With space and weight at a premium on your motorcycle, shouldn’t everything you carry perform a double duty?
A satellite navigation device
We like the trusty TomTom Rider 400 (reviewed here) although we don’t solely rely on the device–paper maps remain king. But it won’t take long to realise that a GPS, whichever make or model, will take the stress out of navigating unfamiliar places. Most GPSs are able to source the nearest petrol station, bank or lodging for example, plus countless other points of interest, which will prove priceless at the end of many a long day in the saddle. A worthy investment if you’re not keen on wasting time getting heinously lost, your eyesight is not what it once was or you like the peace of mind that you can always pinpoint your location in the event of an emergency or disaster.
Beer can stove
A stove can be made from any regular aluminium soft drinks / soda / beer can, fueled by at least 90 per cent pure / rubbing alcohol sourced from most pharmacies and supermarkets. Genius idea and incredibly cheap to run, prevents your food taking on the nasties from other petrol-fuelled stoves too.
We used a long length of elastic and ‘ripstop’ fabric to make our homemade motorcycle covers, traditionally used in the making of parachutes. We fed the elastic through the bottom of a hem so they would cling onto the bottom of the bikes without fear of them being blown away in a gusty wind. The fabric is not rainproof although it will admirably protect your motorbike from the elements; sand, dust, snow, volcanic ash etc.
They also come in handy when you need to leave your bike unattended. The covers make our motorcycles practically invisible. The prying and over-curious eye is simply not drawn to two relatively big BMWs underneath as the covers give them both an indistinct entity. Perfect in developing countries or any big city you just don’t fancy pushing your luck. Furthermore, because of their size, the covers fit amply over hostel bed mattresses that look like they’ve seen cleaner days. They also stash up into a corner of a roll bag without taking too much bulky space and can even be used as a comfy pillow.
Luggage: dry, roll, garbage and zip-lock bags
In all sizes – keeping your stuff soggy-free and bone-dry at all times is essential, especially in the rainy season or over river-crossings. We find a 90 litre Ortlieb roll bag and thinner Exped dry bags in varying sizes keep our equipment, provisions, clothes and tech watertight and away from all the other dusty and sandy delights you encounter en route. I also love using lockable freezer bags as another layer of waterproof protection for my smaller items such as the rechargeable batteries, head torch, paperwork and wads of money travellers need to carry from country to country. Although the Exped bags are brilliant, they will be susceptible to wear and tear, some of ours have incurred little rips in them from all the bashing they endure when we’re off road.
Hard or soft luggage, it’s a toughy! For the first 33,000 miles through 21 countries over 21 months of the trip, we each opted for a pair of Metal Mule 38 litre hard aluminium panniers (reviewed here). They’ve been bullet proof, have saved our legs when the bike goes down as well as the engine on my bike that doesn’t have crash bars. They offer instant security if you’re carrying more than a tank bag’s worth of expensive items, no one has a clue what’s contained inside and they can also be used as a safe locked to hostel beds with an additional lock.
However, for the second leg of the trip, we’ve gone soft in our old age and opted for saddlebags (first impressions here). Best features so far include: increased safety on and off road; when I hit something, I’m less likely to be fetched off my bike. I’ve shaved a significant amount of weight from my load, making the bike noticeably easier to handle off road. I can squeeze into smaller gaps, now that I’ve decreased my overall width. They’re no less waterproof than my hard panniers, in fact I’d argue that upon pranging my hard panniers, which left a dent and permanently interrupted the seal, the soft bags more waterproof than the aluminium boxes, even when I’ve pranged them just as spectacularly.
In the hopefully unlikely event of getting mugged, I like the idea of being able to reach for a ‘mugger’s wallet’ containing a small amount of the local currency in the country I’m travelling. It may just satisfy his or her instant gratification requirements keeping the bulk of your hard-earned dollar away from the robber’s hands.
Tape: duct, brown or parcel
How many times have I experienced a lid from a bottle that’s come loose and spilled all the contents of my bag or pannier? Use parcel or duct tape on practically everything to prevent untimely spillages: toiletries in general, jam jars, opened sachets of wet and dry food, milk bottles and cartons…you get the drift. I use tape on the end of the lead that connects to my heated clothing, which when not in use sits exposed. It saves the rain and dust perishing it. I also like having a roll of strong clear tape on me too, I can repair rips in our maps and protect my pannier stickers.
Free mobile phone applications
– The free ‘European Road Safety’ app contains all important road safety rules. Going to play in Europe? What is the speed limit on Spanish motorways? Do I need to wear a helmet when I cycle in Sweden? Download it before going abroad and save on roaming charges too. We rode from Nottingham to Antwerp via the Euro Tunnel to catch a container ship in Belgium, with our bikes taking us to Uruguay; having the ‘European Road Safety’ app proved useful.
– We also LOVE ‘Maps with me’ for detailed maps worldwide and its fabulously useful functions to search for local banks, hostels, camping etc. It’s amazing how often this comes in handy to supplement the detail on the SatNav.
– ‘Skycode Translate‘ is great for many language translations, an app that works offline and will translate paragraphs not just words. Plus, I’ve always liked having an offline dictionary in the local lingo (most are free). Saves weight and bulk in the panniers too.
– There’s also ‘Word Lens‘ that allows you to hover the camera on your mobile phone over some foreign text – a road sign or menu for example and it will transform the language into English for you. Just like that.
– I use ‘iTorch‘ as a strong illuminating beam when my head torch’s packed.
– I also tap into using ‘Duolingo‘ to help with my Spanish.
Believe it or not, there are 27 survival uses for dental floss. Personally, we use dental floss not just to maintain our dental hygiene, which is important when access to a dentist on the road is often slim to nil, but as an ideal and strong material to substitute sewing thread for repairing items such as putting a button back on, darning your socks, cutting through cheese if you haven’t a knife handy, holes in the tent, repairing backpacks, wrapping up parcels, fishing line alternative, hanging items from a tree, a clothes line…the list is endless.
Motion Pro trail tool
Unquestionably, one of the finest all purpose tools ever engineered. One of these and a Leatherman will dismantle just about anything, including parts on 80 per cent of motorcycles. It weighs practically nothing, packs down to even less and sublimely substitutes the need for a bag of other tools.
We’re both wearing Sidi Adventure motorcycle boots as loathe the prospect of having wet feet all day. Saves having to don expensive breathable waterproof socks too, which although are superb in serving their purpose, will get smelly soon enough and at some point will need a fresh pair. I don’t want my feet to sweat either by wearing plastic bags. The Sidi boots offer amazing protection in all weathers and on the odd occasion I fall underneath or off my bike. They’re comfortable to wear astride the saddle all day although I wouldn’t climb a mountain in them.
Anyone nesh travelling in nippy temperatures on two wheels should consider making the investment in heated clothing. We adore our Gerbing gloves and jacket; the heat allows us to ride for hours in sometimes sub-zero degrees and biting winds without batting an eyelid. Biking bliss in days when you get all seasons. And worth every penny. Gerbing offer a lifetime guarantee too on all the heating elements, which is a Brucey Bonus.
The sun’s beating down like a fiery hot hammer and the temperatures are searing sometimes. Regardless whether it’s rain, hail or shine, I wouldn’t be without my hydration pack (reviewed here), a lightweight rucksack that houses 3 litres of water contained in a durable bladder. The system feeds into a valved hose that falls neatly over my right shoulder, ready for when I’m thirsty. The pack has just enough room for a light lunch, tissues and suncream. Perfect. Hydration levels safely attended, I am good to go for hours at a time without having to unpack the pannier and grab a drink to repack the pannier. This slim little bag is also invaluable on day walks and short sorties.