Photography by James Brown...
If you're truly serious about racking up the miles, you've probably considered purchasing a set of hard saddlebags for your motorcycle. That's understandablein the days before purpose-built touring bikes roamed the planet, hard luggage was at the top of every long-hauler's must-have list.
There are fewer players in the aftermarket hard-saddlebag business these days, but the designs they produce are more practical and hard-wearing than ever, rivaling the integrated luggage you'd get on a full-dress touring bike for capacity and convenience. The recent popularity of so-called "rigid bags" has expanded the touring accessory menu even furtherthese stylish, customizable cargo containers usually feature a soft outer material such as leather supported by stiff plastic inserts or an internal frame. Since they're easier to manufacture, they're also more affordable than true hard bags.
To rig hard or rigid bags, you'll need mounting hardware made specifically for your motorcycle. Oftentimes the bag manufacturer will offer matching brackets with the luggage, but don't count on it. Installation shouldn't be too difficult, though it will likely require relocating your bike's rear turn signals; check with the manufacturer to confirm before you start shelling out greenbacks. Then, once the hardware's in place, simply bolt the bags into the brackets.
It's a good idea to look at waterproof and lockable bags. It also helps if they are detachable, so that when you arrive at your destination you can carry your luggage inside.
Another foible to be aware of is the illusion of capacitywhile hard bags may appear huge on the outside, some are oddly shaped to better match your bike's lines, leaving you with nooks and crannies on the inside that aren't particularly useful. Unlike soft bags, they won't expand as you keep cramming stuff in. Plus, mounting brackets can position the bags pretty far out, adding significant width to your motorcycle, so you might want to familiarize yourself with the extra girth before setting out. Be sure to measure pipe and strut clearances as well. Even with the bags off, you're often left with brackets that might not exactly score fashion points at your next cruiser function.
But nothing's perfect, and if you want the greatest convenience for long-haul touring, you need to at least contemplate hard or rigid saddlebags. We've included several examples of both in this buyer's guide, so take a long, hard look.
Auburn Leather Legend Bags$350 (base price)
Auburn Leather Company has been in the cowhide business for years, so its selection of saddlebags and accessories for American and metric cruisers is extremely diverse. They come in bolt-on and throw-over styles, but the real focus is the bags' exterior materialfull-grain, drum-dyed, 910-ounce black American cowhide treated for UV resistance.
Auburn's best-selling rigid Legend bag combines a classic look with modern features, such as lock-stitched and stress-riveted seams and zinc-plated steel rivets. The Legend's 316-inch low-density polyethylene hard back gives it strong support against bracket mounts, and the interior is reinforced with ABS and HDPE plastic for serious shape retention. Quick-release strap fasteners are hidden under stylish, working chrome-plated buckles and are easily accessible.
The Legend sits 12 inches high, 13.5 inches long (18.5 inches at the widest horizontal point) and a full 6 inches deep; you can choose it with or without chrome studs. You need to purchase a separate mounting system for these bags; either quick-detachable brackets or traditional rolled-chrome loop units will do the trick. Typical loop brackets (get 'em at www.cobrausa.com, www.mcenterprisesusa.com or from the OEM) cost approximately $100, while quick-detachable versions (www.ghostbrackets.com or www.easybrackets.com) retail for around $150. Be sure to specify your motorcycle model when ordering, and check the application chart in Auburn Leather's catalog to confirm fitment for your model: As with any hard or rigid luggage, your bike's turn signals may need to be relocated.
Boss Bags #36 Slanted Bags$775 (base price)
Wisconsin's Boss Bags offers up a wide variety of rigid cargo carriers, specializing in premium leather saddlebags that can be quickly disconnected for a "clean" look. All of its bags feature heavy plastic reinforcing the interior sides, bottom, back and lid; you can have them in plain black leather, or add studs, conchos, fringe or small "piggyback" bags for a custom look.
The #36 slanted bags measure 12.75 inches tall by 19.25 inches wide and 6.75 inches deep, with a lid opening that measures 6 inches by 13.5 inches. These angled packs feature lockable lids and quick-release buckle straps, and come with the company's patent- pending Phantom Bracketsa fiberglass mounting system that allows different placement options using existing bolt holes on your bike. The quick-disconnect feature lets you click the bags off the Phantom nipples (really!) bolted onto the shock strut. Some assembly is required for this featureyou need to replace bolts in the bike's fender with the supplied nipples and spacers. Couplers are then mounted on the Phantom bracket and matched to the nipples, and finally, the bracket is attached to the saddlebags.
The #36 slanted bags include Phantom Brackets and mounting hardware, two Master Locks, a Boss Bags leather care kit and shoulder straps; polished stainless steel nipples are standard. Again, be sure to check applications for your modelsome models may require a turn-signal relocation kit, which Boss Bags can supply separately.
Champion Sidecars Patriot Hardbags$1295 (base price)
From their smooth, clean lines to their high-quality chrome fittings, Champion's Patriot hardbags are real beauties, and a solid representation of the true hard-bag segment. The company says it focused on developing bags that could be easily installed, offering sleek styling, high-quality fit and finish and usable storage capacity, and we'd say it came pretty close. Champion's long experience with composite products helps it meet OEM standards for luggage, too.
The Patriot bags are 26 inches long, 9.5 inches wide and 14.5 inches tall, and hold approximately 35 liters per bag. The side-mounted units (and all Champion hard bags) are manufactured from reinforced fiberglass composite materials; the bag lid features a double-wall construction for strength. A watertight gasket seal keeps Mother Nature from intruding on any valuables inside, and a solid chrome locking mechanism keeps would-be felons from making an easy score.
The mounting brackets are laser-cut for a better fit and bolt alignment, and they're powdercoated with a durable rust and corrosion-resistant finish. A plush gray polypropelene liner treated with mildew inhibitors is included with the bags. You also have several PPG paint options, all applied by factory-trained experts. If the Champion Patriot bags seem like the Cadillac of this group, they're priced accordinglyan unpainted set will run you $1295. Custom graphics will kick in an additional $300, but if money is no object, you could do worse than accessorizing your bike with these.
Corbin Beetle Bags$899 (base price)
We've always liked the look of Corbin's Beetle Bagsthey're a unique departure from traditional designs. Each set is made specifically for the motorcycle model it's mounted on and gets its shape from the bike's lines. The bag's inside wall is molded to hug the bike's profile, and matching components are designed to complement the shape as well. Keeping the bags close to the centerline is said to result in less frightening handling characteristics, (and probably better aerodynamics too).
The Beetle Bags are manufactured from tough Fibertech material for durability and a smooth finish, but each design has unique capacity characteristics: The units are made as large as is practical for usable storage without harsh aesthetic contrast. The Beetles come as a complete set and are fully lined to protect your cargo. Corbin claims all parts are easily installed on a stock chassis, and all necessary mounting hardware is included. Beetle Bags are available in a primer Gel-Coat ready for the painter, or you can order most models prepainted to coordinate with factory colors.
New applications are always in the works, so check the online catalog for complete fitment information for your model. Beetle dimensions vary, but each bag generally has a 30-liter capacity. Since Beetle Bags closely follow the bike contours, their installation prohibits the use of a sissy bar, but certain models have been redesigned to work with stock pipes and aftermarket models with a similar profile.
Givi Luggage Cruiser E21 Bags$233.50 (base price)
Because of its Italian lineage, Givi has always been more closely associated with European sportbikes, but the company's new E21 cases are a pretty good fit for today's bigger bikesthey're even called Cruiser bags.
Made of durable polypropelene, Cruiser E21 bags are specified as side-mounted units only, ideal for use in the city thanks to a narrow width and a top-opening design. Each bag measures 16.7 inches by 13.7 inches by 7.7 inches, for a carrying capacity of 21 liters. Sold as a pair, they've been designed asymmetrically to give both the right and left cases a unique appearance.
The E21s incorporate Givi's Monokey locking system, which means one key locks or unlocks the case and removes it from the mounts. All Givi bags are waterproof, with a rubber seal providing extra protection from destructive moisture. Mounting hardware for the Cruiser bags is sold separately and is specific to the motorcycle model, but any Givi Monokey-series case can be mounted to that hardware once installed. Generally speaking, chrome sidecase holders will add $210.50 to the purchase price (though they're no longer available for Cruiser bags), and black sidecase holders will add $150. Check application charts before ordering.
The E21s come in a variety of finishes (including studs) with several paint options, which make them good all-around cases that suit almost any motorcycle style. They're also very lightweight, which makes them easy to transport off the bike.
National Cycle Cruiseliner Saddlebags$650 (base price)
Among its myriad bike accessories, National Cycle also offers the affordable Cruiseliner hardshell saddlebags, specifically styled for cruisers. The sleek luggage is made from a special high-density polymer that is said to be dent-resistant (much like the bodywork on GM's Saturn automobile).
At a width of 24.5 inches, a height of 14 inches and a depth of 7.5 inches, Cruiseliners are asymmetrically designed, which results in a tighter fit and more streamlined styling on stock bikes. The top-opening units feature a "thumb-push" lock that flips the lid forward for easy access, and securely fitted, simple-to-use quarter-turn fasteners offer quick removal of the saddlebag from the frame.The bags come primed with three coats of high-gloss black finish, but custom color matching is available, too. The company says you can change colors on your own by sanding them down with lightweight sandpaper and spraying away. They're essentially ready to go right out of the bag, except that you'll need to purchase mounting frames separately.
The mounts (black or chrome) will cost you an additional $85 and $140 depending on the finish and whether your bike requires turn-signal relocation (a cutout version of the Cruiseliner can remedy this situation). All hardware is provided for relocation if necessary, and the company claims a quick and easy installation procedure.
Travelcade/Saddlemen Desperado Saddlebags $300-$360
The nostalgic styling of Saddlemen's rigid-mount Desperado bags is emphasized with details such as conchos, chrome studs and three locking buckles for security. These traditionally shaped cargo carriers feature inner stiffeners to maintain the bag's shape when it's empty, and a solid ABS plastic-molded back and bottom support to offer additional shape retention and allow the unit to mount directly to the frame or struts for a custom fit. Select models even offer a quick-detach mounting option that allows them to be removed for off-bike use; check for your bike's application.
Saddlemen says every bag is specially built for each bike model, so bag applications are designed to hug the specific bike's frame. The Desperados are made for heavier loads and maximum durability, and the exterior material construction is waterproof, allowing for easy clean-up with a damp cloth. All hardware and installation instructions are included. The bags have integral built-in turn signals as required, or relocation instructions are supplied if necessary. The exterior material used on the bags' body is a stylish, synthetic leather with real leather trim.
The Desperados are available in two sizes: 14 inches long by 10 inches tall by 6 inches wide, or a larger capacity that is 17.5 inches long by 12 inches tall by 7.5 inches wide.
Lock Your Leathers Soft Leather Saddlebag Security System$150
It's great if your bike accepts them, but hard bags aren't always a viable option. Sometimes the cost is simply too prohibitive or there are no units available for your particular bike. After a bit of research, Don and Cathy Cousins of Lock Your Leathers found there wasn't anything on the market that effectively secured soft leather bags, so they developed a hasp-type locking device as a solution. A patent was obtained in 2000, and Lock Your Leathers was born. This simple yet effective saddlebag security system provides protection for valuables stored in your bike's bags. It's easy to install and use, and the front hinge helps to hold the bag's shape. A flat plate ensures that a thief cannot reach in from the side to remove valuables. Your peace of mind is probably worth the $150 investment.
For additional evaluations of, comparisons of, and shopping advice for motorcycle gear and accessories, including more saddlebags and luggage, see the Accessories and Gear section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.