Most motorcycles are not designed to carry much more than a rider. Some claim to be able to take a pillion, others come with a matching factory luggage system or a not exactly svelt aftermarket alternative. A weekly shop with a sidecar is easy, try carrying the same amount on a sports bike. (The old joke is that a sidecar is the result of motorcyclists not understanding contraception). Soft luggage, hard luggage, throwovers, tank bags, top boxes, tail bags, back packs all offer a solution, some more waterproof than others, to the age old problem of carrying stuff that wont fit in your pockets or down the front of your jacket. The Australian authorities take a dim view of the common creative loading practices in places like Vietnam and Cambodia where the family bike is, er, the family bike. Then again, we don’t all want to ride a Goldwing or tow a trailer with the kitchen sink.
Newbie tourers discover that Ocky straps are unreliable, garbage bags shred at speed, luggage can catch fire when in contact with a heat source or even jam the rear wheel. They can also not discover where the luggage went after the horror of finding it gone and retracing the last 50 Km. Europeans have always gone for tank bags – something to lean on, keep the weather off and always in view – as well as putting any additional weight in the right place. Adding extra kilos high up and behind the rear axle is never really a good idea when it comes to motorcycle handling and stability. Way back when, the introduction of the GearSack was ground breaking, and when overloaded, at times frame breaking, as then most manufacturers maximum loading specifications seemed to allow for two 75kg people and an extra 7 kg of luggage and don’t do more than 100kph if full loaded. The problem of how to take a tent, sleeping bag, stove, alcohol, chainsaw, etc, to a rally was solved. I remember a chronically overloaded two up ZX10 with a pair of Gearsack panniers stacked one atop the other leaving Canberra for a rally at Geehi weaving like an epileptic snake along the road to Cooma. After about the third episode of tank-slapping the ashen faced rider dismounted and started to unpack the contents of the top bag. “What the ef’ have you brought these for?” he yelled at the pillion. She had never been camping before but instinctively knew that a wide range of footwear and breakfast cereal was essential. Eight pairs of shoes were distributed amongst the other riders whilst various kitchen implements, 25 small cereal packets and a hair straightener were deemed surplus to requirements and hidden in the bushes for collection on return. Five cereal packets were repacked to avoid divorce.
Most riders have a pile of old throwovers and assorted luggage gathering rat poo somewhere in the shed, bikes get sold on, the luggage gets kept and forgotten in the rafters. Gear tragics who dreamt 20 years ago of tank bags that could convert to rucksacks have seen their visions fulfilled. Waxed cotton, leather, synthetic fabric. you name it, bike luggage is now as diverse as bikes and riders. Style and practicality are now attainable for just about anything you care to mention. Riders heading overseas can now find gear that is not only capable of securely transporting a helmet, boots and riding gear on the plane, but can be used to carry gear on any bike hired on arrival. The less you have to take the better. Lugging 35kg bags around with you on foot due the fear of theft if you leave them on the bike is a pain, but then again there are few who can afford to travel with just a credit card or a wad of cash. Modern street bikes just don’t seem to come with as many useful protruding metal lugs for attaching straps these days. Cast your mind back to the 1980’s and everything was pressed into service as a touring or rally bike. If the mud was thick take off the front guard and continue. People rode every make and model of bike everywhere. BMW’s were then comparatively expensive and had a certain touring cachet with their shaft drive and durability. Moto Guzzis and Yamaha XS1100s stalked the outback clocking up ridiculous mileages on all surfaces.
Today bikes are more reliable than ever, motorcycle clothing can provide both protection and comfort, camping gear is lightweight so a decent night’s sleep is possible. Now improved mobile coverage and EPIRBs can save you so the excuses not to go just don’t add up. If you are unsure what to take, apart from a toothbrush, just do some research online and then start out with a couple of day trips, then a weekend trip an easy distance from home. As you gain experience you can roam further with more confidence. Alternatively just blindly stick a pin in an atlas and go on an organised tour in that country… Pack your bags, get your motor running and get out there having experiences making memories and seeing sights that you will never forget – any motorcycle will do.