Are you planning a motorcycle trip this summer? Maybe a weekend away here in the UK, a European tour, a road trip across the United States or an adventure riding expedition somewhere further afield?
Wherever you're planning to ride this season, the kit you take and how you carry it can make the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a complete nightmare. Here's our indispensable guide to what to take and how to pack it:
Luggage for touring
Buying either soft or hard luggage to fit what you think you need to take can be a big mistake, and will almost always end in you taking too much... everything including the kitchen sink!
As a solo rider, either a pair of soft or hard touring panniers should give you enough storage space for the clothes, tools, electricals and toiletries you'll need. Panniers are great, because they keep the weight down low where you need it, and keep the seat/rear rack free for any additional luggage.
Soft or hard motorcycle luggage?
Whether you go for soft or hard touring luggage depends on your own personal preference and motorcycle type, of course – some motorcycles like dual-sports and tourers can easily take either soft or hard luggage, whereas sport and some naked motorcycles are better suited to soft bags.
Soft luggage is lighter of course, and can be removed to use off the motorcycle and leave it free for fun in the twisties; hard luggage generally keeps items better protected from the weather and is more secure.
Touring tank bags
Avoid large touring tank bags, as they tend to get in the way and make fuelling up a bit of a chore and you'll invariably end up filling the space with stuff you don't really need. A compact tank bag or even just a map case will give you more than enough room for things you need to hand whilst riding - documents, phone, money etc. You can put any other bits and bobs you need in the pockets of your riding suit.
There's a great range available now, with either magnetic, strap or special clip fittings, and all offer great features like in-bag device charging; map and GPS sections; handy carrying straps for use off the motorcycle and much more. We'd recommend Spada’s Suction 3-Litre and the Bagster Matrix 6-Litre Tank Bags.
Waterproof tail bags
If you're camping, a waterproof bag strapped on your back seat or rack will keep your tent, sleeping bag, mat and cooking gear separate from your clothes and makes setting up camp quick and easy. Bags like the Spada Luggage 30 Litre Dry Bag, Oxford Aqua 30 Litre Roll Bag and SW-Motech 18L Tailbag Drybag are great as they're completely waterproof, will swallow lots of gear and come with securing straps built in.
Touring top boxes
If you're two-up, a top box can give you extra storage capacity and offer a useful place for helmets, but be wary how much you put in it, as you're in danger of adding weight exactly where you don’t want it. There are lots of options for universal and model-specific touring top cases, we'd recommend Oxford’s 24 and 44 litre boxes.
Packing tips for touring
Deciding what and what not to take isn't easy but it can make a massive difference when you get out on the road. Over-packing makes your motorcycle heavy and handle badly, it also invariably ends in you rummaging through all your belongings at the side of the road, and then struggling to fit everything back into your luggage again; hardly a recipe for a smooth trip.
Of course you can keep it so light that you only have the clothes you're wearing, your phone and credit card, but there's a healthy balance.
Struggling to fit your clothes in? Making lots of small adjustments makes a big difference: replace jeans or sweatshirts with lightweight 'outdoor' clothing; get a lightweight travel towel and leave the bath sheet at home; and make sure you go as multi-functional as possible; choose a mid-layer you can use on the motorcycle and in the pub, for example.
Remember that packing for two weeks is the same as packing for two days; you just need a bottle of travel wash or some change for the laundrette.
Other than tools, the heaviest/bulkiest items tend to be batteries, chargers, digital cameras, laptops etc. Try to double up on devices and go for a universal charger instead of carrying separates, or invest in a smartphone which does the job of all those things in one... or leave it all at home.
Touring tool kits
Carrying a few basic tools with you can make all the difference out on the road and can turn a nightmare day waiting by the side of the road for the recovery man into a brief stop enjoying the scenery while you simply reattach/tighten something, but the secret is not to get carried away! It sounds obvious, but only take only the tools that fit your motorcycle and not full sets; and think about what you may need and what is just overkill.
There are some fabulous compact motorcycle tool kits available now, containing most things you need to help get you out a jam, we'd recommend something like the Oxford Compact Multitool or larger kits like the Oxford Tool Kit or Oxford Tool Kit Pro.
And the rest...
Lighten up your toiletries by using items you get free in hotels and B&Bs, or share items with friends or your pillion.
If you're camping, it's worth upgrading your kit, there's some great motorcycle-specific camping gear now and it all weighs significantly less than it did a few years ago. Kit designed for cyclists is also worth a look, if they can carry it, it'll be a piece of cake on a motorcycle.
Pack it in
Inner bags for panniers are well worth investing in, as they're much easier to handle off the motorcycle than plastic or aluminium cases and take up little room inside. It's also much easier and quicker than detaching side cases at the end of a long days riding. We’d recommend this SW Motech Inner Bag.
Use compression sacks like this Kriega Waterproof Pack Liner to separate your clothing, toiletries, first aid kit etc. to make packing, unpacking and finding things in your panniers much easier. Aim for as even a distribution of weight between your panniers as possible and keep it low down and as far forward as you can to help handling and balance.
Items that you're going to need during the day, like a rain suit, should be kept in your tank bag or at the top of your panniers. If in a pannier, then to the top of your left one (UK riding) or your right (overseas) so you're not standing in traffic when you want to get it out.
Finally, always check everything is secure before you set off: putting all your travel documents at the top of your pannier and failing to secure the lid, isn't a recipe for a smooth and enjoyable trip.
Motorcycle Touring Essentials
Don’t leave home without…
GPS: Stay on track without having to mess with maps at the side of the road, with a motorcycle-specific Sat-Nav such as this TomTom Rider EU SatNav.
Security: Just as important whilst touring and travelling as it is at home, these compact but tough security devices will keep your pride and joy well protected out on the road. This Abus Platinum Chain, Disc Lock and U-Shackle are idea for both home and away.