You love camping for the freedom it gives you to explore and enjoy the world. You love riding a motorcycle for the same reason. So why are you sitting behind a wheel to get to the campsite?
A motorcycle is the perfect vehicle for camping. The limited carrying capacity enforces a return to simplicity and that amazing sense of self-sufficiency you had the first time you filled a backpack and hit the road. On a bike the journey becomes part of the adventure.
There are some disadvantages. You’ll lose the option to use the car as larder and living space. Getting wet is never much fun. But, like all forms of camping, the right gear and a bit of forward planning prevents problems later.
Despite what you might see on TV, here’s what you don’t need – a famous film star as your travelling companion, a gnarly motorcycle from Germany, or a support vehicle full of SAS-trained bodyguards.
Almost any bike will cope with a tent and some luggage, from a nervous Italian roadrocket to a humble moped. And you don’t need to spend a fortune to get started - though once you’ve been bitten by the bug, companies like Touratech and Aerostich will happily fit you out with enough kit to cross the Sahara.
The first step is to edit the camping gear that you already have. Unless it’s really big or really fragile, it’s got potential. But remember, anything you pack is going to get shaken about, rubbed against other things, and tilted several degrees from the vertical if you take your corners with verve. Beautiful spidery lightweight stoves may not be the best choice in such circumstances.
Don’t rule out your car-camping tent just because it’s heavy. If you’re not taking a pillion, most bikes will cope with a fairly hefty tent strapped to the back seat - as long as it isn’t wider than your handlebars. That just gets embarrassing in traffic.
If a new tent is an option, check out pack size and the length of the poles: for security, many bikers prefer to store their tent in a pannier. Plenty of porch space to store jacket, helmet and boots is a bonus. Tents designed for backpackers pack small but are expensive: the bike is doing the heavy lifting so lightweight isn’t so vital. Some firms are now designing especially for bikers: Easy Camp; Khyam and Tentipi are all worth looking at.
How small does your current sleeping bag pack? On a bike it’s out with bulky duvets, in with stuffable polyester or down. A down bag packs down to a fraction of the size of a hollowfill and weighs very little, but will be more expensive. Stuff sacks are the two-wheeled camper’s friend. Not just for sleeping bags, to tame them into a volume that will fit into a pannier - but also for clothes, wash gear, pillows, sleeping mats, waterproofs and towels. Squish the air out, kneel on them and squish again. Excellent for relieving stress as well as creating more space. Exped’s colour-coded range is brilliant for keeping things organised, and for keeping wet things separate from dry ones.
Organisation really makes a difference. The most efficient bike campers I know are two guys who used to be in the forces. They’ll have their tents up, their washing done, and a brew on while I’m still on my way to the shower. Military precision may not be your thing, but a bit of consistency in what goes where on your bike saves time; and developing a routine so that you pack last what you need first makes setting up camp a piece of cake, even in the rain.
Every piece of kit needs to earn its place. But don’t be too spartan. This is meant to be fun, after all. Is there one thing that you really need to have to stay comfy? My weekend is ruined without decent coffee, so I always travel with an espresso maker, a stove and a tin of Cubita. Items insisted on by other bikers in my posse include a camp bed; a chair to sit on; a decent bottle of red; Crocs for the shower, and a proper towel.
A little improvisation is a good thing. No panniers? A big kitbag from the army surplus and a pair of tie-down straps will do nearly as well, with less worry of it slipping onto the exhaust and toasting your underpants. No stuff-sacks? Be environmentally friendly and use supermarket carrier bags: right side out for clean clothes, inside out for used.
There’s only one thing that you’ll really, really want. And it’s not the latest in sleeping mats; or a wind-up torch, or a GPS. It’s a piece of wood about 10 x 10 x 2cm. It goes under your sidestand and stops your bike from falling on your tent. Don’t ask how I learnt about that one.
DOs and DON’Ts
- Call ahead and make sure the campsite is motorcycle-friendly. Some sites don’t want bikers: best to leave them in peace and get a warm welcome elsewhere.
- Keep a pair of socks in a plastic bag in an inside pocket of your riding gear. If you’ve got warm dry feet, everything else is endurable.
- Make sure everything’s attached securely to the bike. Ratchet straps, cargo nets and tie-down straps are all good choices. Bungee cords can stretch at speed - don’t rely on them alone.
- Pack a sponge or towel to dry the tent in the morning before packing it away. You haven’t got the luxury of a boot to bundle it into while it’s wet.
- Feel compelled to cook. If space is tight, pack a brew kit and an emergency tin, and eat at biker cafes or pubs during the day.
- Leave cords or straps flapping in the wind. They’ll wear holes in your bags.
- Worry too much about packing perishables like milk or bacon. Buy at the campsite or nearby.
- Forget that you can carry things on top of panniers or bags as well as inside: great for shoes and towels.
Helen2Wheels, the queen of motorcycle packing, has three rules:
FIRST RULE: A tightly packed bag is a happy bag! Packed tight and attached tight to the bike.
SECOND RULE: Keep the wet stuff away from the dry stuff.
THIRD RULE: Keep the long hard stuff away from the soft squishy stuff.
After serving my apprenticeship with a North Face bag strapped on the back seat, I invested in hard luggage from Metal Mule. I like the fact that I can lock it if I’m away from the bike, which gives me somewhere safe to leave my camera and my GPS, and it’s virtually waterproof.
I pack cooking gear and camping hardware in one pannier - anything which is lumpy, pointy or liable to leak. Things I want to keep dry - clothes, sleeping bag, wash bag, matches and a book - go in the other pannier. The tent, sleeping mat and groundsheet pack into a Touratech bag and sit on the pillion seat. “Day stuff” - camera, cash, maps, drinks, notebook - goes in a daypack into my topbox. Another good place for the things you don’t want to lose is a tank bag, which you can unclip and carry with you if you leave the bike.
As recommended by the Round Britain Rally
Easy Camp Spirit 300: Easy to pitch, big porch, two doors. RRP: £109.95 www.easy-camp.com
Tentipi Adventure Range: Single pole style makes this really quick to erect, and tall enough to stand in. A porch is new for 2012. From £575 for the Onyx 5. www.tentipi.co.uk
Vango Omega 350: Tunnel tent with a separate living space and a porch for gear storage or cooking in bad weather. RRP: £210. www.vango.co.uk
Quechua: The T2 ultralite pro, T3 ultralight pro, and T4 ultralight pro all pack small enough to fit in either pannier, or the top box. From £99.99 for the T2. www.decathlon.co.uk
Vango Venom 400: Mummy-style down bag. Light weight and very warm. RRP: £140 www.vango.co.uk
Decathlon S10 Ultralight: synthetic fill. Rated to 9 degrees. RRP: £19.99 www.decathlon.co.uk
Argos Airbed with built-in pillow. Cheap and cheerful. RRP: £4.99 www.argos.co.uk
Gelert Collapsible Campbed: RRP £19.99, or look in the army surplus. www.gelert.com
Exped Downmat 7: airbed with built in pump and a down filling for extra warmth. Very thick and packs down super-tiny. RRP: £115 www.exped.com
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