Best time of year for this trip: May – September
Duration: 10 days +
Distance: ~3,500 miles
One of my favorite rides is a classic among all groups of travelers, from bicycle riders to 4x4s. This route will take you all the way up the west coast, offering some of the most stunning views in the world. For those who have not done this trip, or driven up the rural coast of California (that is, starting from north of San Luis Obispo), then you'll never forget this long ride (not that we forget any of our them).
To kick things off, in this post I'll go over your packing and preparation list. If you have ever done a long distance ride, then you probably already have your inventory for the trip. When traveling by motorcycle, I frequently camp. For me, this means having a sleeping bag that I can use to sleep on the ground, but many would prefer to have a tent as well. I find just a sleeping bag more than proficient. A heavy jacket is a good substitute.
If your bike is well maintained, then you really won't need much for your trip. Just get your luggage squared away, and you're good. Some people spend a lot of time and money to outfit their bikes with all sorts of comforts. I generally prefer to spend my money on gas rather than luxury, so I tend to travel somewhat basic. I once met an Irish guy in Nicaragua who was on his way from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego (the southern most tip of South America) riding only a 50 cc scooter. He was managing just fine, and you can too. The only additions I make to a motorcycle I'm taking on the SD to Vancouver trip is a 12 volt socket for charging accessories, and a windscreen. I'll also generally purchase a cheap cell phone/ipod handlebar mount.
My ex-Honda VTX1300s the morning of my first PCH trip. If you don't have luggage, cheap saddlebags/sissybar bag set can be had off ebay. This set cost me about $50!
For navigation, if you're using maps, then a paper clamp. If you're using GPS, then a mount for that. I use whatever my most capable piece of technology is at the time, but will generally avoid spending extra money for navigation equipment. My tablet, the Nexus 7, has a GPS with a cheap (free and $7.99 versions available) navigation app called OSMAnd which has maps for every country in the world. I used it to navigate from London to Mongolia…works great!
One device for music, and another for GPS/calls. 2011 was a complicated time
When it comes to packing clothing, layers are key to keep yourself light and warm. I backpack a lot, and pack in a very similar way for long motorcycle rides. I will generally have 4 pairs of synthetic underwear (Under Armour are great but quite expensive), 4 pairs of synthetic socks, 2 short sleeve shirts, 1 long sleeve travel shirt, 1 pair of swim trunks (that have pockets/can be used as shorts) and 1 pair of pants. If you'll be riding at night, pack for very cold weather. Bring good waterproof clothing if rain is expected. I once rode from the California/Oregon border to my home at the time in Orange County, all in one straight shot. I set off at 8 am and finally arrived home at 5:30 am the next day. If you want to know cold, it's riding down the coast at 2:00 am with nothing but a leather jacket to keep you warm, knowing you're still four hours from home and with a resolve not to stop.
When it comes to tools, understanding your bike before you leave is key. Figure out all the most common socket sizes for your bike, and pack only them, with an extension. Also bring any wrenches necessary for hard to reach places. If you change your oil with synthetic stuff at the beginning or your trip, you'll have more than enough service mileage left by the end of your trip. We Americans tend to change oil much more frequently than necessary. In Europe, a normal service interval between oil changes is 15,000 miles. I won't go that high, not because I'm afraid for my engine, but rather because oil is cheap, so might as well. When it becomes a huge inconvenience however (such as during a long trip), I'll just run over the typical 3,000 miles. I've only once locked up an engine, and that was when I was 8 years old on my 1990 Honda CR80 (i.e. a two stroke that doesn't take oil changes) screaming wide open across a dry lake.
Other than the aforementioned tools: some small vise grip pliers, adjustable crescent wrench, some type of electrical testing device (i.e. a test light or voltmeter), some electrical tape, some extra electrical wire, some duct tape and a socket screwdriver with a good bit set (even better if it has allen wrenches…if it doesn't, bring any of those necessary). A decent multitool such as a SOG will work well in these situations
There is of course a miscellaneous category for items not listed such as toiletries, camera, computers…I won't bore you with those.
This is a basic but comprehensive list for preparing yourself to take most any long ride. Next step: route planning for your west coast trip! This will be covered in my next blog post.