There’s something inherently epic about strapping everything you need to the back of a bike and heading out into the grandeur of nature. Motorcycle camping allows adventurous riders to experience a simpler way of life for a while, spreading their wings and living by their wits.
But safe and fun motorcycle camping takes some effort and some know-how. That’s why it’s important to know about the key mistakes to avoid and the vital steps to take that will ensure your trip goes well. These seven bumps in the road can spell disaster for a motorcycle camping trip, so make sure to avoid them by riding (and camping) a little bit smarter.
1. Not wearing a helmet.
Any time you’re on a motorcycle, a helmet can save your life in an accident—that’s the bottom line. Your helmet is an essential part of your gear, so always wear it when riding and make sure it’s DOT-approved or Snell Foundation-approved. A helmet can also offer a great way to keep in touch during a group ride if you add a motorcycle communication system. Today’s motorcycle helmet communicators are lightweight devices that attach directly to your helmet, and they make it easy to communicate instructions, call for help or just chat it up while you’re on the road.
2. Not making a plan for food and hydration.
You might be a true camper who’s dedicated to cooking on the fire or a camping stove, or you might be content with hitting a restaurant before you make it to the campsite. Either way, the most important thing is to have a plan for feeding and hydrating yourself when the need arises.
When it comes to food, don’t overthink it. You don’t need a complex setup—just a JetBoil for boiling water is okay if you’re content with cup ramen. For those who want something a little bit fresher, consider taking some non-perishable snacks like salami and cheeses, or use the grill if the campsite provides one.
Most campsites, in places like state parks, will have a source of clean water available, but if you’re headed into the backcountry, you need to make a plan for securing your own water source. Water purification tablets and filtration straws are two popular options.
3. Packing the bike in an awkward way.
If you ride a touring bike or are otherwise used to packing gear in saddlebags, you’ll probably be fine. But for those new to the saddlebag lifestyle, you’ll want to practice minimalist packing and riding with the packed bike a few times before heading off on a motorcycle camping trip. Make sure everything is as balanced as possible so that the bike isn’t loaded unevenly, and check that your saddlebags are clear of your bike’s exhaust.
4. Heading out with a bike that’s not in great mechanical shape.
When camping, you’ll often be a long way from help, particularly if your bike needs repairs. That’s why it’s so important to identify and fix any issues on your bike before you head off into the great outdoors. If there’s something on your bike which you’ve been meaning to get looked at, a motorcycle camping trip is the perfect excuse to get a clean bill of health for your machine.
It’s a good idea to pack the tools necessary for basic repairs like fixing a flat, but anything more extensive is likely to be too heavy and weigh you down too much. Look up some nearby towing companies that specialize in motorcycle towing and save their numbers in your phone in case of emergencies.
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5. Buying a cheap tent or sleeping bag.
Tents and sleeping bags are two items for which you really do get what you pay for. A cheap tent or sleeping bag is more likely to let you down when you need it most, so go for the good stuff. You’ll thank yourself later.
Make sure you purchase a sleeping bag that’s rated for the temperatures you’ll be using it in. And don’t skimp on tent size, either. It’s a good idea to get a two- or three-person tent even if you’re rolling solo as the extra space will usually come in handy.
6. Not waterproofing your gear.
Nothing ruins a motorcycle camping trip faster than finding out that your sleeping bag and change of clothes have gotten soaked from rain while you were on the road or asleep in your tent. For this reason, you’ll want multiple layers of rain-proof protection on your most important gear, such as your extra changes of clothes.
Waterproof panniers and saddlebags are also highly-recommended investments for motorcycle campers. Even if you don’t see any rain in the weather report, a sudden shower can always sneak up to ruin your trip. The peace of mind that comes with having saddlebags you trust is worth its weight in—well, dry motorcycle camping gear.
7. Going on a trip you’re not ready for.
Even for the best-prepared rider, motorcycle camping can be full of challenges. From uncooperative weather to mechanical emergencies to wildlife encounters, there’s no telling what will pop up, so look for a trip that’s appropriate to your experience level.
It’s important to work your way up when it comes to motorcycle camping trips. Take a weekend trip out to a state park before committing to a big-time trip to Yellowstone or Joshua Tree, learning the basics and observing what could go wrong. This experience will be crucial when you decide you’re ready to step up to a bigger trip.
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Even if you’re an experienced rider and/or camper, never underestimate the potential difficulties of taking your bike into the wilderness, and read up on the area you’re going to be camping in so that you don’t go in totally blind. At the same time, learn to roll with the punches, and remember that today’s disasters often become tomorrow’s best stories.