Three Letters Re: Motorcycles as Bugout Vehicles

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Jim:
I'm sure this subject has been well covered before, but I will interject my thoughts.

I ride a lightweight dual sport motorcycle in Colorado and personally believe it is an excellent tool for everyday use, and even more so in rough circumstances. 

If we look around the world at less developed countries and areas without much infrastructure the use of motorcycles and scooters is very prevalent. This is due in part to the relatively low initial purchase cost compared to conventional cars, fuel efficiency, ease of maintenance, and flexibility of use. I also often look to my experiences in Afghanistan for a real life example of what a declining and rough world might look like, and there are many valuable lessons to be learned from places like that. In Afghanistan small displacement motorcycles are very common. They often provided families a sole means of transportation over long distances to sell goods in larger towns, take family members to distant doctors, etc. I have seen no less than an entire family of 4 on a single low displacement (125-250cc) motorcycle, which is not ideal, but really shows the flexibility of use. The vast majority of roads in Afghanistan are not maintained and in very poor condition. Traveling in a 4-wheeled vehicle is painfully bumpy and slow, and quickly destroys suspensions. A motorcycle has the distinct advantage of being able to go around potholes and bumps, and still maintain a good rate of speed. Motorcycle are also able to travel on narrow footpaths that can take you over terrain that would be impossible for a conventional 4-wheeled vehicle to navigate. Gasoline in Afghanistan is somewhat limited and costly, but is still a commodity in nearly every little town or village no matter the size. A motorcycle that gets 50+ MPG is an obvious choice if you expect to have limited supplies of fuel. 

To directly address the author's pro and con list:

1)  Bypass traffic jams and stalled/out of commission cars: This a great advantage of motorcycles. They are very maneuverable. Aside from boulder fields, and sheer rock faces, there's pretty much no limit to where you can take a motorcycle. Especially in Colorado with the large number of bike paths, hiking trails, forests roads, and jeep trails.
 
2)  Saddle-bags can carry a lot more than than a human: Properly set up you can easily carry 100-200lbs+ (45kg-90kg) with a good quality saddlebag system. Although large bags will lower your MPG to a certain extent. 

3)  Much faster than on-foot bugout: There's a reason people have ridden horses for thousands of years. Speed is good.

4)  Handles off-road with suitable tires: A lightweight dual sport bike with good suspension and knobby tires can take you through roads, fields, and forests without a second thought.

5)  Fewer people could drive it compared to a car, so lower theft risk: If someone is in the business of stealing, they will know how to take your motorcycle. In fact motorcycle theft is pretty high because they can easily be thrown in the back of a truck or van in a matter of second and are gone. Happens all the time. Here's where you can use size to your advantage and store the motorcycle inside your home. Most motorcycles will easily fit through a doorway.

6)  Small profile makes it hard to shoot: True, but also provides no protection. The speed and agility of a motorcycle would be more of a factor than size alone.

7)  More maneuverable than a car, harder target to shoot: See above

8)  Very fuel efficient: A 250cc bike will get 60-80 MPG, with larger displacement engines getting anywhere from 30-50 MPG. The ability to travel long distances with a few gallons of gas is a huge benefit, not only in terms of supply, but cost.

9)  Can add a trailer for added hauling capacity, limited by bug-out route terrain: A good trailer can easily double or triple your weight capacity. Great for long distance moves or simply packing out field dressed game.
 
Cons:
1)  Zero protection - rider at high risk: See above

2)  Easy to stop or slow down with chains, cables, fences, etc: Yes, it's more susceptible to being stopped by a guillotine cable, but the odds of that happening are also extremely slim. That falls more into having situational awareness and not getting yourself ambushed. If it's just a wire fence or chained off area, a motorcycle can easily be laid on it's side and dragged under the obstacle. 

3)  Can't carry loads of supplies: Simple and light is key! The more you know, the less you need. Early American trappers, hunters and mountain men thrived with much less than most of us probably have.

4)  Gas-powered, not diesel. [With a very few exceptions.]: Playing the odds, you will probably be able to find gasoline even during pretty bad conditions. It may be expensive or in short supply, but it should still be around. If gasoline supply dries up on a global level, you're out of luck anyway, and would probably be using a very expendable supply should you have any stored up, even if it is diesel. 

5)  Difficult to operate when injured: Yes, they are more difficult to run if you're hurt, but you'd have to be pretty bad off. I don't think the odds of that happening are high enough to be a game changer and deem a motorcycle unpractical. 

6)  Limited personnel transport capability: If you have a family of 5 you're trying to move hundreds of miles all at the same time, you're not going to use a motorcycle. For short distance runs you can always make multiple trips if you had to.

7)  Some models headlights are "always on" which is a visibility problem unless you install a secondary switch: True, most headlights are always on, but a switch is easy to install.

8)  Spare parts may be hard to find: If we have a slow downturn where gasoline prices skyrocket, I have a feeling the motorcycle/scooter business will boom, and we'll look like Asia or India with streets packed with them, which means parts will be readily available. The engines on most motorcycles are extremely simple, and most parts could be fabricated easily with anyone with some metal working skills. There are definitely parts that can't easily be made (spark plugs, computers, etc) but they are also inexpensive and easy to have spares on hand. 

This leads me to motorcycle selection. If you decide a motorcycle will be a good fit for you, what should you buy?

It's the common consensus that a dual sport motorcycle is the most practical style. They handle on-road and off-road conditions equally well, and are built for durability and longevity.

I am an advocate for 250cc displacement motorcycles because they generally are light enough to maneuver in rough conditions, yet still have enough power to haul you and your gear at 60+ MPH. There are 125cc-400cc bikes that could also fit the bill, but the market has a wide variety of 250cc class bikes readily available. A lot will come down to what features you want on your motorcycle. Air cooled, liquid cooled, carburetor, fuel-injected, etc. There's a lot to be said for simple air-cooled carburetor engines, but if you're willing to play the odds that you'll never run into an EMP or something, a liquid cooled fuel injected motorcycle can be a low maintenance and high performance option that is a pleasure to ride.

This is anything but an exhaustive list but it's a good place to start looking:

Yamaha WR250R 
Honda CR250L 
Kawasaki KLX250S
Honda CRF230L
Yamaha XT250
Yamaha TW200
Suzuki DR200
Kawasaki KLR250

Regards, - S.L.

 


 
Jim:
Re: Motorcycles as BOVs? I have been riding motorcycles for most of my life, and currently I have both street bikes and a dual sport. I do most of my riding on the street, which is a lot of fun, when you are not in rush hour traffic, and it can be very economical. (Good gas mileage, low insurance, low up front cost at least compared to a car or truck) The street bike I own is a cruiser, I shy away from the sport bikes mostly because of the seating position and the temptation to go fast. My days of wanting to drive fast are long gone. I ride because I enjoy it. I can't really explain the joys of riding to you; you just have to try it. Anyway, that is not why I am writing.
 
The question was raised about using a motorcycle as a BOV. In my humble opinion (IMHO) a motorcycle would make an okay BOV for a single person, you are just limited on what you can carry. Any more than one person and a motorcycle makes a poor choice unless of course you have two motorcycles and each person can ride one. If you go with two motorcycles and one motorcycle breaks down, you can both ride on one bike, so with two motorcycles you would have some redudancy.Two is one and one is zero. So in that sense you would have a backup. But, IMHO, I think a 4x4 would make a much better BOV. I happen to have an E250 as a BOV, but that is because I have a wife, 4 kids and a lot of stuff. Also, bugging out for me is my last option, I plan on riding out the storm where I am.  I know prudence might be on the side of getting out of Dodge now, but that is just not a good option for me right now for many reasons. So why write this at all, well I love motorcycling and I think there are other values associated with motorcycles.
 
So, if a motorcycle does not make a good BOV, is it useful for more than just riding? I say that it is.

What I am going to talk about can really be done with almost any motorcycle, but I am going to concentrate on one motorcycle, the Kawasaki KLR650 dual sport. I did a lot of research and have read a lot of articles and reviews over two years before I purchased the KLR650. I think that the KLR650 is the best bang for the buck motorcycle you can buy. The KLR650 has remained pretty much the same for over 20 years and has a huge following. Two of the reasons I chose the KLR was because of the availability of parts and aftermarket accessories and the fact that the KLR is relatively easy to work on yourself.  It is a very simple motorcycle; single cylinder, carbureted, chain drive. I will not go into all the details of maintenance and adding accessories to the KLR, there are many YouTube videos on maintenance, repairs and upgrades. There are also web sites dedicated just to the KLR. Do a Google search and you will find more than you will ever need. The KLR is not a fast motorcycle and does not excel at any one thing, but it is good at a lot of things. The KLR makes a great commuter motorcycle, it gets over 50 mpg and is tall which helps in traffic. It has a 35 inch seat height, which will be high for some, but the suspension compresses when you sit on it. The KLR also has a 6 gal gas tank which gives you about a 300 mile range on a tank of gas, that’s a lot of off road riding between fill ups. The KLR makes a great trail bike, but it is heavy if you want to just ride in the dirt. So, the KLR is best on the street but will go off road when you need it to. The KLR can also be an adventure touring motorcycle, it has been ridden all over the world.  It is not great at speeds over 75, but if you don’t mind taking your time, the KLR is a great motorcycle.
 
So now onto where I think the motorcycle shines when things fall apart (SHTF). The area where I live has just been rated the worst traffic in the country, yes we passed LA. A little rain, or a little snow and traffic gets ridiculous. And if there is an accident you can add hours to your commute. As bad as traffic can get I am honestly surprised that more municipalities don’t utilize motorcycles for first responders, but that is a different issue. We all know what will happen when the SHTF for real. All roads will become parking lots. For most people travel will be limited to walking, bicycles and motorcycles. But in this scenario the motorcycle has the definite advantage. With motorcycles you can avoid paved roads and go places that most vehicles cannot go.  You can also provide assistance to others who do not have any other means of transportation. There will be no ambulance service and if it is safe for you to do so you can assist local emergency services.  So if you have a motorcycle you will be able to travel at least for a while. The first few days of when the SHTF can also be used to pick up family and friends who are stranded far from home. This should really be your first priority if you plan on doing this because I do believe that the timeframe for safe travel will be very short lived.

This brings up the issue of protection on a motorcycle. While it is true that a car provides better protection from the elements, crowds, hard objects…  there are ways to protect yourself and in some situations be better protected than a vehicle. When I ride, I ride in full gear; boots, gloves, jacket, full face helmet. That is just my normal riding protection. I cringe whenever I see someone ride with shorts, T-shirt and flip flops. One fall, even at slow speeds, will ruin your day.  But what about protection from non-riding incidents. Once the SHTF you are on your own and if you run into a crowd or group wishing to do you harm, getting out fast is your best bet. The motorcycle will help you do that. But what if you are caught by surprise or caught by a group intent on harm and you are unable to drive out for whatever reason. If you are in a vehicle and stuck you have no other protection once the vehicle has been compromised. If you are on a motorcycle and wearing protective gear, your head and body have an extra layer of protection from rocks, clubs, fists, feet and you may be able to escape on foot. Anything to improve your chances will help. One extra layer of protection that I recently purchased is the Stryker Vest by Icon. It is chest and back protection in case of an accident, but it is also great protection from anything striking your back or chest. And even if you are knocked to the ground you will be like an armadillo. No, it will not stop a bullet, but it will lessen the blow from any hard objects. The idea is not to fight but to flee. Take the first chance you have to run. As to other obstacles; fences, down trees, large rocks obviously these need to be avoided as well as crowds. Avoiding roads and riding through neighborhood back yards can be filled with lots of nasty obstacles. Be careful and be aware of your surroundings. And it would be best to ride during the day unless you really know the area.
 
Depending on the event and how bad things get and for how long, a motorcycle can be a real force multiplier. When most other vehicle are unusable due to any number of reasons, the motorcycle can be very useful during the situation. There are many roles the motorcycle can play. Motorcycles can be used for scouting, communications, patrolling, foraging, hunting, transporting …. They will not take a lot of precious supplies to operate. I believe the advantages far outweigh any use of supplies. If you are preparing for all situations, a motorcycle would be a good addition to your preparations after water, food, weapons and medical supplies.
 
One more thing to consider and that is how to earn a living after the SHTF, at least until things come back (Which could be years)
-          Goods will need to be transported, your customers may not always be within walking distance, getting paid to transport goods and services is not a bad way to make a living.
-          People will need medical help, whether you ferry a medical person around or bring people to a medical facility, you should be paid to do so. I am not saying there won’t be times to help others, but you also need to provide for you and your family.
-          Communities will need security. Being mobile will be a big advantage for anyone providing security.
-          Communication. This really depends on how bad things get and if you can spare the fuel for communications. But people will want to communicate with family, friends… Instead of Pony express it would be motorcycle express. (I believe this was the case in the novel “Patriots”)
 
One other advantage to motorcycling is that it will make you a better driver. Because I ride I am aware of what is going on around me, will a driver suddenly pull out in front of me or pull into my lane, what is the road surface like in front of me, will a child suddenly appear from behind a parked car.  When you ride you are constantly on alert, I think this has been lost in our cars with GPS, phones, CD and DVD players and other people in the vehicle. On a motorcycle, it is just you and your thoughts, that is why I don’t have a headset in my helmet, even though my wife would really like to talk when the two of us ride. I try and keep distractions at a minimum and yes I still enjoy the ride.
 
On final note, just like any other skills you have, you should take some training classes. I have taken the ERC (experienced rider class) in my state for street riding and I have also taken an off road class to improve my riding in the dirt. Both classes were well worth the time. The dirt class was on a BMW R1200GS. It is a great motorcycle with endless power but it is very heavy and costs about four times what the KLR costs. For the money, I just don’t think you can beat the KLR.
 

One final note, just like any other skills you have, you should take some training classes. I have taken the ERC (experienced rider class) in my state for street riding and I have also taken an off road class to improve my riding in the dirt. Both classes were well worth the time. The dirt class was on a BMW R1200GS. It is a great motorcycle with endless power but it is very heavy and costs about four times what the KLR costs. For the money, I just don’t think you can beat the KLR. - Marty S.

 

Hi Jim,
Saturday’s responses [on G.O.O.D. motorcycles] were great!
 
My current pre-collapse and collapse bike is my customized KLR 650, modified with micro-sized turn signals for a smaller physical profile. Along with that, the bike has been re-painted in flat sand, with OD painted grip guards. I use a Condor-brand, tactical MOLLE tote bag as a handlebar bag, with my registration, insurance info, spider bungee net for the cargo rack, etc.
 
One thing people may not be aware of is that the cargo rack on the civilian KLR 650 still conforms to the inner diameter of the good old G.I. ALICE pack’s aluminum frame. Recon troops / messengers would normally just slide their rucks onto their bike’s frame, secure it, then take off! Being an old ALICE kind of guy, this is great, as I’ve put the bike to the test, carrying thousands of rounds of ammo to/from gun shows, etc.
 
However, 2007 was the last good year for the bike in many people's opinion, as unnecessary junk was later added to the bike, such as dual front disk brakes, and flashy colors, a different headlight cowling, etc.
 
My post-collapse bike is a mothballed TW 200, with a battery in dry storage. Also, all identified solid state components (two of them, one being a voltage rectifier) have been pulled, and are protected in a food-grade Mylar bag, inside of an old all-metal schoolteachers’ desk. With a modified rear sprocket, made of aircraft-grade aluminum and titanium (40 tooth), I get mileage of around 90 mpg, along with a top speed of 80 mph. It can carry a passenger, as well as cargo, and, even better, it is so relatively light weight,  that two people can physically pick it up, and put it in the back of a pickup, to use as a parasitic recon vehicle, for instance.
 
Also, the company Moose Racing makes awesome cargo carrying accessories for the TW 200.
 
Cheers, - Joe Snuffy

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