When I’m on the road touring I like everything to be covered as much as possible. Most eventualities are covered.
This is what I wear, carry and have equipped when bike touring in Thailand. It takes time, money and effort to source and locate all the decent kit for aiding and helping you travel around the kingdom but it's worth it once you've got it. Capital cities like Bangkok are a good place for biker kit, as is Chiang Mai. Some of the provincial cities like Khon Kaen and Phuket are also good places.
The Bike Helmet
One of the mainstays of a bikers kit is a good helmet.
Forget this type, lightweight, will crack open like an eggshell if you smash it.
Better than nothing but that’s about it.
Something like this type is good:
It should be strong, light and comfortable. Ideally it should be tinted for touring in bright sunshine but you’ll lose out on visibility if you night ride though.
As all my long range riding is in daylight I don’t worry about this.
My helmet is a cheap and cheerful middle-of-the-road STM – Made in Thailand model. It does the job and shrugs off knocks and bangs. Not exactly got the ballistic properties of a shoei or Arai but close enough for my liking. It also is a good everyday helmet you can stick on.
For the best protection a full-face custom import helmet is recommended but not essential.
This nice bit of kit I had to source from Red Baron Bangkok, expensive but worth its weight in gold. Light, comfortable and capable of keeping your legs in one piece following all but the worst of accidents.
Gloves. I cannot overstate how important it is to be wearing gloves. The first things to hit the ground in a tumble, crash or fall are usually your gloves. Wearing decent gloves like these means a lot less damage to your hands. Note the carbon armour plates for added protection. The lighter armoured gloves are for around town work and not for touring really.
Leather armoured jacket.
It’s heavy and can get a bit hot under the collar but as long as you’re trundling along at 50 kph or higher the air-flow will cool you down a bit. I’ve come off a bike wearing this and was very impressed at the toughness, not a scratch on me.
All leathers are a good option for biking but the added armoured sections are a good thing for extra toughness.
You can suffer bad injuries from sliding in an accident, wearing leathers prevents this a great deal. As an added bonus a thick leather jacket can reduce wind-shock and buffeting from fast riding a great deal. Some bikers like to go the full distance and wear leather pants. This is absolute protection in my eyes, but for me having the leg armour underneath ordinary pants is more than adequate.
A decent, synthetic armoured jacket. Sometimes a better choice than leathers, they are lighter, cooler on the body and have slightly thicker padded areas than leather armour. I’ve seen this type rip open in a tumble and slide, whereas a leather one held together.
There are several options. For those who can’t afford it I’ve seen poor farang bikers use several layers of denim or other clothing. Some think ‘what the hell, let’s just get out there with nothing but a T shirt!
The humble compass, stuck onto the brake fluid reservoir and always telling me where north is, as well as juddering and jerking when I'm hammering it down the highway!
A basic and cheap throwaway item. If someone steals it off the bike I’m not going to loose sleep over it.
A stick map. Back in the day this was all bikers had to navigate off of while on the hoof. You put down your routes waypoints ie what roads / junctions you’ll be looking to move onto and then follow it as you get to each location.
This is my hand-writing, albeit written with my 'other' hand to make you all wonder what my hand writing really looks like!
A roadmap is next to it.
On the whole GPS thing...
I don’t believe in a GPS, it takes the thinking out of adventuring and riding.
Part of the fun is getting lost and learning of new areas. With a stick-map you shouldn’t, in theory, get completely lost as long as you retrace your steps back to the waypoint. Once you learn at place by sight and experience, you’ll be glad you won’t have that umbilical-like screen blaring in your face all the time...
Dust mask. The fumes in capital cities around the globe can get pretty bad. In the third-world where I am at the minute there’s still asbestos brake-pads in distribution. While they might last a long time and be cheap, they can cause nasty and damaging effects to your lungs in the long-term. This one pictures isn’t that good, but it’s got a charcoal lining which ought to do the job.
Also known as sliders. They may look funny and spoil the look of the bike but they are solid steel-alloy and can prevent serious damage to your bikes body work in an accident. Instead of the faring getting smashed and scraped, the sliders take the full impact They also can be used to swing your legs up and on top of to relieve cramp when riding for long periods!
They aren’t perfect though and if your legs smack into one in an accident you’ll know about it!
One of the main drawbacks of bike touring is your lack of cargo-space compared to a car you’ve got minimal places to store kit. Under the pillion seat is a small compartment and that’s it. Enough for a tool kit and some snack food etc.
Mounting a set of saddlebags or panniers can boost up your carrying space massively. They don’t interfere too much with the riding ballistics. Some may say they don’t look ‘cool’ on a sportsbike but just stick two fingers up and do your own thing, they get the job done.
While the panniers help they only go so far. Like many roving writers and travellers carrying a laptop is a big help. But unless it’s one of those ultra-diddy palm-top ones you’re going to either have to backpack it or sling it over your shoulder in a carry bag.
I’ve carried major kit before on my back bike-touring. But it can rip into your muscles and give you bad back ache. Nowadays I use the tank bag to take the pain out of bike touring.
With sealed magnets inside soft fabric material you simply plonk it onto the fuel tank, adjust it so the weight sits evenly upright and you’re ready to go!
As an added benefit if you pack the tank bag properly you can lie forward at the controls and relax while riding in light traffic areas. Doesn’t work so well if the roads uneven though!
Refueling is a bit of a pain as you’ve got to lift the bag off everytime you want to access the fuel tank but that’s about it. You’ve added more stowage space to what could be sportsbike.
A low pack / waist bag.
I picked on on this nifty bit of kit I from one of my SSR rivals. For all our sabre-rattling and rivalry let it not be said you can't learn from your enemies ;)
It's a good sized waist-bag aka a fanny pack, bum bag etc.
Basically it clips around your waist and all your immediate kit you need to hand is there. You can swivel it around in front of you if a pillion is on board and it's not usually in the way of anything. Inside it I carry a first-aid kit, my docs and other go-to gear I need in a hurry. I've modified it on the front straps to hold a mobile phone. There's nothing worse than having taken your helmet off to take a call than realising you've got to dig through pockets with thick gloves on. With it sitting on the outside of the strap in a pouch I can easily pull it out in a hurry.
If you're wondering what the gaffer tape is on there for it's to keep the metal wire in place. One of the drawbacks to bags like this is that while you are moving through crowds in cities a sharp knife can cut the strap and the thief will be away. With a substantial length of scaffolders wire running on the inside it's not such an easy thing to do!
Now this might seem a little odd but believe it or not when you ride at speeds over 40 mph for any length of time you will slowly damage your hearing. You’d be arriving somewhere and on removing your helmet you’d be still hearing the road-wind distantly humming in your ears. With a good pair of plugs in your ears you eliminate that problem. It also provides a psychological comfort zone filtering out the noise so you can focus more on the road ahead.
Neck shroud / Scarf.
Something almost all bikers ought to consider. Using a silk scarf or a neck shroud to wrap up that neck!
One of the weak spots in biking is your neck area. You can be hammering past trucks and big wagons on the road when all of a sudden a shower of grit, stones and dirt can splatter all over you, with your neck being the place that debris can uncannily find to sting and cut.
You’ll of finished a days touring and be in a hotel/guest room under a cold shower, happy to cool off under it.
Bliss, but then the water hits the back of your neck! Reminding you of it being exposed to the sun all that time riding. Bet you wish you had wrapped up that neck now eh?
Good footware like that pictured above is the premium protection. But it also costs a fortune and is often cumbersome for everyday wear and practicality. For motorsport it’s excellent, for bike-touring I wouldn't bother and disagree with using it.
My choice is a set of zip-up boots with a steel toe caps. Easy to don and remove, comfy and fairly lightweight. Tough, but not too tough. You don't want walking around to be a nightmare...