Packing some sense! How to pack for a motorcycle holiday

Recently there have been several people seeking advice on Facebook re packing for a bike trip. This advice comes from somebody who has spent most of his working life and leisure time travelling by road. More than 400,000 miles by motorbike and countless nights out.

Let’s take an average example. You’re going for a maximum 14 day tour in a “civilised” western country. On your bike you have 2 panniers, a top box and possibly a tank bag. On your journey you will pass through urban areas and you will have access to water. You will spend some time in areas with cool weather and some time in warmer climes. What are you going to need? When you’ve filled that space you can think about what you want – which is quite different! If you move from cold weather to warm or vice versa you will need space to put the stuff you take off. If you buy something to take back you’ll need a place to put it. Always make sure you pack an empty space!

Questions to ask yourself before you even look at your packing boxes. Is my bike in good order? Have I serviced it recently? Will the tyres see me through 2000 miles? Do I have adequate vehicle insurance for a long distance trip of more than 100 miles? Do I want to do my own repairs en route? What do I legally have to carry with me in foreign parts? Make sure you write these down and check them before you do anything else.

Essentials to Bring on a Motorcycle Tour

If your answers are in the affirmative to all but the last 2 you’ve made a good start. If not, get it sorted. From the point of view of legal requirement, I know more about Spain as I spend most of my time there. So, you have to carry with you: passport, driving license, insurance certificate, MOT certificate, V5 document – all have to be originals. You are also required to carry: reflective red triangle, reflective waistcoat and some spare bulbs. Personally I always carry an EHIC health card just in case I get drunk, fall over and hurt myself – or anything else as you never know…

If you’re planning on fixing your own punctures, a puncture repair kit is quite useful and if you don’t have a Scotoiler you might carry some chain lube unless you have shaft/belt drive in which case it’ll be useless! If you adore taking your bike to bits and reassembling it, it’s best you take a trailer or a holiday from your pastime. The insurance should take care of your hobby withdrawal symptoms.

The Top Box

OK. The top box. This is your most useful, accessible and secure packing place and the one you’ll use the most. Put in it the things that you need to keep secure.

For example, the bulky things that are a legal requirement, your wet kit (if you carry extra stuff), the things that could get dirty (easier to clean a top box than the other places), a small amount of basic tools (enough to put up a shelf if you’re asked), a basic 1st aid kit and remember that you’ll probably put your helmet in the top box when you stop – so sufficient empty space. You might also put a security chain in there as well.

The tank bag. If you don’t have one make sure you’ve lots of pockets. The tank bag is insecure but you need a place to put the things you use continuously through the day: Documents, money, toll tickets, telephone, cigarettes, lighter (I still smoke even though I’m a bit old for it), loose change, lottery tickets you buy en route, coke (can), Paracetamol (?), camera, small bottle water, emergency contact numbers etc. When you leave the bike you can put them in your pockets – not the water obviously unless you’re thirsty.


That’s the essentials. Now for the difficult bit. For this you need to ask yourself some honest, searching questions. Don’t be influenced by anyone because it’s your space you’re filling. When you’re at home and you have your massive wardrobe to choose from, how many of those clothes would you wear in a fortnight? How often do you change your T shirt or your underwear? After work in your leisure time do you wear different clothes each day? How often do you have to look your best? How different is it going to be spending 2 weeks on a motorcycle tour? Are you capable of washing your smalls? This is not an attack on your personal hygiene! No one is going to know except you…are they?

Right, so what you need is: 2 spare pairs of underpants plus one to put in the tank bag for those sudden and terrifying experiences that might occur at any time. 2 spare pairs of socks. 2 spare T shirts. 1 reasonable long sleeved shirt and 1 short sleeved. 1 medium weight jumper. 1 lightweight pair of trousers. 1 spare pair jeans. 1 pair shorts. 1 pair of light shoes. 1 pair sandals. A bar of soap and your wash kit.

The idea is that you wash your stuff as you go round. After all if you take your entire collection, by the end of week one, half your luggage will be dirty. Who carries their dhobi around with them on holiday? If you truly need anything else there are shops but don’t buy pants from a Chinese bazarr because I can tell you that they seldom survive the first fart! If you stay in hotels, they will wash and press your stuff for you for a few Euros.

Final job is to divide your belongings into 2 separate waterproof hold-alls with equal weight. In one you put the essentials for one overnight stop – for example the ferry, and the balance in the other. Then you put one in each of the panniers. That’s it – easy! Of course, if you’re camping you’ll need more space but from a purely personal point of view, camping is for people who’ve lost their booking dot com PIN number as a plot costs as much as a hostel. This advice is from a purely male perspective and I have no intention of entering into any correspondence with any other gender on the topic of packing for a motorbike tour.

I run Sierra Alma Touring or and I can’t tell you the amount of riders who’ve come here hopelessly overloaded. Of those, every single one without exception said at the end of the tour –“why did I bring all this stuff?” Remember it’s a very short time and space is at a premium.

For those of you that don’t have any touring boxes my advice is to invest in some. If you have to rely on loose cases and back packs they’re much less secure on the bike and back packs get forgotten and left behind.

I hope you found that useful and entertaining. My next piece will be on a similarly fascinating subject and I’m sure you’ll find it equally as rewarding.

All the best, happy touring and remember to come and visit if you’re passing by Salamanca. If you want a remarkably memorable and relaxing tour in a beautiful area of Spain, book a tour with us 07831781561.

Sierra Alma Touring is not a run-of-the-mill tour business despite remarks from those that have only looked at the pictures! No one tour is precisely the same as another. All our tours are about you and what you want to do. I speak Spanish – always a help at lunch time!

Hugh Anderson

Notes. The photo of a waterproof hold-all is what you should get your entire clothing collection in for a 2 week tour.
The Flying Brick photo shows that my top box is minute and the balance goes in the expanding tank bag. The bag pictured fits into one of the panniers leaving loads of SPAAAAAAAACCCCE!

The photo of the red Bird shows a large top box that can accommodate absolutely everything described apart from space for the helmet. You’d have to carry the helmet with you when you park or tie it on with a bicycle security wire. Clearly there’s no room left for anything else but in my case the Bird only goes out for 2 nights at a time. Or yes, obviously I could put the panniers on!