Off-roading in an overland vehicle with all the lights out is a...
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As a father, he had it all planned out. Food, water, security…well, almost everything. Jayson Ross felt good about his preparations in the Mountain West region, but when his daughter chose to attend a college on the East Coast, her safety was suddenly out of his control. “If something bad happens really fast, I would never see her again,” Jayson Ross says. “And I wasn’t cool with that.”
Ross has been a survivalist since childhood. He’s spent most of his life training in hunting, fieldcraft, camping, firearms, scuba diving, athletics, and more. It’s culminated in his cofounding ReadyMan.com, an online company that’s made up largely of special-operation veterans and offers a wide range of survival training services through online videos and live courses. Yet, no amount of his equipment and skills could get his daughter home if a major disaster or social breakdown occurred. Not willing to accept that sort of loss, he began breaking down the challenges she might face in a 2,100-mile cross-country trek. Ultimately, Ross couldn’t get past the near certainty that after a major event, roadways would be snarled with traffic and gasoline would be at a premium.
The only alternative was to build a well-equipped, lightweight, and maneuverable vehicle to carry his daughter forward when an automobile couldn’t. In other words, he would have to build her a dual-sport motorbike.
Ross’s plan was to augment his daughter’s Subaru Outback with a small trailer that carried two Suzuki DR200SE motorcycles and a specifically chosen load-out of complementary gear. The strategy he fashioned was for his daughter and a family friend in the area to, at the first sign of major trouble, hitch the motorcycle trailer and start heading west. If the catastrophe subsided quickly – no problem – return to school, but err on the side of getting out of Dodge.
Motorcycles aren’t a perfect solution, but they do provide a number of significant advantages. First, they’re efficient, particularly the small ones. Ross found that a 200cc engine got nearly 70 miles to the gallon. The combination of the long distance his daughter would have to cover and a likely shortage of gas made choosing a smaller engine a smart choice. In most cases, the next larger size of bike managed considerably fewer miles per gallon and required a larger fuel tank to achieve an equivalent range. Additionally, the lighter overall weight made it a better fit for her smaller frame.
He chose the Suzuki DR200SE because it’s a simple, versatile platform capable of both highway and off-road travel. The most likely scenario Ross envisioned was an interstate snarl with vehicles jamming the roads, stranding their operators in place, and putting them at risk of assaults and robbery. The motorcycles could be rolled off the trailer and ridden down the median or shoulders, around the traffic, and out of the danger area. While leaving the safety of the automobile would be a major decision, doing so on a bike would be an excellent alternative, with gear staged and packed for just such a contingency.
In any case, the bike beats walking by a long shot. But switching to the motorcycle changes just about every element of travel.
The riders would now be exposed to the elements, more vulnerable to external attack, and unable to rotate sleeping and driving duties. Travel post-crisis would now be as much physical as emotional. The simple act of balancing and steering the motorcycle over time would fatigue them, and interpersonal communication would be a challenge. With these obstacles in mind, Ross began adapting the Suzukis to maximize the range and survivability of their riders.
The first element to be enhanced was range and carrying capacity. That year’s model of Suzuki came with a 2.5-gallon tank, which under ideal conditions puts the range at 175 miles. Ross wanted a minimum of 250 miles with a buffer to compensate for the added weight of equipment and fuel.
To increase the carrying capacity of the Suzukis, Ross installed the Kriega Overlander 60 system. The Overlander 60 is a frame-mounted rack that attaches without welding or cutting. Flexible and modular, the system allows for both pannier packs and fuel. The rack mounts above and behind the rear wheel, but clears both the frame and the exhaust. At 15 liters each, the Kriega packs ride forward of the fuel cans and just above the rear passenger pegs. Because they’re below the seat and the rider’s center of gravity, they don’t significantly impact the handling characteristics of the motorcycle.
Behind the Kriega panniers, Ross added four 1-gallon RotoPax fuel tanks on either side of the rear wheels. Made of high-impact plastic, these tanks have a modular design that allows them to be mounted individually or stacked on a central mounting peg. The auxiliary tanks add an additional 275 miles of range to the fuel tank, providing nearly one-third of the fuel necessary for the trip – and this is after the automobile is abandoned. Refueling would be a necessity, but it wouldn’t be immediate.
As functional add-ons, Ross added hand windshields on the grips and a small windshield. Short of the additional cargo and fuel, the motorcycle is largely stock.
Deciding on how to divide gear between the rider and the motorcycle was a deliberate process. Ross decided on some redundancy with the kit carried on the rider (see the sidebar), but in the panniers he largely stuck to hard goods, bike support equipment, and items to deal with the changing external environment. For example, in addition to a helmet he staged riding leathers, gloves, hand and toe warmers, as well as dust and gas masks. For quick fixes he added a small tool kit, a knife, multitool, headlamp, and flashlight.
In a small backpack on the back of the bike above the rear fender, he staged field gear such as batteries, a medical kit with manual, a shortwave radio, a solar charger, a JetBoil stove with fuel canisters and a small cook kit, extra cold-weather clothing, and MREs. The intent was to have essential items ready-to-grab and non-essential items ready-to-dump if the motorcycles had to be ditched.
Deciding what kit to carry on the actual rider is a more serious and complicated question. Changing the weight of a rider changes not just the performance of the engine, but also the handling characteristics of the motorcycle. Because the engine is small and chosen for efficiency over power, weight is always a consideration. Ross also reckoned that on-foot bug-out equipment should not require sorting and packing. As such, the rider’s backpack load-out closely resembles a hiker going on a backcountry trek.
While testing options for a personal backpack, it became clear the best option is a full frame backpack with a bombproof waistband. This helps to both secure the pack while operating the motorcycle, but also requires no changes or modifications if the bike has to be ditched and the rider has to continue on foot.
His daughter chose the REI XT 85 because it had the capacity to accommodate the required gear, and most importantly, it fit her. Ross chose an ultralight tent, fly, and footprint along with a compression sack-reduced sleeping bag and ground pad. To this he also added personal hygiene items, a Platypus water filter, a GPS, more batteries, light binoculars with a chest rig, cash, a pre-charged cell phone, passport or ID, Mechanix gloves, and a compass. The backpack was configured for his daughter and her companion. His daughter is an experienced backpacker and that definitely dictated some gear choices. So the backpacking gear was more customized than the more universal on-bike gear.
Ross harbored no illusions about the necessity of carrying a firearm in a situation serious enough to warrant a cross-country bug out. But what to choose and how to stage it required some thought. He concluded an accessible, but semi-concealed waist holster was a must. For his daughter he chose a Glock 19 as she was trained to use it, and it was more likely than most other models to function under all conditions. He settled on 200 rounds of ammo divided between six magazines and a spare box stored on the bike.
Ross wasn’t convinced having only a handgun was the answer, so he added a folding stock AK. Though the AK’s reliability is well known, Ross had additional reasons for choosing it. Traveling through potentially hostile territory on a motorcycle is no one’s first choice, particularly because the rider has very little protection. Gone are the luxuries of body metal, steel frames, and the deflection of interior glass – and only mobility remains. The saddle of a motorcycle is not the place to initiate offensive action. Rather, Ross’s strategy for travel and survival was to stay low profile, and avoid populated areas, danger, and conflict. While there are many short-barreled AR’s out there, the buffer spring limits the degree to which they can be shortened. The AK can be folded and carried discreetly in the backpack, but drawn only during times of prolonged danger or for pulling security during bivouacs. Ross settled on 300 rounds with two pre-loaded magazines.
But the best arms and gear in the world mean very little without a well-contemplated and clearly understood plan for travel. Ross approached the route planning in a deductive and rational manner. His first step was to simply pull a Google map of the quickest route between his daughter’s college and his home. His second step was to overlay population centers along the route. Ross planned routes around the densest counties and tried to avoid the major population centers by 250 miles whenever possible. This is much tougher in the East where cities and towns are both larger and more tightly clustered.
“It’s tricky,” says Ross. “There are small slots between populated areas and sometimes you have to go near or though places you wouldn’t want to. Things get better west of the Mississippi, and particularly once you get past Des Moines.” He then acquired detailed state maps of the route and planned primary, secondary, and alternate routes.
The plan for his daughter and her friend was to travel mostly at night. Their mindset would be one of escape and evasion. As two young people in unfamiliar territory, there is nothing to be gained from being spotted by anyone at any time. Though they could travel by headlamp or the motorcycle’s headlight at night, they also were equipped with PVS-7 night vision goggles. Roadblocks would be avoided at all costs and stops in the open or during daylight would only be for critical items like fuel, water, and food.
Are motorcycles a great plan for a young family of five? Probably not. But if you have family, friends, or college students who could get caught hundreds or thousands of miles from hearth and home, this layered strategy of bugging out could be the difference between life or death. And, using some of the strategies Ross employed, motorcycles can be an excellent fallback when automobile travel becomes unworkable.
The gear you select is essential in any preparedness situation, but it’s especially true when you’re trying to bug out on a motorcycle that’s traveling at 75 mph or faster without a large windshield or steel doors. If your GTFO vehicle is a dual-sport bike, consider the following setup that Jayson Ross has established for his daughter’s motorcycle.
On the Rider
– Backpacking backpack
– Tent with rain fly and footprint
– Rip-stop ponch (camouflage color)
– Sleeping bag (in compression sack)
– Small sleeping pad
– Light binoculars with harness
– Passport and/or ID
– $400 in cash
– 1 Nalgene Water Bottle (full)
– Platypus Gravity Water Purifier
– Gortex Rain Parka
– Wind-up watch
– Toothbrush and toothpaste
– Tampons (if necessary)
– Single Kleenex pack (doubles as toilet paper)
– Mechanix Gloves
– GPS and fresh batteries
– Fire-starter(s) and Bic lighters
– Sidearm holster with magazine pouches
– 6 sidearm magazines
– 200 rounds of sidearm ammunition
– Folding AK-47
– 2 AK-47 magazines (loaded)
– 300 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammunition
– Fixed-blade knife
– Knife sharpener
– Leatherman multitool
– Petzel headlamp
– Tactical flashlight
– PVS-7 night vision google
In a Pack on the Bike
– Trauma medical kit with manual
– 2 Motorola two-way radios with batteries
– 8 extra AA Batteries
– 8 extra AAA Batteries
– Bath wipes
– 100-percent DEET insect repellant
– Travel Bible, playing cards
– 8 Kleenex packs
– Shortwave radio with line amplifier (if possible)
– Solar charger for shortwave and other devices
– JetBoil Stove and 2 canisters (one unopened)
– Compact cooking kit
– 1 Wool sweater
– 2 Pair of warm wool socks
– 1 Set of Polartec thermal underwear (top and bottom)
– 1 Long-sleeve shirt
– 1 Fleece jacket
– 1 Wool pants
– Thin beanie
– Neoprene facemask
– Hiking boots
– 8 MREs
On the Bike
– Suzuki 2013 DR200SE
– 4 RotoPax fuel cans and mounting hardware
– Kriega Overlander 60 Pannier Sets
– Happy Trails SU Side Rack (modified)
– Small windshields
– Hand windshields
– 2 Nalgene bottles
– Israeli gas mask
– Gas mask cartridges
– Motorcycle gloves
– N95 dust masks
– Battery trickle charger (to keep bike battery topped off/storage)
– 10 pairs of hand warmers/toe warmers
– Tool Kit (ratchet and screwdriver set)
A variety of options exist for nimble, efficient, and generally affordable alternatives when a single track is the only option. Here are some dual-sport motorcycles that could fit the bill.
Engine 199cc, four-stroke
Fuel Tank 3.4 gallons
Miles Per Gallon 68
Range 231 miles
Weight 278 pounds
Engine 196cc, four-stroke
Fuel Tank 1.8 gallons
Miles Per Gallon 78
Range 140 miles
Weight 278 pounds
Engine 249cc, four-stroke
Fuel Tank 2 gallons
Miles Per Gallon 70
Range 140 miles
Weight 298 pounds
Engine 249cc, four-stroke
Fuel Tank 2 gallons
Miles Per Gallon 73
Range 146 miles
Weight 320 pounds