Separation Anxiety — Your Ideas?

Rider September 2009

In the September issue of Rider magazine, my Riding Well column’s focus is on being prepared for when things go wrong. This was written following a ride my son had taken back to college when the KLR 650 he was riding suddenly gave up the ghost. As the sun set and his cell phone battery did as well, he was stranded in the growing darkness, out of touch with civilization. The gory details are in the column, but following this event he and I drew up this list:

Eight things we can do to simplify an unexpected situation:

1.    Have a working cell phone with a fully-charged battery. Bring a wall charger for use at a restaurant, gas station or motel if necessary. Having a small emergency power source for your phone is a plus. Plus, a SPOT satellite tracker enables contact even where cell phone reception is non-existent and even lets you call for help, pinpointing your exact location.

2.    Even if you choose not to wear bright colored clothing when you ride, take a high-visibility article with you. A bright, retro-reflective vest will show brilliantly both day and night and is easy to pack.

3.    Carry a small flashlight or “head” lamp with you at all times. It can be used for working on the bike and can be helpful in attracting attention at night.

4.    Bring your owner’s manual. Read it prior to taking off to improve your familiarity with the machine beyond basic controls. A workshop manual is even better.

5.    Know where your tool kit is located and how to perform basic functions like side panel and seat removal. The time to learn how to get to the battery or fuse block isn’t in the dark.

6.    If something on the bike is acting up when at a stop, don’t press your luck by pressing on. It’s better to lose some time getting things worked out than to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Just ask Parker.

7.    Make certain someone knows the route you’ll be taking and when you’ll be traveling. Make a point to check in by phone at various stops. When Parker and I took a cross-country trip last summer, we used text messages on Twitter to keep friends and family posted on our progress. It’s simple and also captures a record of your travels.

8.    Join AMA and get free roadside assistance ( The $39 annual fee more than pays for itself with a single tow. I could have paid dues for nearly seven years with the KLR’s $267 tow charge.

Since this column was published, the feedback from readers has been extremely high, each with valuable additional suggestions. I’ll post some of those as well but please provide your suggestions here as well. ET


5 Responses to “Separation Anxiety — Your Ideas?”

  1. stayinsafe Says:

    Gary S. writes:

    Your article about your son Parker’s misadventure on his way back to college sent me out to check my inventory of must carry stuff in the pannier. 

    In addition to the items on your list, I’d also suggest that your flashlight be an LED model to increase battery life beyond one with an old fashioned light bulb.  I carry a AA size light, as I’m sure a lot of riders do, so every bit of power saved will increase battery life.  Also, since you’re not going to make or receive calls when you’re riding, I suggest turning OFF the phone when you set out.  Cell phones are always looking for a cell tower site, and when riding in the Alleghenies, Ozarks, or any blue road in between, the phone in your pocket or tank bag will be draining valuable battery life searching for service as you ride along.  Better to have a fully charged phone ready when you stop and turn it back on. 

    Another item I’ve found handy is a zip lock bag with a few dollars in change in nickels, dimes and quarters.  You never know when you will want a cold drink out of a machine in front of a closed gas station on a hot Sunday afternoon drive.  I think I’ll add a can of flat fix goop in with the leatherman too.  Good to have a couple band aids and a tube of triple antibiotic in there also, just change them out for fresh ones every spring so they are still sticky when you ding a finger or find that bee sting up your sleeve. 

    I’ve been told by other riders that your AAA membership will cover a flatbed tow of a motorcycle also.  Good to know, since we often don’t associate that kind of roadside assistance for our cars to our bikes also.  Worth asking about when you renew membership.

  2. stayinsafe Says:

    Donald K writes:

    I read the article, Separation Anxiety and you ended with asking if there were any additional ideas. Carrying a GPS unit is a good idea. Not just for directions, but most have a tab for coordinates which would be most helpful for someone to locate a stranded motorist. Just go to that tab and it will give you the latitude and longitude – give that to the “rescuer”, and they will be able to come right to you.

  3. stayinsafe Says:

    Neal W. suggests:

    Extra fuses. Make sure you take the exact replacements.

    Extra headlight bulb. Mine went out on my Kawasaki and it turned out it
    was not a stock item. This dealer wouldn’t place orders until he has
    $300>. It took 2 weeks of riding on low beam before I got mine. If I
    were out on the road and this bulb went out completely, what would I do?
    I carry an extra.

    Know what is in your tool kit. Most people don’t open it until they
    need it! That’s a tough way to find out that you could have brought
    along: A) medium sized adjustable wrench (Channel Locks – sized 420)
    B) a medium sized socket set
    C) larger phillips & common s\drivers
    D) $2 container of “lock-tight.”
    E) fold up hex head – 6 part- tool set

    I carry A-E, the extra h\light and fuses & these items take up no space
    @ all – but what a payoff if I ever need them.

  4. stayinsafe Says:

    Al D. brings some learning from the off-road world:

    Just read your article in the Sept. 09 Rider issue – great advice in
    general. While I don’t remotely pretend to be a touring wizard, it is
    something that I’m now experimenting with after 30 some years of
    riding dirt and street motorcycles for fun or in hillclimb or roadrace
    competitions (I consider myself a novice) and I have a couple of
    things to add just in the rare chance that you haven’t already heard
    them. Most of this “be self sufficient for awhile” mentality comes
    from dirt riding where it’s really easy to get stranded 20 miles from
    the nearest thing that can remotely be called civilization and making
    sure that when things break, you have some reasonable chance to
    MacGyver the thing back together.

    Anyway back to the point – it’s important to know your bike which
    means that it’s worthwhile to develop the mechanical skills to handle
    the most common wrenching tasks – the benefit is that you can then do
    a pretty thorough prep of your bike prior to the trip, and do the
    usual pre- and post-ride checks at periodic intervals. If you have a
    great mechanic then that’s good but lack of knowledge won’t help you
    in southwest nowhere when your mechanic is 1,000 miles away. OK I’m
    anal and
    check some things daily (lights, chain tension & lube, master link
    clip, sprockets, brake pads, lever and throttle play, oil and coolant
    level, check for leaks, fasteners, tire pressure, check tires for
    embedded objects, wheel bearing play, etc.) and other things at every
    gas stop (oil level, tires, fasteners, etc.). As for the charging
    system there are several battery monitors that check the health of
    your battery and charging system – the one I use has a 3 color LED
    that is mounted along with a 12v lighter socket and a switch for the
    heated hand grips on the front of my Wee Strom. These things are
    cheap and more than pay for themselves in piece of mind since you
    can’t really see or hear mishaps that are starting to take place in
    your electrical system. Electrical failure is usually instantaneous
    with a few exceptions like the one Parker experienced. Having an
    accessory socket to plug in things like cell phones, GPS (I don’t use
    one), heated jacket liner or gloves (I don’t use them either but maybe
    should), etc. is also pretty useful.

    There’s always a tradeoff between taking too much crap and compromise
    the quality of your ride by taking too little where you risk being
    stuffed in some place where it is inconvenient. I probably err on the
    too much side but volume wise my “possibles bag” is still about .3
    cubic foot. My kit includes – wrenches that fit the bikes fasteners
    (I’ll note that my Wee Strom has JIS fasteners but the SW Motech skid
    plate, crash bars, and luggage racks are German so I’ve replaced those
    DIN fasteners with JIS to minimize tool and spare fastener
    requirements. I also carry spare fasteners, electrical tape, zip
    ties, tire pump (lots of options here and the point isn’t to have the
    fastest one but just something that works), tire plug kit, a copy of
    the electrical schematics from the shop manual, spare fuses, spark
    plugs, spare bulbs, both blue and green loctite, and a small
    multimeter. I’m a pretty good mechanic so I don’t carry torque specs
    and a torque wrench since for me mechanical stuff is pretty intuitive
    after years of working on cars, motorcycles, and a bunch of stuff that
    has a motor of some sort. If one is new to this game then a torque
    sheet and wrench might not be a bad idea. For trips to the far north
    where days might be spent in the middle of nowhere, then more will be
    required like a tire patch kit, spare stick on balance weights, tire
    irons, spare levers, … , it’s easy to go crazy here. The day will
    come when even with a super thorough pre-trip prep, something will
    fail like a seized motor, broken wheel, whatever. Best way to avoid
    that is when you observe something odd like metal in the oil, slight
    steering vagueness or shimmy, new weird noise, suspension issues,
    excess cupping on the counter or rear sprocket, slight crack in the
    frame or wheels, etc. then don’t assume it’ll be OK since these are
    just warnings from your bike that if you ignore me now, I will spank
    you later. Still everything breaks at some point, even new parts, so
    my day will definitely come although it hasn’t in my first 30 years of
    riding. I don’t take those first 30 years as being more than just
    luck but it’s true that you can improve your odds with proper
    diligence. So I’ll pretend that it’s worked for me so far.

    Another thing that is often overlooked in motorcycling is your own
    physical fitness. We all know (or should) that mental errors on a
    motorcycle are potentially fatal and a physical error can sometimes be
    corrected and usually a physical error gets caused by a mental error.
    Good physical and mental fitness is a must for a long trip and you
    need to stop and rest at the very first hint of mental fatigue. I
    heard a great phrase that I just love “Don’t let the destination
    compromise the journey” – that’s motorcycling in a nutshell to me.
    GIven your safety instructor status, I’m sure you have a lot more to
    say of value on this topic than I do. I’ve just seen riders in pretty
    bad shape when things get either too hot or too cold and I would say
    that most of the time this was caused by lack of physical fitness
    contributing to mental fatigue. Knowing your skill level and riding
    with a extra safety margin is a mental thing and if you’re whipped
    you’ll generally lose. Bottom line is that if you break in the middle
    of nowhere then you’re really in trouble – most of us can learn to fix
    our machines but almost nobody can fix themselves in a bad crash.

    Wow – in reading this overly long diatribe, I realize that I sound
    like a know-it-all. I of course know very little but think a follow
    on article that expanded on this theme would be a great read. Just a
    thought. Ride Safe and thanks for the great article.

  5. stayinsafe Says:

    Dave T. inquires:

    I always enjoy your column and the one in the September issue is no exception. I am curious if you have found out the source of the CLACK CLACK noise from the KLR 650 your son was riding. You may not have had this info when the column was written, but by now the problem may have been diagnosed and repaired. Please let your readers know what happened and what was involved in the repairs.

    Eric replies:

    You know Dave, I wish I knew what that clack, clack, clack sound was but it remains a mystery. Parker was the only one to experience it and it never did it again. It may have been dieseling or it could have been a fluke with the starter remaining engaged but I really haven’t a clue. We did discover that the battery developed a bad cell that contributed to a recurring electrical problem (one of the downsides of the KLR is that the battery is not easily accessible without removing bodywork and unbolting the seat. We discovered this after Parker had a second electrical failure just beyond the border in Canada (these things never seem to happen close to home). ET

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