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Common Tread

The best motorcycle tank bags

Apr 22, 2020

If you’re looking to add some additional storage to your ride, a tank bag is a great place to start. We’ve chosen a few of our favorite options based on reviews from our loyal customers, miles logged by our team utilizing these bags, and years of expertise.

When you're researching the internets for a new tank bag, you’ll find a sea of options, which makes it harder to choose the right one for your needs. With that said, tank bags are generally pretty basic when you boil them down and chances are you probably won’t make the wrong decision when you finally scoop something up. But there is a chance that you could have made a better decision. So let’s try to avoid that by starting with the basics and things you should consider.    

Things to look for when choosing a tank bag

Mounting system

Tank bags attach to your motorcycle using straps, magnets, or bike-specific tank rings. Each system has its pros and cons.

If you’re using your tank bag on a few different bikes, straps mounts are generally the most universal and the most economical option. There are two kinds: straps that attach to your motorcycle and snap to the bag, or straps that attach a base that stays on your tank and the bag itself zips to the base. A magnetic bag attaches easily with no straps, but — it may sound obvious — you have to have a metal tank. The third option, bike-specific tank rings are easy to install and typically utilize a quick-release system so mounting and removing the bag is a breeze. The ring itself bolts to the gas cap on the motorcycle's tank and the tank bag snaps into the ring. It not only makes for a solid mounting connection, but it also keeps the bag from actually contacting the tank, so it helps you avoid scratching the tank when mounting and removing the tank bags.

Bike Specific Tank Ring
Tank bags that utilize a bike-specific tank ring may generally cost a few extra bucks, they are very secure and easy to mount. SW-MOTECH photo.

You'll have to purchase multiple mounting rings if you’re planning to transfer your bag to different bikes because the mounting rings are generally bike-specific and are sold separately from the bag. Make sure you’re selecting the appropriate bike when purchasing the mounting ring.

Refueling

One of the inconveniences I’ve experienced when utilizing tank bags is simply the need to remove the bag to fill up my gas tank. Quick-release tank bags mounted on a tank ring are very simple to remove and re-mount. Magnetic tank bags are often just as easy to pop on and off, but they’re still not quite the same as the quick-release systems.

Refueling your tank is easy with the Giant Loop Strap Mounted Bags
I like this design from Giant Loop a lot. You can simply unzip the base, the bag folds away, and you can easily refuel your bike while the straps stay in place. Photo by Brandon W.

Strap-mounted tank bags can be a bit cumbersome to remove for refueling. If you’re going to use a strap-mounted tank bag, I’d recommend one that utilizes quick- release straps so the base stays on the bike while the bag can be unbuckled for removal.   

Don’t scratch my tank!

Make sure your tank bag isn’t going to ruin your bike's paint job. If the bag you're hoping to pick up does not have some type of protective coating or a soft anti-scratch material on the bottom, you can always scoop up some protective vinyl film for your tank. I’ve also seen riders use the soft rubber mesh you can get to line shelves in your kitchen cabinet and put that between the tank bag and the tank. Be sure the tank and bag are clean, as any grit between the two can cause scratches.

If you have a magnetic bag, make sure the magnets haven't attracted any metal debris or grit before you put it on the tank. If you have a strap-mount bag, make sure it stays tight. If it moves around, it's more likely to cause scratches.

Waterproofing

If your bag is not completely waterproof, more often than not, it will include a rain cover. If not, consider finding another way to waterproof your items, especially if you're putting down some serious miles or ride in Seattle.

Giant Loop Includes An Inner Waterproof Bag To Keep Your Belongings Dry
The Giant Loop Diablo has a waterproof inner bag. It's secured via velcro and you can easily remove it to carry your belongings while leaving the bag on the bike. Photo by Brandon W.

Map or cell phone pocket

I’m not sure many riders are still using paper maps these days, but having a map pocket is a nice addition, especially for adventure riders riding beyond the reach of cell service.

Map And Cell Phone Pockets Are Not A Necessity But They're Certainly Nice To Have
Touchscreen cell phone pockets are not a necessity but they are certainly nice to have. Photo by Brandon W.

Having a cell phone holder with a viewable window is very valuable. It protects your phone from inclement weather and it allows you to view your Google Maps while you're riding and can provide a more protective alternative to mounting a cell phone holder on your handlebar.

Three tank bag options for general use

If you’re looking for a few great “all around” options, Cortech, Givi, and Giant loop have a few of my favorites.They have a good range of products within their line but there are a few that stand out and that I recommend to my riding buddies all the time. 

The Cortech Super 2.0 18-Liter Magnetic Tank Bag is an easy favorite among the team here at the ZLA headquarters. With a 1680 Denier Ballistic Polyester and 1800 Denier three-lined twill Jacquard construction, the Super 2.0 was built to last. The main compartment is expandable to provide greater storage when it’s needed while keeping the bag low-profile when it’s not. The Super 2.0 tank bag also features a removable and replaceable snapped map pocket, a protective non-slip, non-scratch diamond-pattern mounting base, and a stowaway rain cover. 

The Cortech Super 2.0 18 Liter Tank Bag is also available in a strap-mounted version for riders hoping to utilize this tank bag on a non-metal tank. You’ll also find quite a few other options within Cortech’s line, most of which are well suited for sport and touring riders.

The Givi EA123 Easy-T 5L Tank Bag may be small but it’s mighty. With a five-liter capacity, the Easy-T is perfect for those day trip essentials such as your wallet, phone, keys, or perhaps a rain jacket. It’s constructed of 600 denier polyurethane and it includes both a rain cover and shoulder strap.

With its low-profile design, it’s incredibly universal. The bag eliminates the need for straps and magnets for mounting, as it simply utilizes an Easylock fitting system. Of course that means you have to buy the Givi bike-specific flange that is sold separately, but this system makes the installation and removal of the bag incredibly easy.

The Giant Loop Fandango Tank Bag Pro fits virtually any motorcycle, including dirt, dual-sport, adventure and sport machines with metallic or non-metallic tanks.

Giant Loop Tank Bag
The Giant Loop Diablo Tank Bag Pro is about half the size of the Fandango. It's perfect for those day trips and it's very universal. Photo by Brandon W.

It includes a waterproof cover, rubber electronics port, and an easy-access clear vinyl map pocket. You'll also find a zipper at the base of the bag which allows you easy access to the fuel tank without entirely removing the bag. This is one of my favorite features of this bag because refueling your bike is quick and easy. 

Tank bags for adventure bikes

For the adventure seekers out there, I would take a closer look at the Nelson Rigg Trails End Adventure Tank Bag, Giant Loop Diablo Tank Bag Pro, and there’s a few excellent options from Wolfman.

Nelson Rigg Adventure Bags Are A Great Option For All Your Motorcycle Adventures
The Nelson Rigg Trails End Adventure Tank Bag has a V-shaped base to accommodate off-road, dual-sport and adventure motorcycles. Photo by Brandon W.

The Trails End and the Diablo tank bags are both great options for those larger ADV bikes. You’ll find a nice contoured shape to better accommodate ADV-style tanks and they’re both strap-mounted. In addition to the versatility of a strap-mounted bag, I find that every time I ride in the dirt I drop my bike at least once. The strap-mounted bags will "give" a little in a crash while the hard mount of a tank-ring-mounted bag could break. With that said, if you’re crashing to the point where your tank bag is getting destroyed, you’ve probably got bigger problems.

The Wolfman tank bags are waterproof and they’re perfect for smaller Dual sport or enduro style dirt bikes. I have an enduro bike for a reason. It’s lightweight and super nimble out in the trails. But, I like taking trips to Moab Utah to visit my folks and ride some different terrain. For that riding application and the vastness of the landscape, I always carry extra tubes, tools, water, etc but I don’t want my bike to feel loaded down with too much stuff. A simple riding backpack and the Wolfman Enduro Bag is all I need for those daily rides out on the trail.  

Tank bags for modern retros, classics and V-twins

Modern retro-style motorcycles and V-twin’s usually have tanks with a pretty neutral shape that accommodates many tank bags so you shouldn’t have too much of a challenge finding one that suits your needs. I don’t typically see the V-twin crowd utilizing tank bags, however, as most prefer sissy bar or saddlebags to add some additional storage.

If you’re on a modern retro-styled bike, the SW-MOTECH Legend Gear LT1 Tank Bag is an excellent option with a style that will fit in with your ride.

Tank bags for sport and touring motorcycles

My first bike was a 1997 Suzuki GS500E. I had it for less than a year and made a (at the time) questionable decision of purchasing a 2000 Kawasaki ZRX1100. More power! I picked up the ZRX because I wanted to do some longer trips but I wanted something on the sporty side so I could have some fun riding in the mountains of North Carolina. The ZRX seemed like the perfect match and it was.

I rode up and down the east coast and used a variety of tank bags, saddlebags, bungie cords, cargo nets and other means to carry stuff. I was always trying something different to find out what worked best. In the years since, I’ve been fortunate enough to ride and test a few different bags from Cortech, Nelson Rigg, and Oxford and those three brands are easily my favorites. For sport and sport-touring, I’d check out the Journey Series from Nelson Rigg, which offers a variety of strap-mounted and magnetic bags in various sizes.

If you want a bag with a quick-release system, the Oxford Q4R Quick Release Tank Bag is super slick and easy to use. Oxford has bike-specific mounting rings that work for about 85 percent of the bikes on the market. If you’ve got a Japanese bike, you’re pretty much set.

Magnetic Tank Bags Work Well On Metal Tanks, Go Figure!
Magnetic tank bags are easy to take on and off but just make sure you have a metal tank before you purchase one. I definitely never bought a magnetic tank bag for an R6 with a plastic tank... Oxford photo.

You can also find strap and magnetic mounted bags within the Oxford line up but I’d recommend checking out the quick release system if you're on a sport or sport touring style bike. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Tank bags

Can I use my tank bag on my rear seat?

While tank bags are of course designed to go on the tank, if you have the appropriate straps or a few cargo nets lying around, it’s pretty easy to get double duty out of a tank bag. If you’re utilizing a magnetic tank bag that does not come with any additional straps, you’ll need to find a way to secure it to the tail, which may prove to be challenging. A cargo net is probably your best bet. Unless there’s some reason you need to use the same piece of luggage both on the tank and on the tail, you’re better off picking up a tail bag for use on the passenger seat as they simply work better for that location of the bike.

Can I use my phone through the clear pocket on the tank bag?

If you don’t have gloves on and your cell phone is pressed against the surface of the clear pocket, sometimes you can use your phone without removing it from the aforementioned pocket. However, with gloves on, even with touchscreen friendly gloves, it’s very rare that you would get that to work. I think the clear pocket is better served as a place to observe your phone if you ever need to. Most riders use it for GPS navigation if they do not have a phone mount in place on their handlebars.

How do I know what size to get?

This isn’t super tough but you’ll have to do a little homework on your end. Generally, the dimensions of tank bags are listed. I’d recommend mocking up those dimensions with some cardboard and walking out to your bike to get a general idea of the size. This should in turn give you a better idea of what the bag can actually hold and you can get a general sense of what size you’ll need, based on what you plan to bring along. Giving liter capacities is great but it doesn’t always translate well to general items you’d want on your bike. The mock-up cardboard trick usually gets the job done. Also, as I mentioned before in this article, try to pay attention to the shape of the bag and the contour of your motorcycle's tank. Tank bags are very universal but if you can easily match the contour of the bag with the tank of your bike, it’s simply going to fit better. 

Conclusion

We all ride a variety of different machines and utilize them for different purposes. Understanding what you’re planning to use your tank bag for most and which bike it’s getting tossed on are the first steps to narrowing your choices.

You may not need or care to have all the “Things to look for” when it comes to your tank bag. At the very least, make sure your tank bag has a waterproof cover, make sure you have a metal tank if you're using a magnetic tank bag, and have an idea of what you’re hoping to carry with you to ensure the size will accommodate your needs.

There’s tons of options available and none of them are necessarily wrong. Hopefully with the information provided you’ll have a better idea of what to look for and what's going to work best for your journey on two wheels.