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As Long as We Remember...

July 21, 2009

Motorcycle Touring Part 3

Nick Diaz

As I promised in my last installment on motorcycle touring, I intend to deal with the topics of security, food, and shelter while on the road.




Let me start out by saying that I have never had anything stolen off my bike and never had a bike stolen or even messed with. Well, there was one time some drunk urinated in the muffler and on the rear wheel at a campground in Ohio many years ago. I'll bet even odds that the guy was so drunk that he thought he was trickling on a really strangely shaped shiny tree.


How much of this altogether positive experience is due to good luck, and how much is because of the precautions I take, is anyone's guess. I know that most other touring riders that I've talked to have had pretty much the same experience as I've had. My guess is that a lot of my good luck has to do with my preference to stay away from heavily populated areas, and that I typically ride motorcycles which are generally less desirable to thieves. My precautions probably also play a relatively small part.


Security is where your touring style and type of luggage intersect. The two main security considerations are the security of your gear and belongings while they are on your bike, and the security of the bike itself.


Security of your belongings


When I first started touring, I just tied various canvas bags or flight bags to the back seat. Later, as I got more money and/or became wiser, I bought some soft saddlebags and a tank bag. For my first few years of traveling by motorcycle, I used various kinds and styles of soft luggage.


I define “soft luggage” as containers that are attached to a motorcycle via straps and removable fasteners. Soft luggage, by my definition, can be easily installed and removed from a motorcycle in less than 30 seconds. Hard luggage, on the other hand, predictably consists of hard, usually plastic units that are permanently attached to the motorcycle via nuts and bolts and often come with the motorcycle as a package. My Yamaha Venture was designed with hard luggage as an integral part of the “package.” All Honda Gold Wings, for example, come equipped with integral hard luggage, as do the “touring” BMW’s and Harleys.


All things considered, there are some obvious advantages to soft luggage; easy on-and-off means a rider can ride on a daily basis without carrying the extra bulk that permanent bags provide. Aesthetically and minimally minded owners are particularly conscious about the motorcycle’s “naked” lines and looks.


The main disadvantage of soft luggage is that it offers almost no security to a rider’s belongings. The way I used to deal with this problem is pretty simplistic, but it works. My general rule was never to be out of sight of the bike when any soft luggage is mounted. This system works just fine as long as you don't want to leave your bike for more than a few seconds, but it can put a big crimp in your style if you want to wander on foot. For riders who seldom sightsee, this is not much of a problem.


If, on the other hand, a rider, who really want to sightsee, should get a motel room in the area, stash his luggage there, and then wander with the bare bike except for a tank bag. By emptying the tank bag of everything but the map and maybe rain gear, and then take the bag with him while wandering around, a motorcyclist can surmount this problem. A small back pack to carry the tank bag, or a tank bag rigged with extra straps so that it can be worn as a backpack, makes it a lot easier to take the tank bag along.


As for your jacket and helmet, you can either take them with you or secure them to the bike. I have heard of people stealing a helmet by cutting the chin strap on a helmet secured to a bike's helmet lock. It makes no sense to me to do that, as it ruins the helmet; it does, however, happen. A better, but still risky, solution is to get a small cable lock and loop it through the sleeve of the jacket and the eye opening in the helmet; this only works for full face helmets (which all of us should wear anyway). Then, lock the whole mess to the bike, preferably with the lock under the seat. This still leaves you vulnerable to vandals and a determined thief.


None of this will stop a determined thief or serious vandal, but will stop a casual thief. Purpose-built luggage locks are available in luggage stores or the travel section of some stores like Target.


The most secure solution is using lockable hard luggage, and never leave the bike without locking everything inside the luggage. This may not be an option for you because of time, price, or availability for your bike. Every motorcycle I’ve owned since 1979 has sported permanent and lockable hard luggage. I like bringing along the kitchen sink on my two-wheeled Winnebago, aka the Yamaha Venture.


For security when eating, I would rather eat in places where I can see my motorcycle. Since I often eat my meals at mom-and-pop diners in small towns, this is pretty easy rule to follow. In most small town cafes, you can almost always park where you can see your bike. If you can't, it's not that big a deal, as there are often so few people around that there is not really any need for security. Still, I'm a bit paranoid and prefer not to let my bike out of sight when eating.


Next time, security while staying at motels and campgrounds. Later this week the Venture and I will hit the road southwest toward the wilds of West Virginia, in search of new, exciting invisible roads. Ain’t summer grand? Questions about motorcycle touring? E-mail me at


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