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Joe Noonan
It's All About The Ride was founded by Britta and Joseph Noonan. Britta and Joe are a happily married couple who share a love for travel, exploring and experiencing all that life has to offer. Currently on a work assignment away from their home in beautiful Coeur d' Alene, ID, they are presently living full-time in a fifth wheel near the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. Both Britta and Joe are adventure seekers with experiences and insights into all aspects of exploring and visiting unique locations. From camping off the back of a motorcycle to living out of an RV and exploring off the beaten path, their product and trip reviews come from first-hand knowledge and a love of seeing and experiencing all that life has to offer.

Expert Tips: Safely Load and Pack Your Motorcycle For Long Distance Touring

copyright@2017 Joseph Noonan Photography
Long Distance Motorcycling will allow you to not just travel to a location but also to be in it. This is the view along the Alaskan Highway Joe captured somewhere outside of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Over the years I have traveled over 500,000 miles on the back of a motorcycle. I have owned and  loaded many types of motorcycles from Harleys to sport tourers to adventure bikes. My beautiful wife Britta and I enjoy riding our recently acquired BMW K1200LT touring bike. Each style of motorcycle has a very different and safe way of packing.

In addition to the way a motorcycle needs to be packed, what you pack will change depending on the length and type of trip you are going on.  My 12,500 mile solo Alaska trip from New Jersey taught me the most about how and what to pack. I lived off the bike for 6 weeks. The number one thing I learned from that tour was that I over-pack! I brought way too much clothing. My thinking was I would be on the road and traveling so far north that I would be unable to clean and wash my clothing and that line of thinking made me pack redundantly on everything. Extra jeans, extra shorts, socks, underwear, warm clothes you name it. I ended up giving 30 lbs of clothes a tour of  Canada and Alaska before I left it all in Seattle and shipped it back to myself. See my post on merino wool and base layers. I am a minimalist now.

It's All About The Ride owner Joe Noonan
Joe somewhere on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon. Adventure Bikes like Joe's KTM 950 require different gear from street touring. You wouldn't know from the picture but Joe utilized the space in the front fairing to store two inner tubes. The red canisters are filled with extra fuel. Special side cases are dual-walled and hold all the water needed. Notice the Spigot down low on the case. The yellow duffel bag is 100% waterproof.

Packing for Long Distance Riding
 Britta Kay on our Kawasaki Concourse on day one of a week long tour around Idaho. The Rapid Transit tank bag holds a hydration hose and water bladder to keep hydrated on the road.

So, first let's discuss how to pack. Loading a motorcycle with what could amount to 60+ pounds of gear or more will change the riding characteristics of the bike. How much it changes depends on you. I have seen a nasty accident or two over the years that were completely the rider's fault because of overloading and the wrong weight distribution. This YouTube video is a prime example of what can happen. WARNING graphic!

I can tell from the video exactly what caused this avoidable crash. The rider had put all of the weight far behind his rear axle. This will cause the front wheel to unweight. Combine that with the ride characteristics of a softail Harley (which already puts the rider in a laid-back and leg-forward position) and you get a situation that will cause this type of speed wobble sometimes referred to as a tank slapper. Sport bike riders can tell you all about the uncontrollable harmonic feedback of a wobble. I experienced this once in the 80's on my Yamaha FZR1000 and I think my pucker factor hit 1000. Speed wobbles can occur on any motorcycle and for any number of reasons.

Always balance your tires. A front tire that is unbalanced can lead to wobbles and ride instability just like the video above. Other things to check include bent rims, loose spokes and defective tires. I once replaced a front tire three times before a hands-off test proved the wobble was eliminated and the tire was in balance. It turned out to be a bad batch of Metzler Marathon ME880's (my favorite heavy weight touring tire.)

Always check your suspension settings for the weight of you and your gear and adjust. If your manual isn't clear or helpful, there are help forums every where online. When riding two up and  loaded with gear, adjust and check it again. Ignoring your suspension and then loading it up can also unweight the front tire and reduce travel in the rear. If your bike wobbles in a high-speed turn after going over a road depression or after absorbing a bump, your suspension is too soft for that weight. Fix it now!

Safe packing requires an even distribution of the load and making sure you are not exceeding the bike's recommended max load rating. Split your load up and keep the heavy items in front of the rear axle and as low as possible. Side panniers or saddle bags are excellent for this. If you are strapping soft side bags on your bike, please make sure you split the load weight evenly and also strap the bags to the bike well. I have seen more than one saddle bag along the highway. A few precautions can keep you safe on the road. For the major load, which typically is your duffel of clothes or camping gear, I center that on the bike and usually keep it to the top case (if equipped) or the pillion seat if you are riding solo. Try to keep the rear travel box light. I keep gloves, helmets, layer changes and small items in that for quick access. Your rear luggage top box will have a max weight rating. It is not a suggestion!

Our latest trip was a 3000 mile trip down the famous Pacific Coast Highway. Over the years, my pack has become a science. The K1200LT is fully loaded for two up trip including full camping gear!
Securing your load is paramount to a safe trip for you and others around you on the road. Wind force at 75 mph can shift loads or worse, blow it off the bike. I use a combination of ROK straps for my large items and supplement with various length bungee cords.

Bungee cords are essential gear to always store on your bike. I typically keep two yellow, two red and two blue in a saddle bag with my tool kit. I also discovered that the smaller ones, like the ones in the kit, are excellent for keeping your rain liners or fleece liner or heated jacket in a nice tight roll for packing. 
My most used piece of gear for packing is a bungee mesh net. I do not know what I would do without it. It straps perfectly around the outside of my Wolfman Duffel or my Wolfman Overland Duffel Tail Bag (like the one pictured on my BMW above). On any given trip, I use the cargo net to quickly store my cap or a water bottle or a wet clothing item so it dries by the time I reach my destination. It stores my Teva sandals or an item I just purchased at the store. The items you will store for quickest reach are unlimited.

My best advice is to practice your packing. Get it down so it is what I call a "reproducible pack".
I arrive at my destination and I can unclip my top bag, my tank bag, and lock the rest. Then I am on my way quick and easy. If we are camping as well, I have my camping gear down to one hard bag. I can set up and knock down our camp site in 15 minutes and reproduce the pack so every thing fits back perfectly in the finite space that is a motorcycle side case. Packing your motorcycle for a long trip is a science but with practice you will get good at it.

My hope is that I have given you something to think about and you learned a tip or two. When proper precautions are taken and you plan well, long distance motorcycling is one of the best ways to see the country.

I have touched on many subjects in this post and would love to answer any questions or comments you might have. Please feel free to leave comments to this post below. The gear I use and mentioned in this post will be reviewed in upcoming post so stay tuned!

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