Motorcycles for the prepper….a few thoughts

I’ve been riding motorcycles, on and off, for 15 years or so. Started with dirt bikes (hey, I was only ten…) and graduated(?) for a short while to street, and then back to dirt. The last bike I had, before this latest sabbatical, was a full race, very custom desert racer. Motor was based off of a 350 Honda, and it was a true frankenbike – scary fast though. At least until I blew a hole in the piston….

Well, after I sold that bike some years back, I’ve always had the urge to get back into them. I bit the bullet a while back and picked up another basic trail bike – a Honda XR400. After searching long and wide, I settled on the 400, and the XR series. One can do pretty much anything with that displacement of engine (even though long street rides can be hard on the rider), and the XR’s have a terrific reliability record. Not to mention they’ve been thoroughly debugged – the basic engine design has been around over 40 years. I purposely steered away from larger displacement XR’s (the 600’s and the 650’s) for a few different reasons.

1 – While they have plenty of power, they’re harder to ride on tight trails, and to muscle over obstacles when one has to. (and if you do the riding I used to do, and hope to do again, yes, you will be dragging the bike over and under stuff. Also up stuff. And down stuff.)
2 – Fuel use – there’s quite a difference between the 600/650 and the 400. Properly set up, the 400 can go much farther on the same amount of fuel.
3 – Steel frames on the 400 are more durable than the aluminum, go faster stuff.
4 – No electric starter, manual kick only.
5 – Lighter weight (see reason #1 above)

There are much more modern bikes out there, that are basically product improved versions of the venerable XR400 – bikes like the Suzuki DRZ series. They’ve got plenty of followers, but being more modern they’re also more complicated. More things to break, and when you get down to it, most riders still can’t use the full capabilities of the old XR – how are they going to use the full capabilities of a more modern bike with more power, etc? It goes both ways of course, some folks love the electric starter (at least until the electrics don’t work), and some are old school like me. I also prefer air cooled over water cooled, and again it comes down to the complexity of the system. Air cooled doesn’t have any worries about radiator hoses, delicate radiators, thermostats, water pumps and all the associated worries that come with that system. Air cooled, however, does take a different maintenance track. Oil changes become more critical, and oil quality is more critical.

There’s another common trap out there for folks – the bigger is better trap. It’s not necessarily true, but it’s been pushed for so long that some people have a very hard time getting over it. Get enough to do the job right, but more than that is just a waste. Getting that larger machine, while entertaining, can cost you in the long run. Fuel costs, maintenance costs, storage, initial cost, insurance – it all adds up. Take a look at one of the motorcycles that are used by various military units around the world. You’ll usually find something that’s not that big a displacement (250cc – 400cc or so), but has plenty of capabilities. There’s a reason they’ve gone with that size of bike.

Your basic XR400....

Your basic XR400....

For prepper uses something like this bike is ideal. Properly modified, you can carry enough on it to last a week of camping, and travel a thousand miles. Or more. It’s been done enough that it’s a well proven method, and there are a couple of great forums out there that’ll show you how to do it, and enable you to compare notes with others doing the same thing. One of the best is the ADV Rider site, at

Some of the things that are of interest to the motorcycling prepper are the number of rack, pack, and pannier systems that are out there. Not to mention the ways to carry additional fuel, tools, supplies and camping gear. Then there are the guys that have figured out ways to power Ham radio systems off of their bikes, likewise GPS navigation systems, additional lighting, and coffee pots. (yep, gotta have coffee in the morning.)

As for my new bike, I have a few plans for it. I’ll be getting rid of the stock fuel tank and putting on a higher capacity tank, and two additional reserve tanks. It’ll get a larger fairing, both to cut some of the wind at higher speed and to serve as a mounting point and shade for a couple of GPS units. Different seat contour for better long distance comfort, and a larger HID headlight. Some tail light modifications for safety, and then some rack mounts for soft cases. (quick note: I like the soft cases more than the hard cases, reason being that when (not if) you lay it down, the soft cases are much more forgiving on your legs when you crash. I’ve learned that on the Rokon Trailbreaker, same thing applies)

It also strikes me that bikes might actually have been one of the leading reasons I was introduced to preparedness. I’ve always lived, and ridden in the desert, and mostly solo. When you’re doing that it becomes that much more important to be prepared, especially since you can go amazing distances before you know it, on a bike. You can quite literally find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and if you’ve managed to have a bit more of an adventure than you’ve planned on…… I’ll do a few more thoughts on riding and potential bug out issues in other future posts, especially as I ride more and start to remember what I’ve forgotten!

So there are some thoughts on bikes – if you’ve been considering them, or are currently using them, go ahead and shoot out some comments on this blog or on the forum.


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3 Responses to Motorcycles for the prepper….a few thoughts

  1. Adam says:

    I just started riding this year. I have a 1975 Yamaha XT500. Great bike, and I am learning a lot about it’s mechanics and wiring. I hope your modifications work out for you. I have much interest in similar bug out situations and finding ways to be prepared for them. I have been looking into options to carry more on the bike. I don’t have anything on it now apart from a couple straps to tie things down on the seat behind me. I got the bike from a man who had done some electrical work in order to get the headlight to work properly for inspection and safe road travel. the older bikes are a lot simpler and from what I can tell, easier to fix on your own. I have had trouble finding parts though. also, it runs a 6 volt battery. I don’t know how much work is involved with converting it to 12. The headlight is a little dim… for now. I’m very interested in hearing more. and thanks for the link. I am about to check out the ADV Rider site.

  2. Greg says:

    That’s a great old bike you’ve got there, a true classic. First year it was put out, isn’t it? You’ll definitely have to learn about the mechanics on it, one of the issues you’ll run across is parts availability. I’d suggest that if you really like it, look for an additional parts bike, or alternately keep your eyes open for a slightly newer bike. The other thing I’d really recommend is get in touch with a local bike club, preferably one that does vintage racers. The number of contacts and the amount of technical data will be of huge help.

    I had a ’72 Kawasaki back when, a two stroke but still a fun ride. The older bikes are simple and pretty stout. Unfortunately the specialized knowledge that was out there in modifying these rides is fast disappearing. Which is why I suggest finding those vintage racer enthusiasts.

    Also keep your eyes peeled for old Dirt Bike magazines, those are a wealth of knowledge.

    Regarding your voltage issues, you might look into a stator rewind to bring it to 12v. Most of your wiring will handle that no problem, some components will have to be swapped out for newer parts, maybe something from a TT. Those older Yamahas sometimes had issues with electricals, so kinda keep your eye on it and learn as much about it as possible.

    What I’ve done on one of my other bikes – a CT90, is use some panels from old metal shopping carts as pannier supports. The old carts are the perfect size and guage to get pannier supports, and racks out of them, once they’re dis-assembled a bit. I’ll try to post a photo to give an idea what I’ve done with that CT.

    Have fun with it, and ride safe. I’d like to hear how it’s working out for you, and what you do to it, too!

  3. Leif Lindseth says:

    For the preppers out there,
    It struck me while watching news coverage of people fleeing Florida in front of hurricane Irma – I say fleeing but it was more like the morning commute on a bad day with multiple accidents and a train derailment thrown in. That’s probably fine in a hurricane situation with 3 or 4 days advance notice, but here in the Pacific Northwest with the looming threat of an 8 or 9 magnitude earthquake – the possibility, (very remote), of one of our numerous dormant volcanoes acting up – or the more likely possibility of groups of mental giants rampaging through the city breaking windows, setting fires, turning over cars, provoking law enforcers, etc. (an all too frequent occurrence, that just feeds more of the same behavior). Our transportation routes get shut down so quickly already. If you add a major disaster where 20-50% of the bridges are down. ( not too mention buildings), No one is going anywhere.
    Those of us who have prepared will hopefully be able to manage for a few weeks, but we will need to get family members out of isolated parts of town. We will need to pick up additional supplies. We may need to evacuate the area. Our 4 wheel drive vehicles may not be able to get through. motorcycles, and or atvs will be a tremendous asset in these situations. Obviously you’re not able to carry a tremendous amount, but when you need another mobility option, it could be a life saver.

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