Paperwork Rider


What do you actually need to take for a local or overseas trip?

A tools ‘n’ paper checklist for that long ride

“Bear,” wrote Drew Cavanagh from Paradise, SA, “Just bear (sorry) with me here while I explain my problem. I’m a relative newcomer to motorcycling, having done my licence at the age of 48 and just traded up to a BMW. “I am now beginning to get the travel bug. I have done a lot of travelling both in Australia and overseas, but it’s been for work (and not on a bike!). That’s easy. A few changes of undies, a fresh shirt and a credit card and you’re away. On a bike, on the other hand, you’re relying a lot more on yourself and on your preparation.

“So I’m after a bit of a checklist. I bought a copy of your (excellent) Hema Maps motorcycle atlas, and that has good checklists for clothing and stuff like a wet pack and a camera, but that isn’t my problem.

“Bear, I can work out what clothes and stuff I need for myself, on a bike or not, and even if I forget I can always buy a pair of socks, a toothbrush or a disposable camera. What I’d like is a list of things unique to motorcycle travel.

“Would you mind putting something like that together? I suspect there would be few people around who’d be better qualified, and many readers would be as grateful as I.”

Well thank you, Drew. After that note I can hardly refuse. You’re quite right, there are some things that are more or less unique to the motorcycle traveller. To begin with, let me repeat a few of the things from the motorcycle atlas list you might think about adding to your bike’s tool kit*

  • a quality air gauge
  • a tyre repair outfit (we use Tyrepliers kits)
  • a universal (Leatherman-type) tool
  • a small spray can of chain lube (only if you have a chain-driven bike,
  • obviously)
  • a small spray can of WD40 or equivalent
  • a wire coat hanger twisted into a ball
  • a tobacco tin full of bolts and nuts that will fit your bike
  • a set of globes and fuses.

That probably sounds like quite a bit to carry, but it’s a lot of reassurance in a single package. Wrap it all in a rag — you will find useful to stop it rattling.

This shouldn’t take up more than a moderately sized Tupperware-type box or canvas bag that can sit comfortably at the bottom of a pannier. Don’t forget the first aid kit; I’ve discussed this before. These days, I suspect, carrying spares other than globes and fuses is generally  unnecessary, plus (maybe) cables. If you know of something that is likely to go wrong on your bike, by all means take a spare one. But there are actually few things besides a flat tyre or a vibrated-off bolt that you can fix by the side of the road today.

This is assuming you have a modern bike, of course. If you have a classic banger, you’ll know better than I what you need to carry.Add your mobile phone, rego papers and insurance contact numbers and that pretty much covers travel within Australia. Consider preparing a card with contact details for your nearest and dearest (not necessarily your family!) and any medical details, to carry in your wallet.

Going OS
It’s not necessarily quite so simple if you’re travelling overseas. Well, if you’re doing what most of our readers seem to do — just renting a bike for a few days — then theoretically you shouldn’t need any of the stuff listed above, except maybe for the card in your wallet and maybe the universal tool — just in case. You can hardly be expected to carry a tyre repair kit or your own chain spray.

The bike you rent should be in good shape and a repair and/or pickup service should be included in the price in case of trouble. All you really need to worry about is your helmet (always take your own), other riding gear and bike licence.

Yes, I keep hearing that an international driver’s permit is a good idea, but even in places where I had been formally assured it would be necessary — such as South Africa — my Australian photo licence was all I needed to show.

No doubt there will be some exceptions, so if you’re going to a little-visited country it will be worth asking, but I have found this to apply everywhere I’ve been recently.

With one notable exception. If you want to ride a bike legally in mainland China you will need to pass a test for your local licence. The test is not especially difficult, but there are some manoeuvres (like a tight figure eight, feet up) that might be challenging on a large bike. Any major testing station should have the written questions in an English translation. I say “an” English translation because the language may be a little tortuous. I advise you very strongly against laughing. Like most bureaucrats, the testers have a strictly limited sense of humour.

I do realise that there are two kinds of “motorcycle rental”. With one, you sign a contract and pay for insurance, and usually get a well-fettled bike with the above repair or pickup service provided. The renter will give you an insurance certificate and possibly a note authorising you to ride the bike. With the other kind, you slip the hotel doorman a few bucks and he gets his brother-in-law to drop over a wheezing, rusty, superannuated “bike” with a badge on the tank you’ve not only never seen but never even heard of. Usually, you’re on your own once you mount this noble steed.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever go for the second kind — I have, in the absence of the former (or the absence of the kind of cash that the former required) in places such as Sri Lanka. But you need to be aware of the fact that essentially you have no rights and lots of responsibilities if you do. There’s almost certainly no insurance, for one thing, and should you run over someone, you pay.

Tryppy papers
And while we’re on the subject of insurance, here are some of the other things you will need if you ride overseas. Travel insurance that covers the kind of motorcycling you intend to do and a repatriation clause is absolutely vital. Carry the necessary details with you at all times; some hospitals will not admit you if you don’t have proof that they will get paid, even if you’re seriously inconvenienced. Mind you, this is mostly in “civilised” countries such as the US.

In fact, photocopy all your paperwork and carry a couple of copies, in different places (one on you, one in your luggage — away from the originals), as well as leaving one with a responsible adult back in Australia.

If you’re riding someone else’s bike, you may need a letter of authorisation to cross borders. In Europe, bike theft is rampant and the machines tend to disappear into the east — so border guards are careful. I’ve run into paperwork trouble crossing from Italy into Slovenia.

Now, if you take your own bike you’ll need some more paper. Apart from the registration certificate, you might (depending on where you go) need a Carnet des Passages or Triptyque (Tryptique?). This ensures you take the bike out of whatever country you’re trying to enter. Your local automotive association (RACV, NRMA etc) can tell you where you’ll need one and how to arrange it. You will need to carry some kind of proof of ownership, too. Registration in your name is not necessarily enough. In most places you will also need to take out local insurance (this usually can be done at the border) and in some you will be required to register the bike locally. You guessed it, that means China (but also, in effect, New Zealand). You don’t need to worry terribly about these things before you leave; they happen when you get there.

For longer trips it pays to take a workshop manual and, if you can get one, a parts list. If you do have to replace something while you’re overseas you’ll be pretty sure of getting the right part, not the one that’s fitted to the same model bike in that market, which might be different. The manual can be useful even if you don’t know anything about bikes because you can give it to the local mechanic. And that’s more or less it:

  • Your photo rider’s licence
  • travel insurance that covers what you’ll be doing
  • proof of ownership of the bike, or a letter from the owner authorising you to use it and take it over the border
  • a Carnet de Passage (maybe)
  • a workshop manual and parts list (maybe).

Not much extra, really, but it’s very important that you have the right paperwork or you’ll be risking being turned back at a border crossing. And that can be a complete pain in the backside, trust me.

Hey, Drew, do you really live in Paradise?

*Most bike tool kits are pretty much junk, useful only to show you what size spanners you really need. I have taken the trouble of putting together a complete travelling tool kit from Snap-On. This was eye-wateringly expensive but I have never stretched, broken or even scratched a tool or the head of a bolt or nut (because they really fit), and I am comfortable in theknowledge that I’m as well prepared as I can be. Some manufacturers such as BMW and, I think, Harley-Davidson offer superb after-market tool kits, but they are inevitably brand-specific.