Here is our indispensable guide for the most serious adventurers and tourers and what to pack for the motorcycle trip of a lifetime.
Packing for a city break or holiday abroad is challenging enough, but when you're lugging all your clothes and belongings on the back of your motorcycle, it certainly complicates things tenfold - let’s be honest we don’t ride motorbikes for their load carrying capabilities!
Preparation and planning is key to any successful venture, so whether you're going for a short trip this summer or a long tour across the country, you need to make sure you pack only the essentials in the most organized way possible. On the back of your bike, there are more than enough options to consider...
Hard or soft luggage?
Ask any adventuring rider this question and the camps will be evenly divided: do you use hard or soft luggage? Each system has benefits and drawbacks and will come in a variety of sizes designed to accommodate the shortest or longest trips.
Hard luggage generally offers more protection and security for the kit inside. Top boxes and hard panniers made from plastic or aluminium can house more expensive items without fear of damage during a fall, are water-tight and dustproof to stay dry and clean no matter the weather, and don't shift weight while riding.
All valuables can be locked inside, and the cases secured to your bike so they can't be removed by potential thieves. Aluminium is also easily repairable, and its size makes them more muli-purpose to be used as a chair or table while camping.
The main drawback of these kits is their weight and size; while they are certainly more durable to resist knocks and abrasion, their weight means only heavier bikes can accommodate them. The additional width means you need to take additional care when filtering through traffic or squeezing into small spaces, and even getting your leg over the bike requires adjusting your technique to prevent knocking it over.
Hard luggage can also be a lot more expensive, especially aluminium panniers when taking into account the bag, rack and mounting system together. The final thing to be aware of is if you are looking to ride off-road; if the solidly mounted hard luggage were to come in contact with a tree or rock it can have quite catastrophic results!
Soft luggage on the other hand is a lot more universal and versatile. Tail bags, tank bags and backpacks are a lot more lightweight and convenient for use off the bike. They're usually being made from technical materials like Corduraor high-tenacity nylon to provide resistance to abrasion, cutting, and just general wear & tear. You might see other materials, like Hypalon, to add an element of waterproofing. Generally, if it comes with a roll-top it is designed to be a waterproof pack when sealed correctly.
Their only real downside is their security; a fall can result in significant damage to your valuables, and less durable kits can be easily slashed or worn down over time. There's nothing to stop a thief from entering your tail bag if they have the opportunity, and even the most waterproof bags can suffer leakage if put to the test.
It mainly comes down to personal preference and the kind of motorcycle you ride: adventure and touring riders can easily accommodate either hard or soft luggage, whereas sport and naked bikes are much lighter, and therefore better suited to soft luggage.
Either option should give you enough storage space for the kit you need, but to help you decide, here are the types of luggage available to you.
Originally derived from horse riding, motorcycle panniers and saddlebags offers the largest carrying capacities and are essential if you're planning a long tour. Saddlebags have mounted either side of the bike's saddle, whilst panniers are attached to the frame of your machine, but they are mostly interchangeable and both help to keep the weight close to your bike, which is helpful for rider stability.
The clue is in the name - these bags sit on your bike tank for a convenient method of hauling your essentials around, and can be fitted to your bike using straps, clips or magnetically fitted to the tank. A compact tank bag will give you more than enough room for the essentials, or if you're a fan of using a map or a set of pace notes, most tanks bags come with a clear panel for such use.
Tail bags attach to the passenger seat of your bike or the rear rack, giving you another storage option that becomes less of a distraction than other bags and doesn't stick out to the side like panniers to keep the weight centralised.
This is a fairly obvious one, but a backpack/rucksack is an extremely convenient way of lugging the essentials both on and off the bike. Secured with two straps that go over your shoulders, motorcycle-specific models are designed to improve the long-distance riding comfort of carrying your kit, while also giving you convenient access to your wallet or phone.
Top boxes are one of the most popular methods of hauling your kit around, especially as most have the ability to lock your valuables away. Designed to be mounted to the back of your bike or rack, they don't add additional width as panniers do, but they can hold just as much stuff including helmets (especially if you ride two-up), shoes and locks.
An example of this is the Oxford 52L Top Box.
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.
I personally avoid using large touring tank bags, as they tend to get in the way, especially when filling up at the petrol station Instead I opt for a small tank bag, like the Oxford M2R, for keeping small valuables in - perfect for popping into a shop where the bike is out of sight and I can easily carry it with me.
If you choose to go rucksack only, opt to pack lightweight clothing and kit to reduce the strain on your shoulders and back - you will want to be as comfortable as possible for an extended period of time on the bike. The Kriega R20 and R30 backpacks are convenient for this, as their patented Quadlock harness helps to distribute the weight of the bag across your shoulders, back and chest.
If you're two-up, a top box can give you extra storage capacity and offer a useful place for helmets, but be wary of how much you put in it, as it’s very easy to overload with weight and cause quite a bit of damage. I learned the hard way by putting a heavy chain & lock in the top box as well as all my kit for a week away. I had a lovely time exploring the best roads Wales have to offer but returned home with a crack in my subframe right where the top box mount bolted in place!
Nowadays I go for a Kriega US-Combo 40 kit. Plenty of space for a weekend away whilst being lightweight and securely fitted to the bike without the requirement for luggage frames or snaking bungee straps. The modular nature of the Kriega stuff also means you can add (or take away) as many bags you need for the duration of your adventure.
Packing tips for touring
Moving onto the actual contents of your luggage: deciding what to take and what to leave behind can make all the difference when you get out on the road.
Overpacking can make your motorcycle-heavy and difficult to handle, and invariably always ends in you rummaging through all your belongings at the side of the road and then frantically struggling to fit everything back into your luggage again, whereas underpacking can leave you light on clothes and supplies - so striking a healthy balance is key.
Here are a few tips for packing your kit...
➤ Folding and rolling is key to happy storage! It reduces the amount of space needed to store your t-shirts and jeans while avoiding crinkling.
➤ If you're packing a pair of boots or gloves, stuff smaller items inside them to give you an additional pocket of space that also protects your accessories from harm.
➤ 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.
➤ Packing for two weeks can be the same as packing for two days (with the right planning!); you can use a bottle of travel wash or carry some change for the laundrette, reducing the number of clothes you carry without the smell!
➤ It's always safe to pack a few basic tools, but the secret is not to get too carried away. Weight and limited space are your worst enemies, so trim the fat and only bring the essentials.
➤ Sometimes it can't be helped if a breakdown occurs and you end up waiting around for a recovery van, but if you simply need to adjust your chain or access your battery, it's better safe than sorry to packs the tools necessary for this.
➤ Other than these you can’t go wrong with a pack of zip ties, a roll of gaffer tape, and a pair of rubber gloves to keep your hands clean. Common sized spanners and Allen keys may also be worth bringing along, and if there's any specific tool your bike needs to tinker with - bring it!
➤ Pack these tools in a secure bag that can be easily accessed without completely unpacking all your clothes at the side of the trail, and you'll be on your way!
➤ Aside from tools, the heaviest and bulkiest items you'll tend to bring are batteries, chargers, camera, laptops etc. Try to pack light with your devices but if you need to bring them, make sure whatever enclosure you store them in is waterproof - if it doesn't have one, get one!
➤ Try to double up on devices and go for a universal charger instead of carrying separate plugs. Another option is leaving all your devices at home and going nomad, but we llike abit of home comfort.
➤ You can lighten up your toiletries by using items you get for free in hotels and B&Bs, purchase the smaller travel-sized versions to save space, or share items with your friends or pillion.
➤ If your 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.
Packing it in...
➤ The ideal solution is to spread the load across your bike. A mixture of panniers, a tank bag and a backpack give you options for storage, and a set of bungee cords helps to fasten extra luggage if needed.
➤ Heavier items should be at the base of your bags and ideally held as close to the motorcycle as possible. This just helps with keeping the mass centralised and minimising any negative effects on handling.
➤ Try to ensure that when you pack things you have a definite place for every item and you keep to this plan all through the trip. This means that if you put your wallet in the inside right jacket pocket every time, you just need to pat that pocket to check it’s there.
➤ The same goes for tools, waterproofs, chains, toiletry bags, and well, anything really. Pack the same things in the same place at the start of each day and you’ll be more confident you haven’t left anything behind.
➤ 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 day's riding.
➤ 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.
I love a good motorcycle adventure and have done enough to have learnt a thing or two… usually the hard way!
The first thing I would recommend doing a couple of weeks in advance, check the motorcycle is in good working order. Check the oil level, chain, brake pads & discs, and take a look over the tyres - not just the general condition but also how much tread you have left. If you’ve got a few thousand miles ahead of you on an epic two-week tour, you might run out of tread before you make it home. Get them changed before leaving or plan a change mid-journey by booking in at a garage in advance.
Test it before the trip
Get all of the kits you plan to take and load it onto your motorcycle. Go out for the day or even just a short weekend with a one-night stopover. You’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, whilst also giving you plenty of time to make adjustments, order parts, or try out a whole different setup.
Just do it!
Seriously, plan a trip, load up, and get riding! We have so many excellent roads and places to enjoy in the UK. With international travel being a little tricky with the global pandemic, it's a perfect excuse to explore a bit closer to home. The more you do it, the better you will get, and the easier it becomes to pack up and hit the road.
For me, there is nothing better and here are some of my favourite locations to venture…
The Peak District & Yorkshire Dales
Hit them on the weekdays when it’s less busy and zig-zag your way through these beautiful national parks.
Due to their popularity for motorcyclists looking for a thrill do be wary of the speed cameras, especially those now peppering the infamous Cat & Fiddle route at 50mph average.
I’ve only been there a handful of times, but each time it was an awesome experience.
And not in the over-used American way either, the landscape is awe-inspiring - especially if you’re from a comparatively flat Southern England, like me. Just avoid the A9 like the plague!
Sun, surfing, and pasties. The gold coast is just a lovely place to be and experience a much more relaxed pace of life.
Pick a few coastal roads, soak up the sea air, and just enjoy.
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This article was written by Jonah Son and Tom Evans.