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©Copyright, 2017, R. Fleischer
This article deals with common sense items, with some uncommon sense added, all for the touring motorcycle rider. For some, long distance may mean 100 miles; for others, thousands. This article was not written for well-experienced Iron Butt and continental riders; but, if that is you, you might learn something. Near the end of this longish article is a section on seats.
Some riders are minimalists, some take the kitchen sink, most are in-between. You probably will find that if you take too much it detracts from the ride. You will likely find that if you maintain a too-high speed you will not see nearly as much; and, you will miss stopping to take in sights, those 'special' restaurants, special attractions, not to mention enjoying the best roads and stopping to meet folks. If you do Internet searching, & ask on the appropriate Internet-based E-mailing LISTs & Forums, you can get a very good idea of what to see & do on your planned ride. Some States in the USA have paper maps just for motorcyclists, identifying the more scenic routes. All these things are especially nice when you can take the time to do things besides hitting the road and doing warp 8-10 speeds, and never seeing much, particularly none of the truly interesting things that locals know about. Many GPS units have presets or preference settings that will route you for the quickest ...or the most scenic ...routes. There is also those things we call paper maps, guide books, Chamber of Commerce publications, etc. You miss a lot by not having and not using them.
For most riders, the faster you go, the more you have tunnel-vision effects because the more you must concentrate on the road ....which will detract from the tour; particularly in increased fatigue; but also in what you miss. There are certainly times when speed is of the essence; and, let's face it, fast is fun. I suggest some planning for some more leisurely rides. I also suggest that you not try to maintain too tight a schedule, as you will likely regret it. Leave room to stop, have fun, perhaps stay overnight a day or two, allow for 'things', such as weather, health problems, and, especially, interesting things you find out about, perhaps from locals. Being under high pressure to get to a destination will usually reduce the fun of the trip. One of the things I do, particularly since I live and mostly ride in wide open Western USA areas, is to use a combination of roads. I sometimes even use the super-slab or freeways, then get off near or far from my day's destination, and meander about in a more leisurely manner.
While advance investigation is excellent, don't forget to ask about things when you are stopping for fuel or food purchases, etc. Ask locals about things to see ...and do ...things that are special or otherwise out of the ordinary. This can really pay off. Hint: If you see someone sitting on a porch, or bench at roadside ...wave HI! ...stop, ask questions, and you start the conversation by being very friendly.
While I am not about to post my own full and long list ....I am too lazy to type it all up ....what follows is somewhat generic, and it is not all specific for BMW Airheads. I do have a VERY long check list, that I scan before my trips, to see what things are pertinent, and what not.
This is a link to an AMA website, with mostly simple things, you just may find some hints that you don't know or think about. http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Riding/Street/Resources/33SecretsForSmartTouring.aspx
Most of my website deals with maintenance and repair of your motorcycle. I will deal with that subject first.
Having a breakdown will certainly detract from the ride... & a great ride is what you want, isn't it? Be sure your bike is in good condition. Check it out thoroughly. There is an article on this website that deals strictly with a maintenance schedule for an Airhead: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/maintsched.htm
If you have never taken a long tour before, you should take some shorter ones, well ahead of the long tour ...find out what works for you, and what does not.
Prepare your bike by inspecting it from top to bottom. Try not to overlook anything. At the least a really good visual inspection and also checking nuts, bolts, etc., for tightness, etc. Don't put off needed maintenance. Do not do any major maintenance closer than several weeks prior to departure on the long tour. Just before the tour, give the bike a good inspection. Be sure your tool kit, tank bag, etc., has necessary items. Do not forget a tire pressure gauge, tire repair items, water, .....
I have my own method of preparations. Decades ago I had a shelf in my garage pre-loaded with things for trips, with a printed list of what was on the shelf, & what to grab from the rest of the house, what to go purchase, etc. Nowadays I am not in quite that much of a hurry (and wanted more garage shelf space!), so I just use a printed list... and that list is extensive. I do not ever use all the items on the list, but they are there for me to think about. I find that having that list of items really cuts my time to prepare for a trip, and I never forget anything I really need (or think I will).
Perhaps a week or two before your trip: put all your clothing, tools, gear, etc. ...things not already always on the bike... someplace in your house where you will pass by it often. You will get ideas about consolidation, changes, etc. I still do this after all my many decades of LD motorcycle touring and camping. I think it annoys Penny a bit, since I tend to do this on our bedroom floor, but I find it very helpful.
Take a good look at http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/tools.htm for information about tools to take along. That article includes what not to take along. I am hesitant to specify or even suggest what type of spare parts, if any, to take along. Fuses, yes. Many folks take a spare alternator rotor, diode board, and regulator. Some take a lot more. You must decide on this. Are you really going to want to ...or even need to! ....change a rotor or diode board by the side of the road? Wouldn't you really travel to a goodly sized town first? ...and even then reconsider? Diode boards do fail, so do rotors, but you may well ride your entire life without such a failure. Do you have the talent and understanding ...and tools ...to change such parts? Keep in mind that you can run a bike a rather long distance without the alternator working, and particularly so if you can turn off the headlight by such as a Euro-switch ...or simply disconnecting the lamp bulb connector. If near civilization with a battery whose charge is being used up due to the alternator system having failed, you can purchase a car battery, and very light gauge jumper cables, bungee the battery to the passenger area of the seat (or, elsewhere's), and very likely travel a couple of days on one charge; and you could purchase a cheap charger along with the battery. If you have a passenger, use a smaller battery, such as a motorcycle type with some leads you make up, you could even put it in a saddlebag; and thereby finish your trip, or at least get you to a further place for repairs. A small battery charger can be purchased most anyplace that has an auto-parts store. I know of at least one person who plans that method in case of an alternator failure, and who would purchase a small 3 ampere charger at the same time as the battery purchase (or, just charge the stock one) ...and allow him to travel perhaps 10-12 hours a day per overnight charge. For extra range, with the extra battery, simply charge both, and swap during the day.... or; whatever works for you ...such as just charging the existing battery. I never carried much in spare parts in my later touring years, and previously it was mostly to help others. In the past I often carried a few alternator repair parts, as I tended to help folks having failures who show up at campouts and rallies; but usually, in truth, many others at such events already have those parts with them, and would likely give or sell you what you need. Worst case, you hole up in a motel or KOA, etc., and have parts air shipped to you at the nearest post office.
Batteries: Is yours over 5 years old?? Is the charging system in poor condition? Have your batteries tended to not last long? If thinking about a new battery, install it weeks ahead of your trip, to be sure the new battery proves to be reliable. Test your charging system too. At least have your old battery load tested, if you are keeping it. Harbor Freight sells Load Testers that are quite decent-enough & accurate-enough ...and they are often on sale. I advise you get the larger one that has two meters, it is fully adjustable and good for any size battery ...car batteries too. If you test your batteries every 6 months, which can easily be done without disconnecting or removing the battery from the motorcycle, you are unlikely to ever have an on-road failure.
Many think that a cell-phone and a credit card are nicer to have than spare parts; or, some few parts are taken along as well. Contrary to what some may suggest, there are some things I do not suggest you carry. One example is that there is no reason to carry a headlight lamp unless you are touring in a very remote area someplace outside of the USA. If the low beam or high beam fails, simply use the other beam ...every auto-parts store carries standard lamps. I do suggest that before your trip you inspect your brake, turn, and running lamps. The typical indication of any lamp that is getting ready to fail is a sagging filament, often miss-shaped. Why not replace the sagging filament lamps weeks before your trip?
I suggest that you carry some tools, but not the overwhelming quantity many seem to think they may need. If an Airhead, then carefully select from the http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/tools.htm article. Do check that you have whatever tire repair items along that you prefer ...and know how to use them! "Knowing" means you have actually done a tire repair yourself at some time with those particular tools.
Compressors: The spark plug type of compressor is perfectly OK, as is one of the $10-$15 WalMart or similar 12 volt compressors, possibly with the case removed, and some cable modifications, unless you get one of the very tiny cased ones with appropriate connections. I carry one on every bike. These Chinese-made compressors are used in a lot of the much pricier 'boxes' sold in motorcycle stores and on-line motorcycle equipment distributors. I very much dislike CO2 cartridges, even the big ones, as they take too many to do much, it always seems to be that you can never have enough along with you ...and sometimes they are a big waste with trying to inflate for proper rim fitment. The stock BMW classic frame pump is all about frustration, and a joke for flats repairs. Do know how to repair flats ...including how to remove a tire (& also a tube, if that is the what you have). Be sure any tire repair kit glue/patch/strings, etc., is reasonably fresh. The liquid patch glue tends to harden with time, even when in a sealed tube. The tubeless folks have it easier here.
Your tires should be in decent condition, as should be the rest of the bike. You do carry & use a tire gauge, don't you?SLIME, Fix-a-Flat, etc: Some carry pressurized cans of sealant, and some install the stuff with every tire and tube change. Some types are somewhat corrosive to rim metal, but all of them make a mess when it is time for a tire or tube change. Tell anyone who is going to be working on your tires about what you installed!
If you have snowflake wheels and a pre-1985 Airhead that uses tube-type tires, you can consider (I am not telling you to do it) using the tires as tubeless, and then not carrying a tube. I'd still be carrying at least a minimum tubeless tire repair kit. There is an article on this website that goes into the tube vs tubeless discussion/argument/etc ...in depth: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/section6.htm. Do not fail to read that article, if at all interested in this subject.
Most will take along too much, particularly on their first long trip. Think! ...take what you need, or are most likely to need, and think over and over about it all; after all, we have limited packing space on a motorcycle, and extra weight detracts from handling....etc.
YOU, your bags, clothing, etc:
YOU, physically and mentally, should be in good condition before you leave.
Using ear plugs to reduce helmet/wind noise will reduce fatigue, and this can be a very large reduction. In fact, the effects of wind noise from not using ear plugs can be accumulative in damaging your hearing over the long term ...but, you may have more immediate effects beside tiredness, that of finding it harder to sleep, and the sleep reduction will be accumulative.
Do not ride a motorcycle at night if you do not have to, particularly in areas of road pests, like deer. There are times I will ride at night, typically in areas of extreme daytime heat, but I ride slower, and the extra attention needed at night is particularly tiresome. Do not ride when quite tired. Caffeine is only good up to a certain point in helping with alertness.
Do you know about hypothermia? What about high heat, high humidity, or both? Are you prepared? Do you really always take along a quantity of water? Do you drink some water, often? This is particularly important for the older rider, as older folks have much less notification by their bodies that the body needs water.Do you subscribe to ATGATT... All The Gear All The Time (protective clothing, helmet, etc.)? Have you truly considered weather variables?
Tom Cutter offered, on the Airlist, 11/20/2015, the following; this is well-known to us old timers:
If any of you ever find yourselves caught out with a long ride and no decent gear, layer NEWSPAPER under your clothing, then put on your rain gear (if you have it) or buy ANY cheap rain suit or even a disposable Tyvek painting coverall from Home Depot. That setup will keep you pretty warm down into the 20s.
A minor constant annoyance on your ride will also detract from the ride. That annoying rattle you never got around to fixing. A dirty windshield and helmet visor. Don't forget to bring clean rag and proper cleaner for those items. Forgot the mosquito repellent? Water? Spare keys? Learn from mistakes made over the years.
There is a limited amount of storage room on motorcycles, even those with sidecars attached. Some long distance riders do not use saddlebags, and everything is strapped onto the passenger's seat, often in one large duffle-like unit. I know of riders who ride vast distances with only a large backpack. Some riders have saddlebags, tank bag, travel trunk, and still have a huge duffle on the seat. Some have huge and expensive aftermarket aluminum cases. Some use bungees, others have had problems loosing things and don't use bungees, but use straps. Think about what you might do if a case mount or bungee broke. What happens if you lose a saddlebag and do not notice it is gone? Have you prepared your bike in a way so that a bag can not be lost? Have you marked your bags, inside and/or outside, so the finder can call you? If you use a tank bag, what if it is stolen? Arranged the critical items where they won't be stolen or otherwise lost?
I think most of you will find that lockable hard-case touring saddlebags that remove easily and are weatherproof, are nicer to have as opposed to fabric or leather; however, plastic touring bags are expensive, as are aluminum touring bags. Be sure whatever you have are mounted sturdily; and, that you check occasionally that the mounts are not cracking.
When early style Krauser or BMW Tour bags (especially the type with the flat rear hinge) are used, it is likely a good idea to add Bungee-Buddies and bungees; or, better, straps, ...or some other method, ...to keep those bags from coming off your motorcycle if the rear hinge should fail (they can, & do, especially if the bag is overloaded & you go over a large bump in the road). I tend to prefer a bungee, from one lid of one bag, to the other bag's lid. Some think bungees more dangerous than straps for this, and they are probably correct. I have heard rumors of bungees failing & causing problems hitting the rider, or getting into the wheels ....but I have no real reports. I replace my bungee cords when they start to seriously deteriorate. I inspect the ends & the knot or clip or other holding fitment; & I tend to buy high quality ones. Note that some bag frames tend to distort with heavily loaded bags when going over bumps, etc., and that is another way a bag may fly off the bike, never to be found.
It is amazing the amount of things lost off bikes ....even entire saddlebags. I lost a brand-new $$ Therma-Rest sleeping pad once, it had two rather tight bungees on it ...but the outer surface of the Therma-Rest was new, fresh and slippery, and the pad shrunk a bit under the bungee pressure during the ride... I never found nor recovered it. ...the $$....and campsite results (cold hard ground) were a lesson not forgotten.
Motorcycles handle badly as weight is increased back of the rear axle .....so, avoid putting heavy items on a rear rack. Not only can the handling be awful if the weight is large, but safety will be compromised, and any tendency of the bike to have a speed wobble (your steering head is adjusted correctly, isn't it??) is made far worse. The front brake can be less effective too. Be aware that saddlebags, seatbacks, tail trunks, etc., will can make handling squirrelly at high speeds.A for mounted fairing is a prime cause for wobbles ....and is especially dangerous with rear loadings, and even such as saddlebags. Keep the speed down with such add-ons. Generally, it is only above 75 or 80 mph that the squirrelly effects are noticed ....unless there is a goodly gust of wind, or, perhaps, the steering head bearings are a bit loose in adjustment. Handling is truly much worse with fork mounted fairings. If you have a short wheelbase /5, and a fork mounted fairing, you can gain some stability by having a tighter steering head adjustment, but the best thing is to get rid of the fork mounted fairing. The Short Wheelbase R65 does not suffer much this way. NOTE ....and this is quite UNcommonly known: if your rear tire is squared-off, high speed wobbles are MUCH more likely.
I like tank-bags but many hate them. For me, tank-bags are a great place, and the weight is forward, ...to put heavier items, and also items you need immediately such as camera, snacks, etc. .... and a reasonably large tank bag window for a map or printed itinerary is nice; some even put a GPS under the clear cover. Be sure that your tank-bag can not, say in a parking lot maneuver, shut off your emergency ignition kill switch on the right side of the handlebar ....if it does, consider a different bag, or not filling it so full ....or eliminating that cutoff switch ...which is then less safe in an emergency get-off, but more safe, over-all, than if a tank bag shuts the engine off in a turn. You could also modify the shut off switch knob.
When purchasing a tank-bag, spend a lot of time looking at them, be sure the bag you select is convenient for inserting & removing maps (what about seeing that map with the rain cover on the tankbag ....is the top of the rain cover clear plastic?), has enough capacity, & will remain on the tank in a big gust of wind? Some magnetic tank bags do NOT stay squarely on the steel tank, and some will fly off, as the magnets are not strong enough, I've had that happen to me. Some magnetic bags also have straps, a good idea. The TourMaster is usually a good one, as is the BMW Multivario, and there are many others. Some folks will prefer a tank-bag that converts to a backpack. Spend some time on selecting a tank-bag.
HINT!: Put some thin plastic wrap under a magnetic tank bag ...it will avoid those magnetic particles that will be gathered by the magnets, and would otherwise scratch the tank paint. Replace now and then. I used plastic wrap for this for years, but now I use the thin pad with perforations (anti-skid kitchen shelf stuff), which is made of some sort of soft plastic rubber. It lasts, and can be removed, shook out, and reinstalled. Cut it to size.HINT!: THINK about how you refuel the bike ....be sure the tank-bag is convenient for refueling operations. On my K bike I did a simple modification by adding a hole 180° around from the original base small vent hole, to allow the gas cap lid to be reverse-opened, the added hole allows for proper venting.
Convenient things like throttle friction devices that you can install (this includes the various BMW's that already have the knurled knob that can be adjusted for throttle friction) can be dangerous. On this website is a story ...written in a humorous way ....of my experience with the use of a friction device. I still use them; my K has two types; ...but ...well, read: Snowbum gets off and running.
I take along a first-aid kit box. I made it up by first purchasing one & then modifying it. Don't forget your personal medications. Keep some emergency money in that kit too. I sometimes keep my first-aid kit in the bottom of my tank bag, in its own case. Hide some emergency money in several places on your bike.
Some people will not travel without a handgun. Think about that very carefully. Would you be tempted to actually use it in a moment of passion in which using it would be way overkill (sorry for the sort-of pun)? Will you be in an area where handguns are illegal? How good is your emotional control in various situations, let alone an emergency or crisis? Will you really be safer? The only time I consistently carried a weapon was during the 1965 Watts Riots, and it was in a holster on my hip, totally open-carry; and, yes, I would have used it. I'm an Ex-Marine now, but at the time of those riots I was working for the government in Gardena, California, and passed through the Riot area every day. Most folks would not fire a weapon; some would, some would in anger, when the situation did not call for weapons. Few would probably 'produce/show' the weapon. Some have concealed carry permits. !THINK!Don't carry handguns into Mexico, or Canada........if found with them, the penalties can be quite severe.
Always take along a few various lengths of rope and/or bungee cords, or whatever type of fastening (straps?) you prefer. I like to take along parachute cord. Take along one or two large heavy gauge plastic trash bags. I carry a small camping type of trowel/shovel and toilet paper (and put the toilet paper in a waterproof plastic baggy). Take some plastic Ziplock-type baggies too: I take a couple of quart size and one or two that are gallon size.
Take plenty of water. Motorcycling is very drying, and I think most motorcyclists tend to get dehydrated from failure to drink enough water (no matter the weather), and thereby their brain's don't work all that well. Seniors are especially likely to not know when their body needs water.
Take a rain-suit if you even vaguely think you might need it, it need not be of high quality unless you ride in the rain quite often. Keep it away from exhaust pipes. A rain-suit can also provide some extra warmth in cold weather.
Some of you will spend $$$ and get an Aerostitch suit or other riding suit of some sort, for weather and possibly impact protection. I don't own one. I, Mr. Cheapskate, wear a HydroTour jacket by Fieldsheer as my jacket (it was on sale...); but, I still carry a full cheap 2 piece type rainsuit. I carry a nice Turkish or other beach towel. I take a good-sized one; good for showers; sunbathing, etc. Sometimes I carry a second one that is smaller. If you want a 'Stitch, fine with me! You might also want one of BMW's own riding suits. Good stuff, if pricey. There are a lot of hints and advice that will come from all sorts of motorcyclists. Select what works for you. Sometimes very small things make a big difference! I have been at this touring-thing for a very long time (I began riding in the early 1950's) and have close to 900,000 miles on bikes ...a considerable amount of it on longer tours. I still tend to make some changes in my gear from time to time. I still learn. Of course, I am also stubborn, and in some ways, CHEEEEP! You won't find me in a BMW or Aerostitch suit, just how I am (of course, if I was given or won one.....).
Knowing how to layer clothing, will greatly reduce your need for many items of clothing. For motorcyclists, you need to be able to stay dry, stay warm, and to allow for cooling too, depending on the weather. That means wicking type of thin clothing next to the skin, an absorbing layer over that, then your outer protection. Leather, heavy as it is, still provides the very best over-all outer protection. I have always owned a heavy leather jacket, but for long tours I prefer the above HydroTour, which is properly padded, has a great many pockets, and is better for all kinds of weather than any 'leather' motorcyclists jacket I ever saw ...or used ...even the custom one I had made.
HINT: To save space, roll-up tightly what clothing you can do this with.
A good article on layering is in the November 2003 issue of Motorcycle Consumer News. If you are not a subscriber, contact Ian Smith Information at 303-777-2385 for back issues. Any good bookstore or backpacking store will have similar, or perhaps greatly expanded information. Try searching on the internet too.
Select your items carefully and try to make each item do triple-duty.
Recommendations for clothing, heated clothing, etc., are in the http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/references.htm pages, and some further information is in the next few paragraphs.
Some men find that short legged underwear are far more comfortable. Some men prefer jeans or jeans with the diamond gusset. Some few men use woman's panty hose! Do not laugh! See this website: http://www.ldcomfort.com/. Women have their favorite comfort clothing too. There will be must have things that you need, that others would never take along. Everyone will likely have something that is overly large or heavy, heck, even 'impractical' ...that they want to splurge on or otherwise carry;...so, go ahead and enjoy! I know someone who rides a 2-wheeler ...no sidecar for him! ...and he always takes along a blender and fixings to make Margaritas. He also is too cheeeep to buy a 12 volt one, so carries a rather hefty 12 volt to 120 volt AC converter. I have room in my sidecar rig for a 12 volt mixer! Of course I appreciate those that take mixers! Me? ....I must have my Lagavulin single-malt Scotch! ...or at least a dark Porter or two ...and good Cuban cigars ...and some Backwoods cheapo (is ANY tobacco cheap now?) cigars.
Cameras: Think this over carefully. Do you really need a large camera, extra lenses, etc? Do you carry a set of extra batteries or the charger for chargeable batteries? For some, a big fancy camera is very important!
Many folks who have been riding and touring for decades, still update, make changes, improvements, try new things ...this never seems to end, although it typically slows down as you get old or a lot of experience. Books could be written (and have!) about just cooking stoves & utensils for bikers! Do you really want to carry along propane/butane metal containers? Will you reallyuse fuel from your motorcycle fuel tank for your camp-stove? (it tends to smoke, be hard to get a good clean flame, etc.).......and a hundred more questions. I have a MSR stove, it will burn gasoline or kerosene (I have both jets), but for touring in the USA, I don't bother with the kerosene jet, and I take along White Gas (Coleman fuel, etc.). Burns clean, starts fast, less pot scrubbing. Do you know how to service your stove, if need-be?
If you think you will do some hiking (or?) on this trip, perhaps you will want a backpack (day pack) along and comfy hiking shoes if your riding boots won't work for hiking. Speaking of going for a hike ...just how do you secure your bike against vandals, thieves, & kids who want to touch things, etc.?? A bike cover helps a lot ....IMO.
What makes you feel safe and secure, for your body and your possessions? That does not necessarily mean carrying a weapon ...it surely involves where you travel, stay, etc. ...and other things. Do you use motels? Park your covered bike within watching distance of your room? Night light outside is near your bike? Motel is fenced? Security?
Do you know and consider fuel distance per tank (and, what about if there are substantial head-winds?), and plan ahead? ....some gas stations close on some days, or have closed-up entirely! This tends to be more important in some areas of the country, particularly in the longer distances between fuel in the Western USA.
Tennis shoes offer almost no protection against a turned ankle or being trapped by a part of the bike in a get-off. Heavy leather boots are safest. Leather of any sort is still best. You decide. You may have to go through several pairs of boots to find ones you really like, and you may want to take comfortable around-camp-shoes. Some make do with just riding boots, and some riding boots are good for all-around use, both for riding & for around the campsite/motel/whatever. I suggest that if you plan on any serious hiking, that you do not use really heavy boots.
Some riders use Camel-back's (or similar) for water. I suggest that you carry lots of water. This is very especially so in hot climates. I live in the West, it gets hot in areas where I often ride and I stop often for a drink of water, even to spray my shirt, or put on my cooling vest. Have extra water for those things. Unless your water container is 100% unbreakable, and absolutely can never have a leak, no matter how it is stored in your saddlebag, I suggest more than one water container. I also suggest a few energy bars, and some hard candies to suck on. I keep them in my tank bag. Water can be very critical. In quite hot and dry areas, it can be quite dangerous to your health to not have a goodly amount of water with you. Not for your internals, but with enough water, in a sprayer, you can 'cool off'. A water-filled large sprayer is almost always with me on my bike, even for shorter rides. I can drink out of it, or spray myself.
Do not forget earplugs; even if your helmet is a quiet type. Constant wind noise in your ears will, after a long day, not only injure your hearing, but leave your brain a mess. This is far more important than generally thought. The constant noise will greatly tire you out. Some folks prefer music in their helmets (forget fairing speakers, at any reasonable cruising speed they are unusable), some cannot stand music while riding. Some have their helmet wired for music, intercom, communications, phone, etc. ....or some combination. Some would not think of riding with a passenger without intercoms.
I won't get into camping gear much at all in this article. I am happy to discuss what I use.
Motorcycle covers: I went out of my way to visit this family owned and run company consisting of mother, daughter, and son and have gone through their mini-factory, E-Z Touring, owned by Betty Cook. 161 SE Dimick Lane; Madras, Oregon 97741 1-800-443-1443; 541-475-3857. EZtouring.com email@example.com They use high quality materials and construction. The material is USA-made 1.9 ounce rip-stop nylon; sewn with 16 ounce Nylon thread; grommets are Nylon & are substantial-sized compression ring types. The seams are excellent. Recommended!
GPS? Printed itineraries? Printed maps? Smart-phone?
Whether built into a Smart Phone, or a stand-alone device, GPS is nice, and not so pricey nowadays for ones that do the job. They are just toys for some. For others they are a real necessity. They will give you accurate speed, and exact routings to places, and all sorts of information on roads and conditions. Most can be programmed for routing in various ways. Many give turn by turn voice directions and you can download the latest road information; and this can happen automatically in real live time. I don't "need" a GPS; but I sometimes like playing with one. I find a large screen GPS with turn-by-turn audio output to be very handy when trying to navigate in a strange city, but most of the time I just don't use it, as I have done my planning earlier. GPS units can be DANGEROUS ...do NOT program them while riding and do not stare at them.You might like a GPS, you might not. I often carry real old-fashioned paper maps (or, pieces of one); but I am a Luddite on such, and like big format things, especially something I can write or stick notes on, and the notes last, they don't disappear ..nor does the map disappear ...when batteries run down. I have been known to put all sorts of notes on maps, including stick-on notes. I like my tank bag top clear plastic map compartment to have a folded section of a real map. Rather often I have a printed itinerary with many side-notes on restaurants, people, places, etc. Some cut a section out of a map. I like stopping now and then and looking at the big scale of things. I used to prefer to have both maps and a GPS, but can get along fine without a GPS. For awhile the only GPS I had was one that coupled by Bluetooth to my laptop (which has a mapping program in it), and I did my daily mapping every evening on my long tours. I eventually decided that I would actually like, in some circumstances (especially navigating complex roads in cities) to have a large screen GPS available, mounted to my handlebars or car dash, whenever I wanted. It also had to run on both its own battery and 12 volt power from the vehicle. Being a cheapskate, I waited until I could get a 6 or 7 inch screen with lots of frills, cheaply ($100 +-, is cheaply to me). A Garmin Nuvi 65LM filled my requirements, and with a few accessories and a quite heavily modified rear fittings & mount, it could now be mounted securely to any common RAM mount ball. It takes some study to learn how to use it, like any GPS, but the device can be very useful. It also can be a problem with safety, and a very useless and dangerous distraction. I am very careful how I use mine. Again, this is me, not necessarily you. obviously, a GPS designed for a motorcyclist would be much better for many reasons, including using with gloves on, types of programming and display, etc. These, such as the BMW Navigator, are $$$. I still have my Garmin Nuvi 65LM, and it is usually with me on any long ride. In 2017, at a garage sale, I found a brand-new Tomtom XL350T for very cheap. I have use only in my car, and am having some fun with it.
Some folks love their GPS mounted to their bike, and constantly tell folks how great they are, how much programming can be put into them, how great the display is, and how it tells them things turn by turn, etc. Some of these folks have earphones in their helmets, and can have the GPS voice or music or 2-way intercom, etc., to their passenger ...etc. Most, today, probably don't bother carrying laptops in a saddlebag; they already own a SmartPhone or tablet, or, whatever, ....which likely has a GPS built-in. I'm not a total minimalist or Luddite, but I don't like Smart Phones all that much. However, they can be useful, have built-in GPS, and do much of what a laptop will do, in a much smaller package.For many, a good Smart Phone will replace a GPS, a regular phone, a laptop, a camera, etc. ....and do lots more. That can save a lot of storage space on your motorcycle.
If you have a passenger, especially if in a sidecar, but not exclusively as such, they might get bored at times, so, a GPS or Smart Phone of some sort is a nice toy for them to see where they are, where going, how fast, routing, stops of interest, etc. I saw a guy with a home-made sort-of-backpack, with a window in its rear for use by his wife, who sat pillion. My wife is not at all interested in the GPS, even though I have a mount and 12 volt power for it, in the sidecar. She likes paper maps ....a small tablet of writing paper ...a pencil .....
Expect some sort of negative ""communication"" from your passenger ...if you do warp 10 speeds ...GPS's all provide speed information!
Some passengers really like using a GPS or Smart Phone with GPS. Your passenger can become, with a modern GPS, good enough to program in fuel stops, restaurants, local features and things to see and do...etc....and communicate to your radio/intercom. I don't have an intercom, smart phone, etc.
I like to do itinerary planning on paper or in my computer, sometimes making phone calls. Others do things almost exclusively with their smart phone GPS or dedicated GPS. I suggest asking your passenger do some GPS or Smart Phone things ....to keep them 'part of the touring team'. Naturally, Penny and I seldom do what I just suggested!
What about ergonomics:
This means how you fit the bike, its controls, the foot pegs, the seat and seating position, etc. All this is vastly more important than often thought of, especially for longer distance riders. Just a small thing like adjusting the windshield height or angle on the bars controls can make a big difference in comfort, and maybe the wind and noise you are exposed to.
The type of rubber grip on the bars makes a difference. The Grand Touring type, with an elliptical end-to end cross-section, usually is more comfortable; providing they are not excessively fat for your size hands.
A small change ...in bar setback, height, angle ...can make a lot of difference. In many situations a small change in the angle the bar is clamped at (and a small rotation of the controls clamping) will make a big difference. Let your bike talk to you as you sit on it on the center-stand, and again after you ride it for an hour or two. Make small changes in adjustments one at a time before you ever consider different bars, or setbacks, foot pedal modifiers, etc. Don't forget the adjustment of the shifting parts and the foot rests. The seating position, foot-pegs position, controls position, and use of earplugs, all have a quite large effect on what you feel like during and at the end of a riding day.
HINT! On later Airheads, the shifting lever is not directly the lever your left boot tip operates, there is a linkage, usually adjustable in some way. No matter the type, something is just about always adjustable, even if only the foot-peg. If you have extra thick boot tips, and run out of adjustments, it is easy to add an extended threaded section into the later Airheads type of adjustable shift linkage.
Adjusting the shift linkage, brake linkage and footrests can be quite important. If you have small hands without a longer reach of grip, you may want to modify the clutch and front brake levers; different ways to do that, even a covering over the lever. BMW does not offer adjustable levers strictly for the Airheads, but other types are adaptable. If the clutch action is too heavy for you (prior to 1981, airheads had stiffer clutch action), consider one of the EZ-clutch conversions (a chain and pulley affair at the back of the transmission area). If you have a badly worn clutch cable, or the cable is mis-routed, that will cause stiffness and can even cause jerkiness. If the throttle has too much friction or force needed, you do need to look into that. You need to replace cables now and then, the insides do wear. Do not lubricate BMW cables, except at the very end fitments ... be sure to do that at the carburetor barrels and clutch barrel. Be sure that those end fitment barrels really do rotate smoothly, that the clutch lever has minimal wear at its pivot, etc. ...the lever has sharp edges in its cable channel ....I suggest you radius those sharp edges, and if the lever can be angularly moved much, install a new nylon pivot sleeve.
The earliest Airhead motorcycle, the /5, had the throttle return springs wrapped around the throttle cable sheaths at the carburetors. They cause stiff throttle action, and the carburetor can be modified, but not at all easily. These early carburetors throttle levers did not mount nor look like the later types. The original cables were not plastic lined, like all later BMW cables were, so the original ones can be lubricated successfully. Maintenance, good cable innards, greased throttle assembly, etc., etc. are important for all years of all Airheads. Consider what will happen if a cable breaks. I always carry a throttle and clutch cable (haven't needed to use one for MY bikes though). For bikes with a single cable at the bars for the throttle, you need to carry an upper, and a lower, and where the lowers differ in length, you should carry both. The left throttle cable at the carburetor tends to break strands and fail soon thereafter, and this is almost always caused by pressuring the cable sideways when checking the oil dipstick. Lube the cable barrel ends!
As noted, be sure the clutch lever at the bars does not have excessive angular (twisting) play, and the cable barrel is lubricated. That clutch barrel must be easily rotatable in the lever! The clutch barrel at the transmission lever may need a bit of filing and some lube there too. Many levers were made, if not most, that grip the barrel too tightly...that is, the curve for the barrel in the lever at the transmission is a wee bit too small in diameter. Just file it (smoothly) a bit larger to match the barrel. The fitment at the clutch lever at the bars is much more critical due to the angle of movement. FIX IT!
A simple plastic piece called a ThrottleRest or ThrottleRocker is a neat goody, cheap, and I like them, you may, or may not. I find them to considerably relieve the achy feeling in my right hand and wrist.
There are several types of devices on the market (many BMW throttle assemblies are drilled and threaded for the BMW version) to lock the throttle or increase its friction (against returning to idle when your hand releases its hold). Know what this sort of thing can do, before you start using one! There is an article you should read on this: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/throttlescrews,etc.htm. Note that if the friction throttle is turned on at all, it can help in some situations, and in others will just make your hand more tired as you move the throttle a lot on a tour.
Packing the motorcycle ...and me:
This is how I packed for many years. This was not for my sidecar rig! (I have a special sketch and list for it).
Long ago, before I became an old fart, I wore engineer type boots, chaps or leather pants or jeans, carried a good sharp knife, and if the weather was cold I used layering and a perforated leather jacket with a removable insulated liner. In colder weather I wore insulating cotton long johns (yeah, yeah, I know, cotton is not good ....) under insulated Carhart pants, and chaps over that. I always wore earplugs. I admit to wearing Levi's too often. I was too cheap to purchase a real riding suit. Still am. I admit to wearing a snowmobiling suit back then, now and then. These days I do have the HydroTour jacket, very rarely wear leather chaps and seldom use my old leather jacket anymore. As I got older, I improved the clothing a bit more, but I am truly not the Riding Suit BMW guy. No, I'm not suggesting you do what I did, and often still do!BMW factory saddlebags:
Fairing, left pocket:
I had a sponge to clean the windshield under a teensy bungee wedged under the top's handle. Inside were my tire repair items ...everything except the spare tube and the large clamp I used for a bead-breaker. On my Airheads with tubeless tires, such as my 1995 R100RT, I don't bother carrying a bead-breaker nor tire spoons. For some years now I am carrying a 12 volt cheapo compressor made in China. I got one for every bike, so I would never forgot them. I keep them in any convenient place, sometimes in the RT left pocket, sometimes in the tail storage area under the seat. I usually modify it all smaller, removing the case entirely, and adding a DIN (Hella) type plug.
Fairing, right pocket:
JBweld Quickset; Golden Age Passport; gym pass (Member of a gym with branches located in most States); fishing license; MOA anonymous book; Airheads Dairectory; registration, insurance card, spare keys, some small spare electrical parts (no longer carry them), diode board (I don't carry one of those anymore), spare eyeglasses, small roll of Radiator Repair tape (lots better than duct tape). I may put a small amount of paper money and some coins here (and other places).
Long ago my tank bag was of the several multiple sections and very expandable type, so it could be quite tall, as needed. Nowadays I use a smaller height type, and carry less items. In the old days, my tall tankbag contained canned goods and other heavy items; maybe a scarf; folding camp insulated hat; second set of gloves; rain covers for the instruments and seat; extra throw-away earplugs; tire gauge, mouth mints or hard candies; matches; pen; pencil; two large heavy duty garbage bags; rubber bands; garden ties; notebook; 2 clothespins; route notes and maps; fork, spoon, church-key/can-opener, corkscrew, insulated plastic cup, mess kit, cooking stove, coffee pot, teapot, and a container with my usual drink mixes, maybe my tiny container of cooking oil. I always had my camera in the tank bag, with a mini-tripod for it. I use digital now, so no extra film. A small radio of the type that runs earphones and the tiny folding earphones. Small bottle of DEET mosquito repellant in a double protective baggy. I carry a personalized first aid kit. A small covered cooking pot was one of the things I carried years ago in the tank bag, no longer, but years ago it contained many of these items (not the DEET).
BTW: magnetic tank bags will eventually scratch the tank paint, and use of something thin under the bag is a good idea, and I mentioned the stuff to use earlier in this article. Some magnetic bags will not be strong enough at speed and/or in stiff winds, and your tank bag may come off the tank and go flying ...thus, a bag that has some sort of safety strap or clips, or something similar is a good idea. For many years I used the BMW Multivario bag with a forward fitting that grabbed the fuel tank at its forward-most place, and also had clamping with stretch side straps, but have owned other types. I still prefer the Multivarios tank bags. All of mine are modified at the rear for an electric heat controller and wiring, and plug into the BMW Hella-type DIN power jack when I need to use my heated vest. I own two heated vests, and leave one on each bike, so I never forget them.
In the past I have had other food items; toiletry kit; small metal shovel/trowel; toilet tissue; 6" folding saw; all the heavy steel tent stakes and a hatchet (sometimes managed to get it into the tank bag); clothing (except rain clothes); maybe the backpackers teakettle; also an alternate place for the cooking stove and its extra fuel bottle; camp shoes; on very long tours perhaps a front tube on my bikes containing tubes. I always had mixed feelings about front or rear tubes. See tail compartment. I often put my water bottle and my heated vest and my Summertime wet vest (the cooling vest) in this area. I usually also have a water sprayer bottle (water) here too ....spraying myself in super-hot weather, and can be drunk from if need-be. If I have a rear trunk, I usually put the heated vest there, maybe tubes too, etc. These days I mostly use the left saddlebag for immediate use things like water, cooling vest, emergency cheap plastic rain clothes; so that left saddlebag does not have excessive weight.
Possibly more water; 'bear' bag and rope for it if I am going camping in the woods; emergency plastic cheapo instant shelter; cold soda's??; gym sack and contents; jacket liner (or in trunk); special backpacker's pillow; large ground cover cloth made of nylon; alternate place for tennis shoes or camp shoes.
Tent and its fly. ThermaRest pad. Nothing heavy. My personal limit was a total of 12 pounds. I often would bungee wet clothes here, so they would dry while on the road.
Under seat, in frame backbone tubing:
BMW locking cable and some spare gas line and some emergency $ in a baggie (or, put some $ someplace else, hidden on the bike).
Tail compartment (there is such a thing under the seat on a RT):
Spare control cables, 1 new tire tube if on a tubed bike, some $$.
On the passenger seat (I seldom ride with a passenger):
Sleeping bag, and maybe my ThermaRest. If I have a passenger, I put these on the rear rack. Nowadays I carry my laptop on the passenger's seat, vertically, in a waterproof bag, and strap it quite securely in two directions to the backrest.
BMW stock tool bag and tools, modified for my personal needs and that bike's needs. I usually included some small bits and pieces. I may have one spare spark plug, fuses, thin jumper wires, a folding RadioShack digital meter, my carburetor sync tools (cut spokes and nipples).... little things. You don't have to have a digital or analog meter ...but a test-prod type of test light with alligator clip on the lead wire, is a good tool, and I usually also have one with me. Keep in mind that I carried things to help others, ...I was not much concerned about my bike having problems, so my bike kit (in a right front fairing pocket, or, elsewhere's, used to have an alternator rotor, rubber diode board mounts, voltage regulator, and other stuff. I no longer carry so many things for others' problems. These days, I typically have some $ & tire repair items in the left fairing pocket, and the multimeter and air compressor and spare cables in the rear tail compartment.
If you ride with a passenger, your list is going to be quite different. Since most riders are male, and most passengers are female, I have one word of advice! .... think things over carefully! I strongly suggest you try to have one saddlebag totally devoted to her individual things.
Don't clean your visor or windshield in swirling/circular movements ...you will appreciate this advice when riding into a setting sun. I have strong feelings about cleaners, and have an article on chemicals and things, on this website.
There are quite a number of sources for things ....and ideas ....for your clothing, goodies, etc. Major camping/hiking/backpacking/etc. stores such as REI are very useful. Here are a few other sources:
Whitehorse Press; motorcycle catalog; www.whitehorsepress.com; 1-800-531-1133
Motorcycle Consumer News; www.mcnews.com; 1-949-855-8822
Rider Wearhouse (the Aerostich, and lots more ...) www.aerostich.com 1-800-222-1994
A number of motorcycling websites have links and information ...way too many to list here. There are books devoted to how to do motorcycle touring and camping. Most motorcycle monthly publications have sections devoted to ideas about touring. There are websites devoted to such things such as Adventure Rider. There are touring magazines too.
Final words (except for seats, that subject follows this):
Find an area that you can leave all your 'stuff' sitting in plain view for a few days or longer! ...where you will pass by it often, for a period of time (yes ...days!) ....and get ideas. You can do it in the living room, a spare bedroom, the garage floor.
Lay out your saddlebags, tank-bag, tail trunk, duffle, whatever. Lay out every single item. Include the parts and tools for the first time at this. Consider laying out all your things in a pattern corresponding to the place on the bike you intend to pack them, including food, whatever, that you intend to take on your motorcycle. Take a hard look. Often.
What should you add? What is not REALLY needed? What can be changed to do double or triple-duty? What fits where? What should you take that you cannot do without? Look at all this stuff at least a couple of times every day as you pass by. I usually do it for at least a week (or more!) prior to departure; even now, after hundreds of thousands of miles. I suggest you do the same; and, take a look through the items, handling each item, getting ideas.
You will come up with what you think are the proper items to take along, include thinking about how & where to pack things. You may want to make changes. You can always improve on what you take, and how and where to pack them.
When you think things look OK, then do the packing. Be sure things are conveniently available if you need them before your final or intermediate destination. Make a sketch and a list, showing what items you took along, and where on the bike you packed it. You will want to make changes in the sketch, and list, over the years. I still do this occasionally! With some experience, you usually will need only to consult these lists and/or sketches to enable you to quickly grab what you need, pack it, and take off on another adventure. Even after nearly 900,000 miles on bikes, most of it touring and camping, I still use my sketch (updated now and then) and latest list updates. When I was into LD touring in a big way .......I had a shelf in the garage with most all my stuff on it, so could select quickly ...and, of course, there was the sketch and list posted at the shelves.
Since those days, I have combined my LD backpacking list with my M/C list and my car trip list ...typed it up, and keep it handy. I could ...and do ...pick and select quickly. With the bike always in good repair, even down to the tires, I was ...and am ... always ready to leave quickly. The longest part was ...and is ... always the paper planning on where, routing, what restaurants, what attractions, gas stops, etc. While I am fairly anal about all this as you can see, I do, almost always, modify trips, sometimes a lot after I am on the road ...often due to advice by locals on things to do, see, routing, etc.
I have gotten into this a fair amount in the past on the Airheads LIST, the K bike list, etc., but, here are some things to consider.
Ergonomics becomes more and more important as you get older. Little things you overlooked when younger become more prominent. We all have different butts. Some of us have a lot less butt padding, especially if we are of thin build and are older ...especially if lots older. A substantial factor in seat comfort is riding position. This is not just the seating position or the fit into/upon a stock or aftermarket seat, but also the lean position. As your upper body is on more of a forward angle, your pelvis/butt has different pressure contact points.
You may want to try a sheepskin cover; great for some folks, lousy for others. I liked the Mayer DayLong seat, which became the Russell Day-Long seat, and now is just Day-Long (well, to be more exact, it is the "Day-Long" Touring Saddles by Russell (Support Suspension System). These seats are very supportive and comfortable after being broken in. http://www.day-long.com/. I have generally hated the Corbin seats; others love them. I remember seats like the EZ-Berg, etc. Your body is special to you, so you may like things I do not. Since the seat is so very important, you may well ...and I advise this ...want to sit on some seats for 10 to 15 minutes ...ask folks at a rally or campout if you can ...and try to get in touch with your butt, pressure points, etc., and how the seat slope, size, reach for the bars ...everything ... seems to feel. Don't just do this for 30 seconds. Do the seat and ergonomics testing with the bike on its center-stand, you sitting normally, hands on the bars, feet on pegs. Some folks buttocks prefer a stock seat, some a Corbin, some a DayLong! ...ETC. As I got older, my seats became more and more custom. I now ride with lumbar support built into the seat on my 2-wheeler.
Positioning of your bike's footpegs, and certainly the handlebars height and especially the angles of the controls, which are adjustable (in rotation at least) ...all have an big effect on over-all comfort, particularly on a long ride.
I happen to have a butt that has always been most comfortable on a Day-Long brand seat; at least since I first heard about them and tried them, and that was a very long time ago. I have tried others, the EZberg, Corbin, Sargent, etc. I settled on the DayLong. But, that is because I happen to like them and how they fit me during long tours ...and I nearly always ride-in and get them made for me while I am there, that works out a bit better, I think, than sending measurements/photos. But, I am lucky, I live in Northern California, and they are only a part-days ride away from me. I stay overnight in a nearby motel, they do all the work early the next day. If you go for a Day-Long, or, really, any custom seat, ask about ride-in work.
Some hate the Winged look of the DayLong, which is prominent on their best model, but they also have a Sport seat that is OK, with mild wings that can also have lumbar support built-in. Most folks, I think, who purchase any seat made for them, and not hardly just a Day-Long, but certainly a seat that spreads the butt contacting area, will find that seats that do a good job of widely spreading your butt pressure areas are much more comfortable, especially as the miles pile up on any particular ride. Platform seats do not give such comfort, at least to a large percentage of riders.
Consider a particular shaping, narrowing of the front area. This can be important, particularly so for those with short inseams. A narrowing of the front of the seat has, in practice, the same effect as considerably lowering the seat height for when putting your left foot down on the ground. It can really make a considerable difference. If you feel height-challenged, that is, you have a short inseam, you may well want to consider seat narrowing at the front. As you get less flexible with age, you will appreciate this even more.
The softness of the seat is important, as is the area of softness and less-softness.
I usually suggest that someone contemplating a new seat or re-shaped seat, go to a Rally, and ask to sit on quite a few bikes, on the center-stands, in riding position. A minute or so is NOT enough. You need 10 or 15 minutes on each seat to get an idea. It is certainly not perfect to do comparisons this way, but I just do not know any other method that works as well, and that includes seat-shaping at a seat-makers, which should be the final thing, not the thing that leads you to decide on their company ...yes, that is a bit weird. Lest you think I am confused in saying this, keep in mind that some companies will have an already made seat, or the cushioning part, and have you sit on it, and then they manipulate pads, etc., to see how you like the feeling, before you buy. After all, if you go to a company and they are making you a seat, you have already decided on that company's seats!
A seat for a sidecar rig needs to be comfortable, but a sidecar rig's drivers seat needs a different construction.You need to have the seat made to enable you to easily slide left and right, to shift your weight in relationship to the rig, to help in cornering, particularly spirited cornering. It is not so easy to design/build a seat that gives comfort, and the ability to move your butt sideways.
We can comment or argue all day about seats, the bottom line is that we are all different ....BUT, I highly suggest you think, seriously think & consider, about the long hours in a saddle, even with taking an hour break now and then. A properly fitting all day comfortable seat is worth the effort and cost!
For those who are interested in the Russell Day-Long (the original Mayer):
4917 Shasta Dam Blvd., Shasta Lake, CA 96019. (800) 432-9566.
They are hardly the only custom seat builder. Remember what I said about ergonomics and sitting on seats for many minutes at a time. You will be glad you did.
I get more into seats in theS: section of my references article:
02/22/2010: Remove dead hyperlink.
04/26/2010: Review, update some areas.
06/28/2011: Fix Whitehorse Press URL.
10/08/2012: Add QR code; add language button; update Google Ad-Sense code.
2013: Remove troublesome language button.
04/04/2014: Minor updating.
08/11/2014: Add AMA link; and in September, clean up article somewhat.
10/05/2014: Add SEATS section.
11/20/2015: Add a comment by Tom Cutter, made on the Airlist today.
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08/17/2017: Recheck, mild updates.
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Monday, January 15, 2018
Last check/edit: Monday, January 15, 2018