Monday Q&A: What Tools and Spares to Take on a Motorcycle Trip
If you’re going on a long motorcycle trip, you’re probably wondering what spare parts and tools you need to take with you. Everyone has their own set of tolerances as to what they’re willing to do on the road, and what they’ll do in the event of a breakdown. Some people just hop on the bike and carry a credit card – and that’ll get you through most jams. But if you don’t fancy waiting for roadside assistance when you’re in the middle of the scorching desert, you might want to bring along what you need to fix minor issues and get you back on the road.
Discover Your Bike’s “Known Issues”
All bikes have “known issues.” These are things that are known to go wrong on a bike. This may range from the KLR’s infamous “doohickey” to the F650’s notorious water pump – most bikes have one or more things that routinely go wrong. You can discover your bike’s known issues by lurking in a forum for your motorcycle – most motorcycles these days have their own Internet forum. Or you can just ask in the forum about the known issues, if you don’t have the time or patience to lurk and learn.
Once you learn about your bike’s known issues, you should decide whether you need to carry spare parts to address the issue, or whether it’s something you’ll just have to find a dealer to resolve if it happens while you’re on the road. (We carry a set of water pump spares for our F650s, for example, just because it’s such a common issue, and it’s a relatively easy roadside repair.)
Take Care of Your Tires
Your tires are arguably the most important part of your motorcycle (next to your brakes!) Your tires give you traction and keep you safe in a variety of weather conditions, road conditions and handling faux pas. You want a tire with good tire tread if you’re starting out on a long trip.
Try to discover the tire’s expected lifespan before you go – if you’ve got a tire that’ll only last you another 2,000 miles, and you’re planning a 5,000 mile trip, you’re gonna need spare tires along the way. Some people prefer to buy spares at home and load them on the bike. Others prefer to find a dealer along the way and stop for spares when they need them. Decide which solution works best for you, and have a loose plan for dealing with the tire question.
If you want to be able to fix a flat by the side of the road, you should carry a tire patch kit or tube patch kit, depending on your tire type. If you’ve got tube tires, you’ll also need the tools to dismount your tire, break the bead, remove one side of the tire from the rim, extract the tube, replace the tube, and put it all back together. Some people prefer to carry spare tubes so they can hot-swap on the road, instead of figuring out where the bad tube is leaking and trying to patch it. Carrying spare tubes can also save you if you get a slash or gash that’s too big to patch in your tube.
Keep in mind that you’ll need some way to reinflate your tire and set your bead if you fix a flat. We prefer the CyclePump, which is a portable air compressor made for motorcycle use that can plug into an SAE cable or connect directly to your battery. If you plan to use CO2 cartridges to inflate your tire, make sure you have enough of them – most tires take more than one, and you could find yourself carrying a lot of them if you want to plan for the possibility of more than one flat.
Carry Wear Parts
Depending on your bike model, you’ve probably got certain wear items and maintenance items you’ll have to replace along the way. This may include oil filters, air filters, spark plugs, fuses, O-rings and gaskets. On a chain or belt-driven motorcycle, you’ll also need to replace the chain or belt at some point – possibly in the middle of the trip.
At the very least, you should carry what you’ll need to service these wear items, such as chain lube and spare links. But if you’re going to need to replace wear items on the road, it’s a lot easier to carry spares with you than to hope you’ll be able to find them when you need them. In a pinch, you can typically cobble together something from a hardware store, an auto store or another motorcycle’s parts to get you going again. But it’s always easier to have your own wear parts handy when you need to change them.
Replace What You can with Reusable Parts
Many motorcycles have reusable parts available that you can buy instead of replacing wear items all the time. For example, we’ve bought Scotts Performance reusable oil filters and K&N reusable air filters for our F650s instead of carrying around a bunch of spare filters. If you install cleanable and reusable parts, that’s fewer spares you have to carry, and you won’t have to worry about being in the middle of nowhere and not finding a replacement if you run out.
Carry Compact Bike Tools
As a general rule of thumb, any time we use a tool to do something on the bike, we add it to our motorcycle tool kit. If we need a new socket size or torx bit for an aftermarket part, we add it to our motorcycle tools in case we need to tighten the fasteners or service something under the part. We also carry a complete set of our motorcycle’s tool kit (upgraded versions, anyway – the stock BMW tools are crap) so we can do things like change the oil, tighten torx fasteners, access the battery, check the air filter, change tires and do other routine maintenance on the road.
We’re probably not experienced enough wrenches to do any serious repairs on the side of the road, but it’s really handy to have a complete set of bike tools just for routine maintenance and fixing flat tires. And if you do find yourself needing to do serious service in the middle of a strange mechanic’s shop far from home – a mechanic who doesn’t work on your bike and doesn’t have the right tools – you’ll be glad you’ve got your own bike tools with you.
Always Carry a Good First Aid Kit!
Bike service notwithstanding – one thing we ALWAYS carry on the bikes is a good, comprehensive first aid kit. Make no mistake – motorcycling is dangerous. Anyone who tells you otherwise is in denial. But by wearing good protective gear and carrying a good first aid kit, you can mitigate those dangers.
I’ll do a full writeup on first aid kits sometime in the near future, but don’t neglect this important bit of kit. In fact, if you’re the “credit card” kind of wrench and you bring no bike-related tools or spares at all – bring a first aid kit. Just make it an essential part of your motorcycle gear. You’ll be glad you did if you ever need it.
What tools and spares do you bring with you? Is there anything I missed here? Tell me about it and I might add it to the post!