All bikers have their opinion about what works when it comes to packing luggage on a bike for a road trip. Some have a “system”, perfected for their individual needs, tested and reliable. These systems usually have lots of commonalities but it’s the pet hates they share that are most interesting. Here, listed below, are the most common: the pet hates with luggage on a motorbike, the thorns I have learned to avoid myself when packing my gear.
Bulk on the rear rack or in top boxes
Yes sir! It seems that the general rule for motorcycle baggage is that this should be arranged low and forward, essentially as close to the bike’s center of gravity as possible (the engine area). Anything stored “high” is a hazard that will make a two wheel machine harder to handle. Weight on the tail rack increases the difficulty in maneuvering through slow traffic, steering in tight spaces and riding on uneven ground. It renders a bike “unstable” and will reward the rider with injections of unwanted anxiety especially at slower speeds.
Weight stored high up on a motorbike such as on a tall tail packs acts just like a lever that wants to wrestle a bike to the ground on its side. Even the fittest of bikers will struggle to keep the bulk of a 200Kg machine (or heavier) steady on one leg when maneuvering at slower speeds. As a consequence motorcycles are dropped and levers, turn signals, mirrors even fairings get damaged. No fun at all.
Some say that top boxes and tank bags are a “safer option” for the storage of valuables (cameras and laptops). Clearly there is truth in this and these storage systems have practical advantages say for short daily commutes. However, on longer rides you have to ask yourself whether a laptop or a bulky DSLR are at all necessary. Vibrations, bumps and jolts, are all part of the riding experience, hardly safe environment for lenses and hard drives.
Low cost, smaller solid state tablets, even smartphones are good enough for e-mail and social media these days. They are lighter, more durable choices and easier to pack inside a saddle bag rather than top box. Good quality mirror-less cameras are also available in small, rugged, light weight formats, too.
Security and safety? Leaving valuables unguarded in a top box is unwise anywhere at any time regardless of whether the box is locked or not. Why bother with a top box at all?
For sure, tank bags are useful for easy access and storage in pretty much the same way top boxes are. Inevitably though, they bear the same drawbacks as well. As mentioned above, weight stored high and away from the center of gravity of a bike acts as an undesirable lever that kicks in at the slightest loss of balance.
Furthermore, it’s a fact that some tank bags interfere with handlebars, cover up clocks and dials, push onto light switches, horn buttons and turn signals. Useful to point out as well is that most tank bags leave scuffs, scratches and cause wear on a bike’s body work.
Get bigger panniers (saddle-bags) for your stuff if you really need to. Best is to learn to carry less gear with you on your trip. Leave the tank area on your bike clutter free or at the most go for a cargo net.
Wearing a backpack is also a pet hate, especially on longer rides. The extra weight on a rider’s shoulders and back will eventually tire him or her. Back packs make taking off a riding jacket annoyingly difficult and they also block ventilation. Again, bulk carried high from the ground leverages imbalance in tight spots or on off tracks and should an unlucky fall occur, the pack on one’s back could increase the risk injury to spine and ribs.
So, my recommendations start with: no top boxes! Only strap light items to the rear luggage rack. Stuff like extra layers of clothing or a light weight camera that can all safely fit into a SMALL waterproof stuff bag.
No tank bag. Try using a cargo net for small items.
Avoid back packs. Keep extra drinking water in bottles inside or strapped to panniers. Camel bags or similar are popular these days but they are more trouble than they’re worth. They need to be cleaned regularly and will make you sweat under your riding jacket.
Ultimately, comfort and safety are a priority on a motorbike. For the solo rider, luggage must be kept to a minimum and packed carefully. Just the essentials should be carried, what fits in decent sized panniers, no more. Some extra cash in pocket will take care of the rest, on the road if needed.
It goes without saying that many ride with a pillion: a spouse, partner or friend. This scenario involves a bunch of considerations that can go well beyond the needs of a solo rider. Tank bags and top boxes might come in handy here at the cost of some riding comfort. It’s generally wiser to compromise here and allow for that extra bulk on the tail rack to fit those all important cosmetics, high heel shoes or spare bottles of whiskey.
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