For as long as there have been motorcycles, there has been the challenge of carting our stuff around on them. Bikes are freedom, we’re quick to tell our car-encumbered brethren, but we go a bit quiet when talk turns to a long weekend away toting luxuries such as, oh, a change of clothes and perhaps a nice bottle of red.
Okay, we go a bit quiet unless we ride a dedicated tourer with hard panniers and a top box the size of Brussels. Or maybe an ADV bike, similarly outfitted but with more of a Bear Grylls aesthetic. (“Yeah it’s designed to carry luggage, but its primary function is to be extreme!”) The good news is that even if you don’t fall into either of these categories, there are plenty of luggage choices for those of us whose bikes weren’t necessarily designed with any inbuilt capacity to be luggage mules.
Wearable options – luggage for riders in denial?
For toothbrush travellers and those who simply won’t sully their sports bike by touching it with anything less than carbon fibre and kisses, the luggage burden can be borne in backpacks and bumbags. Motorcycling bumbags (sorry, ‘waist bag’ or ‘tool pack’, you choose) are actually a brilliant idea, especially for riders who wear gear such as one-piece leathers that aren’t blessed with practicalities such as pockets. The problem of toting wallets, phones and sunglasses is solved in a handy, streamlined way that scarcely imposes on the race aesthetic. Doesn’t make taking a whizz while wearing one-piece leathers any easier, mind.
Backpacks? Great for short trips, great for some riders on long trips. Moto-dedicated backpacks are about as comfortable and practical on the bike as a backpack could be, but even so, I tire of even lightish loads on my back after an hour or two. That said, I have mates who’ll happily wear one on long interstate rides. Or at least they did, before bloody Covid. And if you can hack a backpack on the bike for a big ride, of course it’ll also do double duty on commuter rides or, and I say this with sorrow, catching the bus. At least if you’re lugging something with moto branding like Alpinestars or Dainese, you’ll look cooler than the average public transport drone. Meanwhile, don’t overlook the utterly brilliant backpacks made by Kriega. Lifetime quality for sure.
Tank bags and tail packs – luggage at entry level
If, like me, your limit for wearing a backpack on the bike chimes in after only an hour or two, it might be time to look at a tank bag or tail pack. There are lots of options here, from lunchbox-sized jobbies handy for toting a light lunch or a DSLR, to big muthas that’ll swallow a collection of kit that’ll get you sorted for a cheeky overnighter.
Most tail packs attach to the bike with a simple system of straps and buckles that loop under the pillion seat or grab rails. Tank bags often stay put thanks to a system of straps, or magnets, or both. Happily, the piss weak magnets that were par for the course on bygone designs have made way for modern, super strong magnets. These work a treat to securely hold your tank bag in place even at high speed, or to remind you that you’re an idiot and that there’s not a magnet on earth that’ll stick to a plastic tank. Maybe something worth checking with a fridge magnet before you go shopping.
If you go big in your choice of either tank bag or tail pack, don’t be tempted to overstuff them with heavy items. Some overloaded tail packs have a tendency to flop about, and a tank bag jam packed with junk can get in the way of your riding, and make you look like you’re trying to hump a black nylon wombat.
Soft throwover pannier bags
Essentially two pannier bags that can be joined by straps and secured above and/or below the pillion seat, and usually at other points as well. These babies can be a great choice for those of us who favour sports bikes, but find ourselves taking reasonably regular weekends away on the bike. Throwovers often expand using a system of zips, and they can swallow a surprising amount of gear. Just bear in mind that the more you stuff into them, the wider they get, and if you forget this and cock up your lane splitting, the result might be a scratch down the side of a nice new Mercedes. Allegedly.
Apart from this, when you choose soft throwover panniers, make sure that what you choose has handy features like outer pockets that allow you to access small items without having to unzip the whole bag. Also be aware of your bike’s bodywork and exhaust placement. Exercising a bit of care can help you avoid scratched or rubbed plastics, and the joy of melted panniers, too.
It’s time for the rack!
Makers such as Ventura have been doing racks for bikes for a very long time, and they are very good at it. Unobtrusive, they bolt to existing points on dozens of bike models and provide a secure platform for a mind-boggling selection of boxes and bags. The bags are generally designed to be easily lugged about when off the bike, and the most obvious parts of the rack itself are usually made to be easily removed when you’re not using them, preserving the lines of your sports bike, cruiser, naked or whatever you get around on.
Of all the non-permanent luggage options available, these systems probably look the least like a compromise. The racks are proven performers and the luggage is built to last. Just avoid the temptation to squeeze a carton of beer and half a dozen kettle bells into your bag, as lots of weight carried up high will make your bike handle like a hippo on stilts.
It’s a good question that far too often comes to mind only when it starts pissing down. Most luggage choices by quality brands these days will either state their level of waterproofness (that’s a word, I checked) or include some type of rain covers. And while these are handy, be sure to fit them carefully so as to avoid an errant rain cover disappearing down the road behind you, looking for all the world like Big Bird’s lost shower cap.
If you are after options that will really, truly hold up to a British Standard Extended Deluge, the tail bag system by Kriega is a damn fine choice, or you might choose to strap down any of the waterproof, roll-top bags available.
You want to carry what now?
You can never have too much fuel or booze. I think it was Keith Richards who said that. So yes, fuel bottle bags are available for those who seek extended range. Likewise, there are now also insulated bike bags suitable for toting ice and a selection of chilled refreshments. Sounds very civilised, and possibly settles once and for all the ‘bottles or cans?’ argument. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to dive my hand into an icy pack in search of a cold stubby if the last few kays of the ride had been a bit on the rough side. Ouch.
In summary – go forth!
There’s nothing that resets the ol’ happy face better than time spent out enjoying a good ride, visiting new places, meeting people and maybe even sampling a pub or two. So let’s raise a toast to the miracle of modern motorcycle luggage. It might sound as boring as batshit, but compared to the strappy catastrophes of biking days gone by, it makes the job easier and the exploring a lot less hassle. So stay safe, load up and enjoy the ride!