Getting ready to live on a bike

You’ve seen that photo of a guy and his motorcycle set against some magnificent backdrop, like the Himalayas or the Andes. And now you want to do that. So what exactly does it take? There are two ways to approach this — either you just pick up your bike keys, turn on the engine and ride without bothering to plan, or you spend time planning your travel so that you’ll be a bit more comfortable and assured of tackling any hurdles that come your path by carrying the appropriate gear. I’ve tried both ways and each has its own charms and problems.
The first method is for free-birds: those that can’t even plan tonight’s dinner, let alone what gear they should carry or where exactly they want to go. There’s definitely a beauty in being spontaneous and leaving it up to fate to direct your front wheel’s direction. However, I would advise that the second method is the wiser option since there are dangers that can be mitigated with a bit of planning. Planning is for travelers who want to delve a bit deeper into their experiences by choosing the best places to slow down on their journey and ensure that they actually get to where they’d like to go.

The first thing to consider is what kind of roads you expect to encounter in and around your destination. If the roads are going to be paved and flowing black ribbons of asphalt, any kind of motorcycle from a Scooty to a Harley will do.

However, if you anticipate rough roads and have a desire to go off the beaten path, a more off-road oriented motorcycle will be the right choice. The features to look for in this kind of bike are long suspensions to absorb the bumps, a durable frame to withstand vibration and a large front wheel to easily climb over rocks and out of potholes. To ride safely in off-road conditions, the rider must be able to stand comfortably on the footpegs and have control of the levers on the handlebar. This means that the bike should have a slim fuel tank instead of a fat, round one that would obstruct the knees when standing and a straighter handlebar than what would feature on a cruiser bike.

Planning is for travelers who want to delve a bit deeper into their experiences by choosing the best places to slow down on their journey and ensure that they actually get to where they’d like to go.

In India, the most affordable off-road bike is the Hero Impulse, though unfortunately it is out of production. Its off-road frame is perfect for traveling although its 150cc engine leaves most bikers yearning for more grunt especially when climbing up steep slopes. Many a traveler has done successful trips through the Himalayas on the Impulse, showing that a more suitable chassis can outweigh deficiency in power. The other obvious choice for a touring motorcycle in India is the Royal Enfield Bullet. The Bullet can definitely tackle all the rough terrain thrown at it but unfortunately this comes at a price in terms of weakened suspension and an outdated heavy frame. In the hands of a custom builder however, a very worthy off-roader can be built based on the Bullet.


Once the vehicle for the journey is sorted, the next task is to accessorize the pilot.  Feeling the wind and leaning in and out of corners, the rider is in store for a liberating experience, but it would be foolish not to respect the dangers that come from riding a motorcycle. Even a simple accident at 10 kph can cause great damage. To mitigate the dangers of the crash that all riders face, get some high quality safety gear. The helmet should fit comfortably and not move around at high speed. The gloves and boots should protect your wrists and ankles while not restricting your dexterity. The jacket and pants should have the armour to protect the major joints.

The next major consideration is what to pack. You and your motorcycle are going on this journey. You are going to be living on this bike for the duration of your trip so you  should see it as your home. Depending on how far away from civilization you want to go will determine what kind of things you will need to carry.

If you’ll be in populated areas and have towns to sleep in every night, your gear might consist of a few pairs of clothes and perhaps some photography gear. However, if you want to head far away from anything resembling a town, you must carry your own shelter and food. A lightweight tent with a thin sleeping bag and sleeping mat can make for a comfortable night’s rest.

I like to travel with a thin, inflatable 3/4 length mattress that lifts me just a centimeter or two off the ground to provide a flat surface to sleep on. I get great joy from cooking my own meals while traveling to remote places and a camping stove like the MSR Dragonfly is sufficient to cook some tasty meals.

Every seasoned rider learns to be careful about carrying tools and spares for the bike. Equip yourself with basic skills, like fixing a flat tyre, removing and inspecting a spark plug, changing the engine oil, adjusting drive chain tension, etc.  While it’s good to take tips from seasoned travelers on various aspects of a long journey, it all boils down to what you want out of your journey.

The greatest teacher is your own experience, so learn from each journey and soon you will be an expert in planning for long distance motorcycle traveling.