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Tooling Up

(from the Travels with Guido series #337, October 2020)

kangaroo road sign northern territory

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen

You’re heading off on the big adventure and maybe you should think carefully about what tools to take. Or not…

Is how you prepare for a trip a reflection of how optimistic your outlook on life is, or just whether you’re a blithering idiot?

There has been plenty of opportunity to reflect on this of late, given I’ve undertaken a fair few road trips recently and have had to deal with breakdowns along the way.

Once upon a time I would very carefully prepare a travelling toolkit before any major trip. Doing this is very much like the rest of your packing. Do you take everything including the parachute and shark repellant, or hope for the best and just stick a toothbush in your jacket?

I must confess to long being a follower of the take-everything-including-shark-repellant school of thought. So packing was a long and thoughtful process – it could take days. In fact, that can be part of the joy of any decent trip: doing the planning and making the preparations, spending days speculating on the trials and tribulations to come.

Some days out you’d start poring over the maps (remember when they were on paper?), speculating over the terrain and the weather and what challenges they might throw up at that time of year.

Then you’d saunter out to the shed, pop the bike on a stand and go over it carefully. Fluids, tyres pressures, loose nuts and bolts.

Then there’s the travelling toolkit. I wonder how many people actually pack those any more? A couple of factors may have changed how you look at these things. For a start, motorcycles are generally more reliable, so the dramas are fewer.

Plus, there has been a proliferation of breakdown services that at least claim to include motorcycles. I have a premium cover-everything version and must confess that it’s only been useful on some occasions, but certainly not all.

So do you pack a breakdown kit these days? There was a time when I’d take great care with this – more than with the decisions about clothing and riding gear. You’d grab the basic spanners, maybe a mini socket set, some screwdrivers, a couple of pairs of pliers (needle nose and something larger). Oh, then there are the spare bulbs and fuses, plus of course something in the way of a rubber repair kit. Perhaps a set of mini tyre irons? Oh yeah, Allen keys, a can of chain lube, perhaps a spare chain link…

Bloody Norah! Next thing you know you’re starting to wonder if you need a second motorcycle just to carry the tools! Maybe we should sit down and whittle this back a little. Particularly if you’re not crossing Mongolia. If you are, disregard everything from here on.

Over the years, as I got into a position where I could afford more reliable machinery (or actually maintain it properly…!), having a giant toolkit on board really wasn’t necessary. Nine times out of ten, or better, I wouldn’t even look at the damn thing. Or, when I did, all you really needed was one basic item to tighten a loose bolt. Really, you could have bought something to do the job for five bucks at the nearest servo.

It’s surprising what you can get away with. There was the time recently when I had to do a roadside clutch fluid replacement and the stock toolkit was just enough to do the job. Until I dropped a screwdriver down a drain (hot tip: think about where you’re parked before you start work!) and had to grab a replacement from under the seat of another motorcycle.

(Of course none of that would have been necessary if I’d been paying more attention to preventative maintenance on the Blackbird.)

And then there have been the bigger trips, like the time not so long ago I picked up the first model Kawasaki GPz900R from Alice Springs and rode it back to Melbourne – a trip covering some 2300km (1400 miles). As I rolled up holding a helmet and a jacket, the seller asked, “What tools did you bring with you?”

"None," was the cheerful response.

"None?!" He was too polite to wonder out loud what sort of idiot he was dealing with and kindly added an Allen key to the typically minimalist stock toolkit, so the sidecovers could be undone. And wished us luck. We managed, sorting out a fuel system breathing issue along the way.

Recent experience has taught me that a few basic items are handy, though you might be surprised at what you can leave behind. These days, my standard emergency kit is a multitool (Leatherman or similar) plus a roll of gaffer tape and a handful of cable ties. Anything else needed? Well that's what scavenger hunts are for. Works for me…

See more Travels with Guido columns


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