Motorcycle Soft Luggage Buyer's Guide
[This Motorcycle Soft Luggage Buyer’s Guide was originally published in the July 2006 issue of Rider magazine]
Whether you call them seatbags or tailpacks, these guys can really haul. Often, our staff riders have been able to take an overnight (and sometimes a two-day) trip with just the gear we could pack in a tankbag and seatbag. When on tour, a seatbag has often served as a companion to a pair of saddlebags for those important extras like a camera case or helmet, or to serve as storage for those items you’ll need quickly like a rainsuit, jacket liner or electric vest. Depending upon how much you need to take along, a seatbag can make the difference between having what you need and having to do without.
A seatbag is designed to sit on the rear portion of the seat behind a solo rider, or on a luggage rack. Generally, we expect a seatbag to be large enough to hold a full-face helmet, and consider any capacity beyond that a bonus. Some riders use them for helmet storage when their saddlebags get in the way of their helmet holders. They’re also handy to take along off the bike at the race or rally.
Seatbags are no longer simply just zippered nylon boxes into which one throws stuff. Rather, they have become very sophisticated luggage systems and even mini offices that not only offer a variety of features (such as additional pockets and storage areas), but also provide clever carrying arrangements, expansion panels, reflectivity and colors. While one may wonder why a mere seatbag would cost upward of $100, the fact is there are no mere seatbags in this group.
Each of these bags attaches with flexible shock cords (some of which are adjustable) and some form of hooks, or adjustable straps, or both. If shock cords, we prefer those that are truly adjustable and allow the cords to slide through the hooks and catch. Others can only be shortened by knotting them. Once knotted, the knot may become so tight in use that it will be difficult to undo in order to adjust the bag to another bike. On some the hooks are removable so that the shock cords can be looped over mounting hooks on the bike. Do not attach them to turn signals, as they are often flexibly mounted.
Webbing straps with buckles easily adjust, and often the manufacturer will make them quite long to accommodate various bikes. If you cut the straps to length, use a candle flame afterward to lightly melt the cut ends so they don’t unravel. Occasionally we came upon a balky zipper; a little silicone spray or liquid silicone works wonders. Remember that textile fabrics are petroleum based, and will melt if they contact a hot engine or exhaust system.
I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of attaching the seatbag securely. Not only may the bag be lost, but should it let go on one side it could conceivably fall off the other and be drawn into the rear wheel at speed. There it could jam between the tire and fender, locking the wheel and throwing the bike out of control. Also, do not exceed recommended maximum weights, which tend to run 10-12 pounds.
Most of these seatbags are made of nylon, usually Cordura, a heavy textile fabric with a water-resistant layer bonded to the inside. Still, Cordura isn’t waterproof and rain can be driven through the stitch holes, so consider a rain cover a plus. A cover can also keep dirty road spray off the bag when it’s no longer raining. Some manufacturers charge extra for the cover.
Nylon comes in a number of colors including black, red, blue, gray and sometimes yellow, so it’s often possible to have a bag in a color that complements your bike. Of course, black goes with anything and is motorcycling’s counterpart to fashion’s little black dress. Reflective striping can add that little extra bit of visibility and flair in low-light situations. These bags have built-in stiffeners so they hold their shape and look good even when lightly loaded.
Buy a seatbag sized for what you expect to carry. Most are sized for a helmet (though a few won’t haul a full-face) and perhaps a little more. If you wish to carry camping gear, however, consider one of the larger expedition bags.
We love pockets, and consider them a real plus for separating out those smaller items that may otherwise get lost in your luggage. On the road you may use your seatbag’s external pockets to carry a tire gauge, electric vest thermostat, water bottle and snacks, tire patch kit, multitool, paperback and cell phone.
When you eat too much you let out another notch (or two) on your belt. When you pick up too much gear on the road, some of these products offer an expansion pleat behind a zipper that provides several additional inches of capacity. We’ll tell you which have this desirable feature.
Note that the bags and their attaching devices can abrade your bike. It’s usually not a problem on the seat itself, but painted surfaces will often be scuffed by these bags and their straps or cords. Keep your bike’s paint waxed and the mounting system tight to minimize motion and scuffing.
We list the approximate capacity of the bags’ main compartments in cubic inches, including when expanded (if available), but not including pockets. We photographed some in their expanded position, but not all. Pockets are so individually sized and shaped that they do not give a true indication of what will fit in them. “Hook and loop” is the generic term for peel-apart fasteners that are sometimes trademarked under the “3M Velcro” name.
Keep in mind that if you don’t see quite what you want, each of the companies listed offers a variety of seat and other bags in various sizes and colors. It’s cool when your tankbag and seatbag match. Check their Web sites and give ’em a call.
1. Adrian Sports Medium Tool Trunk
$74.95 / Approximate capacity: 1,088 cubic inches
What seems to be a simple tool trunk is actually much more. Designed for the cruiser market, the Medium Tool Trunk’s sides can be zipped completely off so that it may be laid out flat. Elastic straps hold a selection of tools right in sight on the floor as you work on your bike. When you’re through, spread the nylon curtain over the tools, zip it back into a roll form, and the interior section can still hold a good bit of luggage. If you’re not carrying tools, you may unroll the Tool Trunk and sit or lie on it at the rally. It closes with hook-and-loop.
Attachment is by wide, adjustable straps and buckles, and a shoulder strap is included. There’s also a wide hook-and-loop strap at the back that can be fastened around a sissy bar. Because it carries tools and does not close tightly, we would suggest that a rain cover (not offered) would be a useful accessory.
The Medium Tool Trunk is a unique item that is both useful and well made.
Adrian Sports, P.O. Box 41701, Santa Barbara, California 93140; (805) 451-5789; www.adriansports.com
2. Aerostich MotoFizz Camping Seatbag (Medium)
$137 / Approximate capacity: 2,730 cubic inches
This remarkable bag offers both huge capacity and incredible versatility. It can be packed from either the top or sides (the side panels zip open), and is sized to hold a sleeping bag and other camping equipment. If it’s not big enough as shown, a 4-inch expansion panel at each end adds 8 inches. Outside straps can secure a small tent, sleeping pad or camp chair, and the top lacing will hold more. One of the large side pockets is removable and can hang on your belt loop; there’s a second sewn-on outer pocket and water bottle holder. The rain cover is standard.
Under the lid is a separate nylon drawstring pouch that can adapt to a variety of items and hold a great deal; the lid has sufficient adjustability to be strapped down over it. Mounting is by adjustable straps and buckles.
If your bike’s seat or luggage rack is large enough to handle this feature-packed bag, it’s a good choice for the camper or for anyone who needs a great deal of capacity and adaptability.
Aerostich RiderWearhouse, Eight South 18th Avenue West, Duluth, Minnesota 55806; (800) 222-1994; www.aerostich.com
3. Chase Harper Ripstreamer
$109.95 / Approximate capacity: 780 cubic inches
“Ripstreamer” is obviously a takeoff on the word “slipstream,” as this seatbag tapers from front to back and has stylishly wing-shaped pockets. It’s made of Cordura nylon nicely stretched taut, stiffeners keep it rigid, and its attaching system (shock cords with adjustable hooks) zips out of sight when not in use—all of which contribute to its neat appearance. Add the rubberized handle and reflective striping and it’s all professional looking and tidy.
Unlike most seatbags here the Ripstreamer will not hold a full-face helmet, but if offers three stylish pockets and an adjustable elastic cord
lacing on top that can hold loose items. On the bottom is a rubberized material to keep it from slipping around on the seat.
Though it’s not particularly capacious, the Ripstreamer is certainly large enough to haul lunch, some spare gloves and a copy of Rider into the office. If neatness counts, the Ripstreamer looks more like a stylish bit of avant-garde luggage rather than some seedy motorcycle bag.
Chase Harper, 131 Anacapa Street (rear), Santa Barbara, California 93101; (877) 965-7977; www.chaseharper.com
4. Cortech Tail Bag
$89.99 / Approximate capacity: 2,000 cubic inches
Cortech is Tour Master’s higher-end line, and this ballistic nylon Tail Bag offers a lot of capacity for the price. The large body will easily swallow a helmet and more, and if it’s not quite large enough, the interior panels zip open so your gear can intrude into the side pockets, adding about 6 inches of width. For that reason, the capacity figure includes the side pockets. While the bottom is padded with a flocked material, the rest of the interior is not.
Open the main compartment and its lid houses a slit pocket and mesh pocket. There’s also a roomy pocket in the back. A rain cover and shoulder strap are included.
On the bottom is a flap that zips open to expose the four hooks and their shock cords; they’re only adjustable by knotting them shorter. A nonslip neoprene pad attaches to the flap with hook-and-loop and should protect the seat and paint.
The Cortech is a good-looking capacious bag with reflective striping; however, it is not quite as luxuriously lined and finished as some other bags here.
To find your nearest Cortech dealer check out www.tourmastercom
5. Eclipse Rumble Pack II
$119.95 / Approximate capacity: 1,485 cubic inches
A nicely finished and detailed product, the Rumble Pack II has a low-profile, streamlined, tapered look when compacted. If it can’t quite swallow the load, deploy the zipper around its base to expand it another 5 inches of depth (not shown) so the main compartment can swallow a full-face helmet. It’s made from 1200-denier Cordura nylon, and has finished edges all around. There’s a mesh map pocket inside the lid, and a mesh pocket on either side.
Eclipse offers secure mounting by providing not only heavy plastic-coated steel hooks and shock mounting cords, but also a single multi-adjustable hook-and-loop strap that attaches around the seat. A device called a Cordlock under the floor allows for quick and easy adjustment of the cords. Other features include a sturdy, rubber-covered handle, large reflective stripes and a standard black rain cover that can be stored in the outside pocket.
If you’re looking for a well-finished, full-featured seatbag with absolutely fool-proof mounting (until better fools are developed), the Eclipse is worth considering.
Eclipse Inc.; 1066 Old Murray Road, Mars Hill,
North Carolina 28754; (800) 666-1500; www.eclipseluggage.com
6. Givi Voyager T417
$108.10 / Approximate capacity: 1,140 cubic inches
With its elegant looks, this is one bag you won’t be ashamed to carry into a meeting with the boys from Finance. Givi finished it well, and made sure it would stay put. It not only has flaps (not shown) that hang down along both sides to protect the bike’s seat or paint, but it also attaches with shock cords and hooks along with straps.
The Givi Voyager T417 is made from heavy-duty polyester and has a heavy, quality feel. It includes a shoulder strap and rain cover, and a padded divider panel to separate luggage. The interior is nicely lined with a flocked material, and the divider attaches to it with hook-and-loop.
There’s a mesh pocket in the lid, medium side pockets and another larger pocket on the back that has openings for a calculator and business cards. The fold-down flap over the rear has a slit pocket of its own. Bits of reflective material are arranged all around the bag.
While it lacks such amenities as expandability and a carrying handle, the Givi makes up for it in rigidity and a classy, luxurious look and feel.
Givi USA Inc., 9309 Forsyth Park Drive, Charlotte, North Carolina 28273; (877) 679-GIVI; www.giviusa.com
7. Marsee 19-Liter Rocket Pocket
$130 / Approximate capacity: 1,053 cubic inches
When I saw the 19-Liter Rocket Pocket with its shape, size and map pouch, I thought it was a tankbag. On further review the zip-on bottom and zip-off map pouch allow this versatile product to function as either, depending on its attachments.
Remove your bike’s seat and place the Rocket Pocket’s bottom straps around it; you can leave it attached while you zip off the bag and (by the handle) take it with you. Or just zip off the map pouch. The Rocket Pocket has a sturdy feel and we like the large zipper teeth, but it won’t hold a full-face helmet.
The Rocket Pocket includes a silver rain cover and shoulder strap, and the interior is completely lined with a silver nylon material. Inside the lid are two pockets, one full-length and the other half; it includes a simple wallet and pockets for pens. At 5 inches the bag is not very deep, but opening the circumferential zipper reveals a 5-inch expansion panel with adjustable take-up cords to keep everything snug. While not large, the Rocket Pocket is nicely finished and offers many features.
Marsee Design, 651 Niles Ferry Road, Madisonville, Tennessee 37354; (800) 293-2400; www.marseeproducts.com
8. OSI Expandable Tail Pack
$109.99 / Approximate capacity: 1,176 cubic inches
Though boxy, the OSI is a complete, fully featured bag that’s nicely finished. Because of its shape and size, getting a full-face helmet inside takes some stuffing. In addition to the main compartment, the OSI features a large zippered pocket at each end, a larger slit pocket on the back for the standard rain cover, and an open mesh pocket for incidentals. Use the mesh pocket inside the lid for maps.
The shoulder strap is standard, and there’s an adjustable, expandable elastic cord on top for holding light items such as a jacket liner or rainsuit. Additional D-rings on top allow for larger items to be bungeed there. If the bag does not have enough capacity, the expansion pleat (shown both expanded and not) provides an additional 4 inches in depth.
Two attachment systems are provided, one with shock cords and separate hooks, and the other with straps and buckles, so it ain’t goin’ nowhere.
The OSI is nicely finished with a rather basic shape and many desirable features. It’s a good buy at the price.
OSI Sports, 8 Old River Road, Glenmont, New York 12077; (888) 556-7355; www.osi-sports.com
9. RKA 36 Liter Carryall
$126 (black), $151 (color) / Approximate capacity: 1,512 cubic inches
With a body of 300- and 600-denier polyester vinyl, the RKA is lighter than it appears. It’s been laminated with waterproof PVC, but a rain cover is available for $15. It’s quite large and has a large expansion section (shown) on top. The bottom section of the bag is nicely padded and lined all around with a soft material; the expansion area has it only on the top and bottom. There’s a mesh pocket in the lid, and a shoulder strap is also included. The side and rear pockets are quite tall, and 2 inches deep. The bag comes standard in black, but RKA offers the option of any of 20 accent colors for $25 additional.
A bag this large needs to be well anchored, and the RKA’s mounting system consists solely of four adjustable straps having a curved metal hook designed to clip onto the underside of the seat. We tried ours on four bikes and it fit every one.
RKA’s 36 Liter Carryall Expandable is a larger, lighter bag with good capacity and style.
RKA, 930 Shiloh Road, 41-C, Windsor, California 95492; (707) 836-7659; www.rka-luggage.com
10. Rev-Pack Seat Pack
$99.95 / Approximate capacity: 1,645 cubic inches
Wait a second, didn’t I test this same bag about 10 years ago? The Seat Pack has been around for a long time, and it’s simply one enormous room into which one throws stuff. Fold back the flap, open the large zipper, peel the top away from the hook-and-loop along the sides and the top’s halves fold back like a convertible top. The outer shell is Cordura nylon with a nylon fabric lining and Ethafoam insulating foam sandwiched between; this allows it to be used as a cooler in camp.
There’s a large slit pocket on each end,
and the heavy webbing straps can join at the top to form a handle. A rain cover is included. Mounting is by four narrow 3?4-inch straps that can certainly handle the load, but which look anemic in proportion to the bag. Didn’t I say that 10 years ago, too?
There’s nothing fancy about the rugged Seat Pack, no expansion or special pockets. It’s simply a secure, wide, open space, can serve as a cooler and the price is right.
Rev-Pack, Box 175, New Cuyama, California 93254; (800) 766-2461; www.revpack.com
11. Roadgear Jumbo Sport Tail Bag
$99.90 / Approximate capacity: 1,200 cubic inches
There’s a lot hidden away in Roadgear’s Jumbo Sport Tail Bag, and you’ll have to look past the pleats to see it. In addition to the large main compartment there’s an obvious pocket at the rear, then a hidden slit pocket along each side, the front and under the lid. Those pleats provide the expansion for those pockets, and it can expand much larger than shown. The Jumbo offers a great ability to arrange and separate gear, though with the bag stuffed the pleats can look untidy.
The dual shock cords (each with a large, removable nylon hook) are adjustable only by knotting the cords. The bag is nicely stiffened to hold its shape, and has a carrying handle. A bright yellow nylon rain cover is $15 extra. If this version is too large for you, Roadgear offers the Sport Tail Bag ($85.50) that’s similarly styled but is about 20 percent smaller.
We like the Roadgear for its large size, many expandable pockets and availability in five colors, but would like to see more easily adjusted shock cords.
Roadgear Inc., 206 West Elgin Drive, Pueblo West, Colorado 81007; (800) 854-4327; www.roadgear.com
12. Tour Master TB-17 Tail Bag
$59.99 / Approximate capacity: 840 cubic inches
Here’s another old standard that’s been around seemingly forever. It has rather basic boxy dimensions, a well-padded handle, and a rain cover and shoulder strap are standard. On the bottom is a nonslip neoprene base that will not allow the bag to squirm around on your seat.
Drop down the front door to insert large objects including a full-face helmet; it won’t likely be scuffed by the soft interior. The TB-17 also has a slit pocket with a flap on each side, and a large zippered slit pocket in the rear. The front pocket is quite large, and it offers a little mesh pocket on the front along with a reflectorized logo.
The mounting system is well hidden, and tucks up out of the way when not in use. It consists of shock cords on simple hooks. They’re adjustable only by knotting the cords.
If you’re on a budget, the TB-17 certainly offers great features and value for the money. If you’re not on a budget and want greater capacity, check out some of the other bags here.
See your Tour Master dealer
13. Wolfman Wolf Tail
$114.99 / Approximate capacity: 1,170 cubic inches
Like a number of bags here, the Wolf Tail has a basic box shape but offers lots of nice features. These include reflective dots around the edges, and large external zipper pockets on the sides and back. Cleverly, they’re slightly curved so that the zippers are less likely to bind. The mesh pocket in the back can hold maps and incidentals—unless you wish to put them in the partial mesh pocket inside the lid. Adjustable lacing on the lid will hold added items, and the pair of D-rings is for the optional shoulder strap ($6.99). A rain cover ($16.99) is also available. Bring too much, and the Wolf Tail has a half expansion panel that rises up 4 inches at one end.
Attachment is by hooks, and the shock cords can only be adjusted by knotting. The interior is finished with a nylon material, but the plastic stiffeners show through on the sides.
The Wolf Tail is an attractive bag with a number of nice features, but for the price we expected it to have a full-interior lining.
Wolfman Outdoor Products Inc., 1424 Chukar Drive, Longmont, Colorado 80501; (800) 535-8131; www.wolfmanluggage.com