Pack It Up

It drives me crazy, but we always take too much stuff when we travel on the motorcycle.

I take too much because 1) I try to be prepared for every eventuality, and 2) I lack the self-discipline to pare down the gear to the minimum.

Motorcycling is a minimalist endeavor because you don’t have much space. Packing light is essential for two reasons:

Weight: The bike becomes difficult to handle (especially in parking lot maneuvers and tight turnarounds) if it’s too heavy.

Packing and unpacking: What a pain in the ass. You know you’re hauling too much stuff around if you have a tankbag, duffel bag, and sidecases filled.

“You travel better when you don’t have things to pack, unpack and repack,” advised Noyes Livingston in Iron Horse magazine a few years ago.

Part of the problem is I ride a BMW motorcycle, which is not supported by an extensive dealer network. So I end up carrying a lot of stupid things like spare relays.

And spare wheel spokes! The bike is a 2000 1150 GS, which has spoked wheels that are anchored to the rim of the wheel (not the center) which let you run tubeless tires.

One of the rear-wheel spokes broke on a trip to Cleveland, and the three dealers I contacted did not carry spares — “we can order them for you. Take about a week.” I offered to buy some from one dealer if he’d give me a spoke off a floor model, but he wouldn’t do it.

So much for helping travelers far from home.

So now I carry 12 spare spokes, 6 for the front, 6 for the rear, since they’re different sizes. And there’s a tire pump that runs off the motorcycle battery, and a small battery charger. Tire patch kit. Spare headlight bulbs and fuses. Electrical wire and some hardware. Baling wire and duct tape. Quart of oil. It’s ridiculous.

The heaviest stuff goes in the two sidecases, which fill up fast with all this stuff.

That leaves us with the tankbag, which usually has stuff you want to get at quick, like cameras and spare gloves and a first-aid kit and maps and sunscreen and whatnot.

The duffel bag has the clothes, which are a real pain, because you try to anticipate the weather you’ll be riding in, which is impossible if you’re going across the country because no matter what time of year you’re traveling, you’re going to be too hot or too cold.

My cousin Shannon is a first-rate motorcycle traveler — everything she needs for a two-week trip fits into a small backpack that gets strapped to the back of the bike. Two small saddlebags carry her tools and spare parts.

I’ve gotten better at packing over the years but I still need to improve.

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