The Roadside Closet

Picking—and packing—what you need for your first motorcycle touring adventure

Ever listen to people complain about trying to fit their travel bags into the trunk of a car or the overhead bins of a 50-ton airliner? Amateurs. By comparison, packing for a motorcycle tour is like coaxing a camel through the eye of a needle.

If you’re packing for your first long motorcycle tour, you face two problems: First, a limited amount of space. Second, motorcyclists wear their own weather protection, and the more questionable the weather, the more stuff we need. And that’s the key word—need. You may want to bring certain items, but do you really need them?

Clothing makes up the bulkiest items on the road. Your off-bike apparel depends on your sense of fashion, but on the bike, function takes president over fashion. A riding suit—either leather or synthetic—simplifies your riding wardrobe, but keep in mind a two-piece suit is only practical if you can easily pack the second piece when you don’t wear it.

For cold weather, remember to bring layers of clothing rather than a single, bulky item. And the least bulky cold-weather saviors are electrons: If you haven’t discovered electric clothing yet, consider at least a heated vest.

These days, it easy to find versatile riding gear that vents well for warm weather and is also weatherproof. Some garments also offer zip-out liners—some of them electrically heated. Apparel that works over a wide temperature range saves space—especially for traveling couples.

When it comes to packing, if you don’t have hard saddlebags with liners, compartmentalize your gear into thin, lightweight nylon bags. Cold weather or rain gear can all go into the same bag, but remember you’re more likely to need a rain suit in a hurry than you will heavy gloves, so pack that on top. Foul weather gear also fits well into a tank bag where it’s easily accessed. Remember, your tank bag should be used for soft gear only.

If you’re packing saddlebags, try to keep all the items you might need on the road in the right-hand bag—that way it’s easy to open even with the bike on its sidestand, and you won’t be standing on the traffic side of your bike. Also, when packing apparel, throw in a plastic bag for dirty clothes so you can separate them and leave them on the bike when you stop at night. Plastic bags can also weatherproof leaky luggage, so throw in a few extras.

Before you leave, check your toolkit. Make sure you at least pack the basics to prevent you from being stranded on the road, and consider picking up a new-tech lithium battery charger/jumper for bike, cell phone, etc. They are small and light, and can be a life saver.

Every long-haul rider can recall a time when a good map would have shown an entertaining alternative to 300 miles of skull-rattling boredom, or provided a closer refuge from 100 miles of bone-numbing cold. Even if you have a GPS and a good map on your smart phone, it never hurts to have a printed map along for the ride. After you’ve planned where you’re going, a camera can document where you’ve been.

Finally, make up a checklist in the comfort of your own home, and take a copy along on tour. Amend it with items you need or don’t need as you go. After all, this might be your first trip, but it won’t be your last trip.

Trip List
• Multi-purpose tool (Leatherman, etc.)
• New generation mini jump-starter/charger
• Tire gauge
• Mini cargo net
• LED Flashlight
• Lighter and matches
• First aid kit
• Maps
• Spare phone charge cord
• Zip-lock waterproof bags
• Sunblock
• Bug spray
• Earplugs
• Handkerchief
• Microfiber rag
• Faceshield cleaner
• Spare house key