Motorcycle Backpacking

Have motorcycle—will travel; combining my two hobbies of motorcycling and backpacking.

For many years now my motorcycle has been my only (powered) form of transport. My first motorcycle was a Kawasaki Ninja 250, just about the smallest practical motorcycle you can get away with but still looks the part. It certainly wasn’t ideal for going long distances but they always say the best thing is the one that you have, and a Ninja 250 is what I had.

Ninja ready to hit to road

I loved my Ninja though, and took it to the Sierras multiple times, including a trip all the way to Big Pine in the eastern Sierra. I also rode it on a handful of backpacking trips, loading it up with my backpack bungee corded to the back of the bike. As you can see in the picture I also took an empty waterproof holdall to stash my riding gear and padlocked it to the bike while I was away. I usually took my bike cover as well because I was a little nervous about opportunists seeing the holdall on my bike and figured they’d be slightly less likely to look underneath a cover, but at the end of the day if someone wanted to mess around with my bike there’s not much I can do about it.

A couple of years ago I sold my Ninja 250 and replaced it with a Suzuki V-Strom 650. As well as being a larger bike the features I most wanted were the ABS brakes and fuel injection (my Ninja still had a carburetted engine and when getting into the mountains the oxygen lean environment tested the already small engine on the steep inclines).

The other difference between them is the V-Strom is styled as an adventure bike whereas the Ninja as a sports bike, this meant the V-Strom has a more upright seating position (good for longer trips on the highways) and much more luggage options (the Ninja effectively having close to zero) which meant I now also have a hard top case.

The top case I use is a 52 liter Givi Trekker which nicely fits my riding boots, riding suit (an Aerostitch Roadcrafter), and gloves. I then lock my helmet to the bike (usually I will also put my helmet in a trash compactor bag to keep it dry if it rains and also keep it slightly out of sight). I also leave a wheel lock on the rear disc brake.

In terms of security a bike is definitely slightly more vulnerable than a car (if a few people had a truck lifting it into the back and driving off is possible) and I have considered also taking a sturdy chain to lock it to something anchored, but in reality I haven’t had any problems on any of the trips and in a lot of ways it’s just as easy to steal stuff from a car.

Riding a motorcycle in many ways is much less practical than a car; you need special safety gear, you’re much more exposed to the elements, the cold and heat and the rain, and it can be less comfortable when doing the big miles on the freeway. But on the flip side you can lane split to beat the traffic, it’s a lot more fun and nimble on the windy roads that approach most trailheads, and it’s a lot easier to squeeze into popular parking lots when you get there.

Also if you cross over into motorcycle camping (which is a natural fit) backpacking gear is ideal, just like with backpacking space and weight come at a premium on a motorcycle, having smaller gear means you can load up on some luxury items, my favourite one being a camp chair which is bliss to settle into with a hot or cold drink (depending on your mood) after a long day in the saddle.

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