Whether you’re headed just down the block or across the country, there are times you need more than the stuff in your pockets and the clothes on your back. Making the most of the limited real estate on a motorcycle is the name of the game, and choosing the right motorcycle luggage solution for you and your bike is the key.
Starting at the very beginning of your luggage search considerations, you can either strap luggage to your bike, or you can wear it on your body as you ride. Take stock of specifically what you may need to carry, use the bike finder to figure out what luggage solutions are available for your specific motorcycle, and check out the following motorcycle luggage buying guidelines to get a good feel for what options might be right for you.
Backpacks - The simplest storage solution is still in many ways the best. For a lot of solo riders and commuters, motorcycle backpacks are the most practical, cost effective way to carry your personal effects from A to B.
With nothing to mount to your bike and nothing to remove upon arrival, the backpack is arguably the easiest way to carry cargo on a motorcycle. If you’ve ever ridden with a typical school bag, however, or even tried to put one on while wearing a leather jacket, you know it can be a pain in the back - quite literally.
If you have not yet ridden with a motorcycle backpack specifically designed for the application, you don’t know what you’re missing. With a proper weight-distributing harness, adjusted to fit your chest, you will be shocked how incredibly lightweight and comfortable a loaded pack can feel in the riding position.
Many motorcycle specific backpacks are designed, also, with aerodynamics in mind for excellent stability at speed. If you are looking to carry your computer or other expensive electronics, consider a waterproof motorcycle backpack with a padded laptop sleeve for complete device protection and peace of mind.
Messenger Bags - When you ride to the office, transitioning quickly from riding mode to work mode is crucial. A motorcycle messenger bag gives you riding ergonomics and a professional look that can take you seamlessly into any 21st century office.
With personal computers being the most prevalent tool of the trade these days for anyone working in an office environment, motorcycle messenger bags pay heed to laptop storage as a primary design concern.
Some manufacturers even integrate roll top dry bag designs into their messenger style bags to offer 100% reliable dustproof and waterproof laptop storage. If you need to balance riding performance on the bike with professional aesthetics once you put the stand down, a motorcycle messenger bag is your best bet.
Waist Packs / Leg Bags - If you need to keep your wallet, phone and ID card close at hand, you want a small pack that won’t get in your way. Waist packs and Leg Bags are comfortable, accessible solutions for carrying the essentials you need frequently.
Modern motorcycle waist packs are a far cry from the “fanny packs” that may come to mind when you think waist pack - you know, the ones you’ve seen adorning the hips of Disneyland tourists in the nineties. Motorcycle waist packs a whole different animal.
Especially popular in the European market, hip bags (or “bum bags” as they call them across the pond), present a highly functional luggage solution for smaller payloads. With some of the more rugged dual sport options approaching 10 liters in capacity (designed to hold a bunch of trailside tools and then some) it quickly becomes apparent how effective it can be to carry weight at the beltline, directly at your center of gravity.
Leg bags work in much the same way - if you’ve ever been annoyed by the feeling of your wallet or worried about losing your phone out of your pocket while riding, imagine having a secure, external pocket that is easier to access yet safer than a jeans pocket. It’s like a quick draw holster for your cash, ID card, EZ pass or whatever you need most often.
Gear Bags - Imagine showing up at the track and realizing you only brought one of your boots! Reliably hauling all your gear is made immeasurably easier by a solid gear bag. Keep everything together in an easy to move package - and know where it all is.
There are some duffel style gear bags out there for the He-Man, but most large gear bags are equipped with nice quality bearings and large rollerblade style wheels so you can save your strength for the track.
There are off-road specific bags with handy features like fleece-lined goggle storage and separators or bags for dirty boots. Gear bags designed for the road track typically will have a specially padded area to protect your helmet, usually one of the more costly and easily scratched pieces of your kit.
Whether you ride track days on your sport bike, race motocross or enduros, having a high quality gear bag will make your life easier and keep your toy hauler from looking like a yard sale.
Luggage Racks - While universal fit luggage works very well, it’s hard to beat a luggage system designed for your motorcycle. Finding out what luggage racks, saddlebag supports and tank rings are made to fit your bike is the best place to start when choosing luggage.
Using RevZilla’s bike finder and search filtering, it is easy to zero-in on what luggage products are designed as “exact-fit” parts for your motorcycle. This will give you a good idea what is out there that you can bolt right up to your make and model and is sure to work well.
Sometimes even to run a universal luggage setup like a set of throw over saddlebags, there is a bike specific part of the equation. Yes, there are hinged universal saddlebag supports that fit a bunch of bikes, but the best setup is to find model specific saddlebag supports to keep your throw-over bags out of your drivetrain, suspension and rear wheel.
On the adventure side, there are many options for side case supports and pannier racks to mount both hard and soft panniers, some with quick releases just for the panniers, and others where the entire racks can be quickly and easily removed when convenient. The same rules tend to apply for top case support racks and plates.
If you start from the bike and work your way out to the luggage and use the bike finder, that should put you on the right track. Luggage systems can get especially complicated, so do not hesitate to reach out to a Gear Geek over the phone or by email to make sure your setup is going to play nice with your bike and any aftermarket parts you may have installed.
Tank Bags - Tank bags are ideal for easy accessibility and integration with maps or devices. Even if you don’t have a metal tank for a magnetic tank bag, there is bound to be a strap style or quick release tank bag that will work well with your motorcycle.
One of the more recent innovations in motorcycle tank bag tech is the quick release tank ring. These bags mount to a ring (sort of like a tiny 5th wheel) around your gas cap and allow for quick release action when you need to fuel up or remove the bag from the bike entirely. This can be a more elegant solution than straps for those motorcycles that do not have steel tanks for a magnetic tank bag to cling to.
Some of these rings can even be tapped easily into your motorcycle’s charging system, providing a slick contact connection to device charging ports inside the bag without a mess of wires.
Tank bags are a great solution for the technophile - if you have a GPS, smartphone, or tablet you want to integrate with your motorcycle navigation setup, there are tank bags that place them front and center. Riders on motorcycles that have a tall seat height will also find tank bags much more friendly than tail bags, which can sometimes make throwing a leg over awkward.
Tail Bags - Tail bags are perfect if you’re the type of rider who feels constrained by a backpack or tank bag all up in your business. They work especially well on sportbike pillions where an aggressive riding position doesn’t allow much space for a tank bag.
Tail bags range in application from sleek cowl or pillion mounted sportbike day bags to rack mounted ADV bags, as well as slim cruiser-style sissy bar bags and mammoth touring bags that may sit on the Tour Pak rack or even pillion seat of a Goldwing or Harley touring bike in place of a passenger.
A tail bag may be right for you if you want to be able to easily load your bike up and strip it down and so don’t want to permanently mount any luggage. If you aren’t a fan of backpacks and wouldn’t dare risk scratching your tank paint to run a tank bag, a pack mounted on the rear seat of the bike or a luggage rack behind it ideal.
Soft Saddlebags - Saddlebags predate motorcycles themselves. Traditional leather or vinyl saddlebags give a timeless look to any modern classic, but there are also sleek, contemporary soft and semi-soft saddlebags available for modern bikes.
From the wild west cowboys to the iron horses of today, saddlebags are the most iconic piece of luggage money can buy. Although leather is still available, most modern saddlebags, like seats, are now made of a marine grade vinyl or other synthetic for years of durability in the sun and rain.
Soft saddlebags are usually the best option for a balance of form and function. If you are riding a scrambler, a cruiser, or a modern classic, there is a set of saddlebags that will flow with the lines and of the bike and only enhance your vintage aesthetic.
As with any luggage, it is recommended that you use the bike finder to find a suitable set of saddlebag support brackets before shopping for soft saddlebags, to avoid any potentially dangerous situations with straps or bags themselves interfering with moving parts and safe operation of the motorcycle.
Hard Cases - Hard shell top boxes and side panniers offer the the ultimate in convenience and capacity. Whether your bike lends itself to a Tour-Pak style trunk and hard bags or ADV aluminum top box and side cases, hard luggage is the top of the heap for touring.
Made of plastic, fiberglass or aluminum, hard luggage has been the most luxurious appointment a touring motorcycle could wish for since early post war BMW’s, Harley-Davidsons, and Moto-Guzzis ruled the road. After all, long haul bikes look their best when “fully-dressed” for the occasion.
You may be looking at hard luggage for a few different reasons. Perhaps you bought a Harley that didn’t come equipped from the factory and you want that bagger setup. Or maybe you are on a scooter and you need a lockable trunk to stash your helmet when you park or to carry groceries from the market.
Or maybe you’ve got yourself a sweet ADV machine, a KTM Adventure or a BMW GSA, that is just begging for the full shiny aluminum panniers and top box setup for the ultimate utilitarian ruggedness that will multiply your chest hairs exponentially upon installation.
In any case (see what we did there?), you’re going to need some bike-specific mounting racks and hardware, you may need a lock and cylinder set to get your cases all keyed together and you need the cases themselves. Use the bike finder to get it narrowed down to the components that are made just for your bike, and do not hesitate to reach out to a Gear Geek over the phone or via email to get some recommendations for your ride. Enjoy the Adventure, my friend.
Dry Bags - If you want to be ready for whatever manner of mother-nature’n’ mayhem the adventure may throw at you, you’re going to need waterproof luggage. Soft dry bags are the most effective, utilitarian solution to keep weather out of your business.
With reliable roll top closures and durable, flexible taped or welded seam construction, dry bags are the creme de la creme of soft luggage solutions. Some dry bag designs are integrated into backpacks, messenger bags and even waist pack tool rolls - but the majority are designed as modular units.
The advantages or modular luggage systems are limited only by your own creativity, and really are endlessly customizable for your particular bike and luggage needs. They can be piggybacked onto one another, mounted on the plastic number plates on a dual sport or enduro bike, and they can sit on a rear fender, pillion seat or cowl just like a tail pack.
Cargo Nets / Straps - Are you prepared for unexpected cargo? If you head out bundled up in the morning only to peel off layers as the day warms up, or go out for a ride and come across that sweet deal you can’t pass up, you need to have a way to get your stuff home.
Elastic bungee nets and adjustable cam lock luggage straps are compact enough to keep in a jacket pocket, fork bag, or even OEM underseat storage area / tool kit compartment. If you don’t already carry something sort of tie down mechanism with you, start now - it will pay for itself the very first time it gets you out of a jam.
Easily secure all varieties of miscellaneous cargo from a spare passenger helmet (you never know where you might meet that special someone) to a six pack of that new craft beer you just found. Straps, bungees and nets are versatile enough to strap to your seat, other luggage, passenger grab rails, a sissy bar or luggage rack. Never again find yourself trying to stuff something awkwardly down your jacket and just hoping it doesn’t fall out on the way home. That’s right, I’m looking at you.
Organizers / Liners - So you’ve got some sweet aftermarket panniers or OEM hard saddlebags and trunk - now what do you do with all the crap you threw in there when you get to the camp-site or hotel? Remain calm and proceed to saddlebag liner and organizer serenity.
Having a set of full size soft luggage liners with convenient carrying straps and handles inside the hard shell of your luggage gives you the protection of hard luggage and the convenience of throw over saddlebags. You can pull out all the contents conveniently in one shot and easily carry them inside your destination, without having to worry about security of items left behind.
Saddlebag and Tour Pak liners are available for most common OEM hard saddlebags and rear trunks, as well as aftermarket panniers and top cases. You can also outfit your hard luggage with copious handy organizer pouches or cargo nets to divide up the main compartment or make use of the dead space on the underside of the lid to stash smaller items out of the way.
Auxiliary Lighting - If you’re adding aftermarket luggage to the business end of your bike, you might as well take advantage its larger rear-facing footprint. Add some auxiliary lighting and make use of your larger presence on the road to be seen - safety for miles.
Marker lights, 3rd brake light, or integrated running, brake lights and turn signals can be added to most aftermarket luggage. Super bright, low draw modern LED technology allows for more lighting than ever used to be possible on stock motorcycle charging systems.
Not only is is safer, but integrated lighting also lends an additional “factory” look to aftermarket luggage to make blend more seamlessly into the design of the bike. For the full effect, get more area with LED saddlebag lights, top case lights, and an LED brake light modulator / flasher to really get that distracted driver’s attention!