Roll It, Pat It...Packing for a Motorcycle Tour

You can't always take what you want, but you can take what you need

Packing for a motorcycle tour
Pack it tight and pack it light and pack it right.Cruiser

While you probably won’t have room to pack everything you want to have on a motorcycle tour, you can usually pack just about everything you need. The key is to be decisive in your deduction of what you can and cannot live without.

Saddlebags are the staple of nearly every touring rider. They don't compromise the pillion and keep the added weight low, where it has a minimal effect on the bike's handling. On cruisers, however, they often want to sneak around fender edges and flirt with the rear wheel, so applying chrome guards or "saddlebag stays" may avoid an accident and will protect the paint on your fenders. The load between saddlebags needs to be equalized also. Holding one bag in each hand can roughly assess this.

Put your passenger on a diet
Know your bike's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and respect it. Remember that you, your passenger and all necessary onboard fluids get a slice of the GVWR pie. Most luggage specifically sold for use with motor­cycles comes with its own weight limit recommendations. We know how difficult it is to stay within these provisions, especially if you are riding two-up. It's your responsibility to know what effects exceeding these various limits has on your bike's braking, handling, suspension, tires and wheels.

Suspension should be stiffened and tire pressures increased even if your load falls within your bike’s specified parameters. Awkward handling (wallows, shimmies and hinging) created by carrying a heavy load can be calmed by a diligent study of weight placement. The ideal locations for your heaviest equipment is in the forward, bottom section of your saddlebags or, if that’s not possible, as far forward as possible on the rear seat. A duffel or sissybar bag placed on the pillion provides support for your lower back and holds gobs of gear, but make sure to distri­bute heavy items on the bottom and lighter stuff toward the top.

It's here…somewhere
After we've decided what we're going to take, we must give consideration to how we're going to place the items in our luggage. Some forethought about what you might need to have accessible on the roadside will save you from the cursed digging. Common items we leave on top of the right saddlebag or in external compartments include glove changes, lip balm, rags and face­shield cleaner, a sweatshirt or jacket liner, sunscreen and sunglasses. It's also helpful to compartmentalize your luggage by employing several thin, liner-type bags. This way you can separate your street clothes (both clean and dirty), rain gear, sundries and other items.

We roll our street clothes just to prevent wrinkling. It’s also the best way to condense them. We like to find double-uses for things so we wrap electronics and shaving kits with cushy items like sweaters or rainsuits. If you have large feet, protect spare faceshields by covering them with socks. If your bags aren’t waterproof or equipped with rain covers, lining them with large garbage bags will keep their contents dry. Don’t try to cover your luggage externally with plastic bags though; they’ll flap, melt onto hot metal surfaces and shred.

Always carry extra bungees when traveling. Even the best luggage system may need an extra anchor or two so it doesn’t shift dangerously (this is especially true of tailpacks and sissybar bags). You’ll find there are a variety of bungee hook types out there, but we’ve found the good ol’ bendable, plastic-coated style still works the best and is less prone to popping off. Bungees and luggage straps will mar your bike’s finish with even light contact, so apply duct tape or clear contact paper to the area before the damage occurs.

Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve over-packed until you’re on your way, or perhaps you or your passenger enjoys adding souvenirs and such to the camel’s back. Deductions are sometimes more easily made on the road (perhaps after your clothes get dirty), and thankfully, almost every town has a shipping shop that’ll happily box your surplus and send it home.


Need to set up a tour? Check out a few options here.