Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Motorcycle-Enforced Minimalism

In my recent musings on the subject of motorcycle luggage, I think I mentioned my main annoyance with the various options available is the hassle of carrying stuff around. Having my hands full with a helmet, gloves and a bag of some sort drives me nuts. As such, I've got a very minimal list of things I bring with me, and every single one of those items has been closely examined. Each item has to prove its utility, or it's getting left in the garage.

My motorcycling habit forces me to consider what is essential, and what is superfluous. I think it's great.

Back in those dark days before I owned a motorcycle, I made do with the Rat Buick. It was a great car - you know, for a car - and it had an absolutely enormous trunk. You know those mob movies where they've got three bodies and a 55 gallon drum of lye in the trunk? That's how big the trunk of the Buick was.

It rapidly became my rolling storage solution. That might have been a good thing if all my trunk space were filled with items of utility. But, really, it was a bunch of stuff I meant to bring to Goodwill and various trash I'd been too lazy to throw away.

I don't have anything I've been too lazy to get rid of with me when I ride the Triumph.

I'm planning to do some motorcycle camping this summer, with at least one extended trip to Colorado, as well as some backpacking (hopefully)*. As such, I've been researching what is needed and what is extra weight, and the best way to haul the gear I need around on the Triumph. What I've discovered is that what one needs, and what one wants is the difference between 30 pounds of gear and 50 pounds.

The thought of schlepping an extra twenty pounds around is enough to make me consider every item and its proper stowage twice. I'd rather carry the stuff I know I need, and maybe one or two luxury (sanity) items than a bunch of crap I think I might want. And riding to work every day will make items with no purpose immediately apparent.

*I know a couple of you are backpackers. Do any of you use your motorcycle to go backpacking? If so, how do you manage your pack on the bike?


682202 said...


I'm not an expert by any means on the subject at hand, but do have some experience. I have struggled with packing a motorcycle to travel across the country and to the next county, both one-up and two-up. The couple of things I have found are;

The smaller and lighter (good for the bike) the gear the more expensive it is. Actually it is exponentially more expensive. Take for example a Therm-a-Rest Neo mattress weights 14oz and packs to 4in X 9in and can cost as much as $169 compared to a Therm-a-rest trail mattress weights 1 1/2 pounds and packs 4in X 22in but cost less than $40.

Smaller and lighter are not always the best way either. I liked to froze using a 50 degree sleeping bag some years ago traveling to Montana. One day it would be so hot I couldn't stand being in the tent and the next I was so cold I thought I would get frost bite.

Clothes are terrible space hogs and heavy, so the fewer changes the better. Just wear them until you can't stand your own smell then change and wash them. That can also keep you from getting into a long drawn out conversation with the locals. You don't want to interact with the locals right ;-)

Just my 2 cents. Let us know if you figure it out.


bobskoot said...


I'm on the other extreme which is why I have side cases and top box on my V-strom. I never have to carry anything. I lock everything up into the cases and know it is secure. I also park in very visible areas even if I have to park farther away. I know I have too much stuff so I will take your advice and pare down a bit. I used to take a change of clothes for each day. Now I just pack one t-shirt for every two days. I'm still learning . . .

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

irondad said...

I don't have any useful advice, Lucky. But I do thank you for starting this train of thought earlier. I woke up one day and realized I used to travel a whole lot lighter.

It's probably time to go back and re-evaluate. You're the man, even if you didn't know it!

Lucky said...

682202 - Thanks for the advice. Yeah, I've gathered that light=money. And clothes take up way too much room... With just a spare t-shirt, I could probably fit everything I need for a couple days in my tank-bag (not including any camping gear).

bobskoot - I have to admit, locking cases on the bike sound awfully luxurious. Almost sinful. So far as I can tell, however, there's not much available for the Speed Four in the way of hard luggage.

Irondad - Well, you've got like 80 square feet of storage on your current bike. I've found that if the space is available, it will be filled. I can see the advantage to lots of space, though. I mean, you've probably got enough room to bring Katie and her gear as well as yours on an overnight trip.

GPtuners said...


Here's a few links to get some lockable space. The first is a guy that has a clean solution. The second is the Renntec website. The case of your choice usually comes with different mounting options.

Hopefully that helps.


kathy said...

Being female presents a whole different packing dynamic. Every trip i figure out that i can get by with less. For us fashionistas out there, packing one color scheme helps - think basic black. T-shirts and boots work most of the time, but sometimes a girl just needs her pearls and heels and some dress-up clothes. For weekend or longer trips I use my rather large T-bag with wheels that I strap on like a passenger and use it as a backrest. It's big enough to hold everything including my computer. When i stop, it detaches easily and i just roll it in to wherever I'm going. I'm still trying to find a good packing solution for my camera and lenses so they're not so jostled, easily retrieved and stay on my person at stops. So far my large Kuryakan tank bag with shoulder strap works pretty well with a bit of extra padding. Next trip I'm going to try out a messenger style camera bag and see how long it takes before i stash it in the tank bag. The real packing challenge is for colder weather trips - all that bulk and where do you put shed layers?

Stacy said...

Most modern backpacking packs don't have completely rigid frames. If I were planning a backpacking trip with my bike as the means of getting to the trailhead, I'd take my empty pack and stuff it flat into my drybag. Then, I'd pack the tent, sleeping pad, cookset, and other gear into the drybag (or on the bike itself). Hard side cases would be ideal, because I wouldn't want to take empty saddlebags with me on the trail and I'm not sure I'd want to leave anything on the bike.

Which brings me to the reason why I haven't backpacked via motorbike yet: I'm not convinced I'd feel safe leaving my bike unattended for days at some trailhead. It's far too easy for a couple of guys and a pickup truck to ruin your day.

Mark Spearman said...

The most useful pieces of luggage for me are the backpack that straps to my sissy bar and the tank bag.

The backpack has shoulder straps, but they're cheap and it's certainly not meant for hiking. If they made one of these with any qualities that backpackers needed, they would be perfect, just only hike where you can chain your bike at near the Ranger's office.

So far, nobody has ever messed with my sissy bar backback. It does have a wire cable to lock it with and the zipper locks, but no real security. I take anything valuable with me in the tank bag.