I have been on a long ride across the United States since last August. I typically stay at friends homes or AirBnbs and work 20 to 50 hours a week from my computer. While there are many guides online related to short term motorcyce touring, there are few related to long term touring and, as far as I know, none related to long term computer programming touring :D This article is a breakdown of what I carry with me and a little bit of why. I hope it can be helpful for any aspiring "moto-nomads".
My bike is a 2002 Honda Shadow Spirit 750. I purchased it with ~9,000 miles on the odometer from it's second owner last May. At the time of buying, I did not know I would be riding across America with it. From a logistics perspective, this bike is not ideal for long term touring but it get's the job done. The key aspect to long term touring is having a reliable bike, everything else is secondary. This bike is very reliable.
- Bad on dirt. Riding this bike on dirt roads and rough terrain is not fun. If I could get a different bike it would be some sort of "adventure" style bike.
- No locking luggage. I'm sure I could modify the frame or get some custom luggage built but there is no locking luggage on the market for this bike. This is annoying because if I am traveling with all my luggage I can't just stop and leave my stuff on the bike. That being said, I typically do long rides from one destination to another. I then drop my stuff off at where I am staying and then I can explore. But still, it's annoying that I can't just stop anywhere and explore whenever I want.
- Small Fuel Tank. This bike only holds 3.5 gallons of gas. I usually stop when I have 1 gallon left. On the highway I get 60 - 70 miles per gallon. This isn't the worst thing in the world because it means I have to stop about every 2 hours which is something you should do anyway. But I do fear running out of gas on the road in the middle of the desert.
Riding long distances is a lot different than going to the store and back. Keeping warm and finding ways to increase your endurance are essential to having a good time while riding long distances. A lot of the gear I carry is related to these two aspects. Over the past 9 months I have never had a situation where I didn't make it to my destination, this is because I am ready for nearly everything.
There are a few aftermarket changes I made to the bike that are essential to this:
- Heated Grips: If you plan on doing long distance, rain or shine riding I would stronly recommend getting heated grips. These completely changed the game for me. I originally wired these directly to the battery, before leaving Maine, I hooked them directly to the ignition, this means that when the bikes electrical system is turned off so are grips. This eliminates the possibility of accidentally killing your battery by leaving them on.
- Windshield: When I first put the windshield on I hated the way it looked and was skeptical of the benefits. After a few long rides though my opinion changed. Having a windshield in front of you on a six hour ride reduces the stress on your torso, increasing comfort and endurance.
- Highway Pegs: I don't use these a lot but they are good to have so you can stretch out a little bit during long rides.
- Mustang Saddle: The previous owner put this on so I have never sat on the original seat. It's pretty comfortable though so I'm glad it's there.
At the end of the day, the bike doesn't matter that much. You need to take good care of it and know as much about the bike as possible. If you keep the bike healthy, it will keep you healthy.
The Windshield Bag
The windshield bag is a Timbuk2 messenger bag I picked up at an L.L. Bean somewhere in New Hampshire. I had been looking for a front bag for a while and this one fit perfectly on my windshield. The windshield bag contains stuff that I might need to easily access during a ride:
- Rain Gear: A pair of water resistant pants and jacket, I throw these on when it starts raining, they mostly keep me dry.
- Camera & Camera Accessories: You only see my zoom lense and spare battery in the picture above because I used my camera to take these pictures. I often pull over and snap a shot while riding so it's good to have easy access to the camera.
- Heat Pads: Something a lot of people don't realize about motorcycles is how cold you can get even in releatively nice weather. I learned this lesson the hard way, many times, I now keep a few heat pads with me at all times, just in case.
- Hankerchief: Keeps the face warm when it gets cold
- Tire Pressure Gauge: Gotta keep your tire pressure right. I keep another pressure gauge in my toolkit. I frequently check my tire pressure. When I need more air I go to a gas station and fill up. Word to the wise: I have never encountered a gas station air pump with an accurate gauge, bring your own.
- Phone Charger & USB Cable: Definitely get one of these. I have meant to get a spare for a long time. If you are relying on your phone for GPS, it's essential.
Everything I own of value goes into the windshield bag or backpack. If I need to leave my bike somewhere with the saddlebags on (i.e. to use the bathroom) I can easily take the those bags with me. The backpack is waterproof and made by Timbuk2. This backpack has seen some shit and still gets the job done. I typically wrap the bag with a flannel to provide an additional layer of protection and so I can easily access the flannel if I get cold. The backpack is held on with a motorcycle net. If I position it correctly it provides a nice surface for me to lean back on during long rides.
- My Laptop & Charger: My most in important item, I could lose everything else. As long as I have my laptop I can work. It is a 11" 2015 MacBook Air, which is, in my opinion, one of the best laptops ever made.
- Mouse & Mousepad: I went a long time using only the trackpad. At one point I really wanted to play Minecraft and picked up a mouse. It is a Wireless Logitech G900, I prefer it to the Razr Death Adder which is the mouse I left behind.
- Tech Gear: The two black bags and silver box contain a bunch of accessories pertaining to the programming work I do. I also keep some emergency cash in the silver box. If you are traveling, I would reccomend keeping some emergency cash that you don't touch somewhere.
- Field Recorder: For high quality recordings on the go.
- Binder: This is my schedule and TODO list. I have tried digital solutions many times but nothing beats the binder.
- External Camera Mic: If I am doing an Intimate Interview I put this on my camera for slightly better sound.
The Left Saddlebag
I started out with a different pair of Saddlebags, unfortunately I overstuffed one and the zipper broke. I took it to several tailors to try to get fixed but it would have cost more to fix it than I paid for the bags so I got new ones. These saddlebags come with water protectors which you can see in the bike pictures above.
In the outer pocket:
- One Shoe: I wear my boots while riding and need to put my shoes somewhere. They get a little crushed in the side pocket, which probably isn't a good thing.
- Clutch & Throttle Repair Kit: I hope I never have to use this but if any of my cables snap on the road I am ready to switch them out.
In the main pocket:
- My Keyboard: The Kenesis Freestyle 2, I tried a lot of ergonomic keyboards over the years and this one is my favorite. It's relatively portable so I brought it with me.
- Clean Clothing: List of clothes I have with me: 7 t-shirts, 12 pairs of socks, 9 pairs of boxers, 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of cutoff shorts, 1 pair of sweatpants,1 pair of gymshorts. Socks are the most important item of clothing to me which is why I have more of them. On particularily long rides I keep an extra pair of socks in the windshield bag so I can switch them along the way. If I needed more room I could easily cut the amount of clothing down, except for the socks.
- Shop Manual for my Bike: I have used this a couple times on the road. In general, it is more helpful than the owners manual which is stored on the bike.
- Under Armour Suit: Under Amour pants and long sleeve shirt, if the temperature is below 60 Fahrenheit when I am leaving somewhere I throw these on to stay warm.
- Bathroom Bag
The Right Saddlebag
In the outer pocket:
- A Bag of Zip Ties: Sometimes things fall off and zip ties are a good way to put them back on.
- Chain Lube: Keep your chain lubed!
- More Heat Pads
- My Other Shoe
In the main pocket:
- Sweater and Jacket: Depending on the weather these are either on me or in the saddlebag.
- Dirty Clothes: In the black trash bag.
- Spark & Fizz Goodies: A box of Spark & Fizz goodies: cassettes, CDs, pins and stickers.
- Toolbag: Some essential tools for on the road repair:
- Ratchet & Sockets: I have a socket for every bolt on my bike.
- Rope: One of those things you don't know you need until you need it. I mentioned above that this is my second set of saddle bags, the zipper on one of the bags in the first set failed the night before I left Georgia. I had already booked an AirBnb in Florida and didn't want to cancel. I was able to tie my old bags closed and go on my way.
- Chain brush: Keep that chain clean!
- Hex tool, superglue, carabiners, tape, etc.
- Climbing Shoes & Chalk: I have been to many rock climbing gyms on the road and hope to go on some real rocks when I get out west.
- Hive: Great game, kinda like chess.
I originally stored my clothing in airtight bags but I found that weren't really more convenient than just putting the clothes at the bottom of the bag and pushing down hard. I'm sure there are a lot of ways to optimize storage but I haven't spent too much time on it.
The Luggage Rack
I keep a few things secured to the luggage rack with a bungy cord.
- Jacket Inner Layer: My riding jacket has an inner layer that can be removed. I keep it on the back in case I start to get cold.
- Sleeping Bag
- Bike Cover
This is the gear that I try to wear all the time. I'm sure I could up my safety game even more but this is where I am at.
- Riding Jacket: River Road, synthetic material, has armour around arms and spine.
- Steel Tip Boots: These are made by Vegetarian Shoes, I was pretty skeptical when I bought them. That was three years ago though and they are still holding up. I throw a layer of black polish on them from time to time to keep them fresh.
- Darn Tough Socks: My little bro got me a pair of these last Christmas. They are like 20 bucks a pair and totally worth it. They also have a lifetime warranty. These socks are super comfortable, keep your feet warm and never get smelly (trust me on that).
There are probably some things missing from my setup. For example, it would be a good to a first aid kit and a U.S. road map. Speaking of the navigation, I typically use Google Maps with voice mode thru my earbuds. If you are using a GPS program you really should know your route ahead of time incase you get out of GPS range or experience a dead battery. Google Maps also makes terrible decisions from time to time, so it's good to know where you are going before you get there.