All bikers have their opinion about what works when it comes to packing luggage for a road trip. Experienced riders have a “system” for bundling their stuff on their bikes, perfected for their individual needs, tested and reliable. These systems usually have 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 makes it hard to maneuver through slow traffic, steer in tight spaces and ride on uneven ground. It renders a bike “unstable” and will harass the rider with sharp shots of anxiety at slower speeds.
Weight stored high up on a tall tail rack acts just like a lever that, given the chance, will wrestle a bike to the ground on its side. Even the fittest of bikers cannot hold the bulk of a 200Kg (or heavier) machine steady on just one leg. As a consequence motorcycles are dropped and levers, turn signals, mirrors even fairings are damaged. No fun at all.
Some say that top boxes and tank bags are a “safer option” for the storage of valuables such as cameras, filming equipment and laptops. Clearly there is truth in this and these storage systems have practical advantages mostly for short daily commutes. However, on longer rides I wonder 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 memory 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.
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, some bigger tank bags will interfere with handlebars, cover up clocks and dials, push onto light switches, horn and turn buttons. Furthermore, 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 of all is to learn to take less gear on your trip altogether. Leave the rear pack and tank area on your bike clutter free or at the most go for a cargo net.
Wearing a backpack is also a pet hate for many, especially on longer rides. The extra weight on a rider’s shoulders and back will eventually tire him or her. Back packs also block ventilation and make taking off a riding jacket annoyingly difficult. Again, bulk carried high from the ground leverages imbalance in tight spots or on off road tracks and should an unlucky fall actually occur, the pack on one’s back could increase the risk of injury to ribs and spine.
So, my recommendations start with: no top boxes! Try it, attempt to strap light items only to the rear luggage rack. Things like light layers of extra clothing, a SMALL camera perhaps. All should fit comfortably into a SMALL waterproof “stuff bag”.
No tank bag either. Unless you’re an avid cinematographer that needs instant access to filming equipment (in which case they are ideal) then steer clear of tank bags all together.
Avoid back packs. Keep extra drinking water in bottles inside or strapped to panniers. “Camel bags” or similar are popular but they are more trouble than they’re worth. They need to be cleaned regularly and maintained which is extra undesirable work when on a big trip.
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. A little extra cash in pocket will take care of the rest if and when needed.
It goes without saying that all the above applies mostly to the solo rider. Many, however ride with a pillion: a spouse, partner or friend. This scenario involves a bunch of extra considerations that can go well beyond what written above. Tank bags and top boxes might come in handy here at the cost of some riding comfort. It’s generally wiser to compromise, avoid arguments and accept extra bulk on the tail rack for perhaps some vital cosmetics, extra pair shoes or a bottle of bourbon or two.
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