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Motorcycle Luggage Buyer's Guide

Chaparral Motorsports
November 24, 2010
Last Updated: January 16, 2021
Motorcycle Luggage Buyer's Guide

Many riders choose to ride motorcycles over other vehicles because they believe it affords them a freedom that cars do not. Yet that freedom can ultimately be limited if a rider doesn't have the proper motorcycle accessories.

On longer journeys, for example, some bikers may run into the problem of storage space. Most bikes only have a few small compartments that are impractical for holding large quantities of gear. But a buyer who shops smart can purchase motorcycle luggage that will allow them to pack comfortably and increase their maximum riding distance.

There are many different types of motorcycle luggage that can be attached to nearly any part of the bike. Yet before a rider decides what type of bag they'd like, there are several important factors that they should consider.

First and foremost, a rider needs to determine what type of trip they plan on taking. Some commuters, for example, take a bag with them when they ride into work every day. Others may be gearing up for a cross-country haul, which would necessitate a very different type of luggage.

Another extremely important factor is weather. No rider likes being caught in the rain, but this situation can be disastrous if a rider's worldly possessions are exposed to the elements as well. Those planning trips need to factor in the forecast when determining which type of luggage they plan on using.

A third issue is balancing the bike. It goes without saying that adding several pounds of gear to the tail end of a bike is going to affect performance and balancing issues, especially on non-touring models. Even the way that a rider packs his or her bag will factor into how he is able to handle the motorcycle. An especially lopsided bag can be dangerous and severely impact the ride.

This is where ride weight comes into play. First, riders should weigh their luggage so that they know exactly how much they'll be putting on the bike. Then they should look up some specifications for their model from the manufacturer. All should list a "wet weight," the weight of the bike with a full tank of gas and all fluid topped up. There should also be a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Subtract the wet weight from the GVWR to find how much a rider can safely add to the biker.

Riders should also check the gross axle weight rating (GAWR). The GAWR reveals how much can safely be put onto one wheel of the bike. This is especially important for riders who plan on using tail bags or other back-mounted accessories. If a rider has changed their tire from the original manufacturer equipment (OEM), then they should consult the tire manufacturer about how it could affect the maximum weight allowance.

Weight will be the most important consideration that a rider needs to think about before selecting his luggage setup. Riders should note that all additional weight puts a strain on the bike. This can be especially exacerbated if the rider plans on taking a passenger along for the ride. If possible, passengers should take their own bike.

In terms of selecting a specific type of bag, there are several types that riders will encounter while shopping.

Hard saddlebags are the traditional storage method for traveling bikers, and most dedicated touring bikes will come with a pair standard. Most manufacturers offer OEM saddlebags on various other models as well.

The advantage of an OEM saddlebag is that it will be specifically designed to match the bike. This means that there will be no hassle in attaching it, and many dealerships will often do the work for a rider on purchase. In terms of styling, a matching OEM hard saddlebag is pretty much unparalleled, as the contours are curved to flow with the natural lines of the bike.

Going with the manufacturer's selection isn't the only option, however. Companies like GIVI offer their own hard saddlebags that can be mounted on a variety of models. Travelers should be aware that they'll likely need to purchase an installation kit in order to attach the accessories.

Hard saddlebags also come with the added advantage of protection in any type of weather. The downside is that they typically offer less space and are more expensive than their soft-shell counterparts. Riders may wish to purchase a soft bag that fits inside the hard saddlebag so that they can easily take their gear inside when they arrive at their destination without having to detach the saddlebag.

Soft bags are also an option. These lightweight pieces are far more versatile and can be attached in a variety of places other than simply the back. If a rider does plan on attaching their saddlebag on the back, they'll need to be sure that their bike is equipped with saddlebag supports, also known as stays. These are small attachments that prevent a soft bag from getting caught in the wheel or muffler.

Those planning shorter trips will likely stick with soft bags, as they're a bit easier to manage. However, riders who are simply looking for a commuter bag may want to consider a simple backpack. Cortech, for example, makes a number of backpacks that allow bikers to attach their motorcycle helmet as well. These bags will also easily fit over bulkier motorcycle jackets.

A nice compromise for those who can't decide between hard and soft bags are so-called "rigid" bags. These bags are made of a synthetic material, but don't lose their shape like a backpack does. If a rider has a sissy bar, many rigid bags can be attached directly to it. These bags can be quite stylish as well. Willie and Max makes a number of sissy bar bags with big buckles, studs and embroidered designs that are sure to mesh well with many riders' apparel choices.

When buying a sissy bar, tank or tail rigid bag, riders should check to see if its waterproof or comes with a waterproof bag cover. Nylon bags that are treated with polyurethane will hold up a bit better during a rainstorm. If the bag doesn't come with a rain cover, Chase Harper makes a waterproof rain sack that will fit a number of bags.

Finally, there are a number of smaller pouches that can be the perfect compliment to larger bags. Tool pouches and bags that can be attached to the handlebars or forks can be extremely useful while on-the-go. Whether it's storing a cell phone or tools that a rider can use for a quick tune-up, these small and inexpensive options are something no rider should be without.

There are many things to consider when buying motorcycle luggage, but riders shouldn't fret. With so many options to choose from, bikers can pick out the perfect accessories to make their trip that much easier. 

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