How to: Pack for a short road trip

Not all of us are as rugged as Zac, tackling the gravel and blackflies of Labrador with a dirt bike and a tent. Some of us just want to ride Ontario’s Highlands for a couple of days on brand new naked sportbikes. Still, we needed to give some thought to what we were going to pack. Cargo space is precious on sporty bikes, but there are some essentials that should make the trip.

When he saw that we’d be making tremendous personal sacrifices by touring on naked bikes, Dean asked for a suitable support vehicle to ferry our luggage to and fro. The rest of us scoffed and questioned just how much junk some people need for a two-night trip, only a few hours outside Canada’s largest metropolis.

Meanwhile, realizing he couldn’t be without his hair straightener and vast collection of beard creams, boss-man Dustin picked a Harley-Davidson to ride, replete with a pair of panniers.  (Ultimately, we were grateful when the Hog became the beer hauler.)

And Editor Mark contributed little except to repeatedly remind us to pack lube.  We all hoped he was referring to the stuff to keep the chain moving freely, but it was unclear.  He admonished anyone suggesting the use of Bluetooth-equipped communication units that could politely pipe directions into one’s helmet.  Instead he produced a tattered road-map, shook his fist at a cloud and then wandered off, muttering something about his VCR blinking 12:00.

Still, our motley group did manage to come up with some good suggestions. Here’s what we deemed necessary (or at least would’ve been helpful) for our trip.

“Right – let’s go get some beer! Who’s got the bike with the saddle bags?”

Sporty bikes are tight on cargo space, so soft luggage is generally the best way to go since it provides flexible mounting solutions.  The consensus amongst our wizened travellers is that backpacks might be convenient, but they fatigue the rider quickly and are best avoided.

Tank bags can help keep essentials handy to a rider and often have a plastic window to keep a map or phone safe from the elements, yet still visible to the rider.  There’s only so much space available in them though, and it’d be tough to pack for a multi-day ride with just a tank bag.

Saddle bags provide more volume, but riders need to be aware of high-mounted exhaust pipes that can turn the undies you’ve packed into flaming hot pants.

Jeff’s pillion bag has held up well, though it tends to leak from the outside, unlike his underwear.

I’m a fan of tail bags that sit on the pillion seat.  Mine’s an old nylon one that’s held up well, though the rain cover can’t really be trusted, so I tend to stuff a kitchen garbage bag inside, just in case.  The bungee straps with hooks have always enabled me to find a way to strap it down, no matter what the bike, and it expands enough to fit the essentials for up to three or four days, plus my big DSLR camera.

If I were buying new, I’d spring for a Kriega. They make waterproof and highly durable packs that connect to the bike’s frame for a secure mounting, plus they’re modular so you can connect several packs together for longer trips.

It looks precarious but it’s well strapped down.

In fantasy, we’re all Peter Fonda in Easy Rider riding around with nothing but a bed roll.  In reality, the baristas we’re trying to impress will turn up their noses if we order our cappuccinos while looking and smelling like hobos, so remember to pack some extra T-shirts, socks and underwear.

It’s just as important to not pack too much.  Consider where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing on your trip.  Do you really need your favourite Argyle sweater vest to go bike camping?  Probably not, but having the ability to layer up for cool mornings, or swap into something dry if you ride through a deluge, is key.

Our forecast wasn’t calling for any rain, so we all opted to leave rain gear at home this trip [Speak for yourself – Ed.], but a tightly-rolled rain jacket and pants don’t usually take up too much space.

And after being in hot riding boots all day, swapping to a pair of flip-flops is glorious at the end of the day.  Foam-based footwear like that is light and compact to pack.

Zac in Labrador. We just had to throw this one in here, since we’re thinking about packing clothing for a civilized road trip. Zac still got eaten alive.

Costa Mouzouris sent us an impressive list of “basic tools” he packs for road trips:

Wrenches in 8, 10, 12, 14, 17 mm sizes, plus an 8-inch adjustable wrench.
Screwdrivers:  Phillips and flat head.
Set of Allen wrenches and Torx wrenches, depending on the bike
Duct tape
Tie wraps / zip-ties
Tire gauge
12-volt air compressor and tubeless-tire flat repair kit. 

We’re not sure what size luggage Costa normally uses, but he swears all of these tools take up surprisingly little space.

Jeff’s tool kit didn’t even get used on this trip.

Nevertheless, instead of taking Costa’s advice, I packed a Leatherman multi-tool and my CAA Plus card, and put my faith in the build quality of the bike manufacturers.

The best way to attach a phone to your bike.

For the CMG trip, we followed Mark and his maps, as well as his experience with the region.  The multiple stops to consult the map gave plenty of opportunities to switch bikes and stretch our legs.  The Ontario Highlands Tourism folks have created a rider-friendly map that highlights all the best motorcycling routes in the region.

Most of our group are fans of RAM mounts as well.  They clamp to the handle bar and enable a secure mounting point for smart phones.  With one’s phone in sight, it allows use of apps like Google Maps or Waze for navigation purposes.

Alternatively, a helmet communication unit with Bluetooth will let a rider receive audible directions from his or her phone.  This system works well during rainy rides when waterlogged phones and maps exposed to the elements tend to become less effective.

Other Essentials

There is some other miscellany that we didn’t end up needing, but would’ve been grateful to have with us if we had.

On past rides, I’ve been sure I wouldn’t be riding at night, only to find that the sun had set and I’d be trying to see through a tinted visor. I keep a pair of simple, cheap “Amber Vision” style sunglasses under the seat of my bike for just such occasions now; they take up less space than an extra clear visor.

If one of the straps finally lets go on my bike luggage, I make sure I’ve got an extra bungee or strap tucked away somewhere, too.

If you run a mapping app on your phone while riding, you should carry a spare charger for some extra juice.

A phone charger / battery pack is a welcome, compact tool, especially if you’ve been using your phone for navigation purposes.

Lastly, tucked into the Harley’s hard case we had a compact first aid kit, because you just never know.

Our small trip went off without a hitch, right down to the perfect weather, and much of the stuff we pack we hope to not need on a trip.  Beyond all else, make sure you pack some common sense and an appreciation for adventure.

Maybe the most important item of them all!

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