long run, I avoided anything to do with the bike entirely.
KTM 250 EXC
A second hand KTM 250 two stroke was a by far a more sensible approach to green lanes and track events. Above all, the engine was manageable, light and didn’t tire me the way the 525 did. Unfortunately though I found the 250 maintenance hungry. Piston rings, electrics, oil leaks, just got too much for me.
BMW F800 GS
The F800 was love at first sight. To me it remains one of the most appealing designs in enduro adventure bike segment. By no means perfect, the baby GS nonetheless ticks all the boxes adequately. It’s reliable, robust, great on fuel economy and can, within reason, handle most easy dirt tracks pretty well.
I’ve travelled extensively on the F800GS, all over Europe and Asia and have come to know the bike’s merits and flaws, well enough. The steering head bearings, the dodgy fuel pump and its flimsy front rim are its immediate issues. These, however are easy to fix. The F8 isn’t suited for long highway runs nor for sustained speeds above 150km/h, either. None of this bothers me. I believe the bike remains a good compromise as far as adventure bikes go. I’ve actually owned two of these and still ride one today.
What bikes would I like to own? Well, it’s an on going joke that motorbikes unlike a girlfriend/boyfriend don’t mind if you dream of newer models or skim through motorbike magazines. So… I like the Ducati Multistrada and although I’m not sure how this Italian prima donna handles it’s a stunner in and looks the part. We shall see, perhaps one day I’ll own one or maybe not. Maybe I’ll be enjoying something completely different instead, could even be something electric.