Packing A Motorcycle For A Tour

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Careful planning is key

The day of your departure is approaching, so it’s time to stop planning and start packing for your motorcycle tour. Hopefully, your planning has been thorough, and you’ve gathered all of the gear you’re planning on taking on your tour. Now, hopefully, a few days before you’re scheduled to leave, you should take a moment to pack all the gear on your bike. This is the moment that, like all of us who have taken trips via motorcycle, you discover you have too much stuff! Fear not, that’s what this initial packing effort is all about.

How To Plan For A Motorcycle Tour

What To Pack For A Motorcycle Tour

When it comes to packing a motorcycle, you want to get the heaviest items in your kit as close as possible to the Load Triangle (LT), which is defined as the triangle created by the two axles and the top of the rider’s head. Another way of looking at this is that you’re trying to get the weight as close to the bike’s center-of-gravity (CG) as possible. So, low and towards the center is best. That way the additional weight will have the least effect on your motorcycle’s handling.

You’ll immediately notice that the heaviest things on a motorcycle, the rider and the engine, are central to the Load Triangle. Try to pack all your heaviest gear as close to the LT as possible.


Be they OEM hard bags or soft ones you threw over the saddle, if you look at them relative to the LT, you’ll see that the leading edge is closest. So, put your heaviest items there. Things like your toolkit or camp stove are good choices. Also, you’ll want to balance the side-to-side load as much as possible. This not only keeps the load from affecting handling, but also helps softer, throw over the seat saddlebags ride more evenly on the motorcycle.

Since there typically isn’t the same room on a sportbike for saddlebags as on other classes of motorcycles, you’ll be forced to pack less. The tail bag (top) helps, though.

Since a motorcycle leans to the left when on its side stand, put the things that you expect to access more frequently (like spare gloves or water) in the right saddlebag. You’ll have an easier time looking into a bag that’s tilted skyward. Also, on side-opening hard bags, your gear will be less prone to falling out when you open the bag. Owners of bikes with hard bags should seriously consider buying the OEM bag liners for their bike. That way, once you arrive at your night’s lodging, your gear can be easily carried into the hotel.

One easy hack for getting more clothing into your saddlebags is to pack small groups into zip-locking plastic bags. You zip them most of the way, compress the garments to force out the extra air, and close the bag. Instant space savings! This technique also helps to make sure your clothes stay dry if your soft bags leak or your hard bags are so overstuffed that they don’t seal properly.

The trunk on a touring bike provides easy access to things that you may need to access frequently. Just don’t fill it up with your heaviest gear.

Junk in the trunk

People on big touring rigs with spacious trunks and cruiser riders who have big packs lashed to their sissy bar, need to avoid the temptation of putting heavy stuff in them. Look at the photo of the LT above relative to the bike’s trunk. Placing excess weight there can lighten the load on the front tire and potentially affect handling. The trunk is a great place for extra layers when you’re riding. Suppose you start off in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and you’re heading to points south, make sure you have room to store your warmer riding gear when it’s time to cool off. Also, if your trunk is stuffed with gear, you won’t be able to lock your helmet(s) away while you’re off the bike.

Tank bags come in many sizes from the extra-large variety shown here to ones that are small enough to carry just a couple essentials. They are exceedingly handy.

Tank bag

Either you’re a tank bag person or you’re not. Often times, whether you favor tank bags depends on what type of bike you ride. Still, we’ve seen cruisers and full-dress tourers proudly wearing a tank bag. It seems that, back in the day of paper maps instead of smartphones or GPS units, tank bags were more popular because they provided a handy place to keep your map open. If you don’t like tank bags, you can always try a tail bag which offers many of the conveniences of its tank-mounted cousin.

You’d think that, because of its location within the Load Triangle, you could put lots of heavy stuff in a tank bag. Well, you’d be partially right. However, put too much weight there, and your bike will begin to feel top heavy. So, be reasonable.

Tank bags are great places to put things that you need to access frequently. Consequently, we place gloves, sunscreen, bottles of water, and snacks there. Additionally, if your bike has some auxiliary power, you can run wires to your tank bag and make sure you keep your phone or other electronics charged. Very convenient.

This is an example of how to lash things to the back of a bike. Lashed to the back are a thermarest pad, a sleeping bag, a tent, a tripod, and (the only heavy thing) a camera bag carrying lots of batteries.

Lash it on the back

Motorcyclists everywhere should hail the inventor of the bungie net. There is quite simply no more versatile tool for strapping oddly shaped objects or combinations of objects to the back of a motorcycle. However, with that convenience and flexibility nets tend to lack some of the sheer strength of other methods of keeping items on your motorcycle. Look at seasoned travelers, and you’ll see they usually have a couple of bungie cords playing a supporting role to the net. Follow their example and you’ll avoid losing gear on the road – or worse – having it dangle down into your rear wheel, possibly bringing your fun to an abrupt stop.

The best items (other than a passenger) to place on the back of your motorcycle are usually large, but fairly light things like a tent or sleeping bag. If you didn’t plan carefully, you may end up with your warmer riding gear strapped back there when you peel off the layers.

Look past the excessive amount of camera gear necessary for a multi-bike shootout and you’ll see well-developed packing techniques. The ground cloth is cinched down on the tent, the sleeping bag is as compressed as possible, and the clothes are compressed in zip-locking bags. It’s all ready to go back on the bike.

Making the cut

As you test pack your bike in anticipation for a tour, you will inevitably find yourself trying to carry too much stuff. Now is the time to sort out what is truly necessary. Cut down what you’re carrying and repack your bike. Try placing different things in different places to see if this helps you include more gear. In the end, you’ll arrive at what you think is a happy compromise for your trip. Now, you’re ready to hit the road.

While you’re out enjoying long-distance motorcycling, you’re sure to bump up against one of the universal truths of travel: There’s always something that you forgot and something that you carried that you absolutely didn’t need. Make a note and remember for the next trip.

Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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2 of 7 comments
  • DickRuble DickRuble on Jul 15, 2018

    You only need three things to ride into the sunset:
    1) an Amex
    2) a Visa, and
    3) a Mastercard

    each with a $25,000 ceiling limit or higher.

  • Donario Donario on Jul 16, 2018

    Ventura makes some great bags for sport bikes. I zip two together and get 100 liters of storage capacity. They are also very balanced and are barely noticed while travelling.