Babes Ride Out

How to (Safely) Pack for a Motorcycle Trip | Expert Advice from Bill Bryant of Biltwell

Ashmore Ellis

We asked the most efficient person we know on two wheels, Bill Bryant from Biltwell, the safest way to pack your junk down for a multiple day camp trip. He gave us some amazing tips and tricks that will make your next moto trip much more enjoyable. Take a read and share with your road dawgs, this is a good one! 

The primary goal when packing for a multi day riding trip is to not be killed by all the bullshit you strap to your motorcycle. I’ve dodged more than my share of tools, water bottles and other dangerous debris riding behind friends over the years and lost a few bits of my own along the way. Here’s a couple tips that might make things safer and more convenient for you and the people following behind you.

In the military, people who can’t keep their shit together get nicknamed “Yard Sale” or “Soup Sandwich”. To avoid ending up with one of these embarrassing monikers, one has to learn to bring only what’s needed and not be in a hurry to pack it.

1. Safety

If your gear feels loose, it is. You should be able to grab anything strapped to your bike and give it a decent tug. If it easily moves around, that’s what it’s going to do once you hit the road. Use high quality straps, and avoid bungees for anything major or heavy. There’s nothing wrong with deploying more straps than you need. They may come in handy later anyway. Think of the amount of air pushing on all that gear as you blast down the highway for hours at a time. Make sure all zippers and closures are tight, and face them away from the wind if possible. Recheck your load at every stop. Tighten down straps, look for loose ends dangling near the tire, etc. Your wheels and chain are hungry. More than one chopper hero has gone down when their shit got caught in the back sprocket. I’ve seen a single pair of surf trunks bring a bike to an immediate halt in the middle of a Mexican highway (Marco, you out there?) Likewise, a sloppy jacket hastily bungeed on a sissy bar jammed up in the rear wheel so hard once that we had to remove the wheel to get it out (remember that one, Eddie?). Make sure any loose ends on straps are tied up tight and can not rub against any of the spinning bits. Use the buddy system and always keep an eye on your riding partner’s gear, and make sure they are watching yours. If you see something getting loose or close to the wheel, lopsided, etc, wave ‘em over so they can fix it. That small hassle is way better than a big one if the offending gear gets wrapped around your chain at 80mph. Distribute the load as low and evenly as possible. Keep the heavy stuff like tools down low as possible to avoid changing the dynamic of the bike. Heavy stuff up high always tries to work it’s downward or off to one side, so pack it low and symmetrical. If you put all the weight on one side, it’ll all be hanging off in an hour. Put some stuff up on the bars/risers where you can see it, but not too much or it’ll affect the way the bike handles. Don’t put so much up there that you have a hard time seeing over/around it. That may sound dumb, but I’ve done it myself, so I know it’s possible. Doh! Reduce your kit. One of the best pre­flight measures you can take is to spread out all your gear on the floor or workbench before loading it. Then put about half of it back where you got it. The less you bring, the better your chances of keeping it all together. Share the load with your buddies if you are riding with friends. Chances are a group of four riders doesn’t need four individual stoves, so divvy up stuff like that instead of bringing more than the group needs.

2. Levels of Storage

Being able to access what you need with the least amount of hassle on the road is a skill that takes a little forethought. Dividing it all up into levels of storage reduces the chance of losing something or digging to the bottom of an otherwise nicely packed bag. Here’s the way I do it:

A) Immediate : This is the stuff I can grab without opening anything. It’s what I keep clipped on the outside of my bag or on my person: wallet, registration paperwork, multi­tool, pocket knife, sunscreen, phone, flash light, sun glasses and clears, shop rag or bandana, smokes, lighter. I usually wear a vest on a trip, not so much for fashion (I’m helpless in that department anyway) but so I can have all this crap on me and not sitting on any of it. No one wants to wait on you to get your credit card out of the bottom of a giant duffel at every gas stop and every time you dig into that gear there is a chance you’ll hurry through it and leave something undone.

B) Ready: You need to get at stuff like tools, oil, spare gas, and a water bottle with very little effort. So this stuff goes in outside pockets or top layers of your bag. I usually include a towel, trunks and flip flops in this category when weather looks nice. If there’s half a chance of rain or drastic weather changes, I’ll have rain gear and extra layers ready to go and easy to get to in a hurry. Likewise, if you start out early in the morning and need to shed layers in a couple hours, think ahead about where that stuff is going to go. I like to roll up a flannel or jacket and clip it to the front of my Exfil­7 bag on the handlebars so I can open two buckles and unroll what I need.

C) Buried: You really only need your tent, sleeping bag, food, cooking kit or change of clothes at the end of the day. This stuff can be buried a little deeper and harder to get to since you shouldn’t need it in an emergency or on the side of the road.

3. Adapt your Bike for Carrying Stuff

Build or buy a strong sissy bar and strap an appropriate amount of stuff to it. I’ve witnessed dudes putting a heavy gas can on a sissy built out of 1/2 rod and end up wearing it all a few hundred miles later when the thing gives out. Buy some decent throw over saddlebags and make sure they have mounts that keep ‘em out of the rear wheel. If you have a stock­ish bike, there are usually lots of aftermarket racks available. You need to carry at least basic tools so buy a decent tool bag that won’t give out from the weight. Don’t strap to things that get hot or have sharp edges. The best way to sort your kit is to go on the longest multi-
day trip you can afford and camp along the way. By the morning of about day four you will be donating junk you didn’t really need and you will have figured out what things belong in each level of storage. Don’t be afraid to watch some weathered road dog pack their kit in the morning, you might learn a trick or two. Remember, the tighter your gear is, the more time you have to enjoy the trip. Being thoughtful about how you pack not only keeps you safe, it keeps you from earning the “Yard Sale” nickname. 

More reading on the subject from my friend Kuda, who has logged way more miles than I ever will:

Chop Cult : Pack on the Road with Kuda

- Bill Bryant - Biltwell Inc.