Motorcycles and large format photography... : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Has anybody used a motorcycle to haul their large-format gear around? I do a lot of landscape photography in the deserts within a 150-mile radius of Phoenix and have been thinking about buying something that is better suited to driving on unimproved roads than my present Audi 200. Although it has AWD, which is useful, it also has very limited ground clearance and frankly, is too nice to beat up any further.

I've been thinking of something along the lines of a cheap Blazer or Bronco but now I'm wondering if a bike might not be a better, not to mention cheaper, alternative. Obviously, my ability to haul gear is going to be limited with a bike but I think I can live with that ... my real question is whether it can stand up to the additional stress that it will be subject to on a bike -- vibration, bumps, etc. -- as compared to riding in the back of a Blazer, Bronco or what have you.

As for my qualifications, I started riding/racing motorcycles when I was 11 and although I haven't owned one for 20 years, I'm reasonably confident that it will all come back to me quickly.

Any thoughts/experiences about this would be helpful ... thanks!

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, October 15, 2000


I remeber reading an article in shutterbug a few years ago about lens care. the author had to have elements and/or groups recemented together because of the vibrations from extened motorbike travels. i dont know what type of lenses or what format but something to consider. the authors solution was to tell the tech who was cementing the lenses his problem and the tech used a stronger cement (or glue or adhensive or sticky goo used to hold things together).-J

-- josh (, October 15, 2000.

Try Steve Nickols in Adelaide.

-- Bill Mitchell (, October 15, 2000.

I played in my mind with the same idea coming to the conclusion that an all terrain small vehicle such as made by I think, John Deere, and Yamaha would be more practical. As some one suggested, vibration will be also an issue. Packing lenses in polyester foam, the dark grey stuff used for electronics packaging might solve this other problem.

-- Julio Fernandez (, October 15, 2000.

Go for it! I think it's by far the best way to travel in the back country. Less impact on the land, more maneuverable, quicker and more stealthy. I've seen the big Pelican cases mounted on the backs of bikes here in New York. New York streets are very much like travelling off road! The Pelican will absorb shock and is weatherproof, plus it will float if you drop it off your boat later on.

Downsides would be that there is no escape from the weather, which is when a lot of good shots happen. And you would lose the handy car/workbenck in leu of the ground.

I've travelled alot with Leica's and a Makina on a bike. No problems. I have an old Trans Alp (600 v-twin DP). Twins will be smoother than singles, less vibration, more cargo area, but heavier machines.

You always have the car for rainy days. Go Ride!

-- Dennis Lee (, October 15, 2000.

You didn't say how old you are but If you haven't been riding for 20 years I guess you're like me-- middle aged (I'm 55). I'm sure motorcycling will come back to you, but will you come back to motorcycling? IT'S DANGEROUS! Your reflexes and riding abilities won't be what they were 20 years ago. I started riding at 14, stropped at 39 after a heavy crash that I walked away from. But I decided that I'd never be that lucky again.

-- Arthur Gottschalk (, October 15, 2000.

Actually, I'm only 41 and in pretty decent shape. I used to race motocross and other off-road stuff when I was a lot younger but sort of lost interest in it after I went off to college and didn't have any place to keep my dirt bike (a Penton, in case you're curious) on campus. That I totalled my father's Honda 750 into the front of a car while on my way home from a summer job between my freshman and sophomore years -- it wasn't my fault, of course -- only served to diminish my enthusiasm for riding bikes even further...

I did take my neighbor's BMW 1150 GS -- or whatever their on/off road bike is called -- for a ride this afternoon and while it was a lot bigger than anything I'd ever ridden before, I was popping wheelies after 20 minutes so it appears that I haven't forgotten _everything_ I learned. ;^)

Still, now that I'm a family man with a wife, two kids, two dogs, five cars and a mortgage payment, the possibility I might seriously injure myself while riding a bike definitely does concern me. The convenience of getting to and from my favorite shooting locations in half the time is awfully attractive, though, and probably means I'd be out shooting much more often than I am now, which I view as a BIG plus.

Anyway, your point is duly noted and thanks for reminding me about the potential downside...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, October 15, 2000.

Why not carry your camera gear in a backpack. When you use your legs to absorb the shock of the terrain you'll be saving your gear. Look into the BMW F650GS, it's about 100 pounds lighter than the 1150GS and costs about $5,000 less. Other alternatives are the Kawasaki 650 dual sport because of its large tank, and the Honda and Suzuki 650 dual sport models. The BMW has the advantage of factory hard saddlebags and optional ABS. But, it is heavier and more expensive than the Japanse competion. It's also a better street bike. You makes your choice and you pays your money.

I too returned to motorcycling after a prolonged absence. I'm 45, and now have a garage full of street and dirt bikes. I strongly recommend you take a training course. I don't care how good you are, you don't know everything and a professional instructor can teach you things you'd never think of on your own. I'm taking a Keith Code course this weekend, and have two more training course scheduled in the next month. This after 20 years and more than 200,000 miles of street riding. Besides, getting on a race track is fun.

I bought a special camera bag/tank bag for my Hasselblad. Aerostitch carries it. You might be able to get a 4x5 camera in it, but consider the backpack idea too. My 1993 BMW R100R's saddelbags are the perfect width for strapping my tripod case to. The hard bags on the F650GS would serve the same purpose, and give you room for extra clothing, food, and water.

The naysayers have a point when they say motorcycles are dangerous. But then, life is 100 percent fatal. I'd rather ride motorcycles than sit around getting fatter and dying of boredom. You don't need to justify it, just do it.

-- Darron Spohn (, October 16, 2000.

I do a combo car/mountain bicycle approach. I drive as close as I easily can with my car, then pull the bike off the rack and load equipment into some bike camping saddle bags. The tripod gets bunge corded to the rack. I used to live in the desert so I know this isn't the solution for covering vast areas in the outback, but it works for a surprizing number of locations. I find that most of the places I want to get to I spot from the highway, so they are well within the range of a bicycle.

-- Larry Watson (, October 16, 2000.

any of the later model 4-strokes shouldn't shake you too bad... lots of nice aftermarket racks and luggage for tender gear too...

Husaberg rocks...

oh, if you're planning on getting in and around narrow/rough spots try something in the 250 to 400 cc range... those gargantuan twins are the only way to go for cross country and long distance dual sporting but it sounds like you are need something closer to a trials bike... think jeepCJ or d-90 versus a full size chevy blazer/suburban... one's good for the long haul the other's good for rock climbing... gonna hafta consider which you want....

want to make a (mx) 4 stroke street legal?

-- Trib (, October 16, 2000.

To be honest, I'm really partial to two-strokes. Not only were all of the bikes I raced/owned two-strokes but when I got into kart racing, I raced two-strokes there as well. Of course, I now tinker with cars so I'm sure that I can make the transition but all things considered, I'd really rather have a two-stroke, if possible.

Of course, I'm so out of touch with today's market that I really don't have any idea of what's available. Although going fast appealed to me more than going slow and crawling over and around obstacles when I was younger, I did have both a Bultaco Sherpa T and Honda TL-125 for a few years ... do they even sell trials bikes these days?

Anyway, if I do decide to get a bike, my inclination's to look for one that's in the 250-400cc range and oriented more toward off-roading and less toward street cruising. We'll see...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, October 16, 2000.

No two strokes that large are street legal in the U.S. EPA regs and all that. Besides, they get horrid gas mileage and dump a ton more pollutants into the air than four strokes. The gas mileage alone is reason to look at four strokes. You don't want to get stuck in the boonies with an empty tank. And you'll have a devil of a time getting a green sticker for a two stroke, which means you cannot ride it in national forests.

-- Darron Spohn (, October 16, 2000.

Hi, I bought a KLR-650 a few years ago with the same idea as yours (except I had hopes of doing the 4WD roads around Silverton CO) . It (rather I) lasted about two short trips. Both the camera (Meridian) and tripod came up with loose (lost) screws. That and the Texas summers (don't forget the protective riding gear) cured me of the moter cycle idea.

The John Deere Gator (or a Kaw. Mule) mite work but they only only have a top speed of 15-20 mph; and they have vibration too. (I went the Gator route.) My 7 year old loves to drive it around our farm. Its a very reliable flatland vhecial (However they have a belt drive system, no engine braking, and are unsuited for mountainious terrain, to paraphrase a JDeere dealer in CO).

What about a susiki sidekick? I've heard they're cheap and not to bad on gas milage.

-- Beau Schwarz (, October 16, 2000.

The problem I see with using a quad or other ATV-type vehicle is that they're not street legal. While it'd no doubt work fine for the last 15-20 miles of my trip, getting it to within that distance of where I want to shoot would mean hauling a trailer behind my car, which would most likely make the total trip time even longer than it is now.

BTW, the irony of using a motorized vehicle to help me take photos of nature hasn't been lost on me. It's not my intention to use the bike to replace the hiking part of my trips (which I enjoy) but to replace the car part, since they're poorly suited to crawling down unimproved desert and forest roads and going slower than I have to here wastes a lot of time that could otherwise be put to a more productive use.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, October 17, 2000.

well, the sidekick probably doesn't have much more clearance than your Audi... and the reason I mentioned competition 4 stroke conversions is because you sounded as if you'd favor a racier "powerband"... what's happening in MX these days is all the bike companies are throwing their research into 4 stroke for reasons that Darron mentions... so what has surfaced in the last few years is a hi-powered 400cc 4stroke motor dropped into a 250cc class MX competition bike/frame... so you get the dreamy suspension and low weight of a motocrosser with less suspension more torque and a little less "pep" from the cleaner/quieter 4 stroke... the problem is converting it for street.. some states require little more than brake-light, blinker add-ons, rearview and a quieter after-market pipe and others like mine require the same plus reregistering it through the DMV with a new "street" VIN and that entails paperwork and satisfying sticky inspectors... if you'll pardon the pun. Suzuki has gone one more by taking their competition MX 400 4 stroker and adding all street the legals items needed plus an electric start on their DR400se if you don't want to convert a similar make and don't mind SCUZBOMBS...

My brother is into 4wd, we both grew up on motorcycles(8 years old for me and my first thumper, honda XL-70) ... in fact we just finished bolting a bigger DANA to his XJ for his trip to the mining trails of Colo... His Xj can go in places a full-size blazer/bronco could only dream about and I'm sure he'd recommend you get a narrower and shorter 4wd like a XJ or CJ so you wouldn't be hindered by track, wheelbase and etc. issues.

-- Trib (, October 17, 2000.

that's confusing.. happy fingers... should read, same suspension... less pep. sorry...

-- Trib (, October 17, 2000.

Um, looks like you want a street legal dirt bike in the under 500cc range, right?

I used to ride a Honda CM250C Custom (looked like a miniature Goldwing) with racks. You will have to have racks. You can load the tripod and camera on the racks, no problem for vibration. Carry your lenses in a small backpack. You'll need a waterproof cover for the tripod, and maybe a Pelican or similar case for the camera.

I have a Graphlex Super Graphic and Benbo tripod. The Graphlex is as sturdy as they come, and the Benbo makes a tidy little package. Backs and film are another package, and I only take one lens. This fits on my mountain bike (full racks, etc.). I use bubble wrap around the camera.

-- Brian C. Miller (, October 18, 2000.

If you decide a bike is the way to go, you should definitely look at the bigger 4-stroke DP bikes like the KLR. Remember, you'll be riding the thing for 150 miles before you get to your destination so you'll want to be comfortable. Somehow I don't think a 2-stroke is condusive to this. The BMW GS is probably great for the road part and will carry a lot but they only seem to be good enough for a bad dirt road off the pavement.

Have you thought of getting an ATV and trailering it to the general vicinity then riding the ATV to your off road destination? This is pretty much what hunters do.

FWIW, I've carried 35mm and medium-format equipment on a Honda street bike but it's a lot smoother than any dirt bike.

-- Paul Wilson (, October 18, 2000.

While I range up to 150 miles from home, the majority of my trips are within 50-100 miles ... for that, I don't think a two-stroke would be all that uncomfortable. It definitely would vibrate more, though, so a four-stroke probably does make better sense for minimizing any wear and tear to delicate camera gear.

I don't want to get involved in trailering anything ... not only do I not have any place to store a trailer when I'm not using it but in my experience, it'd make my net travel time longer not shorter, which is exactly the opposite of what I'm trying to accomplish.

As for the BMW GS bikes, they're awfully big and fairly costly, which rules them out for me despite their virtues on the street. While I'm not looking for something to enter the ISDT -- is this still held? -- I am looking for something that can hold its own off-road.

Of course, before I do anything, I'll have to convince Mistress Paula that my buying yet another "toy" to park in the garage makes sense...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, October 19, 2000.

Jeffrey, I'm a photographer using (sometime) motorcycle. The BMW GS is a very good choice. For budget minded, I would go for a good used R80GS (plenty around), fitted with 2 Krauser brand hard case saddle bags and a rear trunk. All the bags should be filled with foam (hardware store) at cut out to fit your equipment. At destination, you just unlatch the bag a carry it. The medium weight tripod will sit on the top of the trunk, lenght wise.

-- dan n. (, October 20, 2000.

Jeffrey, I regularly use a motorcycle on photographic trips. ItBs a superb method of combining fun with fun! In the last 5 years I have covered 30,000 miles on my 1100cc Honda Pan European, known in the States as the Honda ST1100, most of it with medium or LF gear on board. I have a Tamrac Expedition 5 rucksack, which easily takes my Linhof body with 3 lenses, 8 DD slides, Pentax spot meter and accessories. This outfit conveniently fits inside the hard side pannier. Alternatively, a Hasselblad outfit in a Billingham bag fits in the top box. The spare boxes are then used for clothing etc. My Gitzo tripod is secured to the pillion seat with QL straps.

My trips are typically 250 miles, but longer outings can last a week and take in 1250 miles. Based in England, I regularly go to Scotland and occasional trips to Italy. Even managed a week with full camping gear on board.

The camera and bike are a fantastic combination: Economical transport with petrol at $6 per imperial gallon B 50 mpg. Interesting and often exciting travel between locations. Biking makes up for the photo days that are non-productive. Easy parking anywhere. Fast travel overcoming busy roads and holiday traffic.

I returned to biking at 45, after 20 years absence, and worried about all the usual fears of safety. Whilst the risks are real, due respect should keep you safe and open up a fantastic combination. If you want it, go for it.

Gaz Rowlands (Weekly digest)

-- Gaz Rowlands (, October 24, 2000.

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