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I have done a bit of traveling by motorcycle and thought I would pass on some basic tips that have served me well. These tips are categorized into packing, roadside troubleshooting, and riding. Some of these tips may be a bit Harley specific, but most can be applied to any type of motorcycle.

Packing for a Ride

Pack this stuff and keep it on the bike. If you use up an item, then replace it.

1. Bring along an extra set of clothing; even if it is not an overnight trip. Rain happens, usually when you least expect it. Dry clothes rock.

2. If riding in the fall or winter, bring cold weather gear, even if the weather is supposed to be sunny and warm. If the weather changes, and you are between shelters, the right gear can save your life. Warm clothes rock.

3. Bring a bottle or two of water. You just never know. Water bottles can double as small gasoline containers in a pinch.

4. Tools. Pack all the tools you can carry. Always. When you work on your ride, use the tools you pack on the bike. If you find yourself reaching for a tool that is not in your "on bike" set, then consider adding it to your kit. At a minimum carry a flashlight, basic combination wrench set, adjustable wrench, needle-nosed vise grips, spark plug wrench, long wire/cable ties, and a multi-head screwdriver (available at most auto part stores).

Optionally consider packing a 3/8" socket set, a 12 volt test light, JB Weld® ,some wire, 6' to 8' foot of rubber tubing, and some crimp connectors of various shapes.

Having the right tools for a roadside repair rocks.

5. If you have a points based ignition, bring a spare set of points. If you have an electronic ignition, consider (depending on cost) purchasing and carrying a spare.

6. Bring a spare coil. Why? Because, it is one of those things that you can't run without, and is generally not repairable. If traveling in a group, just make sure someone has a spare coil. I have been on more than a few rides, where a bike was stranded because the coil failed. I have been lucky in that all but one occasion a spare coil was available.

7. Bring at least one set of spare spark plugs. Plugs can foul at the worst possible time, often in heavy traffic. Often far from a bike shop.

8. Spare brake light and turn signal bulbs. Put the spare bulb(s) in an empty 35mm plastic film container. Brake lights are good.

Roadside Troubleshooting

Don't skimp. Roadside troubleshooting and/or repair is just that, a roadside fix, and all you want to do is get to your destination, or at least to a nearby shop where you can spend more time looking at the problem. Do not ignore something after you fix it on the fly - remember it is really only a temporary solution. Fix it the right way as soon as you can.

Engine sputters and dies
Check for fuel. Open the gas tank and look inside. Sounds silly? It happens. If gas is low, switch your petcock to reserve and get gas as soon as you can.

Engine is running rough
Pull your spark plugs and examine them. If they are fouled, then replace them. If you foul the second set, check your carburetor, is your float stuck? Have you changed your fuel/air mixture recently?

Engine won't start
Is the cutoff switch in "run" mode? Visually Inspect.
Is the petcock turned on? Check to be sure.
Is there gas in the tank? Check to be sure.
Check your spark plug wires, are they connected?
Do you have a spark? (See below)

Checking the ignition system
Using a spark plug wrench, remove one of the plugs. Attach the plug to the plug wire, and hold/place (if holding use an insulated tool to avoid a shock) the threaded part of the plug against the engine/frame. While watching the plug, turn the motor over. If you see a spark you know the following:

1. The spark plug works.
2. The coil works.
3. The ignition works.

This does not mean that your timing is set correctly or anything else. Test all spark plugs in this manner. If you don't see a spark on any plug then examine all your wiring connections between your coil and your ignition. Look for loose/corroded connections. If found, fix them. If that doesn't fix it, try replacing the coil - you do have a spare don't you?

If some plugs have spark and some don't, then examine your plug wires. If broken, worn, or loose replace them. In a pinch most automotive wires can be made to work.


Do a pre-ride check. Check your oil. Check your tire pressure. Check your tires. Look for loose or broken stuff. Make sure everything is on tight. Make sure you have your tool kit.

If you start shivering then find a place to stop - soon. Get inside, get some food in your system. Wait until you stop shivering before you think about continuing.

If you have been drinking alcohol then don't ride. Period. You may not like it but riding when you have been drinking is just foolish. Don't do it, and don't let friends do it. Riding is not like riding a car. It requires skill and attention. Both of which diminish when you ingest alcohol.

In a group, don't bunch up, and ride in a staggered fashion. This gives everyone some wiggle room, and at night gives your group a much larger light profile. This prevents accidents. We have enough trouble with cars and their drivers without running over ourselves.

Stop every 100 to 150 miles and stretch. Always fill up with gas when you stop. Check your rigging every stop, make sure things are tied down tight. Check your oil every other stop.

When changing lanes, signal your intent. If you don't have turn signals then use proper hand signals. If you have turn signals, use hand signals too.

If you see a fellow biker stopped on the side of the road, stop and find out if you can help. Maybe your not a mechanical wizard, but maybe you have the spare part (plugs, coil, wire) he or she needs. Or maybe all he needs is to borrow your cell phone. Either way it is the right thing to do. One day it will be you on the side of the road, hoping someone will stop.

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