October 11, 2021

MOTO WEEK: Your Everything Primer for Motorcycle Camping

MOTO WEEK: Your Everything Primer for Motorcycle Camping

Ride scenic, twisty roads all day. Belly up to a campfire, eat some satisfying camping food, enjoy a favorite beverage with your friends. Finally, sleep a deep, happy sleep in your warm sleeping bag. Repeat until it's time to head home. Sounds good right?

Then why aren't you doing it every chance you get? Odds are it's because you don't think you have a suitable motorcycle, don't have the right gear, and don't have the “fieldcraft” you think you need to do it right. And that's what we're here for today—steer you in the right direction to becoming a happy (moto) camper.

Now Hear This!

Moto-camping means long days in the saddle, and that means you're at risk of hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to wind and engine noise, even if it doesn't feel uncomfortable, can slowly, steadily degrade your hearing—and there's no coming back from that. Wearing hearing protection when you ride actually lets you hear more sound and reduces fatigue and perceived speed so you can ride faster and longer, and not feel like you've been inside a massive ringing bell for eight hours when you arrive at your campsite.

Gearing Up

If you're already a camper, you likely have all the gear you need, but depending on your motorcycle and mission you may need to acquire a few things.

When you do know what you need to camp with and how much your bike will carry (both weight and dimensions), you can look for equipment that matches your specifications. Regular camping gear is okay, of course, but it may be too heavy and bulky—look for gear marketed to lightweight backpacking, bicycle camping (which is a thing) and of course motorcycle camping. We like the Aerostich catalog because those guys are obsessive about touring and camping and have good prices (they even price match). But you can save money buying used gear—camping and backpacking stuff usually depreciates a lot—or discounted returns, floor models, blemished products and returns.

Your gear and packing lists will come from your needs, available packing space, and recommendations from your camping partners.

Prep Your Ride

First thing: do you have a suitable adventure-touring/moto-camping motorcycle? Most riders would say no, but without even looking at your bike, we're going to resoundingly say “yes!” We've gone moto-camping on a fully-loaded, $20,000 Teutonic-badged, 150-hp “Adventure bike,” and that was great, but we had more fun on a 198cc two-stroke scooter that allegedly sent 12.5 horsepower to the wobbly 10-inch rear wheel. Every ride on a motorcycle, whether pole-to-pole or down to the corner for a sixxer is an adventure, ergo every motorcycle (and scooter) is an adventure bike. You just have to pack some of them more carefully than others.

You may need to modify your bike a bit, but that's not a problem. You can easily find what you need on the Internet, Amazon, and eBay. Sites like Twisted Throttle and Revzilla are great for finding luggage racks, bigger fuel tanks, centerstands, luggage, trunks, windscreens—anything and everything you'll need for touring. The only real consideration that may lead you to buy, borrow or steal a bigger, more suitable ride is total load capacity (look in your owner's manual for “GVWR,” which is the maximum weight the rider can be gassed up with rider, passenger and luggage).

If your bike can handle it, load it up! But you'll have to be mindful of two things: the first is suspension. If you're one of the many riders who thinks suspension adjustment is one of those things only hardcore track riders and racers need to worry about, you're usually right, but adding 75 to 300 pounds (we are a large people, we Americans, and that's okay!) to a bike can really change how it rides, steers and brakes, so adding preload to the springs (bad news: you may need to change springs, which can get pricey with labor) and adjusting your damping settings (if you can) is a very good idea, unless you like paying for 200-mile tows.

The second thing (and this is important) is how to balance the load. You want the extra weight to be as close to the bike's center of gravity as possible—usually somewhere around the rider footpegs (except on cruisers and scooters). Wheelies are fun, so long as they're intentional; overloading a motorcycle is a good way to crash it.

Once your bike is modified, loaded and ready to ride, do you roll it back in your garage and spend a sleepless night, giddy with excitement? No! Ride that bike for 10 or 20 miles on the open road—get it up to your preferred cruising speed—and make sure it's safe, comfortable, won't shed parts and luggage all over the road and also doesn't give an impromptu stunt show when least expected. Now you're ready for your ride.

Learn your Fieldcraft

You're ready for your ride, but you're not ready for camping! You may have all this shiny new gear, but if you haven't used it yet, way out in the boonies (with no YouTube lifeline) isn't where you learn to use it. Practice setting up tents, stoves, camp chairs, and other gear in your backyard (or a park if you're an apartment dweller) so you know what tools and ancillaries to pack and know how long it takes to set stuff up. Practice setting up your tent at night, and practice digging latrine holes (read up on local regulations for doing what a bear does in the woods) and rain ditches so you're not learning how to do it when it's actually dark and rainy.

That sounds daunting, but it is fun, especially if you're learning with or from a family member or friend. If you're all unfamiliar with the outdoorsy lifestyle, there are lots of resources about how to get started—YouTube videos, books, and even hands-on classes given by local schools, organizations and even sporting-goods stores. Start with some car camping and borrowed gear and work your way up to motorcycle camping so you'll have a better idea of what you'll need and how to pack it.


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