I had some trouble with the title for this post.  The fact is that there are hundreds of things you need for a successful motorcycle trip, ranging from the motorcycle itself all the way to having a good attitude. I hope to eventually cover them all, but for starters I’m going to highlight the top 10 gadgets that I don’t leave home without.  This list specifically is relating to more touring oriented motorcycle travel, but is still very applicable to a long day trip.

  1. A Multi-tool

    I rarely go anywhere without this.  I’ve had a few in my day, and my favorite so far has been the Leatherman Skeletool CX.  Leatherman has a wide variety of different products so you can get the one that’s right for you, the most popular is the Wave, but my choice is the Skeletool.  I’ll admit that part of the reason is likely due to the fact that it’s absolutely gorgeous, but it’s also about as minimalist as a multitool can get and thus has pretty much everything you could need and nothing you don’t.  The Skeletool (and Skeletool CX) have a knife blade, pliers, wire cutters, a screwdriver with phillips and flat-head bits, and perhaps most importantly for some of you:  A bottle opener.  Simply put, Leatherman makes a high quality, useful product that can really get you out of a bind if you happen to find yourself in one. The one complaint I have about this tool (and I’ve had it for almost a year now) is that since it’s so light it doesn’t love twisting action. I haven’t had any issues with it, but it does flex quite a bit when twisting with the pliers, or putting a lot of torque through the screw driver. ‘m guessing the beefier Leatherman models are better in this regard.

  2. Ear Plugs
    I’ve had people ask me why I wear ear plugs when riding and the simple answer is:  It’s loud.  At the end of a long ride, even WITH ear plugs my ears have been ringing.  Hearing should not be overrated and I have a hard enough time hearing people’s mumbling now, let alone if I had profound hearing loss.  I’ve had good experience with hearos in the past, but I think most soft foam ear plugs will do the trick.
  3. Bungee Cargo Net
    I was a little skeptical when I first got this.  It made me uncomfortable because I didn’t trust the size of the netting to hold everything, and I didn’t trust the hooks to stay hooked.  Over time though I’ve come to trust it and it’s never let me down.  My personal preference is to combine it with a dry bag (the next item on the list) but I have friends that use their cargo nets for carrying an extra jacket, shoes, or whatever.  There are different sizes available, and you’ll have to decide for yourself what works best for you, but I went with a larger size because I have enough other cargo capacity with my tank bag (item six on this list) and saddle bags that I only really need the cargo net for longer trips or bigger items. I bought mine at a local dealership.
  4. Dry Bag
    When I do long touring trips, this is an absolute must-have.  For shorter day trips, I don’t usually bother unless I know I might run into rainy or wet conditions, or if I am carrying my laptop.  I actually have two different dry bags, a small one and a large one.  the small one I use for carrying my laptop or a sleeping bag, particularly if I’m not carrying the large dry bag.  The large dry bag I strap to the back of my bike with the previously mentioned cargo net, and it’s where I put anything and everything that I don’t want to get wet.  A lot of the time, rain gear and rain covers for yourself and your saddlebags or tank bag will be sufficient to keep you and your stuff mostly dry, but sometimes you’re just going to get wet.  One ride in particular I had was in a downpour on the highway at 70mph in somewhat heavy traffic.  You can’t avoid getting wet in that scenario.  Luckily, a good dry bag will keep your valuables (including a change of clothes, sleeping bag, or sensitive electronics) nice and dry.  These bags are designed to be able to be submerged in water and still keep things dry, and they do a damn good job. My small bag is by Outdoor Research and my large bag is by Cascade Designs and I’ve been very happy with both of them from a quality standpoint. You can find these bags at camping stores, and don’t forget: ziploc bags work really great for smaller items, too!
  5. Heated Hand Grips
    Anyone who’s ridden into the nighttime in the spring or fall knows that as soon as the sun goes down, temperatures can drop rapidly.  If you have experience with longer rides you will also know that the temperature fluctuation over a 100 mile ride can be pretty big, let alone a 3,000 mile cross-country touring trip.  Heated grips can be had for pretty cheap, there are many options out there, but I got the Symtec Motorcycle Grip Heater Kit w/round rocker switch and have been very happy with them. I think I spent about 6 hours installing them.  The instructions say you can install them in an hour or two, which is true, but I prefer to take a meticulous approach to make it seem as close to a factory install as possible.  I think for the money heated grips will probably get the most use out of everything on this list.
  6. Tank Bag
    This is another item on the list that if you’re anything like me, you will use almost every single time you go riding.  I prefer the magnetic type of bag because you just put it on the tank and go.  I prefer a somewhat larger bag, too, but I’m also a pretty tall guy with long arms.  I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it being intrusive and in the way and preventing me from being able to move around and ride well, and all I can say is that it is the least obtrusive piece of luggage I have.  It’s out of my field of view and unless I’m trying to tuck down and race it’s never been in the way.  Actually for riding in cold weather it’s nice because it breaks a lot of the wind from hitting my body.  Having said all that, the features I look for in a tank bag are a map pocket on the top, quick access side pockets, and one of my favorite features:  A small, quick access change pocket which is very useful for toll booths and such.  My tank bag also has some shoulder straps so it can be setup as a backpack in a pinch, which works really great for short day trips which involve both riding and some short amount of hiking.  Like the Leatherman, this is another product I could write an individual review for.
  7. Cinch Straps

    I first discovered the usefulness of these through my hiking experience.  The simple fact is that even if you’re an expert at knots, cinch straps are light, strong, quick, easy, and can probably be tied just as tight if not tighter than most people can do with knots.  I use them for all sorts of things, especially when there is camping involved.  I regularly use them to help strap down my dry bag, since when I use just the cargo net the dry bag can shift around a bit more than I like (mostly it just shifts forward and ends up resting on my back – I don’t like that). There are a couple different styles, and I prefer the ones with steel head pieces that lock a little bit more securely. There are some slightly larger straps with the steel head type here: Master Lock 3060DAT 12-Foot-by-1-Inch Lashing Strap, 2-Pack

  8. Credit Cards
    I know not everyone is going to agree with me on this one, but credit cards are great – when used responsibly.  With the widespread use of credit cards these days, carrying a credit card with a $2,000 limit is almost as good as carrying around $2,000 cash, but with the added bonus of having a large company keeping track of every transaction, and being very interested in keeping every transaction legitimate.  If you lose it, you can cancel it.  If it gets stolen, you can report it and in some cases get a refund.  With cash you’re pretty much out of luck if it gets stolen or lost.  I still think it’s a good idea to carry some cash, but I feel much better having a credit card than carrying a few thousand in greenbacks.  Additionally there’s a lot of credit cards out there which have rewards programs which actually allow you to get some percentage off of every purchase you make.  The drawback, of course, is if you start carrying a balance the interest will in many cases far-exceed the rewards.  Many people also find that they are not responsible enough to keep their debt under control.  Ultimately, when used responsibly credit cards have many positive aspects, including but not limited to being able to bail you out if you get in trouble.  In my experience the rule of responsible credit card use is to be able to pay the card off completely every month.  If you can do that, then they’re a far better option than carrying lots of cash.
  9. My Buff
    These things are great;  I have two: the Cyclone Buff and the Original Buff, and I’ve been extremely happy with both of them.  The Original is great for riding in any weather, I like to use it to keep the wind, bugs, dirt, sand, and chaffing from my jacket off my neck.  It’s very soft and I wouldn’t go on a long ride without it, except possibly in the hottest weather.  The Cyclone Buff is made specifically for cold weather activities, and I actually use it mostly for skiing.   Having said that, I never go on a long ride, especially in colder months without taking my Cyclone Buff with me, it is one of the few pieces of gear that I use more than I thought I would.
  10. Tire Plugger

    I’ll admit:  At this point I actually don’t have one of these, and I’m kicking myself for it.  These are not the typical type of plugs, but rather a mushroom shaped plug that requires a specialized gun to install on the tire.  I’ve used – and had poor luck with – the standard tire plugs in the past.  Some motorcycle tires don’t have enough meat to them to really hold onto the plugs well.  On these mushroom shaped plugs the “cap” of the plug goes into the tube and creates a one-way barb type effect which hooks the plug in place against the pressure of the air inside the tire.  While I have not personally used this, I know people who have and have nothing but good things to say about them. I recommend carrying a small bicycle hand pump too, but you can also get a kit with CO2 cartridges for filling up the tire. The kit that includes the CO2 is here: STOP & GO POCKET TIRE PLUGGER W/CO2 1001