Touring Tip: The Pre-Ride Checklist

Jul 08, 2016 View Comments by

Airline pilots rely on pre-flight checklists to help ensure a safe flight, and motorcyclists should rely on one for a safe tour. Let’s assume that you have already decided where you’re going on your multi-day trip and, as discussed last month, have given your mount a thorough pre-departure mechanical check. Now it’s time to decide what to take. Here too, a checklist can be helpful in deciding what to pack and making sure everything has, in fact, been loaded onto the bike.

Pre-Ride Checklist

Taking too little or the wrong items can pose certain risks, and taking too much can make the daily loading and unloading a hassle. Less seasoned moto-tourists are often overly optimistic about what they will have time for or have cause to use while traveling. Even if a particular motorcycle does have voluminous luggage capacity, there’s still a maximum load limitation specified for each bike (which can be found in the Owner’s Manual). Figuring out just the right balance of what’s truly needed on a motorcycle trip is part science and part art, but also it also involves a lot of personal preference.

Probably the nearest parallel to traveling by motorcycle is backpacking or bicycle travel. Minimum weight and bulk, and multi-use items, are the packing priorities. Because we’re traveling at highway speeds with our luggage, it’s important that everything taken be stowed in cases, bags, or is otherwise securely attached to the bike. Bulky items can use up valuable luggage space and may be harder to secure safely.

While I can’t tell you precisely what should be on your pre-ride checklist, I generally include the following items on mine:

  1. Riding/Protective Gear: It goes without saying that we at RoadRUNNER always ride with full protective gear. In addition, I always take earplugs, full rain gear— including waterproof shells for my gloves—and an extra pair of riding gloves. Depending on weather and other riding conditions, I also may bring jacket and pants liners, heated gear, a neck warmer, and drinking water.
  2. Clothing: Donning and removing layers of synthetic clothing, particularly on the upper body, is usually a good way to regulate riding comfort when temperatures fluctuate between morning and dusk, and for changing elevations. On longer trips, I wash clothes to cut down on the volume. I also pack one pair of casual pants, a polo-type shirt, and, if storage space allows, a pair of comfortable shoes.
  3. Navigational Aids: For most trips, I download the intended route from my computer to my GPS and then mount the GPS on my bike. For backup, I also take paper maps of the route, because the GPS sometimes gets confused and so do I without the physical maps.
  4. Camera Equipment: Since most of my travel either requires photography or I simply want a camera along in case an interesting photo opportunity presents itself, I include at least one camera and related equipment in my luggage.
  5. Personal Identification and Health Information: Unfortunately, illness or accidents can happen on a road trip. Consequently, it’s important to have critical health information available for emergency professionals. This includes a list of any drug allergies, blood type, daily medications, etc. Of course, riders should always carry their driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance policy information, health insurance cards, and emergency contact numbers.
  6. Personal Hygiene Items and Medications: An overnight kit with toiletries, pain relievers, allergy pills, and daily medications should be on the pre-ride checklist. Over time my kit tends to accumulate duplicates and other detritus. I do an inventory and repacking before each trip to keep it lean.
  7. Cell Phone and Charger: You’ve probably heard the bromide that all riders really need on a motorcycle trip is a cell phone and a credit card. Today’s smartphones, however, can do so much more than just make a call. They can be used for checking weather radar, making/canceling reservations while on the road, sending text messages, finding local motorcycle repair shops, pharmacies, or gas stations, or mapping a new route if the GPS fails. Of course these capabilities all evaporate if you forget to bring the battery charger!
  8. Credit and Debit Cards and Extra Cash: Credit cards have become a must-have on any road trip. But I’ve experienced situations where a cash machine wouldn’t accept my card, another ate my card during non-operating hours, and a foreign transaction triggered a hold on my account. And, of course, there’s always the risk of theft. For these reasons, I always have an extra credit card and some cash stored in a hidden location. I also take a list of my credit cards, their numbers, and the 800-telephone number for each credit card company.
  9. iPad/Laptop: When storage space is limited, I often use an iPad instead of a laptop, to digitally back-up photos, write notes about my trip, and, if needed, research local people, places, and things.
  10. Tools, Manuals, etc: As motorcycles have become more technologically sophisticated and reliable, the need to make repairs while on the road has diminished. The contents of toolkits found on new bikes have also diminished. I usually supplement the factory toolkit with the following items, particularly on longer trips:
  • Tire repair kit (tube or tubeless)
  • An extra front inner tube (because it can be used in either the front or back tube type tire), along with the necessary tire changing tools
  • Sockets and ratchet
  • Extra spark plugs and wrench
  • Hex head or Torx, Philips, or slot bits (depending on what the bike requires), which will fit either on a socket wrench or in an accommodating screw driver
  • Chain lubricant
  • Extra bulbs for head and tail lights and turn indicators
  • Air pressure gauge
  • Owner’s Manual
  • Duct tape
  • Spare ignition key
  • Proof of insurance

However, riders should pack only those additional tools that they can personally use to fix a problem. Otherwise, what’s the point of carrying the extra weight?

When actually constructing your pre-ride list, here are a few additional practical suggestions:

  1. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Before starting your own list, consult lists others have used. Google “motorcycle packing lists” and you’ll find many examples.
  2. Remember, Less is More: The golden rule of motorcycle trip packing is, “Take only what you will need and nothing more.” Less stuff packed = more fun on the trip.
  3. Use Different Lists for Different Activities: Depending on what your additional planned activities are on the bike trip, it may make sense to have several independent lists. For example, start with a base list for any motorcycle travel. If camping will be part of the trip, then have a separate list for that activity. If food preparation will be part of the camping activity, prepare another list for food, cooking utensils, and related items. Other discrete activities and lists might focus on: hiking, fishing, events to be attended, etc. Having component lists avoids the need to prepare a master, tailored list for every trip.
  4. Make Sure it All Will Fit: Lists are fine, but all of the items on the list need to fit in the storage space available. It’s usually a good idea to assemble the items in advance to make sure they do, in fact, fit. A side benefit to laying everything out in advance is that often it becomes obvious what necessary items are missing and which items are superfluous.
  5. Refine Your List(s): It’s a rare occurrence when a list prepared before a trip turns out to contain the exact things that were needed and nothing more. Keep notes about things that were taken but not needed, and those that were needed but not taken. Then update your packing list as soon as you return home.

Try to avoid packing at the last minute. After laying items out, I often allow a few days for any necessary additions or deletions that come to mind. It’s usually those little things I’ve forgotten or that one big thing that I really won’t need that cause any final packing adjustments.

Now tell us about your pre-ride list-making strategies.


Text and photography: Jim Parks

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Tags: Categories: Touring & Safety Tips