Monday, June 20, 2011

Locks and Camouflage

One of the questions we frequently hear is how are we going to keep our stuff safe while on the road.  We'll be carrying money, electronic goodies, and everything else we will need for a year on our shiny new bikes and considering the poverty of some areas we will be traveling through (like Missouri!) it is a concern.  Judging by the amount of discussion on this subject on ADVRider and HUBB, it's a concern for others, as well.  Our first line of defense is common sense.  We'll try to blend in as much as two Americans can wherever we are, no flashy jewelry, no $20K bikes, no big wads of cash, and we'll keep our cameras in our pockets whenever we aren't taking pictures.

Pacsafe, "alarmed" cable, and padlocks
Our second line of defense will be an increasingly ridiculous number of locks.  We will each carry a cable lock for our bikes which, while not impenetrable, will hopefully discourage opportunistic thieves.  We also have two padlocks on each of our Pelican topcases, fortunately keyed alike to save one place on the keyring.  Then we have Pacsafe stainless steel wire mesh bags to go over our Ortlieb duffels, each locks with another padlock.  Finally, we have a cable lock with a built-in alarm to wrap over and through our luggage (that, of course, has another key) that will screech LOUDLY if the cable is cut or the alarm is tampered with.

"Custom made" bike cover.  Pretty, huh?
Our other strategy is camouflage, which will hopefully help us blend in as much as possible.  We can't do much about our appearance, we both refuse to compromise on our safety gear.  The bikes, however, can blend in a little better.  One of the tips that we frequently heard is to keep your bike covered when you are away from it.  People won't be tempted to steal or mess with what they can't see.  This is probably more of an issue when you are riding the latest whiz-bang Teutonic bike that is three times the size (and twenty or thirty times the money) of anything the locals are riding, but good advice nonetheless.  After looking at the commercially available bike covers, I don't really understand how they don't just scream "Hey, expensive foreign bike here!"  When your bike cover costs more than a month's salary for the average local, it's not exactly good camouflage.  We decided to go with the ubiquitous blue tarp with a length of parachute cord run through the grommets as a drawstring.  All that beauty for only $9!

Re and her craft project
Our other bit of camouflage covers our bags while we are riding or parked.  Little bikes like ours are the beasts of burden in many of the countries we will be visiting.  On our last trip, we saw everything from pigs and ducks to giant flatscreen TVs to families of five being slowly but reliably moved down the road on small motorbikes.  But we never saw anyone carrying bags like ours.  A quick trip to the recycled materials store turned up a burlap coffee sack and a another piece of burlap with a return address of Kathmandu written on it.  A little cutting and stitching and we now have two bag covers for the princely sum of $4.

Please don't get the impression that we are overly concerned with our safety on this trip.  We found the overwhelming majority of people we met on our last trip to be honest, friendly, and extremely helpful.  That said, there are people everywhere who have bad intentions or are desperate to survive and see Westerners as wealthy and easy targets.  It is humbling to realize the vast majority of the world can't even imagine having the financial ability to visit another country, much less take their own motorbikes with them.  We just want to minimize the chances of running into trouble by taking some reasonable precautions and removing the temptation.

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