High-Tech Bags: Motorcycle Luggage Buyers Guide
Some years ago, as part of the seminars I conducted at motorcycle rallies, I described how it was possible to carry many useful items on tour in a small bag affixed to your bike’s fuel tank. There would be a map displayed right there under your snoot in the convenient map pouch, and inside the tankbag was a little bottle of shield cleaner and a rag, a neck warmer, ear plugs, an extra pair of gloves, a multi-tool, tire gauge, a hat, mini flashlight, film camera, bottle of water, tire patch kit and more.
The times they are a changing, and now, instead of a map pouch, some tankbags have a GPS holder. These days, items in my tankbag would include a cell phone and/or iPod, and of course the camera would now be digital. And my water may now be Geritol, along with multivitamins and perhaps some Bengay….
Motorcycle luggage is undergoing a technical evolution. Not only do many bags now offer pockets for digital devices, but also a myriad of pockets to separate and sort your gear. There are ports for wires and headphones from audio devices. Some offer waterproof bags for hydration devices, and ports to route their tubes. When you arrive at the rally or racetrack and want to walk around, some bags convert to backpacks when you deploy their hidden straps. Innovations that were rare just a few years ago—like shoulder straps, rain covers and expansion pleats for extra capacity—are now commonplace. I recall when magnetic tankbags included a tether to keep them from blowing off the tank at high speeds; today the magnets on these bags are much stronger and they adhere well.
A tankbag is also a great place in which to stow your jacket liner when the weather heats up, an electric garment for when it’s cold, a notebook (paper or electronic) and of course a copy of Rider magazine. If your bike has a steel fuel tank, the quickest and easiest means of attachment is with a magnetic tankbag. Otherwise, you’ll have to strap the bag to your tank; a few companies also offer suction cups. Keep in mind that a loaded bag on your tank can, from vibrations and bumps, scuff the paint. For that reason, it’s important to keep the tank waxed and cleaned, and the bottom of your tankbag clean.
Be aware that magnetism can adversely affect certain kinds of electronic media including phones, cameras and credit cards. If you’re using a magnetic tankbag, place items that may be sensitive far from the magnets.
Tail and Rack Bags
Tail or seatbags are also handy for carrying that extra bit of luggage on the rear portion of the seat or a luggage rack, and will store virtually anything that a tankbag can. Several of the rear bags here are intended to rest on a rack. We have photographed the two largest, which are hard sided and are attached to a cruiser backrest or sissybar, separately.
Some years ago, I was zipping along a backroad, carrying a pair of boots in a seatbag. Suddenly the bike’s rear wheel locked up and threw me into a skid, which I was very fortunate to ride out. It so happened that the seatbag had come loose, rotated off to one side and fallen onto the spinning tire, which rammed it up against the fender and locked the wheel. The boots were ruined, the bag was ruined, and I was lucky that I was still in one piece. It is extremely important that any luggage bags be attached firmly and inspected frequently.
Most of these products carry a bit of reflective material for added visibility in low light; this will be obvious in the photos. And all but one have a rain cover that can be used to protect it from wet or dusty conditions.
We provide the outer dimensions of the bags so that you can decide if they’ll fit your bike, but cubic capacity listed is for the main compartment only—most of these products have ancillary compartments that add to capacity. Cubic capacity is approximate as many bags taper. If there is an expansion panel, I include that capacity in the overall figure. For our test, I attached each of the bags to a bike, packed them and rode with them a short while to ascertain how they worked.
Aerostich Standard Tank Panniers
$127 // Main compartment capacity: 520 cubic inches x 2 // Exterior measurements: 9” L, 5” W, 12” H each
Let’s say you already have a tankbag, a seatbag and saddlebags, and still need additional luggage capacity. Aerostich Tank Panniers are designed to hang off the sides of the fuel tank on an unfaired motorcycle, providing additional capacity where none existed before. Made of urethane-coated 1,000 denier Cordura nylon, they’re semi-rigid and position the load lower for stability.
The Panniers mounting system consists of two padded, 2-inch-wide hook-and-loop webbing straps along with two adjustable bungee cords. Neoprene pads on the backs of the bags protect your tank’s paint, and removable plastic inserts help the bags hold their shape. Two rear pockets hold small items, and the web straps along the outside are for attaching additional items.
What’s interesting about the bags in use is that they offer a bit of additional wind protection, which can add to comfort on a cold day. They’re one of the few luggage items here that does not provide a rain cover, but the urethane coating on the Cordura should keep them as dry as your rainsuit keeps you.
Aerostich Tank Panniers are available in black or Hi-Viz (shown), and also in a slightly smaller Competition version for the same price. And they’re made in the USA.
Cortech Super 2.0 18L Tank Bag
$139.99 // Main compartment capacity: 700 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 16” L, 11” W, 9” H
Available in either a magnetic or strap-on version, Cortech’s Super 18L is made of 1,680 denier ballistic polyester with 1,800 denier Jacquard construction. Its clear map pouch will display only a single panel, but removes easily to carry with you into the restaurant. The main compartment interior is softly lined with two-tone, red-and-black material and holds about 700 cubic inches with the 3-inch-deep expansion panel deployed.
The top flap includes an internal organizer with pockets for your cell phone and a second digital device (and two sip tube/headphone exit ports), and penholders. Also included is a soft pouch in which to carry an extra helmet face shield, and a nylon pouch for a water bladder.
Externally, on each side is a zippered pocket sized for sunglasses or a tire gauge, while a small slit pocket in the rear will handle coins and earplugs. An attached rain cover, with clear window on top, stows in the front pocket. Finally, peel back the rear portion of the tank pad, extricate a pair of minimally padded straps, clip them to eyelets at the other end and the tankbag becomes a backpack. Though lower in capacity than some bags, the Cortech is fully featured and compact.
Firstgear Laguna GPS Tank Bag/Backpack
$169.95 // Main compartment capacity: 870 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 16” L, 10.5” W, 10” H
If you like your Swiss Army knife, you’ll love this multi-featured bag made of 1680 denier nylon PVC with a UV coating. It attaches with powerful 4-point magnets, suction cups (included) or with straps (also included). Rather than a map pouch, this modern bag has a flip-up transparent holder that positions a GPS unit for viewing while protecting it from the weather. However, it could be blown closed once in use. The second transparent top pocket is for an MP3 player or cell phone. There are two large side pockets, a small rear one with a wire port, and the attached rain cover with transparent top for GPS viewing lives in a concealed front pocket.
Zip it off and the magnetic base can be used alone as a map pouch. This exposes the shoulder straps up under the bags, which allow it to be worn as a backpack. A zippered expansion pleat allows the Laguna to grow an extra several inches in depth, and reflective piping provides additional visibility at night.
Hey, I’m a long-time tankbag junkie and have to admit that this clever item blew me away with its size, features and versatility.
Joe Rocket Manta XL Tank Bag
$84.99 // Main compartment capacity: 400 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 13” L, 9” W, 4” H
Joe Rocket’s Manta XL is made of RockTex fabric and features a cell phone pocket on its lid, along with a larger pocket for a CD player…or whatever you wish to put in there. While the CD player pocket has an audio port, the cell phone pocket does not. It’s all set upon a magnetic mounting pad with additional foldout magnetic “wings,” and those magnets are quite powerful; the Manta XL should stay well attached. Concealed within the bag’s main compartment is a pocket that contains a tethered rain cover. Other details include a convenient removable shoulder strap, carrying handle and reflective striping.
At just 400 cubic inches, the Manta XL’s main compartment is among the smallest of the tankbags in this collection, and it also lacks a map pocket. Still, it will hold a pair of gloves and lunch, and would be ideal for use on a smaller bike or sportbike on which the ergonomics are crowded and you would not want it to get in the way. If it is still too intrusive, Joe Rocket makes a slightly smaller version with similar features.
$89.95 // Main compartment capacity: 1,100 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 15” L, 9.5” W, 10” H
In this comparison, we’ve seen fully featured and complex products contrasted by the simple and basic. Nelson-Rigg’s CL-1035 is of the latter, old school persuasion, yet it’s not plain or lacking in function. It has a huge map pouch, and its main compartment can hold a great deal. It also includes an expansion panel that adds 2.5 inches of depth all around. The underside of the lid offers a large mesh pocket, cell phone pocket and holders for pens and such. However, there are no additional pockets.
The CL-1035 is available in either a strap-on or magnetic-mount version, and the strap-mount can also accommodate optional suction cup and hook mount kits. The bag is made from Tri-Max ballistic nylon with Fibertech accents for a high-tech look. It offers a charging port for cable access and, with its expansion pleat, it will hold most full-face helmets. A rain cover is included, but it is not transparent to reveal the map. Its straps convert it to a backpack.
If you’re an old-school rider who just wants a simple bag with large capacity, and are less interested in separating your gear into various pockets, the CL-1035 is big and priced right.
Rapid Transit Recon 19 Tank Bag
$94.99 // Main compartment capacity: 650 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 16.6” L, 5.5” W, 7” H
The Recon is built of RockTex and has a magnetic mount, but what’s unusual is that it is quite narrow relative to its length, and that it has two lids—one zips forward from the rear and the other zips back and overlaps it from the front. What’s welcome is that, despite its size, the Recon offers many pockets and features.
For starters, it has a clear smartphone pocket on top but a very small map pouch, which means you’ll have to frequently fold and re-fold your map as you travel. There’s a long slit pocket on each side that could carry a flashlight. The rear lid carries an internal pocket for a digital device with an audio port, and two small external mesh pockets. Inside is another very thin slit pocket on each side, and a nylon bag with hook-and-loop closure for carrying bottled liquids. The tethered rain cover lives in a pocket hidden up under the front of the bag. You can either use the shoulder strap, or clip on the pair of straps to convert it to a backpack.
If you seek features with reasonable capacity and won’t be using the map pouch much, the Recon is a good mid-priced bag.
Sedici Garda Tank Bag by Cycle Gear
$44.99 (strap-on), $49.99 (magnetic) // Main compartment capacity: 450 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 12.5” L, 10” W, 6” H
The Garda is available in both a magnetic and a strap-mount version; I tested the latter. Both are made of 1,680 denier Hyper Core Plus nylon material with reflective panels on each side that also lend them some style. Stiffeners all around give the bag definition so it holds its shape, and the central divider can be moved and placed in any of various locations with its hook-and-loop adjusters. At the rear is a padded pocket that can hold an audio device, complete with a port for headphone wires. The Garda’s map pouch is rather small, but in its lid are a couple small pockets for pens and perhaps a cell phone.
The Garda easily detaches from its strap-on pad with three quick-release buckles, and carries away with its padded handle. Its rain cover fits on easily, but is not transparent to reveal the map.
At about $45 (or $50 in the magnetic version) the Garda is certainly inexpensive, and at 450 cubic inches it’s also quite small, but does not offer an expansion panel. In short, it’s a good buy for riders on a budget who want convenience and don’t have a great deal to carry.
Twisted Throttle Engage Bag
$169.99 // Main compartment capacity: 280 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 15.5” L, 10” W, 5.5” H
A tankbag can be problematic because it may require bothersome straps and it may also scuff the tank. Rather than attaching to your tank, the Engage Bag snaps into the SW-Motech Gascap Mounting System, a bike-specific bracket that the rider installs to the collar that surrounds and secures the gas cap to the tank. As a result, the tankbag mounts just above the tank without touching it. The rider installs a device called a topring into a cavity in the bottom of the tankbag that engages with the collar with an audible click. To disengage it, pull a cord and it releases.
This SW-Motech Gascap Mounting System is clever and the tankbag is well defined and handsome. This particular model bag is quite small, and the topring steals about an inch of depth as it fits up into the base of the bag. The main compartment will hold a pair of winter gloves and little else, and each of the two side pockets will hold a pair of sunglasses. It includes a rain cover, a wire port and a mesh pocket in the lid. The Engage is for riders to whom keeping their tank pristine is more important than capacity. Twisted Throttle offers a variety of larger bags that also use the SW-Motech Gascap Mounting System, which is capable of making electrical connections.
TAIL AND SEATBAGS
Dowco Fastrax Elite TailBag
$135.99 // Main compartment capacity: 1,260 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 15” L, 10.5” W, 9” H
This fairly rigid tailbag is made of 1,680 denier polyester and features waterproof zippers. The rear portion expands upward by up to four inches, sloping down to minimal expansion at the front. Stick loose items under the webbing on top, such as your gloves, when making a rest stop. Inside are four net pockets for small items, a larger pocket in the lid, and places to carry pens and a tire gauge. The attached, sewn-in rain hood is pretty common, but the external removable waterproof storage bag that clips to the top is not; consider it another expansion option. See those gray color accents on the side? The bag includes eight color swatches, any of which can be inserted into the panel on each side to customize the accent color to your bike.
The bag attaches with several straps that loop around frame members, and hooks that click and lock to the D-rings. A single strap in a hidden compartment underneath deploys and allows it to be slung as a backpack.
It’s a good size, versatile and adaptable. When you pick up your passenger, the Fastrax Elite can then be worn as a backpack to free up the rear portion of the seat.
Givi T477 Silver Roll SeatBag
$95 // Main compartment capacity: 1,900 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 12” L, 18” W, 11” H
Givi’s Silver Series bags are made of 1,680 denier polyester and Lorica, which they describe as an “eco-resistant simulated leather.” It’s a good-looking piece that resembles Cordura with leather trim. The T477 sits on a seat or rack and attaches with two crossed bungee cords stitched to the bottom and a pair of straps with quick-release buckles. I found the bungees a bit short for attaching to our test Yamaha FJR, but with the straps it worked.
The bag opens at the top to reveal a large 1,900-cubic-inch main compartment, which is also accessible from a zippered entry on one end. At the other end is a pocket as large as the end of the bag and two inches deep. A second pocket, long and flat, hides within the lid below those elastic laces; the latter can be used for stuffing in a jacket liner. The main compartment can swallow a full-face helmet with a little room left over. Other touches include waterproof zippers with reflective material and a standard rain cover.
As seatbags go, the Givi is high on style, holds a lot yet its price is moderate. So long as it fits your bike well, it will be a winner.
Rev-Pack Junior Seat Pack
$89.95 // Main compartment capacity: 700 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: L 10”, W 12”, H 8”
The Junior Seat Pack is for those who prefer basic and simple. Made of heavy, black Cordura nylon sandwiched with ethafoam for stiffness, it has a very boxy shape, and what’s unusual is that, with a good-sized nylon zipper, it splits open side-to-side. The entire upper section peels back with hook-and-loop to reveal its 5.25-inch-deep base that is nicely padded to cuddle your gear. Overall, the Junior Seat Pack provides a total capacity of about 700 cubic inches and also offers a slit pocket along each end.
It attaches to the bike with a quartet of nylon straps and a quick-release buckle at each corner. They’re fully adjustable and should have enough length to accommodate attachment to any bike. For carrying off the bike, the big two-inch-wide straps gather together in a handle above the bag. For full weather protection, a nylon rain cover is available for an additional $11.95.
The Junior Seat Pack is a useful size—though it will not hold a full-face helmet—and is very rugged at a reasonable price. And it’s made in the USA. If it’s not big enough, the regular Seat Pack holds nearly 2,000 cubic inches and sells for $109.95.
Tour Master Select Tail Bag
$104.99 // Main compartment capacity: 1,050 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 13” L, 14” W, 9” H
With a capacity of 1,050 cubic inches, Tour Master’s Select Tail Bag holds a good deal within its soft, brushed fleece interior lining. Its outer shell is composed of 600 denier Carbolex, and offers reflective piping and panels on its exterior. The mounting system is one of the most convenient I’ve used in this test as the straps are plenty long enough and easily adjustable, while the quick-release buckles are easy to use.
Inside the lid is a mini office with a thin storage pocket, a secondary mesh pocket and holders for a pen and tire gauge. On either side of the bag is a long, thin pocket that can hold a flashlight and additional, similar-sized objects. A front pocket stows the rain cover, and there’s both a carrying handle and a shoulder strap. The Select further integrates with Tour Master’s Select Saddlebags to form a complete system.
There’s nothing high-tech or fancy about the Tour Master Select, but it has all the necessities along with good capacity, a reasonable price and easy attaching system. There’s much to like about it.
Wolfman Ridgeline Plus Duffel
$144.99 // Main compartment capacity: 1,900 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 10.5” L, 24”W, 11” H
Made of ballistic nylon, the Ridgeline Plus Duffel is large and offers many features. For attachment it has a set of four bungee hooks, which are adjustable by knotting them on the inside. To convert it to a travel duffel for airline or four-wheeler use, just stow the bungees in their storage pocket and use the handle. There’s a smaller pocket on each end, and it also includes a large mesh pocket within the lid. As if the bag weren’t large enough, it also has a zippered expansion pleat that increases its depth along one side by 3.5 inches.
The potential problem with soft duffels such as this is that they look messy and can flap in the wind if they’re not stuffed full or nearly full on the bike. The Ridgeline Plus, however, comes with compression straps on the outside that can be cinched down to squeeze and stabilize the load. These straps can also be expanded to hold more gear atop the bag if you wish.
Big Bike Parts UltraGard Touring Luggage Rack Bag
$59.95 // Main compartment capacity: 1,600 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 22.5” L, 14” W, 9” H
Designed specifically for luggage rack use, the UltraGard Touring Luggage Rack Bag is made of water-resistant heavy-duty black polyester. It connects by looping hook-and-loop straps around the luggage rack tubes, and also includes a shoulder strap for carrying it off the bike.
In addition to the large main compartment, which holds about 1,600 cubic inches, the bag provides two zippered compartments that flank the passenger and offer easy access to small items while riding. On each end is a large expandable pocket for incidentals. Along the top of the bag is a large mesh pocket with zipper, and in the back is another long slit compartment. The tethered rain cover lives in a pocket in the front. Finally, I really liked the grab handle which made off-bike carrying easy.
The Rack Bag offers a lot of pockets, storage and is a great value for its surprising $59.95 price tag. However, because its sides are not stiffened, it tends to flop when less than fully packed, which can give it a messy appearance when traveling. With that said, while on tour, how often is our problem that we’re not carrying enough luggage as opposed to not having enough storage space for what we’re carrying? Yeah, I thought so….
Mustang Motorcycle Products Road Companion Bag
$155, or $172 with studs // Main compartment capacity: 2,400 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 15” L, 19” W, 15” H
Covered in expanded black vinyl and available with either chromed studs or plain, the Road Companion is designed to rest on a rack or the rear part of the seat on most cruiser models, but check our measurements here. Depending upon your backrest size and configuration, the bag may be too deep to fit on the rear portion of the seat without crowding the rider. It attaches with a strap and a hook-and-loop belt around the backrest, plus two bottom straps.
In addition to the spacious main compartment (it will hold a full-face helmet), there are two expanding compartments on each side and a long mesh pocket inside. Numerous D-rings outside allow for the attachment of an additional bag on top. Heck, it’s so well thought out that there’s even a side-entry zipper to the main compartment in case access is restricted by a top bag. The Road Companion is substantial and roomy, feels stable on the bike and, for off-bike carrying, offers both a top handle and a shoulder strap. Its rain cover is accordingly gigantic. In all, it’s a very complete and well thought-out piece of luggage that offers many storage options without becoming overly complex.
Saddlemen BR3400EX Backrest, Seat and Sissy Bar Bag
$194.95 // Main compartment capacity: 1,430 cubic inches // Exterior measurements: 13.5” L, 16” W, 20” H
Made of marine-grade vinyl, the BR3400EX comes with two mounting systems, a seat harness and an adjustable sissy bar strap system. It includes a backrest pad that affixes to the back of the bag and adjusts with hook-and-loop; either the rider or passenger, depending upon where you place the bag, can use it. To carry it off the bike, utilize the detachable backpack straps.
There are so many compartments here, it’s amazing. There’s a small top compartment in the lid, along with another for the tethered rain cover. Under it is a good-sized top compartment up to six inches deep. Pivot it out of the way and underneath is the top-loading main compartment that is large enough to hold a full-face helmet; there’s also a padded slot for your laptop and a couple small mesh pockets. Temporarily stow a folded jacket under the main lid. Each of the three large outer pockets includes a mesh pocket, and the rear one has an organizer. What look like standard buckles are backed by lockable quick-release buckles; a mini-padlock is included.
The BR3400EX is a large, fully featured bag that offers a major number of places in which to stow your gear.
(This Buyers Guide, High-Tech Bags: Motorcycle Luggage Goes High-End and High-Tech was published in the April 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)