June 10 2010 by Jason Fogelson
One of the big issues for motorcycle travelers is cargo. What do you bring, and what do you leave home? And, even more importantly, if you're going to bring it with you, where are you going to put it?
For many of us, the best solution to cargo hauling on a bike is a pair of saddlebags.
Saddlebags have been around much longer than motorcycles. As soon as horses were domesticated, somewhere between 5000 and 2000 B.C., I'm guessing that humans were throwing bags over their backs and asking them to haul cargo.
Many of the saddlebags available today still resemble equine bags, leather satchels with a compartment on each side connected by a yoke in the middle, designed to be tossed over a seat and hauled across the country.
A properly loaded and secured set of saddlebags might be the safest way to transport your belongings. Your load will be traveling close to the bike's center of gravity, so it will have less of an effect on handling and steering than a load that is up high, like in a tank bag or trunk. If you pack properly, you'll also balance your load from side-to-side, further minimizing the effects.
Some touring bikes, like the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide, come with locking hard-sided saddlebags as standard equipment. Accessory hard bags can be added to pretty much any bike. Most bike makers and after market manufacturers build bike-specific kits, or adaptable universal mounting kits for hard bags.
Soft saddlebags are a more traditional choice in many cases. Leather works really well as a saddlebag material, offering strength, resilience, and great looks. Synthetic leather can look almost as good as real leather, and doesn't require the same amount of attention and care in order to retain those good looks. There are even motorcycle specific fabric bags, usually made out of Cordura or some other tough material.
There are also hybrid bags, which are part hard bag/part soft bag -- bags with a hard surface and expandable soft panels that allow a little bit of stretch. Or hard plastic bags that are covered with leather, for the best of durability with the best of looks in one package.
Pay close attention to your manufacturer's guidelines and instructions when mounting and loading saddlebags. Too much weight can be very dangerous, even if the load fits in the saddlebags. And be sure that you use the proper mounts and wheel guards when fitting your saddlebags to your bike. When you lean into a turn, you need to be sure that your saddlebag isn't drooping into your wheel, onto your driveline, or onto the roadway. That's bad.
I've got leather bags for my Sportster. They look great, and they're equipped with a quick release so that the yoke stays on the bike at all times, even when I disconnect the bags to bring them into my hotel room. They're not as secure as I'd like, so I keep my bike in sight or I take my bags with me. Maybe some day, I'll invest in some hard bags, like these from the Harley-Davidson Parts and Accessories Catalog.
How do you haul your gear on your trips? Share your tips and tricks.