How To Make Traveling Easy With Motorcycle Luggage & Bags

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A motorcycle becomes so much more functional when it can carry passengers and their travel necessities too. That’s where motorcycle luggage comes in handy. Whether it’s simple, functional commuter cargo, classic saddle bags or large capacity hard bags, there’s motorcycle luggage to suit everyone’s needs.

It would be easy to recommend going with the gear that the motorcycle’s manufacturer offers for your bike - OEM or original equipment manufacturer, as it is called. After all, it should have a look that complements your bike and should have a mounting system that fits securely to the bike with no adapters or extra steps. That is true in many cases, but there are other considerations that come into it that may make an after-market alternative a better choice. For example, your bike may not include any optional luggage, maybe the OEM bags it came with do not offer enough capacity, or they may not offer the features you want. Our Luggage Buyers Guide will give you a look at the many different types of aftermarket storage options on the market these days and offer you a few examples to get you pointed in the right direction. Storage bags have been designed in many different configurations: small tool or gadget bags that mount on the handlebars, fenders or behind the windshield, tank bags, sissy bar bags, tail bags and saddle bags are some of the main luggage solutions you should know about. Let’s start with the most common luggage out there, the saddle bag.

Saddle Bags

Saddle bags are the most traditional form of motorcycle luggage and with good reason;they carry a load low to avoid upsetting the bike’s low center of gravity, they are generally out of the way of the rider and passenger and they are designed to be stylish while holding a fairly large volume and weight. Saddle bag options alone could probably fill a book, but we’ll keep the discussion manageable here.

Motorcycle Saddlebags

The type of construction for saddle bags really comes down to two general types;soft bags, which have a semi-rigid construction, such as leather, textile, synthetic leather substitutes or some mix of those, or hard bags with rigid construction of molded plastic, fiberglass, or in some cases, aluminum.If you don’t plan on serious long-range touring, there are a lot of options for day-trip and commuter luggage that can be had for very reasonable prices. “Throw-over” saddle bags work very well. Depending on the configuration of the bike, they can be installed with the yoke (or cross strap) under the seat pan or simply over the top of the seat. They are generally secured with four-point attachment straps, although some designs do come with mounting hardware. These bags come in leather, high-strength ballistic nylon, leather substitutes and combinations of these materials.

Sizing the bags to the bike can be trickier than you may think. Even though many of the bags have heat protective materials on the bottom or back side, making contact or getting too close to the exhaust system should be avoided. If you have a cruiser with low pipes, this is usually not much of a problem. But, some very large, deep bags can still wind up hanging low, especially once they are loaded with gear, so make sure to test it out before you hit the road. Some manufacturers specify that you mount the bag with a minimum of 2” of clearance from the exhaust system. Since the cross strap usually allows for adjustment to raise the bags, that shouldn’t be much of a problem, but keep it in mind during installation. If your bike has upswept pipes such as on a Triumph Thruxton or features long sport bike pipes, avoiding contact may require you use smaller bags such as the Nelson-Rigg CL-890 Mini-expandable Sport Saddle bag or something similar. If there is no way to avoid hitting the exhaust with your large style saddle bags then you may want to consider smaller saddle bags coupled with a tail bag and/or tank bag. Typically equipped with a large main compartment, saddlebags may have both internal and external additional pockets, zippers, buckle/strap or clip/strap closures, storm covers, reflective piping and a variety of adjustment points to make sure they fit the bike securely and snug.

Soft Bags

Some soft bags include a semi-rigid or rigid liner and a zip-to-detach feature. The Tourmaster Cruiser III Box and Slant saddlebags use this type of design. In some products, removable inner bags, rain covers or other accessories may be available at extra cost, so be sure to check that out. Also, keep in mind that most saddlebags are not waterproof, so it is necessary to use the provided storm covers, waterproof inner liners or both if you get caught in the rain. It’s a real bummer if you tossed these out and do not have them handy when you are on the road, so be aware. These waterproof covers are essential if you plan to carry cameras, laptops or other precious cargo that can be damaged by water. Look for top or storm flaps, like those you’d find on a jacket, which will enclose the top of the bag all around for extra weather resistance. Most soft and semi-rigid bags don’t offer a lock to secure the cargo, so if you tend to carry gear you’d like to be able to secure while you’re away from the bike, lockable hard bags may be a much better option for you in the long run.

MotoCentric Mototrek Sport Saddlebags

MotoCentric Mototrek Sport Saddle bags

Tour Master Cruiser III

Tour Master Cruiser III Slant Saddle bags

Saddlemen Highwayman Slant

Saddlemen Highwayman Slant Saddle bags

Hard Bags

Hard bags have the advantage of providing better security, improved protection in case of a tip-over and they are more weather-resistant. On the flip-side they also are more costly and will require more time and effort to mount properly. Most hard bags will require a mounting bracket that is specific to certain makes and models of motorcycles. Even with that degree of specificity, some may require some minor modifications to get mounted, so be prepared to have some patience in the installation process. Mounting brackets are generally included in the price of the bag. Some that require additional hardware may be sold separately. Check the product descriptions closely to avoid the hassle of re-ordering the mounting hardware. In some instances, relocating turn signals may be required to get the bags mounted and in most cases a kit will be available for that from the case manufacturer. Of course, this may also be sold separately. Some hard saddlebags are designed to be big enough to stow a full-face helmet—the Givi Monokey V35, for example. Others are slimmer in design and should be able to hold a half helmet such as the Hardstreet Classic bags by Cycra.

Givi Monokey V35

Givi Monokey V35 Side Case

Cycra Hardstreet Classic Saddle Bags

Cycra Hardstreet Classic Saddle Bags

Givi PLX Side Case Mount

Givi PLX Side Case Mount

Saddlebag manufacturers state the volume of the bags and weight capacity for the load they are designed to carry. The soft and semi-rigid bags can be stuffed with gear till they bulge (This is hard on the zippers so try to avoid doing it) while the rigid bags have a truly fixed capacity. Hard bags aren’t as easy to over-stuff, but they can be overloaded with heavy items. Overloaded bags can fail, causing loss of cargo, and may come off the bike altogether. There is also a chance that a dangling bag could cause you to lose control of the bike. So, be sure to pack your luggage within the designed load limits and if you need more room, get a hold of a tail bag or tank bag, which brings us to the next luggage options.

Tail Bags

A tail bag that matches a set of saddle bags is often available and can really increase your carrying capacity. It is a good idea to purchase the tail bag and saddlebags at the same time. You can always take the tail bag off if you don’t need the extra capacity on a given day of riding and a tank bag is a great way to store your important items you want easy access to like a wallet, cell phone, GPS, MP3, lip-stick, sunscreen, glasses, map and so on. Like saddlebags, tail bags may be constructed of soft or hard material. If you have a luggage rack and need to preserve room for a passenger, get a tail bag that fits on the luggage rack. If you don’t have a luggage rack, it may be an opportune time to get one when you are looking at tail bags.

Motocentric Mototrek Roll Tail Bag

Motocentric Mototrek Roll Tail Bag

Cortech Super 2.0 24-Liter Tailbag

Cortech Super 2.0 24-Liter Tailbag

Tour Master Select Tailbag

Tour Master Select Tailbag

Tail bags can have multiple pockets and compartments in addition to the main compartment. Like soft saddlebags, they may not be waterproof, so keep that in mind when packing your gear. For some of the tail bags that don’t have a waterproof inner liner, we suggest you put your gear that must stay dry in a zip-lock plastic bag, just to be safe. Similar to hard saddlebags, hard tail bags (sometimes called top boxes) are generally lockable and tend to be weather tight. Mounting a top box requires some hardware. Many have a quick-release feature to allow it to be easily removable carry-on type luggage. For added convenience, some detach from the base plate and open the lid with a single key—the Givi Monolock E300 Tour Top Case, for example.

Givi Monokey B33

Givi Monokey B33 Top Case

Givi Monolock E30

Givi Monolock E30 Tour Top Case

Saddlemen HC2900 Hard Case Trunks

Saddlemen HC2900 Hard Case Trunks

Multi-Bag Tour Packs and Sissy Bar Bags

If you really want to expand your cargo space, you may want to consider a sissy bar bag or stackable luggage in a tour pack configuration. Typically this type of setup has a large primary box-shaped bag with an additional barrel-shaped bag on top, all of which are designed to be fastened together and attach to your sissy bar or back rest. There are even a few tour packs that consist of three separate luggage units. If you’d rather have a single semi-rigid unit, Kuryakyn has an interesting option in its GranTour Bag. Similarly, Tour Master’s Cruiser III Sissybar bag is a single unit that offers four size options.

MotoCentric Cruiser Pack and Roll Tail Bag Luggage Set

MotoCentric Cruiser Pack and Roll Tail Bags

Dowco Rally Pack Luggage Set

Dowco Rally Pack Luggage Set

Nelson-Rigg CTB-1050 Deluxe Tourer

Nelson-Rigg CTB-1050 Deluxe Tourer

Tank Bags

The next motorcycle luggage option to consider is a tank bag. The tank bag is usually a textile bag that attaches to the motorcycle tank area with strong magnets located inside flaps on either side of the bag, or straps that will secure it to the bike if it doesn’t have a steel tank. Tank bags usually feature a soft protective under layer to protect the finish on the tank, additional interior or exterior pockets, and a carrying handle so you can use it off the bike too. Not all tank bags will work with all tank configurations so be sure to look close at your bike and how the tank bag might or might not work with your setup. For example, some instrument panels are located on the top of the fuel tank on some cruisers, while other bikes have sculpted accents, plastic features or other stuff that needs to be taken into consideration. Many tank bags include a clear plastic pocket on the top to house GPS, cell phone or a map for quick reference. As with soft saddle bags, tank bags may not be water tight so pack sensitive gear accordingly.

Kuryakyn GranCruise Bag

Kuryakyn GranCruise Bag

Motocentric Mototrek 19 Tank Bag

Motocentric Mototrek 19 Tank Bag

Firstgear Laguna GPS Tank Bag with Backpack

Firstgear Laguna GPS Tank Bag

Bar Mount Bags

Handlebar, windshield and fork bags tend to be the smallest of the cargo options. For example, the semi-rigid Kuryakyn Custom Roll Bag can be mounted as a fork bag and is 8 inches in diameter, 19 inches long and can be expanded to 23 inches. Each manufacturer designs these items to work in most applications, but always check for any interference or limitations to steering head movement after installation to assure no problems with handling, air flow over your bike’s radiator, and so on. Other features and details to look for on all these options include reflective logos, piping or panels to increase visibility at night, high visibility (fluorescent or bright materials), heavy duty zipper closures, quick-detach features to allow you to take the luggage item along with you and hook and loop storm flaps and tabs to help assure flaps stay closed, even if a buckle is not fastened.

River Road Classic Handlebar Windshield Bag

River Road Classic Windshield Bag

Willie and Max Revolution Universal Handlebar Bag

Willie &Max Revolution Handlebar Bag

Kuryakyn Custom Roll Bag

Kuryakyn Custom Roll Bag

With so many luggage options that are adaptable to so many situations, you’ll never need to leave anything behind again. Just make sure to choose your motorcycle luggage wisely, make sure it has waterproof liners or covers and if not, take precautions with your valuable equipment. Other than that, we hope our Luggage Buyers Guide was helpful in making your decision easier.