Long-distance motorcycle riding has been and will always be one of the favorite modes of adventure travel of young and old alike. Almost everyone who has read or seen Motorcycle Diaries has wanted to pack their life in saddlebags and get on their bike to travel and explore the vast spaces that this beautiful world has to offer.
Adventurous though it might sound, long-distance motorcycle riding is a risk sport. There have been several cases where even seasoned riders have met with unfortunate circumstances. It is always better, hence, to make all the necessary preparations when one decides to go on such an adventure.
One thing all motorcycle riders agree upon is the importance of fixing your luggage properly. A free backpack’s strap, a not so good bungee cord, unevenly distributed load, can lead to a disastrous end. Personally, I have lost a close friend because he was unable to balance his overloaded bike on a busy expressway. One must not make this sport more dangerous than it already is by not taking the required precautions and measures.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
How to prepare for long-distance motorcycle riding?
To prepare properly, one must be aware of the geography and weather of the route as well as the destination. Also, the route that leads you there must be reviewed properly. I remember my all-India solo road trip which started in Dehradun during December. So you can very well imagine the kind of attire I started with when traveling. I looked like an Eskimo at the start and had to strip down to a vest by the time I reached Goa.
Once you complete the due diligence regarding the weather, etc., then comes the packing list. You can broadly divide the packing list into four categories – Clothing, personal usage, first aid, and motorcycle spares and accessories. Clothing will vary based on the route and destination.
Personal usage varies from person to person. Keep it light – don’t pack your hairdryer. Bike accessories will take a lot of space and are also heavy, so save the limited space and carrying capacity that you have on your bike.
The first-aid kit is also a very standard item. Make sure you pack medicines that help you deal with AMS if you are planning for a high altitude trip. Diamox has been the pet medicine for the same for as long as I could remember).
Refrain from using a big plastic first aid box – it usually takes a lot of space. Pack the medicines in the side pocket or tie it in a carry bag so that it takes less space.
Spares and accessories
The spares and accessories one needs to carry also depend on the place they will travel to and the places they will travel through. In case we are traveling through cities or towns and never venture too far from expressways and highways, we can refrain from packing a lot of accessories or spares.
If we plan to go off-roading into the less-traveled parts, we must be exhaustive as far as our spares and accessories packing list is concerned. Your list must include (not limited to) spare clutch wire, break wire, accelerator wire, spark plug, tool kit, puncture stickers, headlight bulb, taillight bulb, engine oil, and tire tube.
A motorcycle air pump is also a smart item to carry – in case you are traveling with a group, one member of the team can carry the same, and some of his or her load you may distribute to keep the bike load in check.
A mechanic once suggested (forced me rather) into carrying a chain lubricant spray, and it was beneficial during my travels, especially during my off-road adventures. Bike tow chain is also one of the essential items and can come in handy in case your fellow rider gets into some problem that you may not be able to fix on the road.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Bungee Cords – cross and straight
Bungee cords, in my opinion, are indispensable as far as long-distance motorcycle riding is concerned. None of the ropes of any kind can do what a bungee cord can. Buy a good quality bungee cord (branded) even if it costs way higher than local ones.
Treat it as a one-time investment, but treat the bungee cord as seriously as you would treat your bike. Sometimes, the rope might tear, leading to the dropping of luggage from the bike.
One of my friends lost his favorite riding jacket on his trip to the easternmost point of India. He lost his jacket on the highway before reaching Guwahati.
A quick quality check for the bungee cords – when there is the load on the hooks, they should not flatten. You may also use the bungee cord as a makeshift tow chain. A friend of mine had to pull a Royal Enfield Classic 350 with his Pulsar 200 using two bungee cords for close to 100 km from Tanglangla to Leh.
Mind you, he is a solo rider and did this for an unknown riding enthusiast. We must understand that riding a community is a brotherhood, and we should not shy away from helping one another during long-distance motorcycle riding. ]
I can never forget all the thumbs up I have received from other riders on every adventure I have gone to in the Himalayas. We should and must help one another on these adventures.
There are two kinds of bungee cords available – round and flat. Flat bungees are more durable and longer. You can find flat bungees at any Studds dealer whereas good quality round bungee cords are available at almost all adventure goods stores such as Decathalon etc.
Your Ride – the bike
No matter what condition your bike is in, we must get the motorcycle checked and serviced exhaustively before going on any long-distance motorcycle riding. Take the bike to a trusted service center and make a good note of the recommendations given by the mechanic. We must do the same once we get back from the road trip.
It is always better if we go to authorized service centers for the review and servicing, but in case we know someone who is an expert for our bike’s make, we can go for the same as well. I met an expert like that on my all India road solo road trip while crossing Indore.
He spent a whole day with my ride (a Royal Enfield Thunderbird – 350) and turned my ride into a dream after that. I had a not so good encounter at an authorized Royal Enfield service center at Nagpur, so you never know who is good at their job and who is not, so go for trusted names. There are plenty of forums where we can find service centers recommended by riders; it’s always a good help.
Before we start loading our bike for the journey, it is important to know how much weight our bike can carry. For most bikes, the allowable load is around 200 kgs. However, it is wise to check the load for your specific bike. The GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is the maximum total weight recommended by the manufacturer.
It includes the weight of the rider, pillion, and luggage. The GVWR is mentioned in the service/ owner handbook and also on the steering head of the motorcycle. If we deduct the weight of the motorcycle from the GVWR, we get the allowable luggage weight that we can carry on the bike.
Please note that we should not exceed the allowable limit in any case. I learned it practically during my Leh-Laddakh road trip.
I had a 100 kgs pillion on my bike along with our luggage. After crossing Rohtang (which was very rough at that time), I went into a deep bump, and one of the spokes of my rear wheel broke.
By the time I reached Pang eight spokes had broken, I had to get rid of the pillion, the luggage and needed to get the spokes brazed at Leh. I managed to find a new wheel at Udhampur on my way back so we must take note of the weight the bike can carry.
Loading the bike for long-distance motorcycle riding
Weight distribution is the key point to note while loading the bike. If we are packing our luggage in saddlebags, we need to make sure the weight is somewhat similar on both sides. However, if we are using a Laddakh carrier, we must avoid loading the carrier with a heavy item near the tail.
We must concentrate the weight on the sides near the shockers. We should adjust the shocker setting manually as per the weight on the bike. Once we position the luggage on the bike, we should use the bungee cords to fix the bags in place. Make sure the bungee cords are as tight as physically possible.
During long-distance motorcycle riding, the luggage re-adjusts, which leads to the cords getting loose, so we should check the cords whenever we stop for a break.
It is always recommended that we cover the bags with a rain cover and use the bungee cord to fix that as well. It helps protects the stuff in case of rains and is also a safety measure against theft.
Several riders (myself included) have lost a lot of stuff ranging from tool kits, first aid boxes to toiletries, and all of them had one thing in common – they were either packed in the outer pockets or just slid under the bungee cords. Don’t do that, be smart and cover your luggage with a waterproof cover.
To be honest, bike riding has been my favorite sport for as long as I can remember. The feeling of freedom that it gives me, I cannot compare with anything I have done or experienced.
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While traveling through India on my all India road trip, I felt the weather change, the soil change, the language change, the people change, but I was connecting with everyone and everything on a different level. It was a surreal experience. Happy tripping…