Traveling to far-off lands on a bike is an epic adventure – but you’re not going to make it far if you can’t do the routine maintenance and repairs that will inevitably arise. In this article, I’ll take you through all the essentials you’ll need in your tool kit, and things to think about beforehand to make sure you’re never left stranded!
In This Article…
- How to figure out the spare parts you’ll need
- Essential maintenance items to take with you
- Three top priorities to consider when choosing tools
- Zipties, duct tape, and other unsung heroes
- The one best thing you can possibly have in your kit
Whenever leaving home on a bike – whether for a weekend trip, or to spend a year riding around the world – we all hope for the best in regards to our motorcycleas reliability. But as you increase the distance you’re traveling, the chance of breakdowns obviously increases. On top of that, it won’t be long before you need to do some routine maintenance too, such as changing your oil or tires.
For those reasons, a critical part of planning for a major trip is having a way to do those maintenance tasks and repairs that will inevitably arise. You’ll need not only access to needed parts and the tools to install them, but the knowledge to do the work, along with finding a place to wrench on your bike during your travels. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to think about as you put together your motorcycle tool kit, so you’re never left stranded!
Going to beautiful, far-off places on a bike is an epic adventure – but you’re not going to make it far if you can’t do the routine maintenance and repairs that will inevitably arise!
Part 1: Spare Parts
Doing Your Research
So, what spare parts should you bring along with you, and what should you include in your toolkit?
Well to answer that question, the first thing you need to take into account is how long you’ll be gone, which will determine the amount of routine maintenance that will be required, and the likelihood that a more unexpected breakdown may occur.
Then, you’ll need to factor in the locations where youall be traveling, for two reasons. First, will you be in a place like the U.S. or Western Europe, where you can find motorcycle shops in any reasonably sized town? Or will you be somewhere much more remote, where there might only be one or two (or zero!) dealerships carrying parts for your bike in the entire country (and that’s assuming that they keep all the parts in stock)?
Along with part availability, the location of your trip should also be used to factor in the wear and tear on your bike. How rough are the roads going to be, and how will this accelerate wear on things like tires, suspension, etc?
Chain cleaning…an easy, but messy task which always made me jealous of people with shaft drives.
And finally, look into the common problems that people have with your specific model of motorcycle and consider what you’ll need to bring to get you through those potential problems. The easiest place to find this information would be online forums, but be sure to not just accept every post as 100% truth. It’s far more common for people to post about negative experiences than positive, so before getting the parts together to solve a specific problem, make sure you’ve done enough research to know that it actually is a common issue.
Once you’ve done some internet research, talk with other people that have put lots of miles on the same type of bike and see what they have to say about the specific problems they’ve had. For example, a useful resource I had for determining likely problems was the salesman who sold me my bike (and also had over 10 years experience as a mechanic). Once I’d already bought the bike, and had talked about my trip with him, he was very willing to be honest about spare parts that I should take.
Both of us understood that breakdowns were a very real possibility, based on the extent of my trip, and he was very interested in helping me address any safety and reliability concerns that I had. (Side note to any salesman out there: this honesty has given me tons of respect for the dealership, and I’d gladly travel a great distance to buy my next BMW from them.)
More Than Just Parts…
Before moving off the topic of spare parts, now would also be a good time to consider things like oil, chain lube, etc. And don’t just consider what you’re going to bring along, but also, how you are going to carry it. It’s easy enough to just throw your tools, spare brake pads, and an oil filter in with the rest of your luggage, but if you’re like me, you might want to keep the liquids and chemicals more separated in order to avoid a potential mess.
I always carried a can of WD-40 and chain lube with me, both of which were kept in a PVC tube that was mounted on the inner side of my right pannier. Not only did it keep them separated from my other luggage, but it also was an opportunity to make use of some space that would’ve otherwise been wasted.
$20 and a couple hours work gave me dedicated storage for a can of WD-40 and chain lube.
Checking Your List Twice
Once you’ve compiled a list of all the parts you want to bring along, take a logical look at it. First off, keep in mind that you will have a fairly limited luggage capacity, so you can’t bring your entire garage along.
Next, is every part that you’re bringing along 100% essential to keep your motorcycle running? There might be some part failures that are inconvenient, but don’t completely shut you down. For these scenarios, it might be better to leave the spares behind and, in the event of a problem, limp along for a few days until you get to a town where you can acquire the needed parts.
And lastly, are you a confident enough mechanic that you can do all the work to change out your damaged part with your spare? If you can’t, will you trust the guy at the local scooter shop to do the work? While on the topic of working on your bike, it might be a good idea to consider bring along a manual of some sort. If you (like me) aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, but don’t spend all your free time working on bikes or cars, it might be worth having a guide of some sort for reference.
Part Two: Tools
After compiling your list of spare parts, it’s time to build your tool kit.
Priority #1: Flat Tires
A flat rear tire on a foggy and misty day in India…
First off, the one thing that everyone on an extended trip (or really, even a short trip) should bring along is the proper equipment to repair a flat tire. What all you need for this will depend on whether you’re running tubes or tubeless, and also on your preference for the method of inflation.
I ran the stock BMW wheels, which require a tube, so I always carried spare tubes and a few patches as well. The patches turned out to be fairly useful, as in some locations, properly sized tubes weren’t available, so my original punctured tube could become my new spare. If I were running tubeless wheels (and I wish I was, but they aren’t cheap), I’d obviously have brought along plugs, but I also would’ve carried one spare tube, just in case I got a nasty enough puncture that the plug didn’t solve my problem.
…and the crowd that soon gathered to spectate and help with my tube replacement.
For inflation, I brought along a small electric pump. CO2 cartridges are another option, and some might say they’re a better option than an electric pump, as you’re far less likely to experience any malfunction. The counter argument is that you can run out of CO2 cartridges, and as long as your bike runs, you can use the electric pump all you want (and if your bike doesn’t run, a flat tire is the least of your concerns!)
But that’s enough of the tube vs. tubeless or electric pump vs. CO2 cartridge debate…just make sure you have the tools, parts, and skills to fix a flat on the side of the road with no assistance on YOUR bike.
Priority #2: Routine Maintenance
Next, make sure you have all the tools that will be required for the routine maintenance that you expect to do, and to replace all the spare parts that you’ll be bringing along. Does your bike require any specialty tools that wouldn’t be included in a generic toolkit? If you’re not a skilled enough mechanic to use them yourself, it still might be worth carrying some of these tools, as long as they aren’t too bulky. Even if you can’t utilize them, you might be able to find a local shop wherever you’re broken down with a mechanic that has the experience to do the repair, but may not have the proper tools.
And lastly, throw in the tools that are necessary for the various screws/nuts/etc that are on your bike. Even if you aren’t planning on needing to replace certain parts, you never know when a bolt or screw that holds on your hand guards, windshield, or some other random part might start to come loose.
Now, just like your spare parts list, you need to be reasonable. It’s easy for the weight and volume of this part of your luggage to get out of hand, so you’ll probably need to leave some luxuries behind. Also look into smaller and lightweight tools that cater to travelers (but make sure they are still durable and good quality).
And one last note in regards to your toolkit selection, make sure that the specific type of tools you’re bringing along are fit for the job. I ran into this problem the first time I needed to change my oil. The bolts on the bottom of my skid plate (which needs to be removed to get to my filter and drain plug) are 13mm.
I brought along a 13mm open ended wrench to cover all my 13mm needs – but I’d forgotten that these nuts were in a bit of a recess, making them only accessible with a 13mm socket. Luckily I was in a town and able to pick up a socket from the local hardware store, so the problem was easily solved, but it would’ve been better to just have the proper tools from the start.
Priority #3: Expect the Unexpected
Once you’ve got your tire repair kit, tools, and spare parts, throw in a few options for holding things together when they inevitably vibrate loose, crack or break. I brought along some things like zipties (mostly plastic, but also a few metal ones as well), duct tape, electrical tape, epoxy, and spare nuts and bolts (of various, common sizes). At various times throughout my trip, I used all of these things, whether it was to solve something fairly major, to stop a tiny vibration which was a minor nuisance, or to help someone else that was in need.
You can survive for ages in SE Asia on what it would cost for a new BMW turn indicator…a couple feet of tape is much cheaper!
Part 3: The Best Tool You Can Have – A Little Ingenuity
And the last thing you need to bring along is a bit of ingenuity. Lots of things can be used for something other than their intended purpose, and can save you lots of time, stress, and money while out on the road.
When my bike wouldn’t start in the middle of Malaysia, a paperclip (bypassing the failed switch) turned out to be my savior.
For example, a friend of mine was riding on some rough and twisty mountain roads, and he blew out his shock. After riding a few exhausting miles on it, he realized that he needed to do something if he was going to ride to a city big enough to get it rebuilt. So he cut up a spare tube and shoved some pieces inside of the spring, to provide some assistance on the compression stroke. Then he also cut some strips from the tube and tied them between the swingarm and subframe to help the rebound. You won’t find that in the service manual – but it worked!
My Rotopax fuel can would be used to hold the front end up when changing the front tire or tube.
My Round-the-World Motorcycle Travel Tool Kit
So after all this talk about what to take, what not to take, and what to think about before you hit the road, some of you might be wondering what I took specifically on my 2-year-long world trip. Below is an itemized list of what my kit consisted of (remember, this was specifically for a 2013 BMW F800GS, though most of the stuff here would apply to any bike.)
Hope For The Best, Prepare For The Worst
After you’ve got your tools and parts laid out, head to the garage and imagine yourself in loads of different possible scenarios, both major and minor. Flat rear tire, broken brake or clutch lever, worn out brake pads, loose mirror, damaged luggage or tank bag, burned out headlight, etc. Do you have everything you need in your kit to solve these problems? Can you do the work, or do you have the things necessary for someone to help you do it? Can you improvise a fix? If you can, you’re one step closer to hitting the road!