Burly sissy and a willy-pete bag
4) Packing your shit
The idea of bringing enough clean clothes for a whole trip is easier than you’d think. Truth is, whatever you put on first thing in the morning is gonna be nasty within hours. Especially when you’re riding in the heat. So there’s no real point when you’re on the road for multiple days to wear clean clothes each morning. Gross, but true. So always pack road clothes and street clothes. Road clothes are tougher (don’t come apart in the wind), darker (to hide grease and dirt stains), and tighter (to avoid that annoying “beating the crap out of yourself” feeling from flapping in the wind.) Save the clean street clothes for when you get where you’re going, just in case there’s someone there you might wanna impress--hey, not every member of the opposite sex is into oily, smelly, grungy biker types. Always pack a few large garbage bags in your pack, compactor bags if you can find them. They don’t take up much room and they have all kinds of great uses, i.e. emergency pack covers/rain gear, boot liners, ditch tents, something to lay on when you’re fixing broken stuff in a nasty parking lot, etc. As for what to pack your shit in, there are as many options as you have imagination, but I’ve never found anything that beats the waterproof duffle bags made for kayaking. Ortlieb drybags are probably the best, but less expensive versions are everywhere. They’re just duffle bags made out of thick nylon/PVC with a roll-top seal. Totally bomb-proof and will keep your stuff dry, plus they can make a handy backrest if you set your bike up right. Get a big enough one and toss your tent, bag, and everything else in it and hit the road knowing your shit will be dry at the end of the day.
Old school analog GPS and a cig lighter for keeping smokes lit and the phone charged
5) What to bring
Here’s where it all goes to hell. Everyone has different needs on the road. I’ve been known to bring only my tool bag, the clothes on my back and a couple trash bags for raingear/sleeping bag/tent. I’ve slept behind dumpsters at truck stops, in ditches, empty barns, wherever. But if I have a choice, I’d rather have a nice dry tent to sleep in. The truth is, when you’re young and dumb you can sleep anywhere, anytime. For a while. But if you’re doin’ it day after day it gets pretty damn old and it starts to get a whole lot less fun. It can even make you start to think things like “why exactly did I decide to do a long ride on an old rigid bike? What the hell was I thinking?!” Dangerous thoughts, those. If we started really thinking about ridin’ old iron long distances where the hell would we end up?! So to me, I take what I think of as an “informed minimalist” view of packing. In other words, only stuff I absolutely need, or absolutely might need. Here’s an example of my last packing list for a nine-day 5,000-mile trip:
Wear: (what I hit the road wearing): Nasty old jeans, thick wool travel socks (good for all weather and help keep my feet from vibrating asleep), tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve T-shirt, and my nasty old steel-toed boots. That way I can strip off layers as it warms up and not have to dig around in my pack to find clothes. Anything that comes off gets bungeed to the pack on the sissy bar.
Pack: leather jacket, small tent, sleeping bag/pad, long johns, spare tank top and T-shirt, spare jeans (nicer ones), a hoodie sweat shirt, socks (one pair for each day: that’s important, or you’ll end up with foot rot that’ll kill any chance for romantic encounters and make your friends hate you), gloves, rain gear (in my case ultra light boot covers, rain pants, jacket, and glove covers, more on that stuff in the Links section), a spare bandana, spray-on sunscreen, a Dopp kit (all the usual toiletries, plus a small PacTowel, tiny bug spray, pharmaceuticals, etc.), an atlas, phone charger (I use a car charger with a 120v adapter, works anywhere), a flask of good single malt Scotch (life really is too short), shorts/bathing suit, pair of flip-flops (the only other foot gear I bring), pair of spare sunglasses/clears, small combo flashlight (road and tent light, also makes a spare headlight in an emergency), a PacTowel, a personal mini-shower (folds up to a little over the size of a pack of cigarettes and doubles as a waterproof stuff-sac), and a mini-stove (Jetboil) for making coffee in the morning and heating a can of stew at night. This last one is invaluable: no worries about where to get that first cup in the morning, and not having to go hunting around strange areas at night to find something to eat is pretty handy, too. Just call me a ditch-side gourmet.
Now I know what you’re thinking: what kind of trailer do I pull behind the panchop to carry this shit in? Actually, everything above fits in an old pair of throw-over saddlebags and one medium waterproof duffle bag, with plenty of room to spare (plus the little tool pouch, of course.) Sounds like a lot, and it is, but I’m ready for just about anything and I’ve only ever been caught out once, when the tappet block screws stripped/backed out and lifted the tappet block out of the case (thanks again to Midnight Mike for snatchin’ me off the road, welding the broken tappet block and helicoiling the screw holes!) Plus I can’t even tell ya how many other folks I’ve helped with the crap I usually bring, so it’s worth some karma points too, I guess.
Proof that form and function can coexist
6) Function vs. Form
When you’re building/fixing your bike, keep an eye out for what you can do to make it more reliable/practical. I’m not talking about welding a bottle opener on there either: while it IS practical, it won’t do much to keep you going down the road (maybe the opposite?). I’m talking about things like sissy bars for strapping your stuff on, removable fender racks, grease fittings on movable parts (like brake and foot clutch levers), that sort of thing. There’s an inherent coolness to something that’s built to actually WORK, not just look cool. Couple things I’ve seen/done to that end: installed zerks on every pivot point on the bike. Installed a quick-change oil fitting on the oil tank--oil changes are no-mess and three minutes tops in the service bay of a kind garage owner. Always run a real headlight, one that’ll actually light the road ahead of you when you’re blasting down that dark road. Run rubber grips. Metal grips might look cool to some, but they don’t do dick for cutting vibrations that’ll numb your greasy paws after a few hundred miles. Look at your wiring: make sure it’s well insulated and routed so it’s not rubbing against something that’ll leave you on fire somewhere. And remember, fuses/breakers are your friend. Those laydown broom handle bars and extended forward controls? Sure, some folks think they look cool. But personally, I like to be able to walk upright after riding 600-700 miles a day. I’m just sayin’ it’s possible to make a bike work and run like it should and still look good. For a given value of good, of course.
There you have it--my Six Pack of useless drivel. If even one person finds my tips the slightest bit useful, if even one less person is not left sitting by the side of the road, if even one person is motivated to pack their shit and hit the long road, then I guess it was all worth it. See you out on the road.
www.aerostich.com Some of the coolest stuff you can buy for bikes. It’s geared towards the BMW crowd, but there’s tons of stuff in there for us too. You can get your waterproof bags, cool tools, emergency rain gear (I use their ultralight pants, boot covers, and glove covers: all three fit in the palm of your hand). And it’s a damn funny read, too.
Windzone.com For those who haven’t assembled their own portable tool set, this is a great kit to kickstart it with. I got one as a gift and I’ve just added and subtracted to it over the last ten years as needed.
newstyleleathers.com Best wrist rest made, period. Snap it on before a long trip and say goodbye to hand cramps, plus it’s like cheap cruise control. Made so it can be moved left or right so you don’t wear a hole in your hand plus you can flick it out of the way if you come up on traffic suddenly. Well made, works great.