My friend Bob recently emailed me, knowing that I’ve done a few of these road trips, asking my advice on packing and loading a bike for a week (or more, in his case) on the road. I gave him some quick answers, but figured the detailed explanation would be better shared with the world, so here we are.
Packing a bike for a road trip is a bit of an art form. The exact procedure is going to be different for every bike, and for every rider, because everyone takes different stuff. Some may grab food on the road, while others may bring a full camp kitchen. Some may stay in hotels, while others sleep under the stars. Some may use a tent barely big enough for their sleeping bag, while others strap the Tent Mahal on the back of the bike. Some like to go low tech, while others bring cameras, DVD players, or in my case ham radios. There’s no single right way to pack, because every person and every bike is different. I’m going to show you what I do, and explain why I do it. You can use that as a starting point to do what I do, or use similar logic to make your own decisions, or decide that I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Whatever works.
So here we have my PC800, loaded up and ready to go. It’s a terrible picture that I’ve never posted before, but I’m not about to go dig my bike out of a snowbank and load it up for a trip I’m not going to take, so I’ll settle for it for the sake of this discussion. As you can sort of see, the back of the PC800 opens up like a car trunk, revealing two large storage compartments on either side of the back wheel. On the left side, I have my air mattress, travel pillow, and a thermos of coffee. I snapped this as I was about to leave for Lake George. What I didn’t expect was that the following morning, the coffee I hadn’t drank in the thermos was still warm. So for an overnight, if you’re a coffee drinker, you can get your cup of joe before getting on the bike by bringing it with you from home. Anyway. I also usually bring an pair of comfy shoes with me so I can get out of the riding boots when I get where I’m going. I usually end up sliding these wherever I can fit them in the main trunk. Often they’ll fit between stuff on the left side.
The right side of the main trunk is where I have my ham radio mounted for APRS. It’s a “permanent” installation, meaning it’s bolted in and not going anywhere. The associated wiring and TinyTrak3+ live here, too. The bike’s own toolkit plus whatever other tools I feel like bringing sit in the bottom of this side. In the photo I’ve stashed an extra fleece in there, along with my cargo net, because you never know when you might need to strap something else to the bike. I usually keep a small hand towel in here, mostly to wipe the dew off the bike in the morning. Then I used the cargo net to strap it down to the rack on top of my top trunk before I set off, letting the wind dry it off as the morning goes on. I put it all away at one of my stops along the way once it’s dry.
Though I normally leave it on the bike, my Givi top trunk is detachable, and I take full advantage of that on these trips. I bring it inside and pack it like a suitcase, with clothes, toiletries, and pretty much anything I’d pack for a few days away from home. I’ve found that packing extra clothes for a week rather than a weekend doesn’t take up nearly as much space as I thought. Also, Ana taught me a trick before my Florida trip that rolling up clothes actually takes up less space than folding them normally. I didn’t believe it at first, but I tried it, and that’s what made the difference of letting me fit four days worth of clothes plus my bulky motorcycle jacket in my suitcase. (The other trick was to wear my riding boots on the plane. They’d take up a lot of room in the suitcase, but they unzip quickly and easily to get through airport security.) A week’s worth of clothes, plus various other odds and ends, are about the most the top trunk can handle. I know from my Canada trip that I was getting a bit tired after seven days straight on the road, so on a longer trip I’d take a day off from riding, and find a way to run a load of laundry through somewhere.
In the top trunk I also pack anything additional I want quick and easy access to – cameras, printed maps or directions (you never know if the GPS is going to conk out), earplugs… When I reach my overnight destination, I simply detach the top trunk and bring it into the tent or wherever else I’m staying.
Once the trunks are all packed and shut, I strap my tent, sleeping bag, and the tarp I put under the tent onto the back seat. The top trunk helps hold these in place, and a series of bungees keep them from shifting around on me. I can’t quite use them as a backrest, but that’s OK. The sleeping bag and tent are each in waterproof stuff sacks instead of the bags they came in. Even if I ride through a downpour at least I’m not spending the night in a wet sleeping bag in a damp tent. I can still open the top trunk pretty easily with everything strapped on. And though it’s a bit more difficult due to all the extra weight, I can still open the main trunk if I have to. It needs a little muscle to get it open, but once it’s open the hydraulic strut still manages to hold it there. It would work for an emergency repair on the side of the road, but when I reach my destination it’s definitely easier to unstrap the stuff on the back seat first.
And that’s how I do it.
How should you do it? However works for you. In Bob’s case, he has an ex-cop Harley, which has hard bags but no top trunk or luggage rack. In a case like that, if you don’t want to go all out and buy them (they’re not cheap, especially for a Harley), you could buy a waterproof nylon bag of the appropriate dimensions to carry what you need, and strap it to the back instead. If you attach the bag first, you can use it to help support the tent and sleeping bag like I do with my top trunk. You could also use cam-lock straps instead of bungees to attach your cargo a bit more solidly. Ratchet straps would also work but are probably overkill, and would risk bending bits of your bike. The bungees I have work just fine for what I do. In fact I brought these very same bungees to Florida with me to strap my suitcase to the back of the Street Glide for the trip from the hotel to return the bike to EagleRider.