Luggage for motorbikes comes in two basic types - hard and soft.
Which you choose will depend as much on personal preferences as
on the type of bike you ride. But whatever you go for, don't overload
the bike. All luggage you fit will affect a bike's handling, and
the heavier and further away from the bike's centre of gravity
it is, the greater the effect. You can counteract this to some
extent by winding up the pre-load on the rear suspension and perhaps
stiffening the rear damping. Check the bike's handbook for any
advice from the manufacturer. When the bike's loaded up you'll
also find that it's more susceptible to cross winds and air turbulence
from other traffic. You may have to adjust you riding style, road
speed and positioning to counteract these effects.
Definitely the “Rolls Royce” option. Many consider
it makes a bike look like a delivery van, but few would argue
against its practicality. Modern systems are made out of impact-resistant
ABS plastics although one manufacturer uses aluminium, and are
completely waterproof (Check the rubber seal between the lid and
base before use, to make sure that it hasn't been damaged or has
started to rot - a light smear of Vaseline or similar can work
wonders here). The cases attach to mounting frames that have to
be fitted to the bike, but lock in place for added security when
parking up for a break or to go sight-seeing. At the end of a
day’s riding they unlock quickly and easily, so that you
can be showered, changed, and down in the bar while others are
still fighting the bungee cords and buckles on their soft luggage.
So if they're that good, why doesn’t everyone use them?
only available for certain bikes - the ones that are considered
by manufacturers to be “suitable” for touring.
They're expensive - a full set of panniers, top box, and the fitting
brackets is going to cost around £500-£600.
The mounting brackets require some basic engineering skills to
fit, but you could always pay your dealer to do this work for
Purists will say that all the brackets and boxes spoil the bike's
lines, although most systems these days are quite well styled.
Top boxes are notorious for causing wind turbulence problems that
affect a bike's handling. It's much reduced if you carry a pillion,
in which case you'll probably need the extra luggage space anyway
- and the pillion gets a backrest for free.
If you change your bike, you'll need to buy and fit a new set
of mounting brackets so you can re-use the cases - possibly.
At the end of the day, the decision on whether to use hard luggage
is a personal one, assuming that it’s available for your
bike. But if you’re planning on doing some serious touring,
then it’s an option worth considering.
There's one final benefit of hard luggage that none of the manufacturers
mention. If you're unlucky enough to drop the bike, then panniers
can prevent an awful lot of damage, both to the bodywork and the
bike's mechanical components. Surprisingly, they'll probably only
receive a few scuff marks or cracks at the worst, and a replacement
will cost a lot less than a new fairing panel and engine covers!
This is the universal solution to carting stuff around on your
bike. No matter what bike you’ve got, you should be able
to find something to fit it. Made from a heavyweight Cordura material,
usually with a plastic inner coating, there’s a variety
of equipment available from a number of manufacturers over a range
of prices. Generally speaking the more expensive the item, the
better will be its build quality and the versatility of its fittings.
However, it’s always a good idea to take the bike with you
when making a purchase, just to make sure that it will fit properly
and not mask any of the controls. This is especially so for sportsbikes
with high level exhausts. If you’re using throwover panniers
they must have plenty of clearance on the silencer(s), otherwise
you could end up with a melted and burnt pair of jeans!
Although some soft luggage claims to be waterproof, most isn’t
and will only keep the contents dry in a brief, light shower.
Therefore unless you want to turn up in the bar at the end of
the day looking as though you’ve just taken a shower with
your clothes on, err on the side of caution and pack everything
in waterproof bags before stowing them in the luggage. Heavy-duty
plastic bin liners are ideal for this purpose. It’s also
a good idea to use a separate bag for each type of item that you’re
taking; T-shirts in one bag, underwear in another etc., and label
them accordingly. This way you don’t have to unpack everything
just to find a clean pair of socks.
There are three basic types of soft luggage; tank bags, pannier
systems and tail packs.
by most people to be absolutely essential for touring. It should
have a clear pocket on top for route instructions, notes, maps,
etc., but if you’re riding two-up and have a means of communicating
with your pillion, you might want to think about using a back-mounted
map pocket, and let them do the navigating. Even if you’ve
got hard luggage on the bike, you’ll still find a tank bag
useful. Most use magnets to attach the bag to the metal fuel tank,
with an auxiliary strap that can be secured around the headstock.
On most faired bikes, the magnets alone will hold the bag firmly
in place at highly illegal speeds, but on un-faired bikes you’ll
need the strap as well to stop the bag hitting you in the chest
at 90mph before disappearing down the road behind you! You might
also want to consider putting a soft cloth or sheet of thin plastic
over the tank to prevent the bag scratching the paintwork. If
your bike has a plastic tank, then magnets are no good and you’ll
need a tank bag with a strap system to hold it in place. The French
company Baglux do custom tank covers with clips to attach a variety
of different shapes and sizes of bag. You can even have the whole
lot colour-coded to match the bike’s paintwork. Some bike
manufacturers who use plastic fuel tanks (BMW, Triumph) produce
their own tank bag systems. Talk to your dealer to find out what’s
available. You should also check the height of the bag when you’re
sitting on the bike. Tourers have a more upright riding position
and can accommodate a taller tank bag without obscuring the instruments
or the road ahead. Sportsbikes by contrast, position the rider
over the tank, and if the bag’s too tall you may end up
with the chin bar of your helmet resting on the top of the bag.
If you’ve ever seen a rider peering over the top of a fully
expanded tank bag on a 996 then you’ll know what I mean.
fit over, under, or around the pillon seat of the bike, with a
bag hanging down either side. They’re held in place with
a mixture of Velcro strips, plastic clips, and bungee cords, and
offer a wide range of adjustment so that they’ll fit almost
any bike. There’s one system that has a harness that you
can leave on the bike, and then clip the bags to it when you want
to carry luggage.
Make sure that whatever system you choose fits your bike properly
before parting with your money, or alternatively have the guarantee
of a full refund if there’s a fitting problem.
Check the following:
They mustn’t foul any part of the rear suspension at any
point in its travel.
They don’t flap around in the breeze
They can’t be pulled off the bike in any direction, as you
don’t want them disappearing down the road behind you. Be
particularly brutal when checking this, but get a friend to hold
on to the bike while you’re doing it!
They shouldn't obscure the pillion pegs or make it impossible
to carry a passenger. You may be going solo on this trip, but
next time it may be different!
There should be at least one inch (25mm) of clear air between
the panniers and any part of the exhaust system when stuffed full
(most bags also have a heat reflective layer built into the lower
Different pannier systems have different capacities, but don’t
go straight for the biggest just on the grounds that it will give
you more space. To make it fit properly and stay in place securely,
soft luggage has to be filled. So if you’re using it on
a short trip, do you really want to have to fill half of it with
newspaper or bits of foam rubber? Some systems offer a variable
capacity by using zip-out expansion sections, so are worth considering.
And don’t forget to protect any areas of the bike’s
bodywork that might be rubbed by the throwovers. A couple of strips
of gaffer tape on the body panels can work wonders here.
used to be small bags that could be bungeed onto the pillion seat
or a rack, and were more suitable for weekend breaks. However,
a number of manufacturers are now producing packs with capacities
of around 60-100L, which is enough to keep most people supplied
with life’s essentials for a two-week trip. They come in
a variety of designs from tubular sacks to things that look like
expanding holdalls, with one type using a rack system that can
carry one or two bags that zip together. Most of them use the
pillion seat for the main support, which only makes them suitable
for solo riders. However, some can be attached to a rack behind
the seat, freeing up the pillion space, but you’ll need
to make sure that you don’t overload the rack and its mountings.
Whatever luggage system you end up using, have a great