Dreaming of Summer Touring
by Neale Bayly
With the long dark winter ahead, I thought a ” How To” travel piece might provide some good reading while planning your next summer adventure. I spent some time thinking about it and decided I would enlist the help of my long time riding buddy, Ron Klima who owns Precision Cycle in Sarasota, Florida. He and I have taken some interesting trips together in North America, Central America, South America and India. Our travels have also taken us over the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Norway and into North Africa and Eastern Turkey with a few other places like Australia thrown in.
Knowing that Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly readers are among some of the most experienced riders in the world, Ron and I realize we could not tell you anything you do not already know. And, it would be extremely hard to write one article on all aspects of motorcycle touring. What you would require for a local weekend trip compared to a two-year sojourn around the world would be vastly different. So what we came up with is how we would prepare for the annual two-week vacation using Hotels or Hostels for accommodation. We had a great time reminiscing about our different travels and came up with a lot of things we take for granted. I am sure we have missed some things and probably overstated others, but hopefully this article will make an interesting review as you plan for your summer ride.
We picked a naked bike, soft luggage, full leathers and a good one-piece rain suit for our vacation. If you are going riding in North America during summer, the only way to go is vented leatherwear as the perforations make life a lot more tolerable when the mercury hits triple digits. To extend their heat range, it does not hurt to throw a set of long underwear in your luggage. I rode out of the Arizona desert a couple of years ago in 115 degrees of heat to hit freezing temperatures up at Crater Lake in Idaho a few days later. Boy did I wish I were carrying some long johns that day. Add to this a good one piece over suit to keep you dry, and warm, and all you need now is something for your hands and feet.
When it came to choice of footwear, we both agreed something like Triumph’s TriTech Boots are hard to beat. Waterproof, with ankle guards, heel protectors and a non slip sole, they make a great riding boot with no need to change when you park up and hit the trails. For your hands, a pair of insulated waterproof gloves and a lighter weight pair with perforations should cover most extremes you will encounter.
In the luggage department for convenience and practicality we would use a tank bag, throw over panniers and a good tail pack. If your bike already has hard luggage, the only item you will be interested in here is the tank bag. There are many expandable units available that are water resistant and have a shoulder strap for carrying off the bike. With a clear map holder on top they make an invaluable part of your travel equipment. I personally like to keep my medical kit, sunglasses, camera and other valuables in my tank bag so I can take it with me if I step away from my bike. Having had a good camera stolen in Peru neglecting this, it is worth the extra few seconds to undo the straps and sling it over your shoulder. Also pick a good set of durable throw-over panniers. Make sure they have a waterproof cover and if they are expandable that is going to be a favorite for the souvenirs you will be buying along the way. A trick we have used over the years is to purchase large zip lock freezer bags. Then, fold and pack your clothes using one for underwear, one for t-shirts etc. Keep a couple of spares for dirty laundry. When you have put your clothes inside, squeeze all the air out of the bag before sealing: you will be surprised how much room you save. Other advantages are that you can easily see what is inside and should persistent rainfall find its way into your luggage, your personal effects will remain dry. Do make sure you match the weight on either side as best you can to help keep your bike balanced. For a tail pack you can use your favorite brand that works best for your particular machine, or some other form of bag with a back rack.
The first thing to consider before preparing your bike for the trip is how far you anticipate riding. Then, you need to consult with your service schedule and arrange to have you bike serviced a few weeks before departure. The reason for having this done early is to give you a chance to put some miles on your bike before you leave. If your local mechanic makes an error, (he is human, it happens) it will give you a chance to find out and rectify the problem and make small adjustments as needed. Also, it will give you a chance to perform another of the important steps you should take in your preparations: “A shake down run.”
Load your bike up the way it will be set up for your trip and go and spend a day in the saddle. If you are traveling with a passenger, take them with you. This will give you some very important feedback about your motorcycle: Whether you need to make adjustments to your suspension, how your luggage affects the handling and comfort of your machine, and how far you can go on a tank of gas. Fill your gas tank, set your trip counter to zero and run it to reserve. This will help you plan your fuel stops when you are traveling, and remember; “reserve tank is for emergencies only so please do not add it into your calculations.” It does not hurt to know the range; the scheduled gas station could be out of action requiring you to carry on. I remember pushing Ron, who was towing our friend Dan, into a gas station in the Peruvian desert once; we should have read this before we left. Also, if your journey is going to take you to any altitudes higher than 4,000 feet be prepared to make adjustments to your fuel range. Ron has conducted experiments with carbureted and fuel injected bikes and noticed an increase in fuel consumption for both fuel systems at altitude. One last thing to take note of during this stage are your mirrors. Fully loaded with an over suit and a passenger, can you still effectively see what is happening behind you?
Before you put your bike in for service, you should evaluate the condition of your tires and plan accordingly. Do you have enough life left to safely make your trip? Remember, the increased weight will put extra wear on your tires so you might not get the mileage you are expecting. Putting on a new set before you leave at your friendly dealership will save you valuable travel time hunting down a facility that can replace the tires with your brand of choice on the road.
As far as your own personal preparation for your journey, that will range from the person who rides out of the dealership to the person who dismantles and reassembles their machine before they go. As a factory trained mechanic, Ron’s advice at this stage is to grease the barrels of the clutch and throttle cables and lubricate the cables. Check your hydraulic fluids, your brake pads and your chain and sprockets. If you are in any doubt as to their condition, replace as necessary as you do not want problems on the road. Do a general safety check and make sure you are familiar with your fuse box and battery access and have the relevant tools to perform these operations. The more time you spend in preparation, the fewer problems you will have to deal with on the road.
You are getting ready to roll and the next question is: What should I take in the way of tools and spares? We suggest traveling as light as you can, and covering as many bases as possible with the minimum amount of tools. Definitely carry a tire repair kit with you. Motion Pro makes a great kit that contains plugs and CO2 cartridges. What to look for in this type of kit is a cartridge that has a long flexible hose, as sometimes it is hard to get the cartridge straight on to the valve stem. For those of you running tube type tires, a spare tube saves time and the uncertainty of patching. A couple of 10-inch crescent wrenches are also recommended. They will make do for tire irons and come in handy when removing the wheel. (Don’t forget your pressure gauge or some type of shampoo/soap to aid tire removal)
Carry a roll of duct tape, as it always comes in handy for something and nice big can of your favorite chain lube. Ron likes to clean, inspect and lube his chain every morning on a trip. He uses this time to check the oil, the tires and the general condition of his motorcycle and it is a good habit to get into. A good flashlight is a must and a compact medical kit should be high on your list of priorities. They are available at all good camping stores. If you are using a tinted visor, it is a good idea to carry a clear one as a spare, even if you do not intend to ride at night. It can happen, and it is better to be prepared. Detailed maps are obviously required and a compass is a great aid when you are off the beaten track, for those of us without GPS.
To compliment the standard toolkit we like to carry a Leatherman or equivalent, and a small, multiple tool kit. Again, Motion Pro makes a great kit that fits on your belt. This should be adequate for making minor roadside repairs and in Ron’s words, “if you need more than this, you have got problems.”
As far as spare parts for the motorcycle, we suggest, at a minimum, a spare link for your chain, assuming it is not endless; a spare headlight and tail light bulb; extra fuses and a clutch and throttle cable where applicable. I personally like to carry a spare brake, clutch and gear lever in case of a tip-over. On trips like our South American adventure we went as far as to carrying a spare coil, regulator, ignition module and a host of other items, but for domestic riding they are not really needed.
And the final and most important thing we could think of to say about a road trip on your motorcycle is, “Have fun.” Take lots of pictures and send some postcards. Buy some things in small shops you do not need and make a few unscheduled stops and turns. Sometimes they are the best part of the trip!