Tyres on the back? I just don’t get it!

You see them pass by quite often nowadays, the pictures of fully loaded motorbikes as if the only thing they decided not stow in their panniers were the flat screen TV or the washing machine. And yet they call it “travelling light”, because all too often people did invest quite a bit of money in expensive technical clothing that can be stowed away in an extremely compact way, in the smallest possible air compressor at the highest possible price or in the lightest of sleeping pads that just about allow for a somewhat comfortable sleep. In many cases those mostly pretty heavy machines are equipped with all sorts of fancy protection gadgets that costed more time to market than to develop because they’re just plain useless. Every brand will come up with a reason why these parts are an absolute must-have for the adventure traveler. In most cases, it just adds up to the weight of the bike. And quite often you see that full extra set of tyres tied to the back of the bike. Just in case… Traveling light right?

The reality is that there is not much required for a trip without too much worries. A bashplate, a set of panniers or saddlebags and a few essentials that prevent the most probable breakdowns along the road. Crashbars make sense on some bikes. On others they just keep the illusion alive that you will manage to ride around the world without a single scratch on your bike. Until that first crash right?

But especially that extra set of tyres can make up for the difference between pure off-road fun and unnecessary paddling. My advice: Leave those tyres at home! Your ride will be a lot more fun and the investment of your hard earned money in light equipment finally starts to make sense. But I can hear you think: “What if we destroy our tyres on the road?” or “What if they are just end of life?”. Let’s face it. The chance of totally ruining your tyres beyond repairability is pretty low. On all of our travels, I have NEVER managed to completely destroy a tyre. Even a pretty big hole in the sidewall was repaired on the road and lasted for a few thousand more kilometers without any issues.

Sometimes you just know in advance that your tyres just won’t make it till the end of the trip. But in most cases you will have a pretty good idea of where about your tyres will be due replacement. In case tyres are not readily available, we ship them from Europe. That can be done at a fairly acceptable price if you keep a few useful tips in mind.

Here we go:

1. The low invoice value

When shipping stuff overseas, an invoice is required in most cases. It allows for calculating costs like possible import duties, administrative costs, insurance and warehouse costs. The higher the invoice, the higher the related costs. Ask your supplier or any business willing to do so, to draw an official invoice with a very low value, and let it be canceled by a credit note afterwards. That is the invoice you will hand over to the shipper. A set of tyres costing 200€ suddenly costs as little as 50€. In far away countries they often don’t have a clue about the value of tyres.

2. The Carnet or TIP

A customs agent in Dakar, Senegal, told me about this great tip for the first time just recently. I have used it many times since and have always been successful. When importing parts and plan to use them on a vehicle that was temporarily imported, either with a carnet or with a TIP (temporary import permit), than the imported parts are free of import duties in most cases. So better take your carnet or TIP to customs and DO INSIST! Customs often tries to refuse this practice at first, but a little persuasion can make a lot of difference in your wallet. Note that other costs like document handling or storage, are not impacted by this tip.

By applying tip 1 and 2 together, I managed to pay as little as 45€ for importing  900€ worth of parts and tyres (transport not included). Believe me, that is an extremlely low amount. It’s no exception for the import duties to exceed the value of the goods!

3. A reliable, fixed partner

Prior to leaving on your trip, you better look for a fixed logistic partner that really understands what you are doing. Do not go for the very large companies that just treat you as a number. Smaller organisations with just a few employees tend to be more responsive and go that extra mile when needed. A bike or travel enthusiast among the employees, someone that really likes your project, is a definite plus. Do follow up your shipped goods and always ask for a copy of the airway bill and the flight number.

4. No door-to-door service

Don’t let goods be picked up and delivered at your doorstep. In some cases, that tripled the transport costs. The better option is to let the goods be delivered at the cargo department of the airport by a friend. At destination, you better pick up the goods yourself, preferably without an agent.

5. Destination

This is also a pretty important one: do research on your port of destination. Some airports are notorious for being difficult, expensive or just plain unreliable. Others are smooth and cheap. Bigger ports that move a lot of industrial goods might be your best bet. Dakar yes, Nouakchott no. Pointe Noire yes, Muanda or Cabinda no. Valparaiso yes, Buenos Aires no… A bit of googling around or scanning different forums works wonders!

6. Timing

Timing can make a whole lot of difference cost wise. In many cases the first couple of days of storage are either free or at a fixed price. If your goods spend more time at the warehouse, that’s when the costs go up, sometimes at incredibly expensive rates. Shipping by air usually takes no longer than 3-4 days. Airplanes are quick and that’s great. But if you fail to collect the goods in time at the port of arrival, it can be expensive. Don’t count on the fact that you will be called when the goods become available. That often just doesn’t happen or happens way too late. Be proactive and call them upfront. Your shipping partner should be able to give you contact details.


Good luck all and happy travels!