A Photographic Step-By-Step Guide To Help You Decide What You Need
Whether you are heading out into the back of the woods or the end of the world, you are going to need to bring along the right tools to help yourself when you’re the only one around to help.
You can’t account for absolutely every blown head or broken fork that might arise while you are ripping up the landscape across the globe. However, the flat tires and mandatory maintenance of life can usually be covered with some pre-planning and organizing some must-have tools and a few added extras.
After hauling a suitcase full of metal across the Americas for a couple of years. Here’s what I found from my road-side repairs and learned from other riders who’d patched up an otherwise looming problem.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It sounds cute when it comes in an easy to remember catchphrase. When you look after the essential parts of your motorcycle on the road, they will in return look after you.
Let’s start with the chain, a part of the processes that can literally leave you stranded if you run into problems with it. Chewing up sand in the Nevada deserts will eat through your chain faster than your one-year bike warranty. However, if you run into that same problem in Central America, you’ll be surprised to see that finding your favorite O-ring chain for anything over a 450cc is like finding a sponsor for your dirt-track racing dream. The more you look, the more you get used to disappointment. Cleaning and looking after it will be your best measure for a long-lasting life.
A toothbrush and some oil are your two best friends here. I know that seeing a video of a bike on a center stand getting a nice coating of chain wax looks like the way to go. Once you’ve had an eight-inch can taking up space in your soft bags and smearing oil across your goods for three-weeks, you’ll know it’s not the way to go on a long adventure.
Get yourself something small like little oil container with a pointed tip or if you must, even a little can of WD40. Personally, I found that I was usually carrying oil, so why not dump a little in the small oil container and use that. After a days ride you can scrub up the chain with the toothbrush, then run motor oil across it to keep it well lubed. 28,000-miles and I’m happy to say that chain well-outlasted expectations on a heavily loaded bike.
Just over a days ride going back, or a two-day ride going ahead to the next town that could potentially repair a flat, on a gravel road in 110oF heat with no one around. This inconvenient location is where you are going to get a flat tire, or in my case, three flat tires that week once I finally found both sides of the broken nail in my tire and tube. It’s also where I discovered my spare tube had two holes in it from riding around in my luggage, unprotected, for a year.
For this, you are going to want to be prepared. In a tubeless tire, you can get away with a plug kit and probably some Slime to solve most problems. In a tube tire, you can save space by keeping a spare tube that’s big enough for the larger tire, as it can fill the void for a smaller tube space at low speeds for a short time.
On top of this, you are going to want an actual patch kit or something like JB Weld and squares of rubber from an old tube. The JB can also be used to fix a variety of broken plastics, cracks, holes in soft luggage, and on and on. To fix the tire you will also need tire spoons, a Bead Buddy or similar to hold the tire in place, an air pump (you can use a foot pump or my preference a 12V compressor), a tire gauge if you need a second opinion, and the appropriate sockets or wrenches to get the tire off. Usually, the bike will come with a tool kit that includes these. You are going to want to confirm before you go that they are practical and not just space-saving.
- Tubeless tire: plug kit, Slime
- Tube tire: tube, patch kit or a do-it-yourself kit
- Both: compressor or foot pump, tire gauge, tire spoons, sockets or wrenches to remove the axle
Packing and Stacking
How you put this all together will depend a bit on whom you are and where you are headed. When it comes to motorcycle luggage, often less is more. You will want to eliminate any special cases or containers that most tools might have come with and instead opt for the smallest lightest thing you can find that has a bit of organization. Some people use a leather roll up, and I think that’s great for the wrenches, etc. I personally opt for something that can house most everything I need from the sockets to the JB weld and tuck nicely into my luggage.
For this, I used an old plastic jug that once held salted nuts. For the compressor it works well in the package it came in, the irons and ratchets are tied with some string and can lie anywhere & the original plastic container from the patch kit holds a few spare specialty nuts and bolts I know I won’t be able to find at any local hardware shops along the way.
How well do you know your motorcycle and what you can you fix or patch? Maybe the frame bolt is broken, oil is running from the block, the bike randomly shuts off going up a mountainside, signal light breaks off, you burn up a clutch in the desert and need to change the cable and later the clutch plates.
Or fun ones like pulling the top end apart to do a little shim maintenance. What you’re willing to do and what you need to do to keep going will require you to have a bit of knowledge about your machine and sometimes a bit of ingenuity. It’s here you will need to decide where to draw the line or deal with more weight based on what you must have for tools and what you think you can live without.
Naturally the better the tool, likely the heavier they are. However, sometimes you can get a lighter tool for a higher price tag, or often you can get one tool to do more than one job. Pre-departure on a major road trip I took a 13mm socket from a brand-X company and went to use it to remove a nut on my bike, it cracked and crumbled! Needless to say, I picked up a premium set of sockets and required tools and decided I could live with the added weight.
Go through bolt by bolt and determine what it is you need, what tools can do two jobs and what jobs might be so out of your reach there is no point in packing along something you will never use. If you’ve had your Honda for some time, this might be easier, and you can just make a written list of what tools you have used over the years. If you are new to your Suzuki, you might need to befriend a few online forums or Facebook groups and ask them what you need.
The actual brand you choose might make all the difference in the world too. Your KTM 990 Adventure bike might be easy enough to roll in from a weekend around Lake Tahoe into a dealer in Sacramento on Monday morning. Though you might find in East Africa that getting parts or knowledge for your Honda CRF250 is going to be a lot easier than that KTM. Weight, quality, practicality, all things to consider when packing your tool kit.
How To Handbooks
The great how-to educator, YouTube, has gotten many a backyard mechanic out of a complicated problem more times than a legitimate mechanic I’m sure. Wifi, a dry place, and good timing aren’t always on your side when you need it.
Something handy like your bikes mechanical book will be worth their weight in gold when you don’t know how to remove the fuel tank to get at the spark plug, or what the spec is on every nut and bolt from your handlebar mounts to your engine cover bolts. If you are riding around with a tablet or laptop, you can usually find a downloadable version to put on a jump drive or SD card too.
Spares & Extras
Your spare parts and added extras will depend heavily on what you know about your bike and what you think is coming up soon on the replacement list. Going with the best quality parts is a great way to keep from needing too many spares or worrying about them breaking down.
This information you’ll need to research on your own. However, some easy ones I think should be top of the list are cables and chain links. Running a spare clutch cable alongside the other one is an easy way to pack a spare without it taking up any space. Just make sure you tape off the ends to keep out the dust and if you ever burn up the old one (you will) the new one is already lined up and ready to go. For those of us who don’t like to get their hands dirty, pack a couple of sets of nitrile gloves. I also find that during longer jobs or when the task needs more thought. It’s good to have a corkscrew on hand to open a bottle of Merlot problem solver.
No matter who you are and where you go, if you ride long enough or hard enough, you are going to eventually need to do some motorcycle maintenance or deal with some dreaded mechanical problems. The problem could be incredibly magnified to leave you stranded in a bad situation or made into a simple roadside repair depending on if you have the right, or close enough, tool packed with you.
Each bike is a little different, and the list can be expanded or simplified based on your needs and where you are going. I would, however, test your abilities to do simple duties like a flat repair, as I’ve seen people surprised to see they weren’t able to get a rear tire back on a rim once the tube was fixed. Get to know your bike, your tool kit, and those you plan to ride with, as you might be able to share space or share knowledge with other riders in your group. Wherever you go and whatever you ride, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”