When talking about my long distance rides (LDR) I get asked a lot of questions about safety concerns. What do I do with my luggage and personal things when I step away from the bike? How do I protect myself from potential dangerous situations, confrontational people and so on?
Although being alone on a motorcycle in unknown places does seem to have an intrinsic dangerous connotation, my premise is not to put excessive weight into the subject. I’ve learned that going on the road with an open heart has led to amazingly positive experiences of all kinds, with places, terrains, animals, and people.
“Wait, you’re riding your motorcycle, WHERE????”
There is one fact every adventure rider must learn to control and deal with and that fact is other people telling you how dangerous what you’re about to do is. You are going to be bombarded with worse case scenarios. These concerns have been fabricated in the minds of people which, almost always, have never even been to the place you are going to ride. Stereotypes are a stain in our society’s consciousness and they will come at you relentlessly once you reveal your plans to others. You will be engulfed in plain cultural ignorance from people who have never travelled out of their comfort zones and have spent their whole lives within a 30 mile ratio. This inherent fear in others is a fact all LDR riders have learned to deal with when discussing their next trip.
In my experience, the best way to work through this situation is to listen to the person. I then weigh the reliability of the facts and begin to expose the person by asking relevant questions. For example, “Have you been there?”, “Do you have any pointers or recommendations?” Immediately discard any “I heard someone say that…” type of comments. Keep the discussion short. Take whatever is truly valuable, smile, and change the conversation or walk away. I’ve learned that these people tend to not be genuinely concerned about you, rather they are jealous, sitting in their sedentary lives waiting for something to go wrong to quickly point at you and say “I told you so…” And like Ursula K. Le Guin said once “Nobody who says, ‘I told you so’ has ever been, or will ever be, a hero.”
Safety is a matter of common sense; danger can lurk anywhere, even crossing a street in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Again, common sense is critical, a pure reflection of your own values, and what is wrong and what is right in your own mind. Trust your instincts for every situation and go with it.
“See and be seen”
Once on the road, there is the subject of riding safety. Most of us learn this from our riding training and the experience gained from our time on the saddle. In my opinion, it is always a good practice to revisit the training facts from time to time. Riding a motorcycle is not about learning the mechanics of how to sit on it and make it go. Rather, I believe it is the art of where to position yourself at any given time to avoid potential danger, positioning for others to see you, and positioning for time to react.
“You want freedom or your stuff?”
Now on to safety regarding my belongings, it is quite simple, I pack really light (as you can read in previous blog posts). Most of what I bring has very little value so in the case of my bag being broken into; nothing will hurt me if it disappears. My bags are also well attached to the bike which usually discourages anyone from trying to figure out how to take the entire thing off. And in the case they do open it, I’m not sure if anyone is interested in a couple smelly socks and a few t-shirts.
The only valuable items I carry on my rides are my photography equipment and some money. I always carry my photography equipment on me when I step away from the bike far enough to lose visual contact with it. I found a holster that is comfortable enough to throw on my shoulders and it carries my camera, a lens, and my GoPro. For money, I do carry a small amount of cash in a chained wallet. I also use debit/credit cards all the time which helps me keep track of my expenses at the end of the trip (or during). It is easy to cancel them if lost or stolen, and they are plain convenient. In general, my approach is to carry very minimal valuable items with me.
Regarding safety with luggage, some luggage now comes with more sturdy materials and many are lockable. In the direction I’m going with my rides, and after testing a few so called “adventure bikes” I may end up trying hard case “pannier” style storage in the future. I rode bikes with panniers in Spain, Portugal and recently on the Dalton Highway up in Alaska. The practicality of these luggage systems are unparalleled; sturdy, protective, waterproof, easy access, and attached to the bike.
Some of the safety equipment I carry on my rides are a good tool roll specific for my bike needs; a 2 person portable First Aid kit, a canister of bear spray, and a few utility knives. Guns and weapons, I love em’, and it’s up to you...
Camping is another topic I often get asked about safety considerations. Finding a camping spot sometimes can get a little dicey, especially if you are going off the road. Your best bet is to find a National, State, or Provincial Park to pinch your tent. They are really economic and for about twenty bucks you get a nice flat space, access to some convenient facilities with a bathroom and some running water to wash yourself. But if you go off the grid, make sure that you plan a quick exit route back to the main road. Hide yourself and your bike well for the night if you are still close to the road to avoid attracting the curious or the cops (although cops usually let you stay if you explain your travels). Make sure you are in public lands and not trespassing any private property. I’ve heard of people doing some sort of perimeter alarm system with fishing line and a bunch of cans. I guess it could work to alert you if an intruder (animal or human) is getting too close for comfort. But I bet more likely it is going to suck if that thing keeps going off and you are awake and paranoid all night because of a damn rabbit jumping around. Trust me I’ve experienced the terror of being in the tent, pitch black night, and hearing those close cracks of twigs. My eyes wide open and holding a death grip on my Ontario knife only to discover later that bastard rat with long ears jumping around.
“Can’t we all just get along?”
When it comes to people, in all of my travels I’ve encountered very few “sketchy” situations. Again common sense applies here more than anything. For the most part, it is better to avoid confrontation, for the other times you can kung fu and shit!Leave us your comments and other questions here and we will incorporate them into a future blog…. In the meantime, start planning your next trip. Ride Far!