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What’s In Your Tank Bag?

What's In Your Tank Bag?

There are essentially just two kinds of tank bags: The emptyish ones for varying day-to-day commuting loads and full-ish ones that have been loaded and equipped specifically for long distances and all-day-plus rides. Over the past thirty years I’ve assembled several of the latter type and even though each has been assembled with slightly different components, a few commonalities exist. 1. Flashlights/headlamps. 2. Cutting, pliering and screwing tools. 3. Scarves, bandana’s and rain glove covers. 4. Maps and guides. 5. Cameras, radios and electronic items. 6. Spare bike-specific small parts. 7. First Aid items. 8. Snack foods.

All seems pretty simple, but details matter a lot when you are far from home. Here is one example of a tank bag setup for use on a 2007 BMW R1200 R…

Row one, left to right, across the top. The bag itself is an old California-made Rev-Pac, made by a guy named Jim Revely, a firefighter who retired decades ago to make motorcycle luggage and run a motorcycle resort in a friendly small California town called New Cayuma. It’s somewhere in the middle of practically nowhere, and the resort, called the Song Dog Ranch is still there but is no longer operating as a motorcycle resort. Maybe he still makes bags? https://www.facebook.com/motomobile/ This one is the Tank-Pack Jr, the smaller of the two available sizes. http://www.revpack.com/tankpack/ I just like how it fits me and my bike. Not too large or too small, and like the temperature of the porridge in ‘The Three Bears’ children’s story this bag is just right for me in size, shape and configuration. I’m on my third one. But I digress…

The front of this bag has a full-width external pocket just large enough for a pair of sunglasses if the case isn’t too thick, so that’s where my Rx sunglasses ride. The entire map window lifts up from the rear revealing a central zipper from the back up to the front of this bag. When this map case is Velcroed down at the rear there’s just enough room for a lightweight Aerostich ball-style cap (#658 $16), which goes onto my bald head the moment my helmet comes off. At the base where the bottom meets the sides, about in the middle front-to-back, and on both sides I’ve added two little webbing loops from which I attach a lightweight bungee (#944-943 $14) that goes over the top of the map window. This helps hold the map window down over the cap and gives me a place to put my riding gloves at gas stops.

On the right side of the top sunglasses’ pocket clips a little waterproof flashlight on-a-leash (#887 $21) for those after dark riding situations when I’m able to unclip it to read a map or check anywhere on the bike…while rolling. Or not. On the other end of this pocket an old-fashioned wax-lead grease pencil (#2340 $15) that I’m able to un-holster while rolling and which is used to write temporary ‘memory jog’ messages or the license numbers of rude cars directly onto the map case window. Later the wax just rubs away with a windshield cleaning paper towel from a gas station.

On the left side of the bag is a RAM mount ball (#6284 $7), about two thirds of the way up the side. On the inside of the bag is an “L” shaped aluminum strap from a hardware store which stabilizes the ball nicely whenever the bag is pretty full, which it normally is. The RAM ‘dog bone’ clamp (#6228 $13) is the shortest one available and on top is another RAM ball which is attached to a little clear plastic platform about the size of a playing card. On top is usually either a battery powered AM-FM radio (#3916 $50), an iPhone or a battery-powered radar detector.

Next is a small umbrella. Living and traveling on a bike is a guarantee that you’ll be spending time either standing around a wet campfire or walking somewhere (or with someone) in the rain. Carrying an umbrella also reduces the likelihood of encountering rain by at least 82%. Guaranteed. Try it.

Below the umbrella is a lightweight cable lock (#1011 $19) and a piece of webbing that can be clipped to two of the tank bag’s mounting clips to allow you to carry it over one shoulder like a messenger bag. The lightweight lock is rarely used…to secure a jacket, helmet or riding suit from growing a pair of legs and then walking away from some seedy location. I can’t remember the last time I used it. Normally all the gear and helmet come with me if the location is even slightly questionable, or out of sight.

The tank bags rain cover is next to the umbrella and gets used lots. Even if it’s only slightly threatening rain it’s nice to be ‘ready’ and not have to stop. With smartphone animated weather-radar apps this kind of forecasting is simple.

Triple Digit raincovers (#442 $47) go into my Darien Jacket’s side-entry pockets to be similarly ‘ready’ if rain is anticipated. If the road is straight and smooth and there’s not much traffic I can take them off and put them on without stopping, but it’s nothing I’d recommend, because it involves a very wide empty road and a lot of room to wobble back and forth between the lines attempting to steer with knees only. Google ‘counter steering’ and you’ll find dozens of explanations why this is tough. Takes more than a mile but I’ve never actually paid attention enough to really know. It’s always too long and too risky and a relief when the switch is done.

The little titanium flask (#4445 $74) holds scotch. Nothing as fancy as the container. Just enough to get drunk once, or mildly high twice. Or to share around a campfire with friends. Or to drink as you are lying near death on the side of some lonely road somewhere beyond the middle of nowhere and its pitch dark after a terrible crash when you’ve just killed some stupidly innocent deer. When I was younger this was a plastic flask (#2014-2015 $4) which held a little more and cost a lot less. Who says you get smarter when you are older?

The navy blue zippered pouch is a self-storing ultra-ultra–light hooded rain parka that adds a windproof under suit layer on a cold day and is also good for walkabouts on cool or wet evenings and mornings.

The silk scarf (#1549 $27) is great on super hot days when wetted and on cold ones when dry. Provides slippery neck comfort in any conditions, so you don’t need to close your collar quite as strangulatingly close around your neck. Which is nice.

The playing cards are like the scotch in the flask. For whenever one might be stuck somewhere waiting for something to happen. Like a tent when it’s raining or under a picnic shelter. As long as there’s someone around to share your misery of not riding, cards work as time-passers.

Row two, left to right, begins with the little bungee cord that goes across the top of the tank bag’s map window and the earplug speakers (#3134 $69) that are usually looped around the bungee when they’re not in my ears. Just below is a short coily cord (#2313-2353 $5) which connects to either the radar detector or the iPhone or the radio.

A short canister of bear spray (#3563 $19 ) in a little Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) for safety at night in a little tent, from both quadrapedal and bipedal intruders. Never had to use it. Just being superstitious and thinking about Murphy’s Law. Needs to be replaced every year for fullest potency.

The little stainless folding poo trowel (#1584 $11) is more than for superstition and means you can stealth camp and hide your and poo just about anywhere you want. Which is nice. There’s enough TP at least one poo, and when more is needed it’s available at the next gas stop. Which hopefully has clean rest rooms so you don’t need the trowel-squat experience in the first place. But if and when you do, there’s no substitute for carrying one of these.

First aid kit (#1767 $25) Do I really need to explain? This is another ‘Murphy’s Law’ item. If you carry it, you’ll never need to use it. Next to this the little bottle contains some aspirin, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, etc. Various over the counter pills which can be identified visually. Having a headache when you want to do some riding really sucks. And if you want the fastest headache relief possible teach yourself to grind up a straight aspirin tablet with your molars. Chew it to dust. That’s what ‘headache powders’ were in the 1800’s, before tablets were invented. This brings relief much faster if you can stand the momentary mouth bitterness. A swig of water helps wash it down but isn’t absolutely needed once you are used to doing it. Your salivation will be triggered which quickly takes care of this. Some riders take an over-the-counter joint and muscle pain med pre-emptively and swear this helps reduce discomfort and fatigue during long hard ride days. Definitely makes a difference you'll feel.

Miscellaneous items within a zippered Chase Harper ‘junk’ pouch (#979 $12): High end Japanese-made lighter/mini-blowtorch (#2509 $47), Mini USB power adapter, 12 v to 5v (#3158 $20), Spare key for 3' motorcycle lock (#1153 $20), Mini liquid filled compass on Velcro strap, Space Pen (#2315 $20), Pencil tire gauge (#3550 $7), spare throttle lock (#1774 $49) in case installed version (#1893 $37 fails, Neutrogena rub on SPF 30 Sunscreen (#2084-2085 $6), pocket change and currency, Mini Carabiner (#4024 $7)

Bottom Row, left to right. Aerostich microfiber hat (#658 $12) carried under map window for fast deployment.

Small blue Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) With spare ear plugs (#1274 $3) and face shield cleaning kit (#1051 $25)

Small purple Aerostich envelope bag with spare 12v power cord, spare audio cords, smaller Aerostich envelope bag with spare earplug speakers.

Medium size Aerostich envelope bag with AM/FM/Weather radio (#3916 $50) and related cords and connectors.

Near the back opening of the tank bag, loose items include a spare tail light or turn signal bulb (#4896 $59) in an old 35mm film canister, a Spyderco folding knife (#2410 $73), a Petzl headlamp (#8241 $27) and a pepper spray self-defense tool (#4625 $40) which is supposed to be transferred from the tank bag to an easy-to-reach place on my riding suit, but I always forget to do this.

A green Aerostich envelope bag carries a mini-multimeter (#2939 $14) and a small blue Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) carries some spare batteries.

Last but-not-least, a yellow zippered Chase Harper bag contains a few jerry-rig repair items that don’t fit anywhere else. A spare CBT boot strap -- I think this is the very last one. I needed one once about ten years ago and have not needed another one since. Murphy’s Law again? Since these are no longer available, we make a strap repair kit (#418 $24) and if I didn’t have this strap, I’d carry one of these. Also in this pouch are a mini roll of duct tape (#756 $6), a short piece of insulated wire, some straps cut out of a motorcycle inner tube, a spare adjustable bungee hook, a spare side release buckle, a stick from a hot melt glue gun that is useful with the mini-torch listed above, a GI can opener (#2068 $4) and simpler model Leatherman multi tool (#3671 $55) and a mini Aerostich bag (#720 $11) with a few bike fuses, I think.

That about covers it. The total of the items purchased from Aerostich comes to around $1000 which is what can happen if one gets carried away. On the other hand, most of this stuff was purchased incrementally over a dozen year period. I’ve made three different pre-set up tank bags similarly and this one is for the bike I currently ride on trips. The others are less elaborate. Do you really want to know? One is for an old Airhead I rode for twenty years and the other is for a little 620 Ducati I kept remotely for winter season riding in the Southwest mostly.

What’s in your Tank bag?

– Mr. Subjective, 6-17

PS - Our company motto in latin translated as ‘better late than never’ could not feel more true. Which is how I feel about this video. I know part of it is that I’ve personally grown emotionally and psychologically in the past several years and this stuff is less important to me now than it was ten years ago. I loved figuring out all the little logistics stuff to the point of being obsessive. Nowadays it feels old (and so am I) and it doesn’t seem as important anymore. But I’m glad we captured the obsessiveness of it all before entropy takes over and these details fade away a little more. I’ll always be OCDish about lots of different stuff, but can’t quite imagine going back and doing this all over again from scratch another time.

The two tank bags featured in these two videos, and the smaller one for the bike I once kept in Arizona, are the most recently built tank bags, but before these three were several others starting back in the early 1980’s. The first one was a huge multi-level Chase Harper bag, modified to be even larger with a custom-made map-case ‘office’ attached to the top. It was so big it was practically a fairing. Each successive bag got a little smaller and the contents became more focused.

From the beginning one thing all of these bags had and have in common was some way of mounting an audio source or radar detector (or both) to the top left side where it could be easily operated while moving with my left hand. The first item there was a Sony ‘Outback’ ruggedized AM FM Cassette player, and I usually carried half a dozen or more cassettes on most trips. The first attached is a photo of this setup from about 1986 showing a radar detector just below an AM-FM reciever. Also attached is a still from the setup I used for about fifteen years beginning in the early-90’s, which featured several items mounted to a Lexan platform that had some aluminum struts beneath that fit into slots on both sides of the bag, and lastly a couple of screen grabs from the video of the RAM mount that is on my current tank bag.

1986 Setup
Early 90's setup
RAM Ball Mount



RAM mount - interior
RAM mount

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6 thoughts on “What’s In Your Tank Bag?”

  • James Mottram
    James Mottram July 14, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Great post here. I carry similar items scattered in my luggage, under my saddle and in my pockets and inevitably spend too much time rooting through everything in order to locate the items I seek. Clearly I've been under - utilizing my tank bag. I will reorginize it immediately. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Tom Wright

    One of the best purchases I made for my tank bag is the Aerostich pull over wind shirt. It's great for early morning departures when you know it's going to warm up soon. Or over a heated vest when it's going to be cold all day. When you don't need it, it stuffs into its pocket and easily fits in your tank bag.

    Reply
  • Andrew Maier

    Interesting with the RAM Mount on the bag - can you describe how you did this?

    Reply
    • Steve

      Check out the video. Towards the end he shows the bracket/support he fabricated to support the mount.

      But damn, there's a lot in that tank bag... ;)

      Reply
  • Doug Just Doug
    Doug Just Doug July 14, 2017 at 7:19 am

    My contents are very similar to Mr. Subjective's (no poo trowel, tho), but I add a Log Book, Space Pen, surgical gloves, microfiber rag, eye drops, spare AAs for my flashlight, hat with a tri-fold brim (packs much smaller), and an Rx pill bottle filled with earplugs. I use Aerostich fleece bags and envelope bags for organizing things. Things that really shouldn't get too wet go in LokSaks or small Pelican cases 'cuz I don't like rain covers.

    Reply
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    It's difficult to find experienced people about this topic, however, you seem like you know what you're talking about! Thanks

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