Touring advice: How to pack for a road trip in California

By Peter Baker -

Touring & travel

 29 May 2009 16:23

Q. I am going on a two week tour of California on a bike, I've never been on a long bike tour so I'm not sure what to pack. What should I take along? How many changes of clothes will I need? Will I be able to get away with one textile suit or will it start to smell a bit after 14 days of riding?

A. Riding the Pacific coast highway in California is one the best motorcycling experiences in the world. If you can tear your eyes away from the rugged and breath taking coastline for a moment  and look out to sea you’ll notice plumes of salt spray on the horizon...that will be Blue whales surfacing. Then there’s miles of well surfaced, twisty road that threads its way along the cliff. I’m deeply envious.

The only issue with clothing is the temperature difference between the coast road and the desert a few miles inland. Early morning sea mist can bring the temperature down to single figures along the coast but twenty miles away in the desert it can reach a scorching 45°C.

Your best clothing option is a leather jacket and jeans. I’d be tempted to go for armoured denim rather than leather jeans but generally go for clothing that can be worn on and off the bike rather than gear designed for a specific purpose like one-piece leathers.

If you opt for textile clothing make sure your jacket has a separate, removable waterproof lining. No matter how ‘breathable’ the manufacturer says the lining is, it just won’t be able to cope with the amount of moisture you’ll be creating and you’ll risk heat stroke.

Make sure your jacket is loose fitting enough because you’ll want to fit a long sleeve top under it. Lightweight Merino wool is the best choice as it wicks sweat away from body well and is naturally antibacterial (so it’s less likely to smell). Merino will keep the morning chills at bay and when the day heats up, you can stop at petrol stations, go in the toilet and soak the woollen top in cold water.

Put the top back on wringing wet and then put your jacket back on over the top. Back on the bike have your jacket done up but leave a couple of inches open to allow the breeze in. This will keep you cool for an hour and a half or until the next fuel stop. You also need to drink a litre of water at each stop to prevent dehydration.

Other than your riding kit, take as few clothes as possible. Even the cheapest US hotels have an overnight laundry service.

It’s possible, and very liberating, to pare down your possessions to the absolute basics. Being able to fit everything you need into a tank bag gives you more freedom off the bike as you can park up, unclip and walk away without the worry of people ransacking your stuff. It’s also far easier when it comes to loading and unloading your bike at either end of a long day.

Just remember, a biking holiday is supposed to be about enjoying the experience and freedom of travelling, the simpler you make it for yourself the more enjoyable it will be.