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Pack Light, Travel Light


So you are dreaming of your big adventure ride; an expedition.

Months and maybe years of research and you have a planned route.

You have joined travel forums on social media and you have some favorite riders who are living your dream and are actually out there doing it. You zoom in on their photos to analyze what bike they are riding, what they are wearing, what they are carrying and you soak up every little detail of their trip.

You are so obsessed sometimes you feel like a stalker!

The reality is everyone approaches adventure riding differently. Everyone brings along different skills and varying levels of experience. Your trip can never replicate theirs. Just like two pebbles bobbing down a stream together, their experiences will always be unique.

I don’t need to tell you that everything on the internet is not always reality. People rarely post of their mistakes, their regrets, their true feelings. They usually look like they are having fun right? Even their mishaps seem like a real adventure. You may not know that they regret their bike choice, their luggage system choice, their route choice or that every day is a struggle because of a choice they have or have not made. That is the reality of extended, adventure travel. Unless you have done it before you can never truly know what to expect.

However, there is one choice that no expeditionary regrets. No-one regrets paring their gear to the minimum and traveling as lightly as possible.

I challenge you to name one experienced overlander who has come home with more weight than they left. I challenge you to find one rider who hasn’t come home with less weight than they started. You probably think that you won’t make that mistake, but everyone does. Every first-time expeditioner takes off with just too much weight.

Let’s first delve into why lightweight is so important.

Lighter loads and bikes provide you with more choices and flexibility

Technical terrain requires stability and maneuverability. Any top heavy, heavily loaded and heavy bike is just not going to get you on adventurous and exotic routes. In reality, it will only tie you to the paved, tourist routes.

Tales abound of broken subframes and ill-equipped bikers being trucked across Mongolia or of riders paddling their way for days through muddy roads that have been hit by a sudden deluge of monsoon rain. Take note of those expedition riders you are ‘following’ on social media. If they have crossed Indonesia in 30 days, Russia in 15 days, or completed an overland trip from Australia to London in less than 12 months, chances are the roads they are taking are mostly paved and lead to all popular tourist destinations.

Many of these riders will tell you that they wish they had gone lighter, so they could explore more off exotic and enticing routes. The unexpected is what leads to true adventures.

pack light, travel light by Liz Keily

If your focus is to just cross a country by the most well-worn path, then that is fine. What will you do though if you are invited by a local to visit their village via a little goat track or you find an enticing dirt road? Chances are you will have to miss out on these golden opportunities and, for me, the unexpected interactions with locals is what I love most about overland travel.

You will look at the locals all on their small bikes of 250cc or less (it is illegal in some countries to own anything larger) and wonder why you are on your big, loaded up bike. You will be constantly amazed at where these people take their bikes. For in many places, the ancient walking tracks have just become riding trails and eventually they become wide enough for 4WDs and finally become paved and accessible to everyone. However, there are many, many people in this world who still only have walking trail access to the nearest town with facilities. These are the adventures waiting for you as an adventure rider.

Pack light, travel light by Liz Keily

You might argue that you are skilled enough to ride your loaded bike anywhere. That may be true, but how much fun will it be? Do you want to paddle through mud or ride through it? Do you want to ride sand dunes or fumble through them? Even the most skilled riders prefer not to be weighed down on these routes. More importantly, if you are over loaded, an adventure can quickly move to misadventure. Heavily loaded bikes fall more easily and they fall hard.

Travelling light puts less stress on your bike

Bike choice can influence how much you carry on your bike.  If you have a big adventure bike, chances are you will be tempted to load it up. It is much like the bigger your pannier, the more likely you will fill it.

However, if you keep overall weight down then your bike will be less stressed. Think about the frame as having to hold the rider (and a pillion), while mounting the engine, suspension, a steering and the smaller systems of electronics, bodywork, luggage, an expedition fuel tank and exhaust plus whatever else you load onto it. Sub frames do break and I have ridden with people overland who had to deal with this situation in very remote places. That is not an adventure, it is just a major annoyance and possibly misadventure.

Take note of which motorcycles have breakdowns and ask the question why. Often it is about weight – too much of it.

pack light, travel light by Liz Keily

Dropping a heavy bike even from a stand still can damage your bike, especially levers so traveling as light as possible minimizes the chance of damaging your bike and having to perform repairs on the road.

Oh and of course, heavy bikes fall hard on you. Being pinned under a loaded bike on your own somewhere in another country is not an adventure.

 Dropping your bike is less likely to happen if it is light

Heavily loaded bikes are less stable than an unloaded bike. Usually, if the bike is loaded up it is also top heavy and therefore unstable.  When our luggage becomes over full, we tend to just jam things on top and so adding to instability. A well-packed bike actually feels lightweight whereas an overloaded bike feels unwieldy and unstable.

There is a lot of talk about how to pick up a heavy bike. Women in particular angst over the possibility of picking a bike whilst riding solo. The reality is no man or woman who has a big adventure bike fully loaded can pick up this/her bike unaided especially if it is in mud, deep sand or on a slope. The more gear you have on the bike, the more you will have to unload to get out of a sticky situation.

From the comfort of your armchair or even from experience you might argue that you rarely drop your bike. Well imagine these scenarios:

  • You turn your back on your parked bike for a minute in India only to find someone has jumped on it and it has fallen over- they are not used to heavy weight bikes.
  • You have to do a tight U-turn in a narrow lane way somewhere in a remote village. You have to navigate chickens, cows, goats and people at slow speed.
  • In the middle of an intersection in Java, the most populous island in the world, traffic comes to a standstill. Your heavily loaded bike gets nudged by trucks and bikes alike, destabilizing you as you try to wedge your big bike with big side panniers through the mill. Make no mistake, in developing countries, your ‘adventure’ bike will be bigger and wider than the local bikes.
  • Someone random just jumps on as pillion uninvited when you are stopped at lights. Yes, this does happen.

These scenarios might sound like big ‘what ifs” that may not be relevant to your planned adventure, but every trip throws up the unexpected and a lightly loaded bike will always be preferable no matter what you have to face.

The less gear you carry, the less you have to carry into your hotel at night

Security is always a concern whilst traveling on your bike. That is often the main reason why ‘expedition’ riders choose hard, lockable panniers. In reality, you won’t leave anything valuable in those panniers if your bike is unattended. You never leave anything on your bike that you can’t do without.  Inevitably, you end up lugging your gear into the hotel, up multiple flights of stairs whilst still in your riding gear. At the end of a long day, you just want life to be simple.

pack light, travel light by Liz Keily

Imagine just having to carry one small overnight bag slung over your shoulder to your room. Now that is simple.

You also will feel lightweight

Adventure riders and expedition riders, I believe, are minimalist by nature. We love the simple life that bikes bring us, however, we also easily fall into the trap of just adding one more item to our packing list. If you want a simple life, keep it light.

If you are dreaming of an extended overland journey on your motorcycle; an expedition, an adventure, then I can guarantee that a large part of that desire is fuelled by the desire to leave your present life behind; it may be the humdrum of life, the tedium, the complexity of owning stuff, having to maintain it or just the desire to feel free.

So adventure riding is your golden opportunity to ‘unstufficate’ your life. It is the opportunity to par life down to its essentials and to experience that liberating feeling.

Pack light, travel light by Liz Keily

If you transfer the trappings of modern life to your motorcycle travel then you are just transferring the problems. By carrying only your essential items and I mean really essentials then you will feel liberated, unstufficated, and even allowed to feel smug. “Look how simple my life is,” you can say to yourself whilst looking at your friends burdened by their ‘stuff’, furniture, clothes for every occasion, shoe cupboards…

My favorite brag is for one whole year I wore only one dress with thermals as leggings- even in the middle of hot sweaty monsoons of Asia. My second favorite brag is I didn’t carry a hair comb or hairbrush the entire trip of 1 ½ years.

I have now carried that philosophy back to my everyday life. If my clothes don’t fit into a plastic tub, then I have too many and need to do a cull.

You can buy things and receive gifts along the way

If you have room in your panniers you can buy that local sarong you love or the handmade wallet made by the villagers you meet. Eventually, on the road, you will want to buy something small as a memento. If there is absolutely no room on your bike for anything else then you will find yourself looking for something to get rid of. If you can get rid of it, it wasn’t essential in the first place.

Pack light, travel light by Liz Keily

One of my essentials was a sarong, but I decided I would buy one along the way. I was happy to choose one I loved in Indonesia which I then replaced along the way as my original one wore out and also to make sure I was more dressed like the locals.

Clothes really get a hammering on the road and so I loved that I could just replace things as I needed them. We were also given t-shirts and other gifts by locals many times. I felt guilty if I could not fit the gifts in my luggage. More often than not, I found someone deserving of these gifts further along the road.  I also tried to carry food which we could share with others on our journeys, but sometimes it was a struggle to find room if my bike was overloaded. To be able to receive and give along the road became one of our real joys.

So if you are about to begin an adventure ride I hope you are feeling light.

I hope your bike dances lightly across the many wonderful places you visit and you can savor the newfound lightness in your soul. That is adventure riding.


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1 comment

Adrian Alsop 2017 January 2 at 3:19 PM

Great article , I went to Mongolia on a light weight klx250 , on my own , a trip that would have been tiresome , difficult and the desert I crossed impossible to navigate on a big bike. Safe riding and happy new year !


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