Getting Direction

Carla King, author and adventurer, offers up some advice on solo motorcycle travel

Guys are notorious for not wanting to ask advice.  I’m no different.  But this upcoming trip is taking me outside my comfort zone.  So I swallowed my pride, and asked Carla King, a trailblazer in solo motorcycle travel and author of American Borders and The China Road Motorcycle Diaries, for help.  My question was; ‘what was the one piece of advice you wish you had received before taking your first long distance solo journey?’  And just as quick as a motelier offers direction to guests, Carla responded with this.

Carla King, author American Borders and The China Road Motorcycle Diaries

When I first started solo motorcycle touring in the eighties, I wish I had known that I was opening possibilities in the minds of young people. I think I would have reached out to schools not only to talk about riding, camping, and adventure travel but to demonstrate simple mechanics. Easy things that are tactile and obvious, like how turning the idle screw on a carburetor changes the speed and sound of the engine, or how to change a tire and replace a spoke, or even open the heads (on my BMW-style airhead engine) to teach them to adjust the valve clearances. Even today most girls, and lots of boys, too, are not trained in self-sufficiency, so I would have liked to realize earlier that I could be a role model and become a more proactive teacher.

Carla is an inspiration to young people, riders and women. But I will focus this chronicle on the latter part of her reply.  Because at fifty years old, my stories won’t be inspiring too many young people. Instead, I expect they appeal to those closer to entering their retirement years. However, I am grateful for the technical advice.  My motorcycle is a BMW F800ST and last summer I found out the hard way that carrying tools and knowing some basic maintenance is important.

My partner and pillion Amanda Anne taking a break from the heat, after unloading our gear and before helping repair the punctured tire.

One Sunday, returning from a wonderful week in Picton County, I suffered a punctured tire on the highway. It wasn’t long before I realized that repairing a motorcycle tire is nothing like changing a flat on a car.  I was fortunate that the incident occurred next to an exit and I could hobble off the highway to a service centre.  And because I didn’t carry a tire repair kit or a portable air compressor, had the incident not occurred where it did, but instead during a long stretch of highway, I would have been in serious trouble. I now travel with a tire puncture repair kit and have purchased a Stop & Go Mini-Air Compressor to carry with me.

The other piece of gear that Carla’s note inspired me to pick up before this trip is a portable battery booster in the event that I accidentally drain my battery.  The portable booster, complete with cables, provides up to 20 boosts on a single charge.  Made by NOCO, the product is compact and will fit nicely in a pannier.  Another cool feature is that it can also serve as a USB charger in the event I need it for my iPhone or another device.

So, thank you Carla for sharing your advice.  I’m glad I asked.

  1. That’s a really interesting response. It would be really interesting to ask that question at somewhere like horizons unlimited and see the range of responses.

  2. Honestly, it depends where and what you are riding to and through. A puncture repair kit might be handy and an electric pump as well but if there is a road, there are people if there are people there a vehicles and help available. The added weight and bulk of a pump isn’t worth it in my opinion unless you’re really in the middle of nowhere. Get the sturdiest tyres available. Just my experience 🙂

    • Andrew (Drew) Beattie The Motelorcyclist says:

      Thank you for your feedback and sharing your experience. Always appreciate good comments.

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