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What Is "MotorBikePacking"? Want to Ride LIGHTER and FARTHER?

Updated: Apr 11

Can you combine the freedom and touring range of a motorcycle with the lightweight and compact gear from bikepacking? YES, that is "MotorBikePacking"!

 

Adventure motorcycling is defined as travel cross-country, alternating between paved and unpaved roads. "ADV" riding often includes routes intended for 4x4 vehicles. While road touring motorcycle riders usually try to avoid unpaved roads, adventure riders know that the best scenery and the fewest people are always found beyond the pavement!

 

MotorBikePacking is the narrow niche of ADV travel on small and light motorcycles.

 

​Most road touring bikes are large, heavy, and expensive. Adventure motorcycle touring has been “super-sized” over the past decade. There is now a negative connotation of “ADV” motorcycles as necessarily the largest and most complex cycles. Many brands now offer overpowered “adventure” models with more than 1,000cc's and over 100 horsepower. Most of these are derived from their road touring models.


MotorBikePacking is the intersection of adventure motorcycling and bikepacking.

 

BOTH adventure motorcycle touring and bikepacking involve self-contained travel and camping. Both combine our love of the outdoors, exploration, and wilderness access. In fact, like me, you might enjoy BOTH adventure motorcycle tours and bikepacking adventures – different modes in different places and times.


Bikepacking has grown in popularity with the availability of lightweight gear designed for backpacking. Long distance backpackers go farther while carrying less weight than ever before. Ultra marathon through hikes like the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest Trail have been completed by thousands of backpackers – including many who have completed either two or all of these Triple Crown routes.

 

What backpacking contributes to bikepacking also translates to motorcycle touring. Compared to a motorcycle road trip, MotorBikePacking has more in common with human-powered bikepacking.

 

Who chooses lightweight MotorBikePacking and why?

 

There are three motivations why a motorcycle tourer chooses to adopt the minimalist attitudes of MotorBikePacking:

 

First, MotorBikePacking relies on small, light motorcycles. While marketing promises adventure on overpowered and overpriced status "ADV" motorcycles, we intentionally select cycles on the opposite side of the showroom. We choose to travel on small motorcycles, typically under 400cc and often 250cc, or even 125cc mini-motos!


Why accept these limitations? The biggest advantage is obviously cost. New adventure motorcycles can exceed $30,000, with much of the expenses due to options like digital riding modes, electronic suspension, and Bluetooth everything. But this doesn’t include thousands of additional dollars spent on racks, luggage, navigation, communication systems, and necessary protective options for offroad travel.

Smaller motorcycles can cost 25% of the “prestige” models. Used motorcycles can save even more.

 

These savings also translate to registration and insurance costs. High-tech motorcycles suffer from the same electronic maladies as modern autos. Sensors and microchip circuits can cost hundreds of dollars, with diagnostic labor adding hundreds more. These electronics have the devious tendency to malfunction in the middle of nowhere. Base model motorcycles have far less electronic wizardry and have a much better record of reliability under abusive conditions. Smaller motorcycles tend to cost less to operate in terms of fuel and tires. Finally, when the inevitable crash occurs on a rocky hillside, the damage to an expensive bike may cost hundreds to repair while a basic motorcycle may suffer only cosmetic scrapes or bent parts that are cheap to replace by the owner.


Secondly, MotorBikePacking advocates take pride in traveling “softly” with a minimum of gear. We simply can’t carry as much weight. Even if we could, we don’t want to lose the nimbleness and trail capabilities of the lighter motorcycles. Our camping gear is largely interchangeable with bikepackers and backpackers, and we prioritize both minimal weight and bulk.

 

What we give up in terms of added creature comforts, we gain back in extended range and lowered travel expenses. Smaller bikes get great gas mileage. At the same time, we tend to favor the less traveled side roads, so we savor a slower pace and less traffic.

 

Finally, traveling lighter enables us to cover the most distance with the “lightest” environmental impact. We are often solo travelers, or riding with a partner or two. The small bikes leave a light footprint and pass through areas with a minimum of disturbance – as opposed to big touring groups with bikes that can be heard for miles, coming and going. Considering the investment in the motorcycle and fuel consumption, MotorBikePacking is an economical means of travel. In fact, there are bikepackers who spend more on their rigs!


What is your adventure priority? Does MotorBikePacking provide an opportunity?

 

Whatever your motivation, MotorBikePacking usually allows us to travel farther and more often. The economies may allow for multiple motorcycle trips each year. These benefits apply equally to the motorcycle travel newcomer and the experienced rider.

 

Manufacturers are finally starting to notice as the sales of expensive, behemoth cycles stagnate, but smaller, more economical bikes are the hottest models. Not every adventure requires a deluxe ADV bike! Adventures are not dependent on the SIZE of the motorcycle!


Older riders and smaller, lighter men and women are able to enjoy motorcycle adventures with smaller, lighter, and less expensive kits. They may also add years to their travels by not being limited to unwieldy, heavy machines.

 

I once owned multiple large touring motorcycles from 1200 to 1700cc’s. When I bought my first “adventure” bike, my old riding buddy snickered at the “little” 650 motorcycle. But we still rode together – often two-up – and I never had any stress keeping up in mountains and curves of rural Arkansas. Then, I rode this same ADV bike fully loaded on 1,000 miles of the Trans-America Trail. Fast forward to today and I wouldn’t choose a nearly 500-pound rig for solo backcountry adventures. Now that I am older and wiser, I know that I only average 25 miles per hour on ADV rides, and I can easily maintain this speed on a 200cc scrambler – that weighs half as much and costs less than one-third the bigger bikes.


Would I choose a mini-moto for a ride to Alaska? Probably not - but it has been done! Would I choose a small scrambler for the slower pace on the TAT or Continental Divide route? Why not?!!!


Lighter motorcycles also provide a “worst case” option for adventure riding. If (or when) you encounter conditions beyond your skills or comfort zone, you can always unload your light luggage and tackle the obstacle with the nimble, bare bike. Simply carry your light luggage up the hill or over the creek. Plus, if your destination includes other exploration options, you have a motorcycle that is perfect for more challenging trails.


Many may say, “MotorBikePacking is just returning to basics.” And they would be correct!

 

Adventure motorcycling predates the modern, super ADV bikes. It is only recently that technology and marketing has redefined "adventure". MotorBikePacking offers an alternative to the “Bigger is Better” syndrome. Riders have learned that they enjoy the same scenery on a small bike as a big, heavy machine – and maybe have access to more challenging routes.

 

Others might state, “MotorBikePacking is a response to societal excess.”


They are also correct as the “minimalism” trend spreads to tiny homes, vanlife, the digital nomad lifestyle and now to ADV motorized travel. MotorBikePacking.com is here to encourage the return to simpler, sustainable adventures. In the process, MotorBikePacking.com hopes to welcome new (and returning) minimalist travelers.


Here is a video where “Round the World Paul” demonstrates the essentials for “MotorBikePacking”:



I have thousands of miles of experience on both motorcycle tours and bikepacking. The GreatOutThere blog will feature articles that helps apply the knowledge of extended bikepacking to motorcycle travel. Please Follow and Subscribe to the GreatOutThere blog for ongoing articles related to MotorBikePacking.


motorbikepacking

By definition, “MotorBikePacking” is motorized transportation and thus excludes other forms of travel that are human powered. MotorBikePacking includes both offroad "adventure" touring as well as minimalist road trips. (Technically, MotorBikePacking could also include bikepacking on electric bicycles, or ebikes.)

 


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