Breaking down is bad enough, but knowing how to put together the right toolkit for your motorcycle adventure could be a lifesaver.
In the near future, tools will be indestructible and weigh virtually nothing. Spanners will have digital torque readout, and you'll be able to plug a little black box into your bike. This gizmo will tell you exactly what the problem is, and how to fix it.
Until this day dawns, if you don't want to collapse your suspension from the weight of a mobile workshop, you'll need to assemble a smart toolkit and essential spares for your big adventure.
As part of this process ask yourself a few questions. Some of which may seem obvious, while others appear superfluous. All, however, are based on real-world advice from those of us who've been there, done that and used the t-shirt to fix a problem.
Where am I Heading?
You may not know what you’re going to encounter along the way, but even the most adventurous globetrotters know the rough direction they’ll be heading in. Why is this important? Well, if you’re staying within the boundaries of your own country, spares and even assistance won't be such a big deal.
Head into the great unknown though, and the game plan alters considerably. The thing to do here is start surfing, look online to see if your make of bike has a dealer network in the country or countries you intend to travel through.
Never assume that just because you’re riding the best selling adventure bike on the planet that spares and mechanics are plentiful. There’s no one to help you with a broken BMW in Ulaanbaatar, but there is a Honda dealer!
What Kind of Terrain am I likely to Encounter?
Nearly every adventure-based tour will involve slab of some sort (they call them dual-sport bikes for a reason), but realistically assess how much time or distance you’ll spend off-roading.
Furthermore, do your research on the area and check out the topography. Why? Because bikes take a beating once you leave the blacktop and different types of terrain take their toll on various aspects of your motorcycle.
Travel across a predominantly sandy area, and it will chew up your chain in no time, but should the terrain e rockier, then your suspension will take a battering.
How Long Will I be Gone and What Kind of Mileage am I Looking at Doing?
These are fundamental questions, as they will dictate what spares you need to take in your toolkit. For example, take a coast-to-coast trip within the US; taking in scrub, trails and scenic routes and if you do it on a Suzuki V Strom, you’ll need a change of oil with you.
Naturally, the bigger the trip, the more factors like service intervals come in to play, but planning is essential, and it's why you should have a full service before you go. That way, if the trip is long enough, you can get away with just a clean oil filter and source the oil on the trip.
Hopefully, by now, you’ll get the idea that prevention is better than cure. In other words, a thorough check of your bike and a good service should result in the best case scenario.
Talking about thoroughly checking your bike, this is when you start to build your toolkit.
Start with the wheels, presumably your bike has spokes, and as mentioned before, the terrain you’re going to encounter will affect your kit.
Wheels and Tires
Take a spoke spanner, if your wheel takes a big hit, use a thin blade screwdriver to run across the spokes. Correctly tensioned spokes should make a sound similar to a poorly played zither, if you get any that go donk, it’s loose.
Still, at the wheels, check if you have tubed or tubeless tires. Once upon a time spokes went with tubes and mag wheels were tubeless, but today most of the big adventure bike manufacturers run wire wheels on tubeless rims.
I won't bore you with the reasons why, but once again, what you have will dictate what you need to take. For inner tubes, you’ll need tire irons, but you can choose between a puncture repair kit or spare tubes. Just bear in mind though, that the ‘one flat per journey’ rule doesn’t apply, so the safe money is probably extra tubes and a repair kit.
With tubeless tires, you’re slightly better off weight wise, as you don’t need tire irons. The average puncture can take a plug at the side of the road, and there are plenty of plug repair kits to choose from. The one thing both tires have in common is they need to be re-inflated afterward.
If weight is critical and you’ve got the stamina of an Olympic Triathlete, take a foot pump (the average big adv bike back tire takes 500 pumps!). For us lesser mortals, CO2 cartridges are the answer, just make sure they’re big enough to do the job and don’t forget to include a CO2 valve. Alternatively, buy a mini 12v compressor; just don’t run your battery flat.
If money isn't a problem and you want to dispense with not only the added weight of repair gear but also the whole issue of getting a flat tire, buy a mousse. Nope, not a fancy dessert, but a nitrogen filled foam inner tube, which re-seals when punctured. At over $200 a wheel though, it’s no wonder these tubes are generally the preserve of work’s riders.
On the other hand, a canister of tire sealant, which will plug a hole and inflate the tire, could be the all in one answer.
Finally, for the wheels, assess what you will need to remove the front and back wheel and adjust the chain. The rear axle nut is usually the largest spanner you’ll need.
Fasteners and Fixings
It’s now time to take a good look at the engine, don’t forget, this is a roadside toolkit and not something for a total rebuild. Start with the outer engine casing fasteners; you'll probably find Allen bolts holding them on.
If you’re lucky, one Allen key will fit them all, but if not you may be stuck with taking a selection. If you buy them as a set, double check that you need them all and dump the ones, you don't.
Remember to look at things like handlebar controls too; in the past, I’ve had a bike with Allen bolts on the engine and Torx fasteners on the controls.
If you’re getting a bit swamped with the what to take lottery, another good tip is to stand at the front or back of your bike and look along its length. Now imagine it falling over or sliding down the dirt or road, which bits will come into contact with the ground?
Generally, it will be handlebars/levers, footrests, controls and exhausts, so look at the tools you'll need to either remove or replace them. Don't forget the first rule of off-roading; it's not if you go down, it's when.
The number of slot headed screws on modern motorcycles is quite small, but you just know that you'll come across one hidden away if you don't take one. The same goes for crossheads, so the best solution is to find a screwdriver that can take different bits.
Space the Final Frontier
Unrolling a full set of spanners in their custom tool roll is a very reassuring sight. Unfortunately, you haven't got a cavernous trunk to throw them in, just a small space in a pannier, its, therefore, time to see who's going to sit this one out on the bench.
Don’t guess or leave it to chance. Crawl over your bike looking for nuts and bolts. As is usually the case, you’re going to encounter general fasteners between 8mm-14mm, which is cool, as that’s taken care of with two spanners.
As mentioned earlier, the type of terrain you’re going to encounter will affect your completed toolkit. Travel enough miles and things vibrate loose. Cover the distance over lumpy stuff, and things will shake free, so when you're making your spanner choice, don't forget to look for likely culprits.
Finally, for the spanner section, always include vice grips. This tool has a reputation for being a lazy man's spanner, and in the wrong hands it can chew up nuts, but never leave home without one. At its widest opening, it will swallow a rear axle nut, and close small enough to clamp on to a cable.
Keep Losing Weight
Now that you’ve got your shortlist of screwdrivers, Allen/Torx keys, and spanners, you may be able to reduce your kit even further. Are there any nuts and bolts that you could use a socket on instead? If so that’s one less spanner to take and to offset the need for a socket wrench, dump the screwdrivers and Allen keys and get the equivalent bits.
Don’t worry if this isn’t possible, sometimes, nuts can be recessed, or for the likes of handlebar mirrors with a lock nut, for instance, a spanner is the only answer. Likewise, you may not have a ¼" socket set and don't want to keep pushing the budget up, in which case, roll with what you've got.
Those lucky enough to have shaft drive can skip this part as it concerns the addition of a chain link splitter. This handy piece of kit allows you to pull the links apart on a final drive chain and is a vital piece of equipment on any long haul. Add a couple of spare master links and even a short section of a chain as spares, especially if it’s a long trip.
Now that you have assembled all your tools lay them out on the floor and make sure you haven't duplicated anything.
Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot
Having got this far, the easiest way to shoot yourself in the foot is to dump the whole lot loose in a bag. Buy a multi-compartment tool roll with a flap that folds over the tools and can be tied nice and tight. This way everything is contained, and more importantly, if you use it in the field, you can see if anything is missing when repacking.
As for the fiddly items like bits or sockets, either find a small tin or even a food container but just make sure the lid can be secured.
That kind of wraps things up for the tools, except to say I haven’t included a pair of pliers. The reason for this is because I use a multitool that has a great pair of long nose pliers and pulls double duty as wire strippers. It doesn't matter what make you buy, just get the best quality you can afford and keep it handy instead of packing it with the rest of the tools.
All we need now is to make a shortlist of essential spares and consider some quick fix items.
For spares, we’re talking about head and tail light and indicator bulbs, as well as fuses, clutch and throttle cables if applicable. A spare lever is probably a good idea too. As clutch cables are a lot bulkier than throttle cables, you can use an old Enduro rider’s trick of cable-tying the spare to the existing one.
For breakables such as bulbs, pack them in the same type of tins as you did the loose sockets; just make sure you pack them with foam to absorb the bumps.
To your list of spares, you will also need to add a small tin of WD40, the appropriate tire repair gear, chain lube and the chain as mentioned above,
Quick Fix Section
This final section is labeled ‘Quick Fixes' and focuses on the type of kit that allows you to keep on rolling when none mechanical things fail. You should include electrical tape as the extra weight can rub through your wiring harness. Take a roll of gaffer tape too; it’s strong enough to hold together damaged fairings and panniers.
Throw in some cable ties, preferably some short and heavy duty long ones, an assortment of nuts and bolts and a long, high tensile cargo strap, which can double as a towrope.
Tubing capable of siphoning petrol or a fold-flat plastic gas container for remote areas is good too. Last but not least, pack a decent torch, preferably an LED type with a head strap, so it frees up both hands.
That pretty much is it, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, put all your kit into a pile and go through it one last time. You can then make sure that a) you haven't duplicated anything and b) everything is packed securely and is in regular shaped containers (they're easier to pack), and you can identify what's inside them at a glance.
It’s a Balancing Act
Packing them correctly on your bike is a balancing act. Put the more substantial items as low down as possible and distributed over each side so as not to upset handling, while remaining accessible.
Detailed preparation for a road trip is essential, and assembling a toolkit capable of getting you back on the road is an integral part of it. Don't overthink it though, for a first timer, especially on a solo trip; it’s really easy to let paranoia take control and pack too much.
For those traveling with a buddy, don’t forget to compare notes, by doing this you can double your toolkit or split one good one between you.
You might not get it right first time, there will be things you don't need and other tools you can't believe you didn’t take, but that’s adventure biking for you. You never know what you need until you need it.
Learning how to put together the right toolkit for your motorcycle adventure will at give you the best chance of keeping your adventure rolling. Enjoy.