Touring Tips: Riding Loaded
One of my favorite television shows as a child (and I realize this hints at my age) was The Beverly Hillbillies. The opening shot was of the Clampett clan driving down a palm-lined boulevard in Beverly Hills; an ancient flatbed truck piled high with possessions dangling from every spare inch of the vehicle. If this image strikes a chord with the way your bike looks when headed for a camping trip, well, it may be time to revise your loading procedure.
Although I’ve never lost anything other than a tailbag rain cover on the road, my first attempts at packing a bike for a weekend of camping were, shall we say, interesting. Being rather frugal in nature, the thought of buying a new piece of luggage specifically for camping never crossed my mind. The result was a dizzying array of bungee cords and straps that had to be checked and adjusted throughout the entire trip. The only possible benefit was that instead of flying by me, cars followed as if they were behind a pickup with an unstable appliance perched on the back.
Riding with an improperly loaded bike is dangerous for you and anyone who happens to be following you. Constant glances in the mirror to scan for lost gear take precious attention away from what’s ahead. And shifting loads or dangling cords and straps can become tangled in the wheels or chain, adding a whole new set of problems to deal with. Fortunately, there are many solutions to loading problems, though most involve parting with a few pocket-sized presidential portraits. Consider it a small investment that pays big dividends in peace of mind and convenience.
I’ve long since abandoned the idea of securing individual items to the bike, and I now use larger luggage so I only have one or two items to deal with. One of the most versatile types of luggage are waterproof duffel bags. These bags can be secured to the rear of the seat or luggage rack by passing straps through the carrying handle, making it nearly impossible to lose the bag as long as the straps are properly fastened to a substantial part of the bike.
If more room is needed there are numerous pieces of soft luggage designed specifically for camping use. Such specialty bags generally feature internal compression straps for securing layered loads, external pockets for smaller items, and possibly a removable rain cover. One major difference in the design of camping luggage is that some bags have a seat-straddling configuration and are therefore more limited in mounting options than flat-bottomed bags. Conversely, flat-bottomed bags can be mounted on either the seat or luggage rack, but they may be a bit tougher to mount securely than contoured seat bags.
While the purchase of one of these products should solve the luggage-volume problem, there are still some things to keep in mind when packing and placing luggage on a bike. How the bag is loaded, as well as where it is placed on the bike, are two topics that deserve attention.
Fortunately, most high-volume camping gear is fairly light. Tents, sleeping bags, pillows, and sleeping pads have a way of quickly filling even the most cavernous pieces of luggage. When packing your bag remember to keep such heavier gear as cookware and lanterns on the bottom and toward the front of the bike. You’re simply trying to keep the center of gravity as low and close to the middle of the bike as possible.
The ideal location for the bag is the pillion, where extra weight will barely be noticed. This option, however, quickly heads down the same road as an AMC Gremlin when you take a passenger along. Meaning that the only place left is the luggage rack, and you need to be sure that weight placed that far back won’t negatively affect the bike’s handling or damage the rack and subframe. Refer to your owner’s manual for the maximum load rating of your luggage rack, but don’t be surprised if the rating is ridiculously low. Stay as close as you can to the number, and realize why it is important. I was probably at the limit on a recent trip, as I noticed a tendency for the handlebars to wobble at low speeds when the gas tank was nearly empty.
You may find that, despite your best efforts, your bike still evokes memories of that old sitcom. If so I can only offer one bit of parting advice: Ditch granny at the first rest stop and keep Elle Mae on the bike!