8 Motorcycle Backrest (Sissybar) Bags

These eight sissybar bags are easy to hang on your motorcycle's backrest and can carry quite a bit of gear. But some are better than others, and there are a few cautions.

There's nothing wimpy about riding as a passenger on a motorcycle. So one can only imagine where the term sissybar originated. Perhaps the inventor had a sister who rode shotgun. Whatever the case, the slander stuck...like Saran Wrap® to cellophane.

Aside from holding your passenger in place, sissybars have always been a popular mounting point for parcels of all shapes and sizes. But you can put away the bedraggled bungees and do-in-a-pinch duffels -- these days there are more dedicated sissybar bag designs on the market than ever before. They can be tall or short, soft or rigid, but all use the passenger backrest as their main anchoring point.

Until recently, what's been available was more travel trunk than bag. Trunks are commonly made of rigidly supported leather or Naugahyde,TM, adorned with chrome curios and other fringy fare, and require a rack to mount. Travel trunks like these are still quite popular, but now there are alternatives -- including some copious and cleverly designed bags made from more pliable leather or Cordura nylon.

The most functional sissybar bags can either be mounted on the rear seat, where they double as a backrest for the rider, or turned around to sit on a rack when the passenger seat is occupied. The soft nylon or lightweight leather bags make the most pleasant back supports, and their comfort can be greatly enhanced with thoughtful packing. The new nylon bags are typically roomier, lighter in weight and -- more often than not -- incorporate shoulder straps so they can be carried as backpacks.

What you gain in comfort and convenience with a soft bag you may lose in appearance. Unsupported bags tend to look a bit sloppy. In contrast, the traditional trunk-like leather bags we garnered for this guide are visually outstanding and add a classic look to the bike, especially when coupled with similarly styled saddlebags like the Heritage set on our Kawasaki Vulcan Classic. The trunks won't hold an enormous amount though, which (for some) might be considered a benefit. Undisciplined packers should steer clear of bags capable of stowing a portable sauna.

Most of these bags include (or feature as an option) a separate, cylindrical bedroll sack intended to fasten atop the main case. These are great if you sleep in a bag when traveling. If you don't camp, the additional space may prove excessive and a challenge to make proper use of (it should carry only extremely lightweight items). Regardless, extending the bag upward without good reason is an aerodynamic and handling faux pas.

Whether you choose a sissybar bag for fashion or function, it's wise to keep in mind how easy it is to upset a motorcycle's supersensitive balance. All of these bags sit well above a bike and rider's center of gravity, so packing improperly can unduly affect your bike's handling -- especially when you're carrying a load as far aft as the luggage rack. This is often a subtle shift in the attitude of a bike which is not even perceptible at stoplights. The manufacturer's warnings that improper loading can cause injury or death aren't a joke.

So, simply pack the heavy stuff in the bottom of the bag -- or better yet -- evenly distribute your weightiest whatnots between saddlebags, then continue up the luggage chain pyramid-style.

Product photography by Dean Groover

All American Large Rivet Bag

All the bags in the All American line of luggage are made from synthetic Ameritex, a heavy, padded-grain material that looks and feels like leather. It's claimed to provide greater durability while requiring less maintenance. Certainly it will resist staining and mildew better than animal hides, which are more porous and attract moisture if not consistently treated to repel it.

The Large Rivet bag system offers a 51-quart capacity and measures roughly 13 inches high x 20 inches wide x 13 inches deep. It secures by sliding the sheath on the back of the bag over your padded sissybar. This full-coverage technique gives the package a clean look. Nylon cords are then used to cinch the bag down tightly to a rear rack. The Rivet bag features three large outer pockets that seal tightly using hook-and-loop fasteners. The pockets, as well as the main compartment, feature sturdy box-type lids to keep moisture and dust out.

The Rivet bag is designed to receive the All American Barrelbag Classic bedroll case. This 15 inch-wide x 9 inch-diameter cylinder attaches to the top of the Rivet bag using two, small plastic clips. Unfortunately there isn't a secondary system to secure it more adequately.

All American Sissybar/Travelpacks come in two basic styles. The Rivet is available in medium, large, and extra-large sizes. The basic three-pocket bag design can be purchased as a "Classic" (sans studs and conchos in the same three sizes). The "Large" version with bedroll sells for a suggested $210. The other style is called the Box Sissybar Case, since it has no pockets. It comes in small and large sizes, with or without decor. The firm offers saddlebags in styles and sizes to match these sissybar bags.

American Eagle Beach Street SC

Here's a company that knows a thing or two about research and development. American Eagle has been refining their traditionally styled sissybar bags for 24 years. With that kind of time and effort, it's no wonder their product outshines the other leather trunk-style bags we've seen, in both appearance and craftsmanship. As with all their bags, The Beach Street SC (studs and conchos) is made from high-quality, latigo-grade cowhide and is reinforced with stiffening panels discretely sandwiched between the inner and outer applications of leather. Other fineries include chrome-plated brass studs, nickel-plated rivets, heavy-duty roller buckles and hardened black-on-brass zippers. The Beach Street connects to the sissybar using a large, hook-and-loop adjustable panel, and a smaller, secondary buckle strap at its base. An additional buckle strap is found on the bag's bottom to secure it tightly to the rear rack. (This is a dedicated trunk-type bag. It requires a rack and doesn't double as a rider backrest.)

Just one look...one touch...one sniff of that buttery-soft leather...and you might not even flinch at the $339 asking price. (There's a plain version available for $299). It's that easy to fall in love. And unlike love, this bag carries a lifetime warranty for material and workmanship.

But wait -- since you have your checkbook out, there are some goodies that go along with this bag. For $35 American Eagle offers a tailored, waterproof nylon liner for the bag. And get this, for only $39 you can get the optional/interchangeable cooler bag. It's ideal for cold drinks and snacks, guaranteed not to leak or sweat, and keeps ice solid for a claimed 36 hours. A waterproof cover ($25) keeps all the bootie dry.

Dowco Rally Pack

This is a luggage system with a huge degree of flexibility. The Rally Pack includes a large sissybar pack/backpack, a roll bag, a vinyl roll bag liner and an attachable bungee net. Both the rugged main bag and the roll bag are made of treated Cordura nylon and incorporate foam panels for insulation and shape retention. An additional application of nylon lines the bags and helps the foam stay in place.

There are three outer pockets on the main bag including a perfectly sized front map pocket. Easy access into the large, 45-quart capacity compartment is supplied via a long, zippered top flap. The roll bag alone can be attached to the sissybar when its 15-quart capacity is sufficient. The cylindrical roll bag features the same trunk-style opening and two side pockets. Either bag attaches to the sissybar using dual, adjustable hook-and-loop straps. Both feature adjustable carrying handles.

The bag's elaborate multifunction strapping assembly ties the whole system together. This network of nylon secures the bags to one another, provides additional anchoring to the bike, and creates the backpack straps when you need them. Extras included with the Rally Pack system are a clear vinyl roll bag liner (presumably to hold wet gear) and a bungee net for added storage capacity -- as if you'd need it with such an enormous system. The net attaches to a plastic D-ring system on the main bag.

The durable, multipurpose Rally Pack retails for about $140 and should fit all sissybar/luggage rack combinations.

Eclipse Standard Tank Bag

Yes, you read that title correctly...only the Eclipse tankbag is far from standard -- and more than a tankbag. While its primary function is to ride harnessed to the fuel tank, Eclipse simply added a sleeve to the back (or bottom) of the bag so it will neatly slide over a sissybar. It's perfect for a day ride or overnighter. Actually, the size of this bag, 21 quarts, is far more appropriate for keeping your load within recommended weight specifications. And the anchoring system to the tank should work on most cruisers too, allowing it to do double duty. If your motorcycle has a tank-mounted speedometer, the Eclipse tnak bag may fit below (or behind) it.

The Cordura nylon construction is reinforced with U-shaped stiffeners around the bag's perimeter to hold its shape even when empty. Two, large, zippered side pockets provide easy access to small necessities, and a two-point, snap-off front pocket clips to your belt when you're off the bike to keep valuables close at hand. The clear, full-size map pocket on the top of the bag can be snapped off and stowed when you use the bag on the sissybar.

The Standard tankbag finds yet another role as a backpack when you put the provided shoulder straps to use. At 14 inches long x 9 and 1/2 inches wide x 7 and 1/2 inches deep it's the perfect size for toting around town -- basically the size of a standard day pack. You can have this multifunctional bag and the 25 years of development that have gone into it for a suggested retail of only $95, rain cover included.

Rev-Pack Standard Rest Pack

There's a lot to be said about simplicity; consider the design of the Rev-Pack Standard Rest Pack. There's nothing complex here yet it offers ample storage capacity (37 quarts), the most efficient access to its contents, and produces the most luxurious back support. It might not look like much out of the box -- since it doesn't use a stiffening system like some of the other bags -- but once loaded, the Rest Pack reveals its well-proportioned lines and useful nature.

The Rest Pack is made from heavy Cordura nylon and uses a sleeve to attach to the sissybar. Two adjustable horizontal straps cinch down to tighten the sleeve around the backrest.

The Rev-Pack Rest Pack has several bungee attachment rings, the lower of which might be used wisely as an additional way of anchoring the bag. It is designed to sit on the rear seat and double as a rider backrest, or face rearward to rest on a rack or hang above the fender. Corduroy covers the bottom of the bag for increased durability and to protect the bike's finish.

There's one very large main compartment and a second large pouch set low and forward. Either can be accessed at any time via their large circumference zippers. At the base of each side you'll find a convenience pocket (with hook-and-loop style closure) and an additional flat, zippered map pocket on the front of the bag. A nylon carrying handle is provided on top.

The beauty of this rucksack-style sissybar bag is found not only in its simple design, but also in its affordable $85 price. A urethane-treated cloth rain cover is available for $15 more.

T-Bags Lone Star

This is a very popular item at dealerships around the country. In fact, T-Bags are so well represented that many of the people who rely on their dealer for product information and are shopping for such a bag don't even know there are options available from other companies. At least it's a darn good product that has attracted the showroom spotlight.

The Lone Star T-Bag is made from heavy-duty 1000-denier Cordura and is lined with a vinyl-backed material. Between these layers are panels of high-density foam which insulate the bag and help to hold its shape. To further prevent drooping over the sissybar rack, the company has incorporated a new, removable zinc-coated steel batten into the bottom of the bag. As a result of all this bolstering, the Lone Star has an extremely tidy appearance, even when it is empty.

Included in the system is a top roll which can be used in tandem with the main bag or separately. Both the base bag and the top roll bag attach via a sleeve that's slipped over the sissybar pad. The bags can then be tightened down securely, using adjustable nylon straps, to the base of the sissybar or to the luggage rack. The main bag holds about 45 quarts, and the roll bag holds approximately 15 quarts.

If you carry the roll bag on top of the main bag as intended, you must use the included webbed harness to properly secure it. The Lone Star offers four convenient and sizable zippered pockets, and a hook-and-loop sealing map pocket on the front. D-rings provide additional anchoring points on the main bag. Dealerships sell the Lone Star system for about $175.

Tour Master Nylon Sissybar Bag

This is a completely new line for Tour Master and quite unlike anything the firm has done before. The Nylon Sissybar Bag is big, it's bold (well, maybe not the name), and it's brilliantly designed. On the other hand this bag is so big and laden with benefits and capacity that it's a little hard to heft around. The XL sissybar bag we inspected (which was a prototype) weighed in at about nine pounds. If size counts, Tour Master's offering is the bag. The main case measures 18 inches high x 22 inches wide x 11 inches deep and has a 75-quart capacity. The adaptable flat-bottom Barrel Bag holds another 21 quarts and measures 8 inches high x 17 inches wide x 9 inches in diameter.

The thick Cordura shell and Tricot liner encase plastic stiffeners so the whole system remains dimensional. The main compartment's box-style lid seals using gigantic swatches of hook-and-loop material. Inside there's a drawstring top built into the liner to further seal out the elements. There are pockets everywhere -- eight in all. Some are big, some small, some close with zippers and some with hook-and-loop fasteners. Whatever you want to bring, it will fit somewhere in or on this unit.

Additional features on the Tour Master system include rustproof black-anodized hardware, adjustable, padded backpack straps and padded handles, roll bag shoulder strap, reflective panel, and a rain cover (which doubles as a tent). Mounting is achieved using a universal-fit sleeve and hook-and-loop secondaries. (While we didn't see anything questionable about this mounting system it may change on the production version.) You can get the whole shebang for only around $110. Matching saddlebags are also available.

Wolfman Rambler

This is the sissybar bag for anyone who wants it all. The design is extremely functional, the bag attractive, and the price affordable. It's this blend of function and fashion that has Wolfman -- the new kid on the block -- turning heads in both the soft luggage and apparel markets.

The Cordura Rambler is a new addition to the Wolfman line and one of its outstanding features is the mounting system. It's the only bag that employs a bungee-and-hook retention system to back up the hook-and-loop sissybar wrap. The four heavy-duty plastic hooks and adjustable bungees tuck neatly into a Cordura panel beneath the bag when not in use. This thoughtful feature ensures that the bag stays put no matter what the model or maneuver.

Other innovations include five sizable outer pockets, including one that is perfectly shaped to receive a Camel Bak water bladder. The large pocket incorporated into the top flap is great for maps or a date book, and the full-size front pouch can stow rain gear or glove changes. All the pockets close with two-way, tabbed zippers and are covered by rain flaps. There are also removable, adjustable shoulder straps and a carrying handle.

The Rambler is extremely lightweight (about three pounds) even though the Cordura shell houses a high-density polyethylene support system. The overall capacity is huge, stowing up to 42 quarts. It uses a top-loading system which is great for, say, setting a spare full-faced helmet in the bottom of the bag. But it does make it difficult to get to items below the surface. All told, the Wolfman Rambler is quite a deal at $125. A rain cover will cost another $17.

RESOURCES

All American Rider and Tour Master via Helmet House
26855 Malibu Hills Road
Calabasas Hills, CA 91301
(800) 421-7247 or (818) 880-0000
www.tourmaster.com
www.allamericanrider.com

American Eagle Leatherworks, Inc.
22 Creekside Way
Greenville, SC 29609
(864) 292-8810
www.eagleleatherworks.com

Dowco, Inc.
4230 Clipper Dr.
Manitowoc, WI 54220
(800) 558-7755 or (920) 682-7796
www.dowco-inc.com

Eclipse, Inc.
3771 E. Ellsworth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
(734) 971-5552
www.eclipseluggage.com

Rev-Pack
P.O. Box 175
New Cuyama, CA 93254
(800) 766-2461 or (805) 766-2454
(www.revpack.com

T-Bags
via CDL Enterprises
4050 West Chandler Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(800) 957-6288
www.t-bags.com

Tour Master
See All American
www.tourmaster.com

Wolfman
2450 Central Ave. Suite A
Boulder, CO 80301
(800) 535-8131 or (303) 541-9723
www.wolfmanluggage.com

For additional evaluations of, comparisons of, and shopping advice for motorcycle gear and accessories, see the Accessories and Gear section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.