Every hero needs a villain. Flash Gordon had Ming the Merciless, Batman had the Joker, and for us bikers, well, the weather is our arch nemesis.
Mother Nature has the power to turn even the most pleasant ride-out into a soggy, miserable experience. That’s not nice when you’re heading home from a Sunday blast, but it’s even worse when you’re on tour. A few days of unseasonable rain can quickly ruin that well-earned trip away.
Trust me, I know. When riding on the Norwegian west coast I experienced a full seven days of unrelenting rain. By the end of the week everything I had brought with me was sodden and, despite the stunning scenery, I was ready to pack up and go home.
That’s why we’ve joined forces with Italian motorcycle luggage manufacturer Givi, which knows a thing or two about protecting bikers from the rain, to put together this guide to keeping you and your kit dry while you’re on a motorcycle tour.
From choosing the right kind of luggage to what to look out for when picking a tent, read this feature and you’ll be ready to tour in comfort through even the heaviest of storms. Let’s get started.
Picking and packing your panniers
Whether you’re a fan of hard panniers, like those made from aluminum, or soft sidebags, you’ll want to be sure they’re waterproof before investing your hard earned cash.
When buying hard boxes look for a rubber seal on both edges around the lid opening, which are designed to keep the water out. If you’re buying soft sidebags look for things like a roll-top closure, taped seams, and even a fixed waterproof inner bag before parting with your money.
Aside from ensuring your panniers are waterproof, we’d also recommend investing in small waterproof bags to help organise what you’re carrying inside your luggage. The benefit is two-fold. Firstly, it helps with packing and organisation on the road, and means you’ll spend less time unpacking and repacking your bags at the end of a day in the saddle.
Secondly, those mini bags will protect damp from spreading to your other bits of clothing and kit if you have to open your pannier while out in the rain or if you have to stash damp kit (like socks and towels) when you’re on the go. If that’s the case, don’t forget to store those damp at the bottom of your pannier too.
The power of roll bags
Once something gets damp on tour, it’s near impossible to dry it again without copious amounts of sunshine or a drying room, and plenty of time. To put it simply, prevention is key, but as we mentioned at the end of the last paragraph, sometimes it’s just not possible.
That’s why I use a waterproof rollbag to separate and store the bits of kit that I need (and want) to keep bone dry from the rest of my kit, like my bedding, a set of thermals for the evening, and clean underwear.
That kit is last to be unpacked in my tent or hotel room at the end of the day, and first to be packed up the morning after. It’s a system that guarantees a cosy night after a day riding through driving rain, even when the stuff in my panniers may have caught a little drizzle.
Givi offers two roll-bags that are perfect for the job, the large 40l EA115FL and the 30l EA114CM. Both come with a roll-top closure system to keep the rain out, plenty of straps to make it easy to fix to your bike, and a robust waterproof outer to keep what’s inside protected from the heaviest of rainstorms.
Dress for the worst
Once you’ve guaranteed that the kit you’re carrying on tour is going to be dry and protected, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll stay dry in the saddle, and also how you’ll dry out your kit at the end of the day. Let me explain.
Here at ABR we’ve always recommended laminated motorcycle suits (where the waterproof layer is bonded to the jacket’s outer layer) when riding through wet weather. While they can come with a higher price tag than alternatives, such as three-layer suits (which use a removable internal waterproof liner instead) the benefits quickly outweigh the price difference, especially on tour.
That’s because laminated jackets don’t wet out (get saturated with water) in the same way that the outer, unprotected layer of a non-laminated jacket does. That means laminated jackets dry quicker when you’re out of the rain, which is darn useful if you only have an evening in a tent or hotel room before you ride again the next day.
As an alternative, you can invest in extra waterproof overlayers to keep the rain out. But if you use these, you’ll either have to ride with them on all day (which can be a sweaty affair) or quickly pull over and put them on when rain starts falling, by which point you’ll probably already be a little damp.
Picking the right tent
Finally, let’s talk about tents.
Of course, if you’re a fan of staying in hotels while on tour you can smugly skip right by this section. But, for many of us biking and camping go hand in hand, with a night under canvas offering the feeling of freedom that four walls and a roof just doesn’t.
If you’re a camper looking to buy a tent for motorcycle touring, you should look for a tent that boasts a separate covered porch from the main sleeping area. Not only is it a place to leave your wet gear to dry overnight, it also means you won’t bring water into the nice, dry sleeping area when you change in and out of your riding gear.
It’s also worth looking into the pitching instructions for tents. I’ve encountered quite a few that require the mesh inner to be pitched first, with the waterproof outer layer then fixed over the top. Unsurprisingly, this is far from ideal when you’re camping in a Scottish thunderstorm, so look for something that can be pitched with the outer waterproof layer first.
Four top tips for dry tours
So, there we have it. Four ways that you can keep yourself dry and comfortable when on tour, even while enduring the kind of round-the-clock rain that would have Noah reaching for his woodworking tools. Just to recap:
Make sure your hard panniers are waterproof, and don’t forget to further divide your packing up with waterproof packing bags.
Separate your most important gear into a dedicated drybag that you only open once you’re inside your dry tent.
Opt for laminated clothing if you’re expecting rain.
Be mindful of how your tent will be to use if you need to pitch it, and take it down in a rainstorm.
And, if you’re now ready to seek out some robust, waterproof luggage and gear that’ll keep you protected during your bike tours this summer, you can head over to the Givi website to discover a range of waterproof hard and soft panniers, topboxes, and roll bags.