Updated: Jun 30
Though I am not a hardcore long-distance rider, I have made many long-distance motorcycle trips. I'd consider anything 5 days or longer “long-distance” where you must put some effort into planning and packing for your trip. Having travelled a lot over the years, I've learned a few tips and discovered the hard way some items I should have packed, besides clothes and toiletries. This recommended list is by no means exhaustive.
If you end up taking a road or ADV ride with Canada Rides, your guides will be carrying many of these items for the group to use; no sense in 10 people carrying a left-handed smoke shifter when only one is required. We always have Zoom or Teams meetings before the trips to let you know what items we will pack so you don't have to bring them. Unfortunately, not all of your rides will be with us though, so here's the list of items that I would consider “must-haves”:
First Aid Kit
You can buy these (I use one we got with my wife's car), but I would recommend putting a good one together in a waterproof container. Google “what to put in a first aid kit”, or go to redcross.org for a comprehensive list. This item is number one on this list for a reason; don't ignore it; your riding buddy's life could depend on it. Further to that, make sure you tell the people you ride with of any conditions a medic would need to know in case you can't speak for yourself. Let your riding partners know if you wear a medic alert bracelet/necklace.
These things are so multipurpose, I bring a minimum of 50 of them in varying sizes. They can fix virtually anything that has come loose on your bike. On day 2 of a 6-day solo gravel travel ride in Northern Ontario, I stopped at the Watershed on Highway 144 for gas before tackling Sultan Industrial Road. When I looked down, I saw the shift peg was askew on the lever. I reached down and it came off in my hand; the screw holding it onto the shift arm had just come off. If the peg had dropped off as well, I would have been euchred. Using two zip ties, I jammed the hole where the screw held the peg on and threaded them back to the back of the shift lever for tension. While I was nervous, and constantly looked down to make sure nothing was amiss while riding, it held for the remainder of the trip. When I took it into the dealership when I got back, the head mechanic looked at it and said: “Nice MacGyver.”
Anything that can't be fixed with zip ties can usually be fixed with Duct Tape. I've had the best experience with the black Gorilla Tape.
If you've ever ridden through a downpour (and who hasn't), you know that your vision is severely impacted to the point of being dangerous. Using Rain-X (or similar) on your visor will bead off the raindrops, and reduce the fogging on the inside. You may need to re-apply throughout the day. Make sure you get the one labelled for plastic.
Shop Towels (the disposable blue ones)
From wiping off your bike in the morning, to applying Rain-X, to using them as a napkin for the food truck burger you bought, these things are indispensable. A half-roll is more than enough. Flatten it out, and put your zip ties inside the tube.
Back in the day, motorcycles came with decent tool kits. Nowadays, not so much. Ask the mechanic at your dealership what they would recommend you carry. There are some motorcycle tool kits you can buy, but given space is always a concern, I'd invest in some high-quality individual tools. Remember, you're not going to be tearing the bike down on the road, you just want to be able to fix any minor issues that come up. Take what you need to fix a flat tire (either tubed or tubeless) and an air compressor. A high-quality multi-tool (like a Leatherman) is also a good idea. JB Weld too for ADV rides. I've seen what would have been a ride-ending incident when a stone holed an engine case. A little JB Weld and topping up the oil kept him going for the rest of the 8-day ride.
If your bike takes premium fuel, pack a couple of bottles of octane booster. They're small & don't take up much room. I've experienced many gas stops over the years where I couldn't get premium, either because they don't have it, or they're out of it until the next delivery. Most modern motorcycle engines have sensors to retard the ignition timing for low-octane fuel, but I like to run the recommended rating.
This is especially important in the summer. Depending on your gear, you could be sweating out bucket loads once the temperature reaches 28 or higher. You're basically riding into a blast furnace. Yeah, those “venting zippers” don't cut it. Drink a bottle of water, or an equivalent amount of sports drink at each stop (should be at least every hour). Dehydration can cause dizziness or light-headedness; not ideal when you're riding. Check the colour of your urine at rest stops. It may sound odd, but the darker it is, the more dehydrated you are. If the colour could best be described as ochre, take an extended stop and drink at least one litre of water. Seriously. Don't mess with this.
This is the bare minimum coverage required. Regular CAA won't send a flatbed to pick up your bike unless you pay extra. Just do it. Consider it an insurance expense.
Old school I know, but there are few things as satisfying as sitting at a picnic table after a ride with a beer poring over a map looking at your day's journey, and tracing with your finger tomorrow's route. Maybe the weather forecast for tomorrow is for constant rain & you want to scope out an alternate shorter route than the 700 km beast you planned. When you're truly lost (nothing to be ashamed of...has happened to me multiple times), pulling out a map at the side of the road is easier than figuring it out on your GPS. And importantly, make sure your maps are up to date. With your CAA membership, you should be getting new maps (for free) a minimum of every 2 years. While you're at it, remember to bring a compass so you can orient your map, or at the very least, learn how to use an analog watch as a compass (old army training kicking in). Google “how to use a watch as a compass.”
Another thing I've found handy is to print off an itinerary with a copy of all lodging confirmations and put them in a duo-tang. Make sure you get billed what the confirmation said it would be; I've had a couple of circumstances where the numbers didn't match.
As mentioned above, if you expect rain, you may want to shorten some of your day's tracks, if possible. What I do for every ride over 3 days is have 2 GPS routes for every day, e.g. “Cabot Trail Day 6” and “Cabot Trail Day 6 Rain”. That way I can put the routes together on BaseCamp beforehand, and simply load the appropriate route in the morning.
Hey, you never know when you'll need them, and they don't take up much room. Yeah, you'll have motorcycle gloves, but do you want to hack them up pulling big tree branches off secondary roads the morning after a big wind or lightning storm before the township has cleared them?
I know we're moving more and more to a tap-and-go society, but cash is still king. I've stopped for gas a few times and they said “Sorry, our credit card system is down”. Bring a few hundred bucks.
Items specific to your trip environment
Not every trip is the same; some are more adventurous than others. Some homework and preparation can help you cope better with any situations you encounter.
I took a solo trip to James Bay, up the James Bay Highway. It's 687 km from Matagami to Chisasibi, with only one stop for gas at Relais Routier at km 381. Now I ride a big GS Adventure nicknamed the “Exxon Valdez” by Dave due to its 30-litre fuel capacity, giving it the ability to act as a tanker on ADV rides for those riding smaller bikes (meaning virtually everyone else). Normally, I can get over 600km between fill-ups, but for some reason, I was down to an indicated 45 km range left when I got to Relais Routier. I had read blog posts about similar experiences of horrific gas consumption on the James Bay Highway, but I was surprised, nonetheless. If I ever do this trip again, I'll bring a gas can just to be on the safe side. BTW, Relais Routier has no premium gas (see previous tip about octane booster) but has a great restaurant.
The other prep I did for the trip was to pack a tarpaulin with stakes and twine, as well as a big ass hunting knife (think Crocodile Dundee) and bear spray. When the associate at Canadian Tire asked me if I wanted “Regular” or “Extra Strength” bear spray, I looked at him and said “Seriously?” The James Bay highway is a long lonely road. No one travels it at night, so if you start out first thing in the morning, you won't see a car coming from the opposite direction for a minimum of three hours. Likewise, after about 4 or 5 pm, you'll have no more oncoming traffic, and probably very little following traffic.
I wanted to be prepared in case of a breakdown/accident. With my SPOT satellite communicator, I knew I could summon emergency help, but I also knew help could be 4-6 hours coming. In case of rain, or beating the sun, I wanted to have a way of making a shelter (army training again). Also, research told me that bears inhabit the area, so I figured I could at least put up a good fight if worst came to worst. As it turns out, I only saw bears near the hydro dam outside Radisson. Better safe than sorry though. I would also recommend a mosquito mesh hat for the black flies and some lightweight gloves for when you stop. You're going to look like an idiot. You can thank me later.
This is my list of “essential” items. What are some things you cannot travel without? Tell us in the comments. You never stop learning.