How To Prepare Your Bike
- Get the bike fully
serviced. If you are a trained or fully competent mechanic and have all
the test equipment required for your bike, then do the work yourself. If the
bike is a later generation BMW GS or other modern bike requiring computer
interfaces and diagnostics, then I advise having the best local factory
trained mechanic do the service. Talk directly to the service writer and the
mechanic and stress that this bike will be going to the middle of nowhere with
you and/or your wife/significant other on it, and it needs to be 100%
bulletproof. Do a full factory service and replace any item that is even close
to its expected service life. Have all wear points greased. Have all preloads
and air levels checked. When you get the bike home, go over it with a fine
tooth comb. After giving the preceding "make it bulletproof" speech to a local
service writer and mechanic, I got the bike back to find that they hadn’t even
noticed that the rear sub-fender was hanging loose. Check each nut, bolt and
fastener yourself. Use a good quality, calibrated torque wrench for axle,
swingarm, hub, steering assembly, etc. bolts, nuts and fasteners. Check all
electrical connections for corrosion and wear. Ensure that all connectors have
had Lock-Tite applied.
- Add tools. Pull
your tool kit out of the bike and lay the contents out on a towel. Go over
every connector, nut, bolt and screw on the bike. If you do not have the
proper tool for every connector in your on-bike tool kit, add the required
tool to the kit. Make sure you can fully access the connector/bolt/nut and
tighten it or loosen it with the tool you are taking along. If required, take
along a ¼” or 3/8” socket drive set with required attachments for allen/hex
head, torx head, etc. fittings. Don’t forget turn signal mounting nuts and
shock mounting studs/nuts/connectors. Make sure you’ve got snap ring pliers
and any special tools required to replace all levers. Take along a small
volt/ohm meter and a spare battery for it. For a list of the tools I carried
for our GS, see the
Bike Inventory section.
- Add spares. Bring
bulbs, nuts, bolts, washers and connectors. Buy a selection of nuts, bolts,
washers and connectors suitable for your bike. Go through the bike and make
sure you have a spare of every bolt, nut and washer used, within reason. Bring
along a small bottle of Lock-Tite (medium strength) in a small Ziplock. Bring
along a few wire ties of various sizes. Bring along 12’ (4 meters) of two
different colors of stranded wire. Bring a variety of good quality crimp
connectors. Bring a spare headlight and taillight bulb packed in foam and
protected in a small plastic box. Bring full sets of connectors for known
failure points on your bike. For instance, the GS1150’s gas tank is held on by
a bolt with a nut not-so-cleverly located behind a collection of hoses, wires,
etc. that only a truly devious mind could have designed. It is common to drop
the nut and washer and lose them, especially when conducting roadside repairs.
Be sure to bring a full set (bolt, washer and nut) for that assembly if you
are riding that bike. Our list of spares is in the
Bike Inventory section.
- Carry common sense
spare bike parts. Adventure travel means dropping the bike. When you drop
a fully loaded adventure travel capable bike, it’s likely that you’ll break
the usual things: turn signals, mirrors, clutch and brake handlebar levers,
shift levers and rear brake levers. Anyone who rides offroad knows it is also
common to destroy the clutch and front brake perches/assemblies. These items,
other than the perches, are relatively small and light. While footpegs can
usually be repaired or welded in any third world country, finding a way to
craft or repair a specially shaped aluminum lever is a lot more challenging.
Also try to bring things that are known to break on your bike. Internet forums
are great sources of lists of weak points and common failures for your
particular model. Talk to your local mechanic or service writer and bring
along things that they replace often. Throttle cable assemblies, alternator
belts, spare sparkplugs fall into this category. And always make sure that you
have multiple spare fuses of every size used on the bike. Don’t forget in-line
fuses for accessories such as electric vests/seats/grips/etc. Our list of
spare bike parts is in the
Bike Inventory section.
- Bring tires. If
you are planning a long tour, or know that you will need to change between
knobbies and street tires, DO NOT assume that you can buy them in a developing
country. DO NOT assume that you can get them shipped in when you need them. DO
NOT trust tour organizers who assure you that tires will be waiting for you
along the way. If you know that you will need tires, then bring them along.
- Bring service and
repair documentation. Make copies of relevant pages of your owners manual
that detail oil types, tire pressures, service intervals, etc. Bring copies of
the wiring diagram of your bike. If you are carrying a laptop, some service
manuals, such as for the GS, are available on CD. If you carry the manual on
CD, make sure and print the wiring diagram before you leave. Consider
laminating key pages of the manual in case you need to work in the rain,
especially the wiring diagram. Bring copies of manual pages for any accessory
system, such as alarms, intercom systems, etc. Use the web and local clubs to
get names, addresses, phone and fax numbers and email addresses of every
dealer and service center for your bike in every country you plan to visit.
Keep all service documents in one waterproof Ziplock or document case.
- Practice a tire
change/repair. Pull your front and rear wheels off (one at a time), and
make sure you have the tools necessary on your bike to fully do the job of
repairing a tube or tire. If you’ve never done this, have a friend or dealer
mechanic show you how to fix a tubeless tire or repair or replace a tube. Make
sure you have a properly sized tube for both the front and rear of a tubeless
tire for in-the-field repair of a catastrophically damaged tire. Carry
tubeless and tube repair materials for a tubeless tire bike and tube repair
materials for a tube tire bike. Practice everything until you are fully
confident and competent. Flats usually happen at the most inconvenient times,
so ensure that you can go from fully packed and loaded to fully repaired in a
reasonable amount of time. Carry two different ways to inflate your tires.
Electric pumps are popular if you are going to be adjusting your tire
pressures often, i.e. pavement to sand. Many dirt riders rely on CO2
cartridges for tire reinflation. I always carry a hand bicycle pump, and it
has saved me more times than I could count. (Tip #1: when you repairing tires,
keep all of the bolts, spacers, speedometer drives, etc. that you take off out
of the dirt and in one place. I lay out a shop rag and lay the parts on that.)
(Tip #2: Pack a small hotel sized bottle of shampoo with your tire repair
materials. Put some on your fingers and use it to lubricate the bead of the
tire when you remount the tire. Add a little water and you’ve got a mounted
tire and clean hands.) (Tip #3: Carry full sized tire irons for known large
scale tire changes. If you’re traveling with a group and know you will be
changing tires at a midpoint on a bunch of bikes, a full sized set of tire
irons saves a tremendous amount of time, especially with tube type bikes.)
- Bring bike
documentation. Make at least three color, two-sided copies of your
registration and title. Laminate one set. Put one set of color copies in a
safe place on the bike. Put the laminated set and a paper set in your “border
documents” place on the bike. Keep the originals in your “super secret place”
in your luggage or on the bike. The “border documents” place should also
contain all the documents listed in the
How to Cross
a Border section. The “super secret place” should also contain
color copies of your passport’s photo page, color copies of your immunization
record, color copies of your international drivers license, copies of the
front and back of the two credit cards you are bringing, at least $200 in USD
and $200 in American Express traveler’s checks. (Tip: Don’t keep all of your
USD, local cash and traveler’s checks in one place. Break the cash into $200
bundles and put them into snack size Ziplock bags. Put one under the pads of
your riding jacket. Put one under the liner of your helmet. Put one inside a
compartment of the bike, i.e. tool box, battery box, fairing, etc. Put one in
your money belt. Put one in a secure or hidden pocket in your camera bag. Etc.
Spread the risk.)
- Think about security.
You will need a solid disc lock to prevent easy roll away theft. You will need
a good cable or chain lock to attach the bike to solid objects. You will need
a helmet lock extender or other cable lock to lock your bags and accessories
to the bike when you make quick stops. You will need small padlocks for your
bags. You may want an alarm system. And most importantly, you need a bike
cover, which is probably the single most important thing to secure the bike
and its contents. (Tip #1: Cover the bike whenever you leave it, even if you
are just visiting a tourist attraction. Any time you cannot physically see the
bike at all times, such as eating lunch at a café, cover it. In some cultures,
motorcycles are viewed as community property and people will climb on it, move
the controls, etc. We’ve had our bike tipped over and damaged in this
scenario. We’ve never once had the bike tampered with or damaged when it was
covered.) (Tip #2: Buy padlock sets that share a common key for your bags.
This lowers the number of keys you need to carry on your key ring and greatly
speeds and eases access to your pannier boxes, tank bags, tail bags, etc.)
- Test each system in
the field. Break down your bike, accessories, camping gear, video,
photography, etc. components into discrete systems. Fully load your bike and
take a weekend trip. Fully test every system. Use your tool kit. Practice a
tire change. Take a bike part off and put it back on. Charge your camera
batteries. Download pictures to your laptop. Check your email from an internet
café. Create a route on your GPS. Download GPS tracks to your laptop. Burn a
CD. Come back home and re-pack, make changes and optimize the systems. Go out
for another weekend. Repeat until you know every component of every system.
Now add all power adapters, etc. required for the countries you plan to visit.
If you add anything new, only change one system at a time and take one full
trip for each new system. A new camera or GPS can require a steep learning
curve (controls, charger, memory card formats, laptop utilities, etc.). Don’t
add multiple new things. And NEVER add something to your bike or systems just
before you leave.
- Contemplate. A few
days before you ship the bike, spend a few hours in the garage with it and all
the systems. Start by generating a complete pack list of every single item you
are taking. You can use our
Bike Inventory as a sample. You will think of a lot of things as
you step through each item. It’s easy to forget that spare set of eyeglasses.
Next, set up a lawn chair and simply sit and look at the bike, bags and
systems. Take it all in and think through how you use each item. Place
yourself on a steep, muddy, slick, rock strewn, single lane road in a very
remote place. Imagine stopping in a small village. Mentally step through a
border crossing. Practice a virtual tire change. Is the bike too top heavy? Do
you have all the tools you will need? Do you have all the paperwork you will
need? How will you secure the bike and your bags while you explore a tourist
site on foot? Slow down the rush of last minute preparation and take some
quiet time with the bike and your systems. Think.
- Crate and ship.
While ocean shipping can save you some money, most of the time it is a dismal
experience that can cost you weeks of your trip while you literally wait for
your ship to come in. Based on my experiences, those of my friends, and those
of the qualified professional tour organizers I am familiar with, air freight
is a much better option. If you are shipping from Canada, you can air freight
the bike on a pallet uncrated. If you are air freighting from the U.S., you
will need to ship the bike in a crate. In either case, you will be required to
drain the gas and disconnect the battery. To minimize crate size and resulting
costs, you will want to remove the mirrors, windshield and any rear racks you
have mounted. It is best to practice this process in your garage and work out
a way to store the mirrors inside a locked pannier box and protect the
windshield laid over your seat (I use a towel and hold it in place with a
large elastic cargo net.) You will need four top quality tie downs for the
crate. Make sure to carry a spare with you when you deliver the bike to be
Things to ensure when crating
- Always ship an extra tie down with the bike in case
it is needed for
the return shipment.
- Always lock all bags or
pannier boxes attached to the bike.
- Always take photos of the bike prior to and during the
crating process to prove its condition.
- Always buy shipping insurance.
take a photo of the final airbill number/sticker on the crate.
- Always double
confirm the air carrier and flight numbers.
- Always triple confirm the customs
broker contact in your destination country and their phone number/address
- Always triple confirm the requirement to store your crate for the
duration of your travel, assuming you are returning to your point of arrival
for return shipment.
- Always confirm the availability of a small amount of gas
at your arrival point (do not assume anything in this regard).
- Always have the
crate construction company walk you through the crate assembly process so you
know how to disassemble the crate upon arrival and reassemble it for return
- Always, upon arrival, carefully inspect the crate for damage
before you disassemble
the crate, roll the bike off the base pallet, and reassemble the bike.
- Always carefully inspect the bike for damage
and loose parts before you ride.
- Always bring your keys!
#1: Note that you will need to process your Carnet through customs before you
will be allowed to pick up the crate.)
(Tip #2: It helps to create a waypoint
for your hotel in your GPS prior to going to the air freight facility. If
possible, lay down a track from your hotel to the air freight facility, which
makes it simple to find your way back to the hotel.)
(Tip #3: Always create a
waypoint for the air freight facility so you can easily return to it when it
is time to ship the bike back home.)
(Tip #4: Ensure proper crate construction
with braced forklift holes on each axis. See
Illustration below for details.)
(Tip #5: Ensure the crate is properly labeled. See
Illustration below for
Additional details are in the
Ship Your Motorcycle section.
If you have questions or
comments please contact
All content copyright © 1995-2005, Douglas Hackney,
all rights reserved.