The good old cargo tarpaulin has been with us for the last decade as part of our gear on our motorcycle adventures. It has become an essential part of the gear with multiple uses.
Yes, those cheap 3x3m, 5x5m or whatever size you prefer, cargo tarpaulins you buy at DIY shops. They weigh about nothing and won’t have you in tears if the tarpaulin tears or wear out over time. Check whatever size will work best for your type of travel. At one stage we were only able to get a 6x5m tarp and just cut it into the size we needed.
Why is tarpaulin called tarpaulin?
The word tarpaulin comes from tar and palling—another 17th Century name for sheets used to cover objects on ships. Sailors also made waterproof clothing from tarpaulins including tricorn hats, choosing the style in an act of defiance to mimic what the officers wore.
“A tarpaulin or tarp is a large sheet of strong, flexible, water-resistant or waterproof material, often cloth such as canvas or polyester coated with polyurethane, or made of plastics such as polyethene.”
Blue tarps are the most popular form of tarp and the most easily found. The light coloured tarps typically reflect sunlight rather than absorb it. White and grey are good options for colour tarps to reflect heat. Black and dark grey tarps absorb sunlight, rather than reflect it.
There are quite a few type of fabrics today that can be used as tarps. The ripstop PVC Acrylic coated type is designed to be tear, rip resistant, it is water resistant and UV resistant. If in need for a specific size a company can cut and add eye-lids for custom size and shape.
There are many places parking for the bikes that are only available in open areas, and accessible to wandering fingers. It is most often not possible to wheel a bike into a hotel room. They have to stay in parking areas, out in front of hotels and hostel parking and sometimes there is just no choice other than the dusty street in a small village.
Unfortunately, an overland dual-sport motorcycle is an interesting looking vehicle and draws the attention of most people walking past. Throw a tarpaulin or bike cover over the motorcycles and they vanish right in front of your eyes. There’s suddenly nothing to touch and see other than the wheels sticking out. We use 4 lightweight aluminium carabiners to hook the tarp to the spokes.
This David Copperfield trickery is an incredibly effective way to get a bike out of sight. We have sat watching our bikes covered under the tarpaulins in a street and people does not even blink walking past the bikes. Open them up and suddenly they are like shiny colourful must-touch gemstones.
When it is windy or with dust sand storms we also use bungee cords through the loops on the tarps to pull the tarp tight and stop flapping. There is just no reason to buy a tent with room for a motorcycle having the use of tarpaulin.
Additional roof space:
Additional roof space: Rainy days with damaged tent flysheets not being waterproof, sitting in the sun at a
campsite, having to create a wind barrier, tarpaulins are great to be used for these applications. Many a time we have been caught camping having to make our own outside area to sit out the rain with fellow motorcycle advriders. Or when we get to a cool camp spot on a beach area in Peru in the afternoon and there is no shade around.
There were instances where our tent due to age and usage was leaking like a kitchen sieve. The flysheet waterproofness was no more and we had to use the tarpaulin as a new flysheet roof. Which worked pretty effectively.
Tent footprint: Tarps is the perfect footprint to protect the floor fabrics of tents on rough surfaces. In Africa, thorns will with ease ensure a tent is not waterproof anymore. Camping on places like salt lakes with their sharp edge rock surfaces will rip or create holes in no time on a tent floor. There is nothing worse than waking up at night floating in a dam of water because the tent floor has holes in it.
Tarpaulin general use:
Use tarpaulins when working on the bike. When you fix flat tyres in the dirt nuts bolts and tools tend to get lost in the dirt quite quick. Work on a tarp and things stay cleaner.
We pack our tarps on the rear carrier between our duffel bag or luggage and the motorcycle frame/seat. If things do chafe or rub on those nasty dirt roads the tarp will take the punishment not the motorcycle parts or the luggage.
Tarpaulins make for good wind shelter protection. Camping on places like the Altiplano at 4000m altitude in Chile where the wind blows the snot out of your face, using a tarp to create a wind barrier. In the last decade, we had to make use of a tarp for wind protection while camping quite a few times.
Tarpaulins do eventually get holes and tears in them over time, nevertheless, the low cost, small weight and space a tarpaulin takes up on a bike is absolutely worth the money and use to carry one.