How to pack a lot of gear on a motorcycle... and keep it there for the duration of the trip!!

Part One: How to pack a lot of gear on a motorcycle... and keep it there for the duration of the trip!!
How the heck do I get ALL the gear I need on the bike to ride long distance and/or camp?? Where there is a will, there is a way! I started riding and camping with my Suzuki Boulevard M50 - Love that bike, still own it. I had two gallon size saddlebags on her and the rest was pure strategy. I bought a Saddleman luggage pack and a bunch of bungees - which quickly got traded in for LOTS of straps and then a net on top. I first went long distance riding and motorcycle camping with a good friend, nickname HD, years ago. Let me tell you, she was a GREAT teacher in the art of packing a motorcycle. I would make the effort, get to the meeting point, have to retighten every since strap, ride, and repeat. She probably felt both sorry for me and annoyed by me for the extra time I took at stops to make sure my gear wasn't going to wind up on someone's windshield. So between her expertise and learning as I go on my own, here are my tips and tricks to packing a LOT of gear in not a lot of space. 

Step One:  Get GOOD luggage. If you plan to travel long distance on your bike - accessibility, durability, and tie down points are the things to look for. I love my Saddleman bag - there's a 'top hatch' for things like a spare helmet or rain gear, there's a huge main compartment with a space in the back padded for a laptop, and there's a bunch of outer smaller pockets to put stuff in that I access quickly and more often. Plus, there are GREAT tie down points. Oh, and an attached rain fly. Its a great bag. It's a bit more expensive, but it is worth it and after 10 years, it still works!! (Though it's more of a purple tint these days than black... )

1. Bungees can be great. But straps and a net will get a LOT more gear on the bike with a LOT less hassle and movement. Not all nets are made the same... I always look for one with  the SMALLEST squares - that means it will hold stuff better when its stretched over stuff. Versus a net with large squares, then being stretched even larger... which means stuff isn't as secure and can fall out from under the net. 

Straps - I LOVE quick release straps that are used for backpacks and other travel luggage. The ones I have are 1" thick and 36-40" long. Perfect to loop from my luggage to the bike.

2. Make sure that the straps/bungees are connected TO THE BIKE and not just a moveable part. For example, I once looped bungees through the handle of my leather saddle bag. Which was great at first!! But then, after a quick gas-pee-refill water- repeat stop, I forgot the part about latching said saddlebag. So once I hit freeway speeds, my gear that was so nicely strapped on the bike prior to the stop, was now flailing in the wind to my left side, overhanging the saddlebag handle that I had thought was going to be a secure attachment point for all of it. Or the time I looped bungees around my backrest to keep the gear on my P seat from flying off. Well, my REMOVEABLE backrest did just that with the weight and upward force in which the bungees were pulling on it. And poof!! There went not only my gear, but also my beloved removeable backrest. Luckily, I had just left the gas pumps when I hit a big bump and the gear/backrest flew straight up and landed to the right of my bike. This is when I finally stopped to learn where some good tie-down points were on the bike. NON-MOVEABLE parts of the actual bike, not the accessories, are of the essence to keep gear from both shifting AND leaping to its death in the roadway. 
3. While my removable backrest isn't a good place to strap luggage onto directly, it is a great thing to utilize to help stabilize gear. For instance, my luggage has a flap in the back that is meant to go around a sissy bar. Which I don't have. So instead, I turn the luggage 'backwards' and put the flap around my backrest and THEN tie down the luggage to the bike. Less movement even if the straps decide to loosen up.

Saddlemen Luggage

4. I've got a backrest. I've got luggage. But there is that ever so handy gap above the backrest and between my upper back and my luggage that is usually long forgotten. Once I get my luggage secured on the bike, I grab my trusty net (the tighter the squares in the net, the better!) and can then strap my leathers, hoodie, or other shapeable items (clothes, etc) to fit that space and also provide me a higher backrest.  
The 4 ends of the net are the perfect fit for the 4 tie down points on my luggage bag. Yes, this breaks my rule about not strapping things to other things that move, but it would take a LOT of work for my 4 tie down straps, my over the backrest flap, and the net to all fly off at the same time.

5. Don't underestimate the handlebars and windshield. It never fails, I am loaded down to go on a trip, arrive at my destination, stopping first at a store to get water and snacks. But then I come out of the store to realize I have ZERO space to put these items. I then ask for a plastic bag to put the items in, and use the handles of the plastic bag to tie the stuff onto my handlebars. This only works for short distances but it works!! 

6. Last, and usually least favorable option, is the inside of my jacket, shirt, or even sports bra. It's 95 degrees and I am baking in the hot sun riding on black pavement. I have no cupholder. I look at the girls I am riding with and glaring at them as they are rolling down the road sipping ice water from their bottle holders as I am parched and cant move my now dried out tongue. Stop at a gas station, dying of thirst, but with so much gear on my bike, I literally have zero space for even a Gatorade bottle. UNTIL! I either tuck in my shirt and put the Gatorade bottle in my shirt - dual purpose - cooling agent for my body and accessible hydration while riding. If that doesn't work, there's always the sports bra. Not comfortable, and not normal, but hey, when its hot and I am gonna die of thirst, looks mean nothing at that point! 


  1. I have that same bag. But have found if I utilize the outside pockets, the rain protector won't fit over everything.


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