Saturday, January 22, 2011

Traveling Motorcycle Gear

After talking with Rich the past few weeks about my new chop set-up and the differences in gear to save space, as well as seeing a gear post on the El Diablo Run blog, I'm throwing in my two-cents. Some of this may seem obvious to someone with knowledge of modern equipment and gear, but for those of you who haven't really thought it through or are new to traveling on a motorcycle, I've worked for four years at a reputable outdoor gear provider - hopefully, I can give you some useful information for this coming riding season.

Even now-a-days, I see guys riding with over-weight, bulky gear. Vintage gear might look nostalgic, but there's a lot of great products out there 1/4 the size and weight. Sure, some of the fabrics feel too thin and unreliable, but honestly, fabrics and design today make up for the heavy gear of the past. Stretch materials, wicking fabrics, stronger nylons, better synthetic fillers, and breathable waterproof fabrics/treatments are just a few of the innovations in the outdoor gear world. Like computers, every year companies are coming out with superior designs/materials - it's hard to keep up with all of it. There are products out there now that'll last you mile after mile, save you space on an already minimal chopper, and not weigh-down parts on your bike. They may cost you, but with the proper care, will last trip after trip, after trip. Less is more.

Don't believe if you buy a cheap tent, sleeping bag, etc. at Wally World, that you're making a smart decision. First of all, you're feeding the beast shopping there. Secondly, you'll realize why your gear was so cheap when it fails you at the worst time possible. I knew a guy who bought a tent there, really cheap and looked reliable enough, only to tear apart on him 5 miles into a 10 mile round-trip mountain hike. Like tools, buy cheap and there's a good chance it won't last.

It's also important to keep your shit as clean as possible. I know, riding on long bike trips doesn't make this easy, but the dirtier your gear gets, the less effective it is and the more susceptible it is too failing you. Also, washing gear can take a toll on it's durability and effectiveness - so the less the better. Make sure to find the correct way to wash it as well before actually doing it. There are a lot of different materials out there that you can trash buy using the wrong substances/procedures - consult the company that manufactured it and you'll be fine. Cover your gear up with dry bags(completely waterproof) or even heavier garbage bags(which is what I use) at all times - weather hits you when you least expect it. When you eventually stop after riding in a storm, you're gonna want something warm/dry to throw on. Being wet is miserable and can be dangerous in some situations. Clean out tents after using them and hang them to dry completely before packing them up. Dirt and twigs can tear on the material if it's packed up without cleaning off the tent floor. In addition, a tent packed wet can get pretty nasty after awhile. When sleeping, make the conditions so you won't sweat too much. Sweat can build up moisture and mold in your bag that you don't wanna have to smell every time you crawl in it for the night. When at home, hang your sleeping bag in your closet, keeping it unpacked and out of sunlight. And finally, know the effectiveness of your gear - if you are sleeping in a 50 degree bag, a tent around you and a sleeping pad beneath you will add considerable warmth to your sleeping experience. Tents to keep the elements off of you and a sleeping pad to keep you off of the cold ground can add an additional 5-10 degrees of warmth. Putting your leather jacket over your sleeping bag and wearing clothes to bed also add up in chilly situations. These may seem obvious, but it's mainly to think these things through when choosing the correct gear. You don't need a 20 degree sleeping bag/bivy sack if you have a four, or even three-season tent around you and a pad below you while you camp out in the Mojave in the middle of summer. Use logic and know the limits of each piece of gear you take, as well as the climate you're riding through.

One thing I do on long trips is take older underwear, then throw them out as I go after they get dirty. If not, you can wash them out in a hotel bathroom or even a creek, then leave them hanging all night to dry for the next day - same goes for socks or any other quick drying(thinner) gear.

Sizing is something you have to take into consideration for each item as well. With rain gear, I size up. Once the rain starts falling, so does the temperature. Obviously, multiple layers under a leather jacket takes up a lot of bulk. Today, most rain gear manufacturers put draw-strings everywhere. Get a bigger size and tighten up. If you do decide to buy good wicking synthetic or wool base-layers(which kick ass by the way - roll up really small, keep you warm, and dry really quick when wet), make sure not to have them sticking out of your rain gear anywhere(example - cuffs of your shirt hanging out the bottom of your rain jacket sleeve). If the cuff of your shirt gets wet, the moisture will slowly wick its way up your arm making your whole sleeve damp. My boots have holes in them, yeah, I should get a new pair but I love the ones I've got. My brother and I rode back to Wisconsin for the S&S 50th Anniversary and hit a big storm right before Iowa. Since then, I've never left on a trip without boot covers. They look about as stupid as they sound, but boots are pretty damn hard to dry out after they're soaked with water - not to mention how your feet feel like they're gonna freeze off.

Anyone who has ridden with me will tell you that I probably take less gear on trips than anyone they know. Rain gear, tools, and extra gas take up the majority of my limited space. What I wear is what I take for clothing on most trips, with a thin hoodie rolled up and an extra set of underwear/socks in case they get wet and I don't have time to dry them out. Seems like it's been forever since I've hit a big storm, having missed a lot of rain almost all of last season - I was pretty lucky. I did hit a few, waited some out and rode through a couple. In all, last season was pretty damn good to me. Every time I take a trip without hitting rain, I wonder why I even took rain gear with - but I'm reminded every time I get caught in a storm.

It's important to know your bike set-up before buying gear. What do you have to strap gear onto, how much space can you use on the back, is it feasible to tie anything on the front(risers, bars,headlight, tubes/trees...) or even your tank? Having a hood on a bike is nice because it gives added support so the weight of your gear strapped on top won't cock-eye or loosen up your headlight. Basically, where is the most reliable places to strap your gear down onto without it falling off, fucking your bike up, or tearing into your open primary/rear chain?

Know this, there are a lot of uses for each item you take on a long trip. Leather jackets can be used to cover your sleeping bag for extra warmth, hoodies can be used as pillows or half sleeping pads, tarps can be used to cover your gear - on, as well as off of the road - and bungees can be used for keeping tarps secure over your head at night, as well as strings to hang wet gear on. Keep this in mind when coming up with a list for trips, get your shit together or bought, figure out the best way to secure it on your bike, and keep it all together when you're at home so you won't have to search for anything before rides. This makes things a lot less frustrating and gets you on the road quicker.

As far as extra gas tanks go, I use three 33oz. MSR camping stove canisters. They do the job, are available at any outdoor store, and they're cheap - just don't fill them up too much. Three of these will give you an added 3/4 of a gallon to get you to the next gas-up on long stretches. I got a bag just big enough to put them all in, with loops on each side so I could strap it to my sissy bar.

If you don't want to mess up your paint and have no choice but to use the surface for gear, there a few things I've used in the past that work well. The one I use most is tool box liner. My dad put me onto it and has used this stuff for years - it works great and you can get it at a local hardware store(comes in rolls). You get so much of this stuff in one cheap roll, you could use a new piece on every trip for the rest of your life if you wanted. I use three layers on-top of each other for extra padding(have used the same three the past two years). I cut it to my fender's dimensions and notched it so it would slip under my sissy bar and it has lasted. But, it can get pushed down and/or wear out if your gear isn't securely fastened on-top of it... or fall off, chewing into your chain while you rip down the highway(happened on my way out of Denver heading for Austin this past Oct., was the first time it had ever come loose after years and years of using the stuff). Another trick that Jeff Wright told me, is using black electrical tape on paint - it won't ruin your paint and acts as a protective coating.

If you want to use a pair of throw-over saddlebags for needed space, use the padding or tape under it for protection. Also, making brackets to keep them off of your rotor/sprocket is pretty easy to do using tools that most guys have at home. Make sure to pack your gear so that the weight is somewhat evenly distributed also. Having one side overloaded more than the other will have an affect on the handling of your motorcycle. The more you take, the more awkward it'll sit when packed up

When it comes to straps, bungees work pretty damn good. Use a couple different length bungees with an extra just in case and your gear shouldn't move. I also use strong, thick nylon webbing straps with a metal jaw on one end. I don't like using the plastic ended straps because they're plastic, eventually, it's gonna break.

I also strap whatever I can to my belt without having my pants falling off every time I have to take a piss. Leatherman, camera, knife, even my rotor lock. It may look different, but hell if it isn't convenient when it comes to saving space everywhere else.

A leather pouch strapped to my front tubes is used as my tool pouch. A small hole has shown up on the bottom due to rubbing from my front tire hitting potholes, so I might need to relocate it or get a new one - in the meantime, duct tape has worked to seal that hole up just fine. One item in my tool set that I can't emphasize it's importance enough, is a headlamp. Breaking down or having to set up camp in the dark is a pain in the ass, a headlamp frees your hands up and gives you more than adequate lighting. Petzl and Black Diamond are two companies that make really nice LED headlamps. I have a Petzl without the huge battery pack on the back of the strap, more comfortable and less bulk - just three AAA batteries in the lamp and a strap to go around your head.

Do Not Buy Down Products. If they get wet, the down filler becomes clumpy and stays that way once it dries - leaving "bald spots" in the bag due to un-even filler distribution inside. Synthetic materials work best for sleeping bags or thin layering jackets. When wet, synthetic materials don't get ruined, retain most of their warming abilities, and dry pretty quickly. Synthetic materials pack down a little bit less than down products, but the little extra bulk goes a long way riding/camping in moist climates. Buy the correct sized compression sack for your sleeping bag and it'll squeeze it down to half its size - if not more. Compression sacks not only squeeze gear down, but most are waterproof as well.

With tents, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration, One man, two man? Vestibule to clear up space inside, keeping some gear outside of the tent at night? The denier or thickness of the nylon used to construct it, which adds weight and bulk, but also durability? Or maybe just a tarp to hang over your head at night? A couple things are for sure: get a reliable/proven brand, use a lightweight and small as possible tent without sacrificing durability, and two poles are always better than one when it comes to structural strength. There are smaller details with tents as far as how waterproof they are, ventilation issues, and the trustworthiness of a tent's rain fly that you also may want to consider. Nevertheless, buy a trusted brand and you'll be satisfied enough on every trip you take.

Buying this gear is an expensive under-taking, but the added savings of not having to get a hotel, having all of the necessary items with you for comfort at all times, and the camping experience make up for it in the long-run.

One more useful piece of information is this:
The last thing you need is a farmer coming out with a shotgun when you're sleeping on his land without permission, or having 5-0 pull up on you in the middle of the night because you're trespassing on private property. There are 155 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands in America, 193 million acres with no admission or fees. There are rules when camping on these lands, but a free place to bed-down for the night is hard to pass up. Plan your trip right and you could save a lot of doe. You pay to preserve it, use it - just don't leave a mess where ever you go...

Go to http://www.fs.fed.us for more info.

On a different note, for you football fans out there, Go Pack...


  1. Very good write up. After living and riding in Alaska for 8 years I can say you are right on the money! Well done.

  2. Good stuff. yeah, maybe some of it's common sense, but there are multitudes more out there who are new to all this. If you have a passion for something you throw out the info with no regards as to how it's gonna' be taken.

    You forgot the Merino Wool socks...summer or winter, they kick ass. Good write up on some stuff for those of us who can't afford a motel. Besides, this is what makes the adventure...well, and adventure. dig you site.

  3. really fuckin cool............ thanks