When it comes to aftermarket motorcycle parts, luggage is a practical addition that can turn a regular bike into a formidable touring platform.
When it comes to aftermarket motorcycle accessories, many think racing exhaust or power commanders, but one of the most practical enhancements to a motorcycle’s utility is luggage. Just as motorcycles span the spectrum from 50cc scooters to gigantic 2000cc cruisers, luggage options vary from a small backpack to comprehensive multi-piece luggage systems.
So what type of luggage is best? Well, it all depends on what a rider wants and what they are going to use it for. For long day rides, a simple tankbag or backpack should get the job done. An overnight trip may require the extra storage space provided by a pair of saddlebags or a purpose-built tailbag. If a round-the-globe multi-week expedition is on the docket, then some serious aftermarket help is required in the form of gigantic panniers. The choice is up to the rider, but here’s a quick rundown of the basic options.
For quick trips and general everyday use, a good backpack is an indispensable part of a rider’s ensemble. This Tour Master Cortech Backpack not only will hold all your miscellaneous gear, but has a padded helmet housing that tucks inside a hidden pocket when it’s not needed.
The simplest motorcycle luggage is a backpack. Anyone who has graduated from grade school knows how to use one and it’s hard to beat the all-around utility they provide. One big advantage of a backpack is that it doesn’t require any extra hardware or cumbersome installations to the bike. You can also store a lot of gear in a good pack, with small, easy-to-reach compartments for things like cellphones, water bottles and rain gear.
When purchasing a backpack for motorcycle riding, special considerations include making sure the straps can accommodate the bulkiness of armored riding jackets. Also, remember that high visibility is a good thing on a motorcycle, so bright colors and reflective material is a definite bonus. Many motorcycle gear manufacturers have purpose-built backpacks for riding, with special accommodations for things like helmets. Some even feature built-in water storage. Hydration packs, or Camelbaks as they’re often called, allow riders to take a drink from a tube connected to a fluid-filled reservoir in the backpack itself. Camelbaks are particularly useful for off-road riders.
A tankbag is a great option for quick day rides. As the name implies, a tankbag rests on top of a motorcycle’s fuel tank, with some designs gripping the tank via magnetic flaps, while others are strapped down by a more in-depth installation process. While not very large, a good tankbag can store enough essential gear to get you from point A to point B, provided those points aren’t more than a day apart. Water, an extra shield and cleaner, sunblock, snacks … a lot can fit in there. The tankbag’s piece de resistance, however, is the transparent top pocket flap to hold a riding map. The era of GPS systems may be upon us, but map-carrying tankbags won’t disappear anytime soon.
MCUSA’s Managing Editor Bart Madson found the tankbag he used during his European Edelweiss adventure to be an irreplaceable traveling accessory when the hard saddlebags of the BMW R1200S didn’t quite have enough storage space.
With their position on the bike, tankbags do take some getting used to and some of the cumbersome mega-sized designs aren’t practical for aggressive sportbikes, where the riding position leans over the tank. Another nuisance is having to unhook the tankbag at fuel stops. Still, they are convenient, effective and affordable.
Saddlebags and Panniers
Saddlebags have been around since, well, saddles. The concept is easy to grasp, with bags hanging over the sides of a bike’s tail section. Saddlebags are available in both hard and soft designs. Panniers on a motorcycle refer to hard bags, often metal and box-shaped, which are fitted for hard-core touring duties.
Soft saddlebags are made from either textile material, which complement sportier models, or leather, which are popular on cruisers. Advantages with soft saddlebags include the fact that a rider can stuff a lot of material into the flexible interior. Soft bags are also often easy to mount and remove, although a little more intensive than most tankbags. One potential wrench in soft saddlebag plans are hot exhausts, which can melt or burn nearby bags.
Cruiser riders like the option of throwin’ on some leather saddlebags when it’s time to road trip while being able to remove them when it’s time to polish the bike up for a cruise down the boulevard.
Hard saddlebags are for Tourers with a capital “T.” Most hard bags require more permanent mods to a stock bike with mounting brackets, but once installed, they can transform a regular bike into a formidable touring platform. One advantage hard bags enjoy is the fact that they are often lockable and easy to remove from the bike.
Another consideration for saddlebags, especially hard bags, are removable interior bags. Detaching the entire saddlebag every night gets tedious, especially after a long day of riding. Opting for easy-to-remove interior bags to carry into a hotel room, or camping tent, is a definite convenience.
Luggage Racks, Topcases and Tailbags
There is a lot of equipment that can be added to the rear end of a motorcycle. Saddlebags have been covered already, but there are also top cases and tailbags, some of which are available as complete luggage systems along with matching saddlebags. Tailbags for the rear luggage rack run the gamut from simple models similar to a tankbag to more advanced designs. Some purpose-built bags can even be attached to a sissy bar on a cruiser and look just like the small suitcases wheeled through an airport. However, if these fancy cases aren’t your style, less sophisticated options are available.
A bungee cord and small duffel is a simple motorcycle luggage solution. The bungee cord resides in the useful motorcycle item hall of fame right next to the duct tape and zip-tie for a reason. There’s not much that can’t be wrenched down to the rear end of a luggage wrack. You don’t want to go crazy and overload the rear, but a rolled sleeping bag, tent or small backpack can be bungeed down, no problemo.
Sometimes it’s best to go with the manufacturer’s luggage. That way you don’t have to mess with installation and the touring package usually integrates cleanly into the design of the motorcycle.
Manufacturer Hard Luggage
At this point it may sound redundant, but if you want luggage that is guaranteed to fit your bike and don’t want to muck with tricky installation procedures, check with the bike’s manufacturer. Hard luggage comes standard on serious touring motorcycles, but many non-touring bikes also have luggage available as an accessory. The advantages of luggage components from the bike manufacturer are that they are designed to fit the bike, both in a practical and styling sense. The hard luggage on the Kawasaki Concours 14, for example, complement the bike’s overall styling lines. Some manufacturers also cover their luggage with a warranty (although many other aftermarket luggage makers provide warranties as well.)
As motorcycle luggage is exposed to the fickle elements, a rider needs to consider waterproofing their equipment. Most soft bags come with waterproof rain covers. If not, plan on several plastic bags to keep gear dry.
A fully-laden bike complete with luggage can effect the handling and, as we see here, make it even heavier.
When loading up, remember to use some common sense. Adding luggage to the rear can affect a bike’s handling and the suspension may need to be adjusted to counter the extra lbs. Also, it’s important to keep things nice and balanced. So don’t do something stupid, like packing your bowling ball in one saddlebag while leaving the other side empty. Though we’re kidding about the bowling ball, it is important to distribute weight evenly when loading your bike.
Another thing to remember is keeping things secured tight. A loosely-bungeed pack sliding off into the rear wheel doesn’t sound pretty.
Good luck in your motorcycle luggage search.