How to survive the many options of motorcycle luggage

What is the best luggage you can buy for a motorcycle? There is no single answer to that question. It depends on what you want to carry? Where are you going and for how long? Are you camping or staying in accommodation? Many factors apply when considering not only what suits you but what suits the trip.

There are a lot of options out there and many manufacturers and retailers are after your cash. All I can tell you is my experience and opinion. Do your research and look at what others are doing. Do this and you might get away without making a few mistakes. It may be that you end up with multiple luggage configurations as is the case with myself.

Starting small

My first trip that I considered a tour was a week-long excursion to the west coast of Scotland on the BMW S1000RR. I’d been day-tripping in a one-piece leather suit prior to this. I was carrying just the essentials such as my phone and wallet. Having survived the eighties, I had just about got away with wearing a bumbag back then. I didn’t feel that I could get away with one now and I didn’t want the ridicule of others. The best solution was the small Motorrad tank bag.

That was great for short trips but now I had to consider what I’d need for a week. It’s amazing how creative and ruthless you have to be when packing in a limited space. The space I had was a Motorrad tail bag. We really are talking about turning your underwear inside out to maximise longevity and wearing socks until they are no longer inanimate when removed. But we are not talking about packing now, we are talking about luggage.

Adding capacity but be efficient

I know people have crossed continents and completed around-the-world trips on a superbike. Goodwill to them but that’s not me. Regardless of my personal preference for a bit of comfort, I fear my body isn’t up for it and without doubt bits would be falling off. I bought the BMW R1200GS and with it more options. Lots of options. I now had a full set of Vario cases to play with.

It is without a doubt that you can become lazy and end up carrying more than you need. You fall into the mindset that the thing you have just packed might be useful, besides you have space. I try to use the simple rule of thumb. If you packed it and never used it on a trip, did you even need it? Now, this doesn’t apply to everything. I’m more than happy to always carry my first aid kit and return home with it unused. The key is working out which items are the must-carry essentials, usually the emergency items. These items can also change depending on the location. I wouldn’t carry a GPS communicator if I was travelling somewhere where I was guaranteed a 5G signal and a Starbucks on every corner.

Don’t max out, keep some reserve space

My trips tend to be two weeks being the maximum I can escape work without someone realising I’m not there. I could comfortably get away with just the Vario cases but I find that I prefer not to cram everything in to bursting point. It’s always good to have some room to throw in a few snacks and a bottle of water (or some booze for the evening). I also like to split my clothes between weeks one and two, alternating them in a vacuum bag. In doing so I use a dry bag on the back seat to give me that extra space.

The benefit of doing this is that the back seat bag can be your ‘active’ bag and the one you fling over your shoulder when checking into your accommodation while leaving everything else secure on the bike.

I’ve had two bags during my time with the Triple Black. Firstly a cheap but perfectly acceptable Lomo sack. Secondly an Oxford Aqua T-50 roll bag. The main benefit of the latter, despite looking a bit prettier, was the top closure. You loaded the Lomo from one end which had you reaching in for the contents.

Think about functionality

Upfront I bought a Touratech handlebar bag. There are similar bags available from other manufacturers but essentially they all perform the same job which is somewhere easily accessible to hold small items such as earplugs, phone charging leads, and visor wipes. They are also handy for holding loose change and cards, especially on routes with plenty of tolls.

An honourable mention should go to the ROK Straps. These straps make all the difference when loading and unloading with ease. One end is a nylon strap and the other an elasticated bungee. You connected each part with a secure clip. In addition to the speed you can strap your bag to the seat, you can be assured your luggage is safe and going nowhere.

Configuration changes force a rethink

My 2019 tour of the Alps was the last trip I took on the R1200GS which I replaced with an R1250GS Adventure. Along with the bike came a completely new configuration. Not only that but I now had three modes of travel. I was touring, day-tripping with my kitchen, and taking the occasional camping trip at events and festivals.

I now had aluminium panniers with lids that opened upwards rather than the Varios that opened outwards. The extra space was welcome but I was still getting my head around what went where. The Vario top box lent itself to my organiser (a rear car seat unit that I had found on Amazon) but this had now moved to the left pannier. The right pannier continued the same duty of carrying electronics and chargers. My top box contained a new liner bag and I was using it for clothes.

Top box orgaiser on the 1200GS

It became obvious that this wasn’t working. After a rethink, I moved my clothes to the left pannier and I was using the right pannier either for my cameras or for my kitchen. I had decided that rather than a solid organiser it was a much more efficient use of space to use small dry bags in the top box. I labelled each bag with its contents such as straps, batteries, security locks, medicines, etc. After a while I did find that the bags were rubbing so I lined the box with 1mm thick adhesive foam.

Different bikes require different solutions

Another unforeseen problem that I experienced on my first long journey was that the overhang of the roll bag on the rear seat was interfering with access to the panniers as I couldn’t lift the lids without moving the bag. Furthermore, I had one eye on where I was going to mount the new, and much larger, tent I had bought. This would be along the right pannier so I couldn’t accommodate the overhang.

While at the ABR Festival I had been eyeing up everyone else’s configuration. Remember at the start of this I mentioned research and looking at other people’s setups. This was key to getting it right. I realised that I had to go up, and not out. The answer was stacking luggage.

I had bought some Bagtecs for the crash bars but I liked and yielded to the Kriega bags. I didn’t want to necessarily expose myself to the cost of the stacking luggage I wanted for the rear so after a bit of searching I found the Rhinowalk bags. They had the same look and hook attachments but for a fraction of the cost.

The casualty in all this is that the Oxford bag will probably not travel with me again but it is in use for holding all the other bags together in the garage. One other bag I found was one that I had seen at the ABR festival, and that was one that attached to the top of the pannier lid and utilised the lid attachments. This was handy for segregating my food supplies when in camp mode.

Rhinowalk bags and my pannier lid-mounted ‘larder’

Think about those unused spaces

You could go on forever. If you look at any given manufacturer there are a multitude of add-ons and expansions. You can fill every nook and cranny with some form of containment, in fact, I did with the toolbox that sits in the void between the pannier frame and the wheel. This was a useful addition as it got my compressor and puncture repair kit out of the right pannier. Less useful, given that I have the handlebar bag, are the small pouches that I bought that attach to the winglets up front. They were an impulse purchase on Amazon and very inexpensive so I feel no guilt.

Whatever configuration you go for think about functionality and convenience. Most of all make sure that the configuration is right for you and the travels you are embarking on. And always remember… “If you didn’t use it, did you need to take it?”

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