Your Life On Your Sissy Bar
Updated: May 14
Packing for a motorcycle trip can be a very bewildering task.
What bag do I get?
How do I pack a tent?
What important tools and parts should I bring?
Is there a such thing as too many pairs of underwear?
While I may not have all the answers, I’m going to walk you through some of my personal preferences and tips for packing your bike for an extended amount of time on the road.
Photo by: Joseph Kennelty
Step 1: Get a sissy bar, and ideally, a sissy bar AND a rack.
I had my sissy bar and rack custom made, but there are tons of companies and welders that make them!
Step 2: Find a good sissy bar bag.
I chose my Viking Bags sissy bar bag for a few reasons.
Firstly, the size. I have a pretty tall sissy bar, which allows me to use a taller bag— more space for more things!
Secondly, I appreciate the fact that both sides unzip completely open, unlike many which only open from the top. This means that you are able to get to things in your bag without having to remove every other item.
The bag is also easy to organize. The inside has a shelf, breaking it into two separate levels, as well as netted pockets on the inside of each side. There is also a sleeping bag carrier that attaches to the top of the bag for easy packing!
What I pack in my sissy bar bag, for a three-week trip (to give you an idea):
· 7 pairs of underwear (you don’t want to run out of these!)
· 2 bras
· 1 set of pajamas
· 4 pairs of long socks (I wear these while riding)
· 3 pairs of regular socks
· 1 swimsuit
· 2 tank tops
· 2 t-shirts
· 1 crewneck sweatshirt (worn under my leather jacket)
· 1 windbreaker-style jacket
· 1 pair of shoes
· 1 beanie (for cold nights camping)
· 1 extra bandana
· 3 pairs of jeans/riding pants
· 2 pairs of shorts
· A dirty clothes sack (netted bag)
· A couple protein bars
· A water bottle (I typically put this and the protein bars in my sleeping bag carrier for easy access)
· My passport (if I'm going to Canada-- my favorite!)
· A toiletries bag with: shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturizer, q-tips, contact lenses, cotton pads, minimal make-up products (usually just mascara & foundation), toothbrush, toothpaste, make-up remover, dental floss, a razor, and tampons (at some point on a three week trip, chances are I’ll need these)
· A cheap towel (the cheap ones are thinner and take up less space, and still get the job done)
· An “electronics bag” (a toiletries bag I use for electronics) with: phone charger, go pro, go pro straps & mounts, go pro charger, extra SD cards, headphones, Sena Bluetooth Device charger
· Sleeping bag (in the attachable sleeping bag carrier)
· Backpacking sleeping pad (its about the size of a soda can when packed, so I'm able to put it into my sleeping bag carrier with my sleeping bag)
I place my sissy bar bag onto a rack that goes over the top of my passenger seat. This is partly because I have an axillary gas tank that prevents me from attaching it on the rear, but it also acts as a back rest, which makes a HUGE difference! I had extra straps sewn onto the back of the bag so that I could easily attach the bag to my sissy bar, instead of using the slip-over method (as intended). I also went to a sheepskin shop and purchased a piece of scrap sheepskin from them for $10 to wrap around the part of my seat that goes up my sissy bar, in order to prevent the bag from rubbing on the seat and ruining the leather.
I use two bungees, one over and under, and one wrapped around side-to-side, to secure the bag onto the sissy bar and rack. I then use a bungee net directly onto the bag, so that I can throw my extra sweatshirt and leather chaps under the netting throughout the day as it gets warmer and I remove layers.
Step 3: Saddlebag(s)
Broken down on the side of the road after a long day of riding in the rain. Sissy bar bag covered in a trash bag and "front fender" strapped on and ready to go.
I found some vintage, leather saddlebags at a motorcycle swap meet for $40. Since using both would hit my exhaust on the right-hand side, my Mom used her leather-working skills to cut the leather connection between the two bags and sewed it so that I would just have one on my left-hand side (as shown above).
What’s in my saddlebag?
· Laundry detergent pods (the pods are much easier to transport than the container of liquid)
· A bag of quarters for the laundry machines
· A pair of flip flops
· Rain gear (You want this to be easily accessible!)
· A large trash bag (to cover your sissy bar bag in case of rain-- I've found the bag to be pretty water-resistant but rain can definitely get through the zippers!)
· Extra bungees (to hold on the trash bag)
· Make-shift front fender aka a piece of tarp and a bungee (no front fender on a chopper means road water going directly to your face)
· Tool kit/extra parts (wrenches, bolts, spare belt, clutch cable, wheel bearings, etc.)
· Spare gloves (I bring one thinner pair for warmer weather and one thicker pair for cold weather)
· Clear/yellow glasses for early morning/night riding
My dad using his handy-dandy tool kit to check his battery.
You can also see his packing set-up, including the tent strapped to the top of his saddlebag.
As for a tent-- the smaller the better! On long trips, I'm with my parents, and we typically share a 2-man tent (its a squeeze, but not unbearable). The tent can be strapped onto the top of the saddle bag (as seen above on my Daddio's bike).
Unfortunately, some things you'll learn the hard way.
I learned, while stranded on the side of the road for 4 hours, that I should pack snacks.
I learned the importance of warmer gloves when it was 30 degrees out and I could feel each bone in my hands screaming at me in pain.
I learned, after sleeping for 3 nights on rocks and tree roots, the need for a sleeping pad.
I learned to keep my sandals in my saddlebag after stopping by a river mid-ride to cool off, and needing to unpack my entire sissy bar bag to find them.
I learned to put a layer of sheepskin between my bag and my seat after the friction started peeling the leather.
And just as I continue to make mistakes and learn from them, so will you.
Each rider packs his or her bike differently. While I hope you are able to use my packing tips to help get you started, in the end, you need to figure out the best way to pack your bike.
There is nothing more liberating than living off your bike. And while I understand the intimidation behind taking a moto trip, I encourage each one of you to give it a try!
You need to do your best to pack lightly, but you still need a good amount of things. Just look at what we manage to get onto our three bikes!
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