At some point shortly after you pass your bike test, the idea of riding off for anything from a long weekend to several months will start to seem like a good idea. And it is. The longer you have to think about it, however, the more likely you are to fall into the classic trap; over-packing. If your trip is a few months away, and you have a bit of spare cash, you may well find yourself poring over catalogues and various websites, ogling the fantastic range of shiny things designed to make you entirely self-sufficient while on the road.
If you possibly can, try to remember that everything you carry will slow you down and make your bike more difficult to handle; if you’re going to ride to North Wales for a couple of weeks, you absolutely do not need a mosquito net. There’s no need to be embarrassed; everyone does it, including people who’ve ridden round the world more than once. The trick is to remember that everyone regrets it. You can ride almost anywhere with one change of clothes, a toothbrush and a credit card, and if you use that as your yardstick, you may be the first person ever to set off without an over-packed bike.
The first thing to consider is luggage. Whatever you take must be securely attached to the bike, for obvious safety reasons. A good quality topbox may be all you need for a shorter trip, perhaps coupled with a backpack. If you absolutely must have panniers, you’ll need to decide on hard or soft luggage. Metal boxes will make you feel like a proper adventurer, and can offer extra security, though some people consider soft luggage to be safer in the event of a crash. A classic over-packing error after you fit luggage is to think: “Great! Now I can put another bag of stuff on top!”. On the up-side, you’ll be able to bring more items home from the supermarket when the trip’s over.
One advantage of having a reasonable amount of carrying ability is that you can bring a lightweight tent and sleeping bag, so that trips in the UK and Europe will instantly become cheaper. The big danger here is that people start buying cookers, pots and pans and all the myriad other items that are available for the modern camper. If you’re going to be in the wilderness for 18 months, fair enough.
Tools and Spares
A puncture repair kit (and some knowledge of how to use it), some spare bulbs and fuses, and perhaps a spare clutch cable are useful and reassuring things to have, but again, if your bike is in good order and you’re staying in the UK (or even Europe), anything more is unnecessary if you’re a member of a breakdown service.
Different people will tell you different things about what they consider essential for a trip of a few months or more, and much of it depends on where you’re going. Can you buy what you might need on the way? A multi-tool and a first-aid kit are always good ideas, as is a decent guide book (perhaps an electronic version). It’s worth thinking about fitting a 12 volt cigarette-lighter output if you have several devices to charge. Extra fuel cans, while they look cool, are almost always excess to requirements; you can ride from London to – at least – Cameroon these days without them! Whatever you pack, ride the bike close to home, with everything on it, at least a week before you go. You’ll undoubtedly decide to leave some of it at home…