Is Motorcycle Camping For You?

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Karen Parks

Having covered a number of the "do's and don'ts" novice campers should be aware of in the last issue, we focus in this installment on 10 topics worth considering to enhance all of your motorcycle camping experiences.

Step 1 - Start Out Modestly
You've decided to try motorcycle camping, but please don't go overboard by spending a lot of money on all of the latest camping equipment and planning a seven-day excursion for your first trip. On that first trip: (1) travel light - buy or borrow just enough equipment for a one-night outing at a location familiar to you; (2) reduce trip complexity by not cooking, and eat your meals at restaurants; and (3) don't venture too far from home, just in case your first camping experience goes badly and you want to make a quick return. This strategy keeps you from investing too much money in gear before learning whether motorcycle camping is for you. On future trips, develop your knowledge and skills, and gradually increase the length, duration, and complexity of camping trips.

Step 2 - Plan Carefully
Because a motorcycle has limited carrying capacity, take everything you will need but nothing more. Motorcycle camping is essentially backpacking on two wheels; so going through a carefully thought out checklist is essential. Several websites for checklists are included below, but some of those lists are much too extensive. For example, do you really need, or even want, to take your laptop computer or PDA on a camping trip if your goal is to get away from it all? To refine your checklist during your trip, make a note of the things you needed, but didn't bring, and the things you brought but didn't really need.

Before setting out on a motorcycle camping trip, it's advisable to check the extended weather forecast. If persistent rain or severe conditions are likely, reschedule.


Step 3 - Check Your Gear Before Leaving Home
To avoid becoming the primary source of entertainment at the campground, familiarize yourself with how all of your camping equipment works before leaving home. Set up your tent in the backyard; figure out how the stove works and cook something on it; try out your sleeping pad and sleeping bag; and, using your checklist, assemble and inventory all of your gear to see if anything is missing.

Step 4 - Packing
Don't overload the motorcycle. It's a good idea to pack your camping equipment and other travel items first in hard saddlebags and a top case, if you have them. Additional items should be packed in a single waterproof bag tightly secured to the motorcycle. For items that absolutely have to stay dry, like camera equipment, encase them in zip-lock freezer bags. As a rule, heavier items should be stored as low as possible and forward of the rear wheel. The day before you're scheduled to leave, pack the bike, and take a local test ride to make sure the bike handles safely and that all items are well secured.

Step 5 - Match the Campsite to Your Needs
Motorcycle campers should know in advance where they plan on staying each night of the trip. Reservations, when available, assure a place to camp, especially if there's a possibility of arriving late in the day. Recommended campgrounds for beginners should have running water, preferably at the campsite, toilets, and showers. Gain more experience if you want to do some "rough" camping, without any campsite amenities. Refer to the list below for motorcycle-only and motorcycle-friendly campgrounds you might try. But be careful when entering the mixed-use campgrounds, because roads easily negotiated by a four-wheeled vehicle may be treacherous for a heavily loaded street bike.

Good site selection is also important. The intended location of your tent should be as level and smooth as possible, and it should be free of any obvious pests (ants or any other small carnivorous critters). To help ensure a good night's sleep, try to locate as far away as possible from potential sources of light and noise. Camping close to the bathrooms may seem like a good idea, but they are usually lighted and a source of pedestrian traffic throughout the night. And, finally, if other campers have passed up a site that seems too good to be true, there is probably a good reason - choose carefully!

Step 6 - Clothing
The type of clothing brought will depend on your planned off-bike activities, like hiking, or eating at a nice restaurant, and the range of temperatures expected during your trip. You should bring shower shoes or rubber booties for showering, and having a light windbreaker is always a good idea. Garments made of synthetic materials are generally better for camping and riding than those made from cotton. Light synthetic materials dry quickly, compress easily for packing, keep you cooler on hot days, and can be layered for warmth when the weather turns cold. Motorcycle rain gear is usually sufficient protection for rainy weather in camp, but some type of waterproof hat might be added to your wet weather ensemble.


Step 7 - Don't Skimp on Shelter
I've read about minimalist motorcycle campers who sleep under an old shower curtain or with no shelter at all. I don't see the point, particularly when reasonably priced, lightweight tents are available. The rule of thumb on tents for motorcycle camping is to buy one with the capacity to hold one person more than will be sleeping in it. A two-person tent, for example, allows a lone camper to stow his or her gear safely inside and out of the weather. My preference is to have a side-entry dome tent with a waterproof bottom and separate rain fly. And, don't forget to protect the bottom of your tent with some type of ground cover. Investing in a good tent helps ensure that you'll be dry and not snuggling up with any uninvited, squiggly guests.

Step 8 - Comfortable Bedding
If others tell you that real bikers sleep on the ground, just say you're happy for them and then go buy a quality sleeping pad. My favorite is the Therm-a-Rest® brand that self inflates. Because I'm a side sleeper, I bought the thickest, full-length model I could find, which takes up a little more space than the thinner ones - but for me it's worth it.

Carrying a sleeping bag, even in warm weather, is a smart strategy because an unexpected cold front can cause temperatures to plummet and there is nothing worse than shivering through a long, cold night in your tent. A good down or synthetic mummy bag rolls up, packs to the size of a Butterball® turkey, and provides warmth down to 20 degrees.

Although you have a dry and comfortable place to spend the night, sleep, sometimes, may not come easily. To mute any disturbing noises from man or Mother Nature, just insert your earplugs and close your eyes.

Step 9 - Meal Planning
Portable meals have come a long way since the days when I was wandering in the woods with the Army. Now we just add water to a freeze-dried meal package and, voila, even I can fix a gourmet meal on a camping trip. Before leaving home, though, it's smart to plan which meals you expect to prepare versus those you'll eat in a restaurant. Although there's no need to pack the trip's complete food supply before first setting out, anticipating and bringing the cooking equipment, condiments, and other related items needed is good planning. It's also wise to pack water-purification tablets in case you have doubts about the potable quality of any campground water.

Step 10 - Relax, Have Fun
If your first few trips aren't all you thought they would be, relax and know that, with more experience, all aspects of motorcycle camping eventually become second nature and more enjoyable. You will learn new strategies and techniques on every trip that will enhance your camping skills for future trips. Remember, part of the fun is being prepared for, and experiencing, the unexpected, and then recounting your adventures with other motorcycle campers.

Good luck and safe travels. I hope to share a campfire with you somewhere down the road.

RESOURCES FOR MOTORCYCLE CAMPERS

Topic
Company/Organization/Author
Web Address/Title
Camping Equipment Suppliers Aerostich RiderWearHouse
Recreational Equipment Inc.
Therm-a-Rest
Whitehorse Press

www.aerostich.com
www.rei.com
www.thermarest.com
www.whitehorsepress.com

Motorcycle Camping Guides

Bob Woofter

BMW Motorcycle Owners of America
Bill Johns' Excellent Motorcycle Camping Guide

Motorcycle Camping Made Easy
(ISBN 1-884313-33-7, $ 19.95)
www.bmwmoa.org/camping
www.wetleather.com/reference/camping.html

Motorcycle Camping Checklists

River City Beemers
EasyReader Tourguide

H. Marc Lewis

www.rcb.org
www.members.aol.com/easyreadertg/thelist.html
www.micapeak.com/info/mclist.html

Motorcycle Friendly Campground Lists

Traveling Bikers

CycleFish

Kampgrounds of America

www.travelingbikers.com/accommodations.html
www.cyclefish.com/motorcycle_camping.asp
www.koa.com