My Travel Gear

The Bike

As you’ve probably figured, I ride a BMW R1200GS and make no bones about it, I love this bike. There’s nothing else that will cover distance like it on road and still be up for some fairly hard-core trail riding at the end. Purists will scoff – calling out its Teutonic qualities as though they were detractors.

But it doesn’t break down, it does everything well, it’s expensive…

Yes? You think your ‘adventure’ will somehow be improved by riding a £200 eBay hack that needs ‘fettling’ along with every wobbly tankful?

But unexpected breakdowns bring you into closer contact with the locals.

True, but those locals are still there anyway, whether you suddenly depend on a stranger’s kindness / generosity / ability to rip you off or not. Reach out to them anyway and do it on your terms, not the bike’s.

But I digress, the ride is great, and that’s all there’s to it. It’s as comfortable as it needs to be, as fast as I need to be. The easily removed luggage is waterproof and lockable. The suspension works as well on smooth tarmac as it does on a shot-to-hell backstreet as it does on a rocky trail through the mountains. As for the engine … it’s just genius. The oil cooled boxer may trace it’s history back to a 1923 ditch pump design, but it’s the perfect ditch pump for the job, mixing the smoothness of inline cylinders with the hammering grunt of a big single. Between 3 and 4k it’s silky (once run in at around 20k) and makes for easy cruising, between 1 and 3k the hammering of it’s jackboots digs into any hill with unstallable sureness.

Bike surrounded by cloud and snow

BMW R1200GS on the hill, in the snow, happy as Larry and twice as pretty.

Riding Gear

BMW Rallye suits have been almost as popular as their bikes since they were launched, especially with those who put function before form. Let’s face it, their original colour schemes left a little to be desired in terms of styling, but there was no arguing with the practicality presented by having removable Goretex liners, especially in a warm climate. With the liners in, jacket and troos are comfortable between 15 and 25 degrees thanks to a number of adjustable vents. I’ve ridden at 38 degrees with the liners out and still been comfortable, something that just wasn’t possible with my previous Hein Geicke gear due to its non-removable waterproof layer. Now that the Rallye suit is in its third incarnation BMW have finally offered it in several colour schemes to appeal to non-Dakar racers, and although it remains a little more expensive than the competition you do get an awful lot for your money.

If it looks like weather will be a little cooler than 15 degrees (ie pretty much all the time in the UK) then I also wear a Giali heated fleece coupled to a custom 5 stage controller. It’s a fairly thin garment, on par with a very skinny fleece when turned off, but when cranked up to maximum it’ll keep you snug down to about -5.

Gloves have been the summer version of BMW’s Nautilus, which keep your hands dry (again thanks to Goretex) and stay comfortable up until about 25 degrees. They do need regular cleaning to retain their breathability, otherwise your hands smell of vinegar pretty quick. Built-in visor wipe is a nice bonus.

Boots? I’m on my second set of Frank Thomas. No idea what the model is, but again they feature Goretex and are supremely comfortable right from the off, with enough protection to put in a shift or two off-road. If it wasn’t for Mediterranean temperatures you could get by without any other footwear on an extended trip, they’re that good.

Camping Gear

It’s worth spending some money where shelter is concerned as a good night’s sleep is possibly the biggest single influencer on the quality of your next day’s ride. For longer trips I use an MSR Hubba Hubba tent, the HP version with higher wind proof sides than standard. It pitches in minutes and has enough room for one plus luggage, though if you’re hoping to use either of the ‘porches’ for foul weather cooking then you’re out of luck as there’s not much of an overhang. When I bought this tent it was only available in yellow, no doubt due to MSR’s heritage in expedition gear, but the garish colour makes it less suitable for wild camping than the newer green version.

On shorter trips I occasionally use an MSR Zoid 1, but because of its diminutive size there’s no room inside for anything other than a fairly small person – even the crash helmet has to stay outside. Truth be told it’s probably more suited to backpacking, where its lack of bulk and weight make it an ideal choice.

When it comes to bedding I really rate Ajungilak 4 season bags and a silk liner. It’s not often cool enough at night to use both of these to the max, but good to have the choice all the same if you find yourself at unexpected altitude. In warmer climes the bag works well if left unzipped or as a blanket over the silk liner.

I’ve tried various Thermarests and foam mats from both ends of the quality spectrum, and right now I’m completely sold on Exped’s DownMat 9 Pump LW. It’s thicker than a Thermarest but thinner than a traditional air mattress, and unlike both it’s filled with lovely warm down. This makes it very, very warm indeed (I’m sure it could be used directly on ice) but it also means that you can’t blow it up using your lungs, as moisture in your breath will ultimately do the organic filling no good at all. Instead you use the built-in pump, which is a two-handed process that takes around 70 presses per fill, around 3-4 minutes. The LW designation in the model name means it’s currently their longest, widest model, and it fills the MSR Hubba Hubba perfectly end-to-end while being wide enough to turn in your sleep without flopping off one side. It’s about as bulky as a 3 season sleeping bag but really does make a huge difference to the quality of your sleep, and for that I’m willing to put up with a little extra weight.

Cooking

For several years I’ve been using a Primus Omnifuel stove, which as the name suggests will burn just about anything as long as it’s liquid and can be persuaded into the red pressurised bottle. The main draw in getting this stove was that in theory all I’d need to keep it filled was a length of plastic tube so that I could siphon some fuel from the bike, but I soon discovered that the stove burns cleaner and with more control if proper Coleman Fuel is used. This is expensive, and another thing to carry around. Then the pump developed a leak, and although Primus replaced it free of charge it taught me that even just one moving part is too much when you really, really need the ability to heat food up in order to survive.

Although I’m unlikely to find myself in such an extreme situation I’ve gone back to basics and bought a Trangia, which runs on methylated spirits and has no moving parts at all, unless you count the handle of the included kettle. It’s quieter than the Omnifuel too, and the fact that it takes a little longer to boil the same amount of water is made up for by the inclusion of all manner of cooking vessels. Time will tell if getting the non-stick versions was a wise choice.

Photo Gear

Going on a trip without any sort of camera is unimaginable to me, I just can’t do it. Planning which one to take becomes a trade off between image quality and portability, a serious consideration when travelling on two wheels. The SLRs normally stay at home unless it’s going to be a serious shoot and I can afford the space. Camping gear takes lots of space and is more important, so I left the big guns at home in favour over my Olympus E-M5, a micro four-thirds mirrorless and it’s kit lens, a 12-50mm. It’s the perfect tool for the job; well built and weather sealed, yet supremely portable and very useable thanks to some nifty 5-way image stabilisation built into the body. The Olly is supported by a Gorillapod, polar filter, 4 spare batteries and a charger that works off the bike’s electrics, and a long range RF remote.

I also carry a small Panasonic Lumix in my riding jacket at all times to get snapshots of places as I’m riding through without having to stop and fish out a larger camera. The Lumix is fantastic, practically made for the job. It’s submersible to 12 meters, can withstand drops from 2 meters, and has a built-in GPS for geotagging images. Picture quality is surprisingly good for such a small package and I often find myself using it more than the larger camera which I’m also carrying because it’s so quick to whip out and carry on.

Laptop

Yeah, I travel with a laptop, because I’m under 40 and not a farmer. To be fair I could probably do all of the rudimentary picture editing, blogging and emailing with an iPad or, at a push, a smartphone, but until Garmin release mapping software to run on those devices I’ll have to suffer the burden of an 11 MacBook Air a while longer. It’s my only computer, tethered to an external KVM at home and at work, and eminently portable at all other times. SSD helps with vibrations from the bike and extends battery life, backlit keyboard is a wonder. I wouldn’t be without it.

LGKS: most used and most missed

I fitted the camelback bladder to my riding jacket on a whim, having clocked it drying on the sideboard while I was packing. Truth be told I always suspected the jacket’s ability to take a bladder was aimed at the true adventurist, he with all things Touratech, but having used one in Enduros and when mountain biking I’d come to value it quite highly in those scenarios. Turns out it’s damn hand on the road too, especially in a hot country, doubly so when you’re camping and need to carry lots of water. OK, wearing two litres on your back isn’t the most comfortable of experiences, but it’s a small price to pay for being hydrated.

Most missed? Cutlery. I forgot to pack my travel set, and made do with my swiss army knife and a spoon I liberated from an expensive cafe. Must get round to buying one of those Spork things. And not leaving it at home.