Preparing for a motorbike road trip – packing

Harley-Davidson parked up and loaded with luggage outside the Eagle Rider rental centre in LA 700px

As well as containing your excitement ahead of a road trip abroad, it’s important to prepare before you depart and luggage is one of the most difficult aspects to get right.

That’s because despite motorbikes having numerous advantages over cars the most obvious downside is in terms of practicality when it comes to luggage.

Usually a ten-day holiday abroad would involve a fairly sizeable suitcase and some hand luggage but when you’re stuck on a bike your options are limited.

Nice to have or need to have?

There’s an important process you need to go through before you decide what’s making the cut for your road trip and that’s based on the above question.

When you’re looking at potential clothing you need to be brutal and emotions need to go out the window.

Forget how lovely you look in that three-piece suit, or how beautifully your new floor-length dress compliments your new wide brimmed hat; if you don’t need it you don’t take it.

How much space will I have?

Space will be of a premium on a motorbike but some models will give you more storage options than others.

Cruisers and tourers are some of the most spacious types of motorbike whereas 50cc mopeds and sportsbikes are obviously less practical – but you’re unlikely to go on a road trip on a Honda C90.

Regardless of size, most motorbikes can carry decent amounts of storage with between 40 and 60-litre pannier bags on each side.

While that might not be quite as much as you would normally take on holiday if you were travelling by plane, it’s enough for the necessities.

Harley Davidson Street Glide with panniers

What’s in our bag?

The Bike Insurer photographer, Dave Jackson, is off to America on Sunday on an epic road trip across the West Coast of America.

It’s a ten-day tour and Dave has had to adhere to the above rules to fill two panniers and a rucksack for his stateside jaunt. That means Dave’s going to have to leave his winkle pickers and favourite Stetson hat at home.

Dave said: “Travelling for 10 days would normally involve a suitcase of decent size but because I do not know the size of the panniers on my Harley until I get there, I have decided to go with a collapsible hold all and my camera bag to keep things light.”

Dave's bags for his USA road trip

“The hold all folds down flat – which should save pannier space when I get to packing my motorbike up for leg one of the journey.

“I’ll be taking underwear and socks, unsurprisingly, while limiting myself to one t-shirt a day (plus a couple of spares). I’ll also be taking some long sleeve shirts as well as a couple of pairs of jeans and shoes for evening wear as well.

“I’ve got my riding jacket to keep warm and a couple of hoodies and fleeces too.”

Riding gear

On a trip like Dave’s where he’s crossing lots of different landscapes in spring time, it’s difficult to judge the weather.

In the desert it’s likely to be sunny and hot but cold at night, while on the coast he could get the same weather.

He’s up in the mountains for one leg of the journey too where the days are going to be cold and there’s still snow on the ground.

“I’ve got to cover all bases really,” said Dave. “So I’m packing lightweight gloves as well as winter gloves. I’ll be taking a waterproof jacket on top of my leather one and a neck warmer too.

“I’ve got a pair of ankle cut riding boots for my feet which should hopefully cover me for all weather but I’m feeling optimistic so if there’s room I’ll be putting a pair of swimming shorts and sunglasses in as well.

“I’m lucky as well because my helmet is being provided by Eagle Rider – the company I’m touring with – so I pick that up when I’m there, saving on space.”

Dave's jacket and boots for his USA road trip

It’s best to travel light, particularly if you can’t do practice runs on packing and filling your panniers, as is the case if you’re renting a bike and panniers for your road trip.

If you can practice packing your bike before you travel then that’s ideal and worth doing to get an idea of what you can fit in your panniers.

What you need to do is make sure your travel insurance covers you for the right motorbike use while you are away. Follow the link to read our guide on travel insurance for road trips.

Next page: What do I need to ride my motorcycle abroad?