Soft luggage is a staple for...
Soft luggage is a staple for the Motorcycle Cruiser staff because it enables us to switch bikes quickly and pack on test bikes without making permanent changes.
It used to be that saddlebags carried the bare essentials for a long pony ride. Today our steeds and needs have changed, and our bags have grown appropriately. We like our stuff more than ever, and we like to take as much of it along as possible when we are on our motorcycles. We've got the necessities: rain suit, wrenches, flat fix and duct tape. We've got our essentials: clothing, toiletries, comely shoes and helmet-hair-hiding hat. We've got our basics: camera, film, binoculars, cell phone, palm-top computer, global positioning receiver...
Even the most conservative packer can find fodder enough to fill a set of saddlebags when heading out for more than a day ride, and you've got lots of choices. You can spend the big bucks on custom hard bags, which look nice, but if you have a pack attack or carry a passenger you may wish for something a little more pliable. They'll also get banged up if your bike gets a little tipsy, whereas soft bags will actually cushion the fall somewhat. The soft side leaves you with a choice of leather, wannabe leather and synthetic fabric luggage.
Cowhide is the fashionable choice, and if it's been properly treated and maintained it can stand up fairly well to most weather, though it probably won't protect your gear from it. However, if you're simply a fan of leather for its practical and natural properties, you'll be hard-pressed to find any motorcycle saddlebags that aren't laden with doo-dads (like conchos and fringe) or that use functional closures (like quality zippers and fasteners). Leather bags are going to be pricey, too. Enter the looks-like-leather set. One would guess that's why this breed of bag exists, solely as a price option to the real thing. That may be viable, but you lose that real-leather smell.
Most soft saddlebags can be...
Most soft saddlebags can be removed in seconds and reinstalled almost as fast, once they are adjusted to fit your motorcycle.
So let's take a look at the most functional and best-selling approach to motorcycle luggage: the synthetic textiles. Most of the luggage in this category is constructed of some form of nylon, most often Cordura. Nylon, depending on its thread thickness, or denier, offers superior strength, elasticity and durability over animal hide. And, when it's coated with something like polyurethane, it becomes virtually watertight.
When shopping the man-made materials market, here are a few clues. The number preceding denier applies to the thickness of the thread used. The thicker the thread the more tensile strength you'll get. Ballistic nylon, for example, is a 1050-denier nylon and one of the toughest on the market. A weave in the high numbers is going to be stiffer, so your bags will hold their shape and be more durable. However, a 250-denier will offer great compactibility and a lighter weight, which is ideal for expandable bags. And obviously we're talking about breaking baubles here, not bones, so if you take a spill the thickness may not be fundamental. For rain protection the saddlebag's sealant and closure design are the primary protection factors.
Saddlebag supports keep saddlebags...
Saddlebag supports keep saddlebags out of your motorcycle's wheels and brakes and keep them from rubbing the paint. This one is from Cobra (www.CobraUSA.com),which supplies them for many cruiser models.
Also, keep in mind that any weight of nylon will melt when exposed to heat. All the bags in this guide offer some degree of adjustment to keep them away from the exhaust system. Most use some sort of cinching system over the seat to raise or lower the height at which the ride, and a few include step adjustments on the bags themselves for fine-tuning. You'll also see the occasional exhaust guard, which gives you no excuse for letting your bags dangle on the pipes. Even if you don't lose your underpants on the interstate, you'll end up with a mess on your tail pipe. And more importantly, low-riding bags tend to creep into the fender well, at the minimum interfering with suspension travel, if not causing a major spill when they catch in the rear wheel.
We strongly recommend that, if your cruiser doesn't already have them, you should add some aftermarket saddlebag stays designed specifically for your model. These inexpensive, easy to install accessories will keep your bags looking tidy on the bike and might help you avoid disaster.
Lastly, take a good look at the bag's mounting system. Although the dozen we've featured here are all of the throw-over variety, each has a unique anchoring system. For example, some secure fore and aft, which is best from a safety standpoint. Others will offer conveniences like receiving mechanisms that can be left on the bike for effortless removal and reapplication. Such details will look mighty important if you find yourself picking up your dirty ditties along the roadside or untying knots in a freezing downpour.
Editor's note: Since this evaluation was completed in 1998, many of the saddlebags have evolved or been replaced. At least one of the companies has apparently left the market. We are preparing a similar guide for the December 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser (on sale on November).
Chase Harper European Tour Saddlebags $190
12Hx14.5Lx8W -- 33.25 qt. ea.-- 2 anchor pts/bag -- 2 ext. pockets ea.
These extra-large capacity bags are able to retain an enormous amount of gear. The main compartment alone will hold up to 23.75 quarts (imagine one full-face helmet and a half-dozen rainsuits). The large side pockets, at seven and one-half quarts, will hold sizable extras like winter gloves or an electric vest. Overall, each bag encloses roughly 33.25 quarts, including a small removable pocket (two quarts) for your valuables. The bags are made from mid-weight Cordura, and are sealed on the inside for water-tightness. Attachments to the bike include nylon-strap loops for the rear footpegs, or a frame tube with quick-release action so they can be left on the bike. Another strap clips around the tail. Chase Harper incorporates hard plastic into the bottom and upswept front of this bag for stability and protection. They also provide removable plastic exhaust guards. Further niceties include: a soft nylon backing to protect against scuffing; dual-zippered, top-opening access; rain flaps and double nylon handles joined by wraparound leather for easy carrying -- all for around $190.
Dry Bag Saddlebags $167
10Hx15.3Lx8W -- 22.5 qt. ea. -- 2 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
There's nothing normal about these bags offered by Riderwearhouse. This catalog is known for its eccentric yet extremely efficient offerings. So if you dare to be different, the Dry Bags will undoubtedly live up to their name. After all, they are made from a pliable non-porous plastic and lined with Cordura, which rolls closed like a paper sack and secures by looping and locking the double-duty carrying strap beneath the bags. If that sounds ticklish, wait until you install the hard plastic "bag stiffeners." If Ikea sold soft luggage, this would be it. The directions are universal language illustrations and even come with their own ingenious little tool. Attachment is made around the rear and at the footpegs using quick-release buckles on nylon straps. These bags are expandable, thanks to their unusual roll-down top closure, and feature a hard plastic backing that faces soft foam to the bike. Available through mail order for $167.
Eclipse Dodge Slant Cruiser Bags $219
12Hx16Lx6.3W -- 18 qt. ea. -- 2 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
It's true the Dodge bags use both real leather (for straps and trim) and imitation leather (top flap), but since the bulk of their construction is comprised of nylon they are included in this comparison. The leather and chrome-endowed styling is merely a facade for these highly functional, compact bags. Under the fold-over flap waits a dual-zippered Cordura flap, which seals at the end with a hook-and-loop fastener. The bags offer a rigid inner support panel toward the bike and softer support panels on each end. Nylon lines the bags, and a secret stash pocket is incorporated under the top flap. A soft tricot mesh is used on the outer bag facing the bike as well as under the wide seat yoke. This system looks good but requires undue fiddling to adjust and make the bags even. Also a bit different than the others, Dodge bags require that your bike have saddlebag support frames for proper attachment via straps on the bag's inner sides. If you're looking for a functional bag that's undeniably cruiseresque, the Dodge Slants, at $219, may be for you.
Hondaline Saddlebags $167
11.5Hx14Lx 7.5W -- 20.3 qt. ea. -- 2 anchor pts/bag -- no ext pockets
This simple design of nylon, foam panels and PVC lining appears to offer 100 percent water protection. The top opens wide like a paper bag, then seals using a full-length swatch of hook-and-loop fastening material, finally folding over to secure with dual, adjustable quick-release clips. Two hints that they are made by a motorcycle manufacturer are the huge, hard-to-remove warning labels in each bag and a chunky-looking red reflector on their upper rear corner. It's such an odd choice, it makes you wonder if Honda simply had some leftover reflectors from a previous bike model. Luckily, the reflectors detach with a flick of a screwdriver and could be replaced with something more sedate, like a swatch of Scotchlite. The bags attach to the bike using a nylon strip around the rear pegs, which tightens by pulling a nylon cord up through the bag's backing and secures at the desired tautness using a Fastex lock. We wondered how secure this would be and were informed by Honda that it's good to go, and they've never heard of a single problem. The overall clean design of these bags is easy to appreciate. They're also easy to pack and carry, making them a good buy.
Motoline Duo Saddlebags $99
13Hx15.5Lx6-11W -- 35.2 qt. ea. -- 4 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
Here's a set of bags offering extreme expandability for a small price. They can go from a slim six inches in width to a maximum of 11 inches; so shopping for small furniture along the way is no longer a problem. Both of these lightweight nylon bags have an inner bag that closes with a drawstring to, perhaps, separate your dirty duds or isolate your rain-saturated gear. The wide yoke across the rear seat is backed by hook-and-loop fastening material for height adjustment. The bags secure to the bike using a wraparound rear nylon strap, and straps to the rear footpeg area. Additional nylon straps encompass the entire bag, adjusting to accommodate varying load dimensions and closing with heavy-duty, quick-release buckles. These straps could also be laced through saddlebag supports for additional security. Other features include a firm support panel in the bag's inner wall and reflective tape facing the road. For a mere $99, these bags are available in black or black/red.
OSI Deluxe Nylon Saddlebags $145
12Hx16Lx7W -- 30.5 qt. ea. -- 4 anchor pts./bag -- 2 ext. pocket ea.
These large Cordura bags are loaded with functional features. They open at the top with a three-sided zipper covered with thick, shoebox-style rain flaps. There's one large (six quarts) external pocket and a removable pocket in front (two quarts). Each zipper has a nylon tab for easier pull-action when you're wearing gloves. The large, main compartments of the bags are lined with nylon and incorporate stiff plastic from back to upswept front, with flexible foam support in the side walls. There are four detachable anchor points, making these bags one of the more efficient models as far as safety and convenience are concerned. A Scotchlite strip wraps around three sides of the bags and rugged Cordura handles allow for easy transport. For $145, these deluxe saddlebags come in black, or purple and black.
Rev-Pack Deluxe Saddle Packs $155
11.5Hx13Lx8W -- 15 qt. ea. -- 2 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
Jim and Robin Reveley's bags have come a long way since the days they were stitched in a barn as a side job to running a motorcycle campground -- The Songdog Ranch -- in New Cuyama, California. Great thought was obviously put into the design and detail of their Saddle Packs and the result is a clean and classic look. They're constructed of heavy urethane-coated Cordura and lined with sealed nylon. Foam placed in between the two plies adds insulation and stability. A large, stiffened front flap draws tightly over a gateframe (hinged) inner opening to make packing effortless. It's a truly unique design that works well. The front rain flap secures using quick-release mechanisms on adjustable straps. The bags are adjustable up or down by means of the harness system that runs over the rear seat, and can be tightened and/or threaded through different rings on the saddlebag backs. Deluxe Rev-Packs attach to the bike using removable quick-release tabs. They are available in black for $155, or in 17 other colors for 10 percent more. For another few bucks foam shields are also available, with the receiving end of hook-and-loop fasteners already on the bags.
RKA Standard Saddlebags $175
12Hx15Lx8W -- 22.5 qt. ea -- 6 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
By far the most tailored looking of the 12 bag sets featured here, the RKA Standards also have one of the largest capacities at 22.5 quarts. (RKA offers a larger and smaller version of this popular design, as well as custom colors and graphics.) The mounting system is unusual and perhaps the most solid of the bunch. Dual straps tighten down across the seat by mounting to the seat's lip and tightening with hook-and-loop closures. Next, connection straps snap to those semi-permanent straps. These secondary straps connect to the bags via quick-release buckles, so the bags can simply be unclipped for single removal or unsnapped for dual removal while the vital straps stay in place. This system is backed by easy-lock strap attachments to the rear pegs and an around-the-fender strap, as well. RKA bags zip open suitcase-style and feature adjustable retaining straps inside. Synthetic sheepskin is the only thing that touches your bike's finish. The going price of the standard bags in black is $175.
Roadgear Jumbo Expedition Bags $220
12Hx18Lx10W -- 40.8 qt ea. -- 2 anchor pts./bag -- 4 ext. pockets ea.
And they are jumbo. Each of these bags will hold a whopping 40.8 quarts. That's enough room for five or six leather jackets, or say a small microwave oven. The three outer pockets will expand to nearly double their capacity when filled, thanks to expanding panels designed into the 1000-denier Cordura Plus fabric. (Roadgear suggests the forward-most pockets be used as dedicated rain cover holders.) The bags attach using removable nylon-loop straps to the rear footpegs and a quick-release nylon tail strap. Jumbo bags are adjustable to sit lower, flush with the passenger seat or raised two inches above it by threading the two hook-and-loop top harness straps through different D-rings on the upper inside panel of the bags. There are dual handholds on either side of the wide, double-zippered top flap for easy transport off the bike. All main pockets feature large, solid pull tabs on the two-way zippers for easy manipulation. These extra-large capacity saddlebags are ideal for a serious journey or travel with a passenger. Available in black, black and gray, or black and red. The Jumbos retail for a suggested price of $220.
Teknic Saddlebags $100
13Hx15Lx5-10W -- 35.2 qt. ea -- 4 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
These 420-denier nylon, PVC-coated bags share an uncanny resemblance to the Motoport Duo bags. They are designed for immense loads when expanded to their maximum depth of 10 inches, holding approximately 35.2 quarts apiece. This is literally enough space for two full-face helmets. Inside of each nylon-lined bag is an independent, drawstring-closing, stuff sack for separating items. A wide hook-and-loop yoke over the seat joins the two saddlebags, and a four-point quick-release system secures them to the bike. An additional common strap is provided for carrying the bag over your shoulder. Closure is achieved via a wraparound zipper and two adjustable quick-release straps per bag. A spiral-type zipper system releases additional inches of cargo space. Other goodies include padded carrying handles and a reflective logo. Available in black, suggested retail $100.
Tour Master SB-34 $140
12Hx15Lx6.5W -- 27.8 qt. ea. -- 4 anchor pts./bag -- 3 ext. pockets ea.
Compact and versatile, the Tour Master bags offer 23.25 quarts of cargo space in their top-loading, dual-zippered main compartment and four and one-half quarts in an expandable outer pocket. There's an additional mesh pocket positioned piggyback on the side pouch. Included in the $140 suggested retail are Neoprene protection pads and rain covers. These Tour Master bags are made of heavy nylon, shaped with internal support panels and lined with soft tricot. Connection to the bike is achieved via removable loop straps with quick-release fasteners. Additional features include: removable support panels which line the upswept bottom and sides; hook-and-loop fastened nylon wraps for the dual carrying handles; and large zipper tabs -- including a cross-tie strip -- to make opening the main flap a cinch.
Wolfman Slash Saddlebags $129
11Hx14Lx5.5W -- 16 qt. ea. -- 4 anchor pts./bag -- no ext. pockets
These bags have gained many improvements since our evaluation appeared in the April '97 issue. Instead of the thin nylon straps over the seat, Wolfman is now using a wide yoke secured with hook-and-loop material. The top-loading bags secure with zippers beneath large, shoebox-style, Cordura flaps. The flaps keep the weather out and cinch shut using quick-release clips on adjustable straps. Construction is of thick, weather-treated Cordura supported throughout by flexible plastic panels. Fleece cloth covers the portion of the bag which may come in contact with paint or chrome. The anchoring system consists of four adjustable clip-style straps fixed to the bags. If you're looking for compact saddlebags for toting things around town, the Slash set sells for around $129.
Dry Bag via Riderwearhouse
Eight South 18th Ave. West
Duluth, MN 55806
(800) 222-1994 or (218) 722-1927
Building 421 Gudmonson St.
Kincheloe, MI 49788
(800) 666-1500 or (313) 971-5552
Motoline via Motoport
6110 Yarrow Dr.
Carlsbad, CA 92009
(800) 777-6499 or (760) 929-4880
OSI Sports International
P.O. Box 340
Glenmont, NY 12077
(800) 556-7355 or (518) 449-1606
P.O. Box 175
New Cuyama, CA 93254
(800) 766-2461 or (805) 766-2454
206 W. Elgin Dr.
Pueblo West, CO 81007
(800) 854-4327 or (719) 547-4572
Teknic via Specialty Sports
532 Wolverine St.
Rockford, MI 49341
East (616) 866-3722 , West (714) 363-0836
Tour Master Riding Gear
26855 Malibu Hills Rd.
Calabasas Hills, CA 91301
For additional evaluations of, comparisons of, and shopping advice for motorcycle gear and accessories, see the Accessories and Gear section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.