Just how much do you take along on a motorcycle tour? Some people travel with a toothbrush and a bar of soap. Others fill the saddle bags, the top case and pull a small trailer behind their motorcycles.
The vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I, personally, am not a big fan of top cases. On the other hand, I do like a small to medium-sized tank bag and saddle bags. If it doesn't fit there, it doesn't go with me. The one exception might be a rolled up sleeping bag or a tent bungied to the luggage rack.
How much do you take? How much stuff do you absolutely have to have along to survive? It's always a compromise. More comfort means more weight. More weight affects the handling of the bike. Too much weight can affect your safety – not a good thing!
One deciding point is, where are you staying? If you're going to hotels or motels, they have soap, washcloths and towels in the rooms. You don't need to carry any of that stuff.
If you're camping along the way, you'll have to carry everything you'll need. You can avoid hauling food with you by buying what you need each day. If you want to do your own cooking, you'll need a stove and cooking utensils. You may want to look into camping stuff designed for backpacking because it's small, light and packs well.
If you enjoy more comfort with your camping, some of the small trailers designed to be pulled behind a motorcycle fold out into a miniature camper you can actually sleep in! It's amazing how much comfort you can create by selecting the right equipment.
Again, it really depends on how you like to travel. Most of us thoroughly enjoy the scenic back roads with lots of interesting curves. The interstate highways just aren't as much fun. If that's your style of motorcycle travel, lighter is better. The bike handles better and is more responsive when it's not weighed down by a lot of stuff.
That responsiveness is also enhanced if the weight is carried lower. Taking a top-heavy motorcycle through the twisties can be hard work. That's one of my reasons for not liking top cases as much as I do saddle bags.
Tank bags allow you to have stuff close at hand without having to park the bike and dig it out. I particularly like having a map of the area right there where I can stop, look at the map and take off again. While I have used a large tank bag, I prefer the small to medium ones. I feel restricted by the bigger ones.
Another cool feature of most tank bags is a shoulder strap that allows you to take it with you when you park the motorcycle. That's another reason for using a smaller tank bag! Along that same line, I have seen a small soft bag that you mount on the luggage rack instead of a hard top case. This bag also has a shoulder strap like the tank bags which means you can conveniently take it with you.
The possibilities are endless and everything is a compromise. Light vs. heavy, large vs. small, handling like a sports car vs. a bus. There is, unfortunately, no equipment or riding style that has it all. You have to pick and choose what pleases you most.
At the same time, that's part of the fun, too. If you stop at a restaurant or some other place where there's a bunch of motorcycles parked in one area, it's fun to look around to see what choices others have made. You will be amazed at the variety!
The coolest thing about that is if you happen to see something you like. Most of the improvements we make come after we've seen someone else do it that way. If I were to leave you one last piece of advice, it would be: don't postpone that first motorcycle tour until you think everything's perfect!
Just go, and have a blast!