How your motorcycle can help you survive The Big One

Dailies, How To -



Sunday, geologists studying the San Andreas Fault announced new data that suggests Southern California could be at least 100 years overdue for a 7.5 magnitude or greater earthquake. That puts North America’s largest metropolitan area at increased risk for one of the worst natural disasters ever. A lot of people are going to dismiss this news with the can’t-do-anything-about-that mindset but, the thing is, you can. And, if you’re a Hell For Leather reader, you’re likely already more prepared to survive The Big One than most. Here’s how your motorcycle can keep you alive.

When we interviewed short shorts-wearing survival expert Cody Lundin back in December, he told us motorcycles were pretty much the ideal vehicle post shit hitting the proverbial fan. “Because of their energy efficiency, because of their maneuverability, because of their simplicity, because of their cost.”

After any major disaster, especially an earthquake in Southern California, moving around by vehicle is going to become massively more difficult. Infrastructure, including roadways, signals, bridges, tunnels and signage will likely be damaged. People will likely try and flee the area. Those two together will create massive, region-wide traffic jams and will contribute to the third major problem: a lack of fuel. Pipelines, refineries and ports will likely be damaged and the trucks that actually deliver the gas to gas stations will be held up by the traffic and damaged infrastructure. Fuel pumps won’t work when the power’s off.

What’s able to get through traffic, past damaged roads and do so without needing much fuel? A motorcycle!

If you’re going to leave, have a destination.
“People confuse modern survival that involves a third party rescue with living off the land all the time,” explained Cody. “If the time comes, that’s going to kill a lot of people.”

If you’re in the city, even if significant damage has occurred, you’ll likely already have access to some sort of shelter and some supplies. Unless you have a specific destination — a well-stocked cabin or a family home outside the damaged area — then leaving is likely to be counter productive. Instead, use your bike to move around locally, finding supplies, contacting friends and family and helping others.

If you do have a destination, you need to have the means to reach it. If you won’t be able to find gas along the way, will you be able to make it to your destination on the fuel you have on hand and can carry with you?

Choose the right bike.
The perfect survival scenario bike is probably a lighweight dual sport. They can traverse pretty much any obstacle and, if you find one that’s insurmountable, you can likely drag the bike through it by hand. They’re fuel efficient — the Yamaha WR250R, for example, averages 71mpg. They’re easy to ride. They’re robust.

But, you don’t need to rush out and buy that WR or an XR650 or a DR-Z if you don’t already have one. Just look for those attributes in another machine. Cody even suggested something like a 125cc scooter if you plan to have less experienced riders with you. It’s still light and fuel efficient and maneuverable and the scooter’s inherent ease of use will allow you to concentrate on other things, like making sure you hit the zombies in the head.

More importantly, you need a machine that you’re familiar with and that you can work on. You don’t want to find yourself halfway to your carefully prepared survival retreat, then suddenly find that your bike won’t run without some electric doohicky sitting in a warehouse somewhere in Italy. You need something simple, reliable and robust. I could fix pretty much anything that could possible go wrong with a Ural ST by the side of the road with a hammer, JB Weld and a couple of wrenches. Could you say the same for a Ducati Multistrada?

Careful modification can also make your bike more suitable for a post SHTF world. Those WR250Rs are pretty much the ideal survival vehicle with the exception of their woefully small fuel tanks. It’d be nice to have a greater than 100-mile range if you’re riding through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. A simple safari fuel tank would only cost a couple hundred bucks and can double if not quadruple that range. Basic crash protection is also a good idea, you don’t want your brains eaten simply because you broke a clutch lever.

Keep your bike well-maintained and know how to use it.
So The Big One hits and you’re feeling smug. You’ve got plenty of water, food and first aid equipment on hand and you’re ready to head to your parents’ place up north. You open your garage door, look at your bike, and it’s got a flat tire. Where are you going to get a spare now? It seems obvious, but you can only rely on your equipment if it can rely on you.

If you’d put on a new tire before it wore out completely, this wouldn’t be a problem. If you had a spare on hand and the tools to change it, this wouldn’t be a problem. Are you going to have problems?

That dual sport is going to be great at taking to highway medians and crossing fields of rubble. But are you? Can you ride off-road? Can you ride for long periods of time? Can you ride through heavy traffic? Can you do all the above safely? All the equipment in the world isn’t going to do a damned thing for you if you aren’t equipped to use it.

Don’t fall off.
Or, if you do, be prepared to deal with the consequences. Your survival plan is going to be majorly compromised if your leg ends up pointing in the wrong direction or you get a piece of rebar through the gut. It seems like common sense, but in a world without an ambulance ride just a phone call and a five minute wait away, you really don’t want to seriously hurt yourself. Safety gear helps, of course, but so does balancing risk and reward. it might look easy to take to the grassy median to bypass stalled cars blocking the road, but would it be safer to get off and walk your bike around? We’re not telling you to be a wuss, just that you need to be evaluating routes, obstacles and riding a little more carefully.

You also need to be prepared to deal with injury unassisted. How robust is your First Aid kit? Did you buy it al WalMart or did you assemble it yourself? Mine more closely resembles something a soldier would carry in Iraq than the kind of thing Boy Scouts take car camping. Take the time to research your needs and assemble something specifically designed to meet them.

“You’re going to have a mechanical injury on a bike,” cautions Cody. “It’s going to be heavy lacerations, it going to be road rash, it’s going to be a dislocated joint or a broken extremity. And those are very, very hard to deal with even from the scope of an EMT. An EMT simply stabilizes the injury and loads and goes to the hospital. That might not be an option. I don’t really know what to tell you other than that I would have some Ace bandages, maybe a SAM splint. I just know from being hurt real bad myself that I can’t even picture myself riding a motorcycle with broken ribs.”

To that, I’d add the ability to deal with heavy bleeding. That means QuickClot and tourniquets and the knowledge to use them.

Keep your bike safe.
Among hardcore survivalists, secrecy is treated as a way of life. The last thing they want is to lay in 10 years of provisions only to have to stretch that across 10 times as many people. They carry stuff into their shelters in small increments, they practice concealment, they hide in plain sight. Motorcyclists can learn a lesson from that if they’re preparing for a similar situation.

After a large disaster, rule of law can quickly disappear. Your friendly neighbor, motivated by a desire to survive or save loved ones may quickly become a bike thief. Your garage and padlock might be enough to keep out normal thieves, but will they deter someone in a life or death situation? After The Big One, your bike is going to become a very desirable possession.

One of my favorite security tricks is also simple, affordable and can be used even in a rented garage or open parking lot. To do it you’ll need a rubber trash can; a piece of scaffolding pole; the heaviest duty, motorcycle security-specific chain you can get your hands on (I like Almax) and some concrete. Put the pole in the middle of the trash can, slice two holes in the can at wheel level, pass the chain through the holes and around the pole, then fill the whole thing with concrete. Make sure the chain has plenty of slack to get through your wheel. Total investment is about $50 + the cost of the chain and lock. At a couple hundred pounds, you can likely slide the can itself wherever you need it, but it’s still large, awkward and indestructible enough to make stealing a bike that’s attached to it a major problem.

Some of the gadgets I carry on bike trips.

Only carry what you need, but know what you need.
Cody promotes a no-nonsense approach to survival. What will kill you fastest? Prepare for that, not hypothetical zombies. “People don’t want to hear about clothing,” he explains. “They’ll have a backpack full of gizmos and forget about the clothing just like they’ll forget about their shit. Lack of sanitation is the biggest killer on the planet, so they’ll forget about their shit and they will die despite all their fancy survival gear. I’m not going to promote bells and whistles. Clothing is what separates the men from the boys on the back of your motorcycle. Even in the summertime, at night, on your bike, it’s can get down to the 40s with windchill.”

Reading HFL, you should already have a good idea of what makes good, practical riding gear. But, adding something like a Tyvek rain suit that weighs nothing and packs incredibly small to your go bag could make the difference between life and death. It’ll block the wind and keep you dry, which could be just enough to ward off hypothermia.

On a bike, you also need to make the best use of space. Water is an immediate concern — figure a gallon a day per adult — but it’s heavy and non compressible, so there’s literally no way you can pack enough of it for a multi-day trip. Instead, carrying the facility to make more potable drinking water from what you find can act as a sort of force multiplier.

“If I have a one quart water bottle, but I have a one ounce thing of iodine, then as long as I find other water sources that may not be safe to drink, I can make more,” says Cody. “The thing about iodine — with the contraindications: no pregnancy, no allergy, no thyroid condition — it’s fucking cheap, it’s fucking multi-use, it doesn’t weigh much, it packs light, it’s not like a Katadyn filter that does one thing and, ‘Oh shit, my pack is taken up!’ It’s a small bottle that also deals with wounds.”

I carry a couple of paper coffee filters in case I need to use really dirty water too.

Some basic tools are also a good idea, but go back to that concept of multi-use components. Carrying a full Snap-On tool chest is probably impractical. You want to be able to have what you need with you without weighing the bike down or overloading it and making it difficult to ride. A five-foot length of plastic tubing will allow you to scavenge fuel along the road.

Survival is all in your mind.
But really, all this is about is preparation and common sense. A little thought and work now could save your life later. Cody agrees, “My motto is, ‘The more you know, the less you need.’”

  • CG

    Survival gear without guns? And know how to use them? In LA every gang banger has about 4 of them. Your motorcycle will quickly become their motorcycle if you are not prepared. Just a thought. Sorry.

    • Wes Siler

      Your bike has a throttle. Use it.

      • Brammofan

        Can’t outrun bullets. I would advocate for a sawed-off companion in this post-SHTF world of yours. Mad Max approves this message.

      • Thom

        Got to have at least a small hand gun for the following reasons ;

        1) To protect thyself . Like Brammofan said , you can’t out run a bullet , this isn’t Japan and you bet those gang bangers will be looking for everything and anything they can get their hands on . As well as more than a few formerly civilized folks who’ll suddenly become assholes in the face of disaster

        2) For Hunting . What …… think the stores won’t be emptied in a heartbeat ? You wanna live , you’re gonna have to kill something eventually .

        While you’re at it you’d be smart to toss some fishing line and an assortment of hooks in as well , again for gathering food . If things don’t get somewhat calmed down quickly you’ll be needing to leave the City eventually so best to be prepared .

        Might want to learn how to use said gun and fishing equipment as well . All the equipment in the world is useless unless you know how to use it properly and efficiently .

        A little Axiom to remember , should any of this become necessary . The only thing Psychologists , Theologians and Philosophers can agree on .

        “Behavior in the midst of Tragedy is the true Definer of ones personality ”

        Believe me , I know from experience , when the REAL S_ _t hits the fan , the most selfless , giving and intelligent seeming person you know can morph into the worst Self Centered Idiotic Deluded bastard you’ve even met .

        Take that bit to heart if you would .

        • sean (the roommate)

          Shocked to read this response from you of all people.

  • KP

    I would follow through with all of this until the first time I find an abandoned Ducati dealership. Then I’ll ditch the dual sport for an 1198 and kill myself how my family has always said I would.

    • 85gripen

      LOL! Think of the possibilities! The Snake with nobody on it!

      All the gov’t agencies suggest in event of an earthquake is to have provisions to last you for four days. They figure by then basic infrastructure should be back on-line. My bike only has a range of about 175 miles when full and I’ve got a wife and kid that can’t ride on it with me so I’m not going anywhere in case of an earthquake.

      • Wes Siler

        You’re blowing up my post-apocalyptic spot bro!

      • je

        Its the apocalypse, you dont have to worry about alimony or child support. Run free…

  • HammSammich

    That SOG (looks to be the same model as mine) has been a godsend on the side of the road on more than one occasion.

    • Wes Siler

      Powerlock? I love it.

      • HammSammich

        Yep! Powerlock S62.

  • Emmet

    I’ll have to consider the trash can chain lock

  • the_doctor

    Since I am chronically procrastinating, I will just print this off for when shit does hit the fan.

    • RT Moto

      Procrastinators unite!!! Tomorrow…

  • NickP

    Great tips, thanks. Michigan is boring as hell, and sometimes that’s a good thing. We don’t have to worry about earthquakes and hurricanes too much, but that doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen.

    My friends love to rip on me for bringing a bunch of tools and gear on trips (something I picked up from my dad, who makes me look like I pack light :D ), but I’m still convinced I’ll have the last laugh some day. I don’t exactly go on life-or-death trips though, if I did I would definitely add a pistol to my kit. I’ve played too much Left 4 Dead to do otherwise ;). People leave ammo piles everywhere!

    • Mr.Paynter


      The odd chainsaws they leave lying around will come in handy too!

  • protomech

    Consider chlorine tablets in case of iodine allergies. If not allergic to iodine, do yourself a favor and get a kit with ascorbic acid tablets (potable aqua pa plus or similar) to neutralize the iodine taste.

    • Wes Siler

      Good tip, in the same vein, bleach works too.

      • protomech

        Er. Chlorine dioxide.

  • Erok

    When it comes to survival bikes, this one always comes to mind:

    • protomech

      9.7s 0-60. Fast enough for survival purposes of course.

    • Dani Peral

      Thats really awesome, 46.6km per liter!!! :O

  • stickfigure

    Just bring Milla Jovovich as your pillion and you’ll be fine.

    • Erok

      … Come with me if you want to live.

  • Devin

    I think this whole article was just an excuse to use the photoshopped image used on the main page.

    • T Diver

      +1. This is America. If it hits the fan, I am just going to chill and wait for the authorities to come rescue me. If you do carry all this gear though, make sure to take it on your morning commute so I can get a good laugh. Mad Max is a great movie.

      • Turf

        Good luck with that
        New Orleans

        • Wes Siler


        • HammSammich

          Epic comment!

        • Mark D


  • Keyrock

    Any bikes out there that can function after an EMP?

    • Kirill

      Vintage kick-start bikes with carbs should work, but if there’s an EMP, odds are good that you also just got nuked and aren’t around to worry about that kinda shit anymore.

      • Keyrock

        True, just curious.

      • cadillacjack

        In that case you’ll be looking for RD’s and TZ’s and H2′s.

    • parkwood60

      The Honda Trail 90. Run forever, gets 100mpg and can go anywhere, except the far side of 50mph.

      • Mr.Paynter


  • Zach

    great article, now i gotta hit walmart to assemble my pack.

  • Thom

    Well I’ve decided to play Devils Advocate and be the Gearhead Heretic on this subject .

    Come a major disaster , the Ultimate Vehicle of choice would have to be ………

    A Mountain Bicycle . Not some fancy pants , shock absorber equipped , breaks if you stare at it the wrong way bike , but rather a simple Hard Tail ( and hard fork ) Mountain Bike .

    Why ? Simple . You’ll only be searching and scrounging for three things ( food water and shelter ) instead of four ( add fuel )

    And as long as you’re eating and drinking , you’re moving . Not to mention a self propelled vehicle is less likely in the event of a disaster to get stolen because most folks will be to tired , injured or lazy to ride one , as well as the fact that you can sleep with your bicycle if need be and well….

    Go ahead and say it . ” He’s a Heretic on this site ! ”

    Probably so … but then again …… I’m right and you’ll know it when your ICE vehicle has run out of fuel and I’m a pedaling on by you !

    • protomech

      Depends on how far you have to go.

      Supposing clear roads, a motorcycle could get you to safety/infrastructure (say 400-600 miles) in a single day’s ride.

      On a mountain bike that’s likely to be 3-4 days – plus additional calories (and water) to power yourself to safety.

      You can strap a jerry can (or two) to your motorcycle. You can ride two-up on basically the same fuel supply.

      Maybe the best of both worlds is a moped. Or a solar-powered car. ; )

      • Wes Siler

        Yeah, don’t negate the cost of calories. You’d need a LOT of food to get 600 miles on a heavy mountain bike hauling gear. Gas, at least enough to get 600 miles on a 71mpg bike, will be plentiful enough. You can always siphon it from damaged vehicles.

        • Thom

          Like i said , just playing Devils Advocate .

          ( but I’d still chose the bicycle :o) 71 mpg on zero available gas gets you ………. Zero )

        • Steven

          it’s an excuse to stay fat, JUST IN CASE.

          • Richard

            Agreed. Fat, the ultimate fuel…

          • HammSammich

            I’m not fat, I’m just drought and famine resistant!


    I like the film case with the rock cocaine the best. Nice choice!

    • Wes Siler

      damn hipsters and their survival cocaine.

    • Case

      That’s how you know he’s a real LA resident.

  • muckluck

    My DR650 will be ready! not many earth quakes in Wisconsin though…

    • Kirill

      Your current government is doing more damage to your state than any quake ever could.

      I’m somehow reminded of a Russian joke from the 90s:

      Q: What’s the most destructive weapon in history?
      A: The cruiser Aurora. It fired only once – and a blank shot at that – but caused 75 years of destruction.

      (For the historically challenged, said firing signaled the start of the storm of the Winter Palace by the Bolsheviks and the eventual formation of the USSR)

      • Core

        elaborate a little more… on this cruiser and what it was doing there.. and all that good stuff. Just curious by a little bit.

  • Turf

    So I’m not the only esee fan around here?

    • Wes Siler

      I love my Esees.

      • Turf


  • goodcat8

    The majority of Anything I buy from my belt to my motorcycles is done with the “what if the zombie apocalypse happens…” scenario in mind. Which is why I have a KTM 950 SM fr pre apocalypse and a TW200 for post.
    Awesomely fun post, should be an ongoing staple!

  • Pete

    Love this article. It reminds me of some guys I met while working up in Maine who totally seriously told me they moved there for the eventual enormous natural disasters that would befall the U.S. They believed they were more prepared and safer in the seclusion of up-country Maine. I didn’t ask why they didn’t move to an island in the Caribbean, but hey… Also, my XR600 will tear through Zombies like a hot knife through brains.

  • paul

    after a spate of large earthquakes here in N.Z (one of our biggest cities is pretty much ruined) Survival Kits are very common , most people I know have one.Like you mentioned Water has been one of the biggest issues all those burst water mains meant no tap water or sewage mixing in with the town water supply.don’t forget you need a LOT of it. Glad we don’t have gang bangers and many guns, one less thing to worry about. Me Im packed already.

    • CG

      So if I make it to NZ I’m pretty much home free. You know, the whole thing about the one – eyed man in the land of the blind. Cuz me and my buds DO have guns.

      Oh, I keep about 15 gallons of water in my freezer.

  • gregorbean

    Great article! Lots of good common sense stuff here, just like in Cody’s books. I enjoyed the initial interview with him, and enjoyed reading this follow up. Motorcycles and survival are two of my favorite subjects.

    Anyone who thinks that this type of preparation is overkill will be in for a rude awakening when there’s no power or clean water and the stores have already been looted.

  • OC

    Not a single mention of Deep Impact? Just watch the final scene. A motorcycle is the only thing that keeps Elijah Wood alive as he outruns the meteor and ensuing tsunami. After seeing that movie if I didn’t already own a bike I sure as hell would have bought one.

    • Kirill

      See, after seeing that movie, I merely readjusted my moviegoing priorities.

      • nymoto

        Thank you – that movie sucked donkey ….

  • Mark D

    Its always fun to speculate about the aftermath of the “apcolypse”, but there are plenty of stories coming out of Japan where the same survival techniques were utilized (good thing the Japanese love motorcycles!). Urban survival seems to be a growing discipline…

    Although, I guess a 1,000 year Tsunami and nuclear meltdown is about as apocalyptic as you can get.

  • Taco

    If I were in LA during the aftermath of a big earthquake, I’d either head West or South. I would jump on a ferry and go to Catalina Island and have my own Catalina GP race while order is restored. Or I’d go to Tijuana Mexico, it’s about a tank of gas to get there. Plus I don’t think a SHTF situation would be noticed much South of the Border.

    • Kirill

      That’s mainly because shit has already hit the fan down there in spectacular “headless bodies stuffed into barrels” fashion

  • mugget

    “… just like they’ll forget about their shit. … they’ll forget about their shit and they will die…”

    Haha – I dunno why but that just seems kinda funny awesome to me.

  • parkwood60

    As I said earlier the Honda trail 90 from the pre-CDI is the ideal bike. I isn’t fast, but its fast enough to outrun a person on foot, or a bicycle. And it will run forever and never break and gets 100mpg – YMMV

  • Steven

    survivalists vs. renn fayre, which are nerdier?

    • HammSammich

      Renn Fair Survivalists…(the guys who stockpile mutton and chainmail in their basements).

      • protomech

        Noone expects the Dragons / Hunn apocalypse.

  • pinkyracer

    really? gas bikes? what if all the gas pumps are offline? I’d make a beeline for Hollywood Electrics and do whatever it takes to convince Harlan to trade me a Zero DS for whatever he wants. Then I’d get myself a solar panel and a small turbine, hook them up to a battery and use that.

    • protomech

      Electrics would be fantastic for getting around in a post-apocalyptic environment (or even adventure camping – think solar panels on top of an RV with an Engage/Encite strapped to the back) when paired with renewable power – but not for getting out of dodge.

      Zero DS – say 80 wh/mile riding very gingerly. Rip out the AC charger, rig up a custom DC charger and 400w in fixed solar panels (100 lbs), generously estimating .. say 8 hours of sunlight during the summer, 90% charge efficiency .. and you’re still only getting about 36 miles of range per day. You’re better off with the mountain bike.

  • 85gripen

    I’m going to try to stay home the entire weekend but if I have to go out during Carmageddon ( I’ll definitely take my bike. Even though the 405 will be shut down every other freeway will get congested with the cars who would normally be driving the 405.

    While Wes will be up on the abandoned Snake after a major earthquake (imagine how much more technical it’ll be riding during 5.0 aftershocks!) I’m heading out to Willow Springs. If the western half of California splits off at the San Andreas Fault and slips into the Pacific Lex Luthor-master-plan-style Willow Springs will be right on the new coast!

    • Steven

      yeah? well, I’ll be right there in the LA river heading north at 110 per.

      goddamn dipshit hfl readers.
      gypsy dildo punks.

      • Ben Incarnate

        Gogol Bordello + sex toys = quite a weekend.

      • Mattro

        no christians, either.

  • Deep6Dive

    harbor tool and freight makes a really nice compact siphon to get your petrol with….. good to keep in your boogy bag.

    • Wes Siler

      What’s wrong with sucking?