How to Choose & Use Motorcycle Soft Saddlebags

Versatile, affordable, capacious and handy, soft saddlebags give luggage capacity to almost any motorcycle. Here some pointers for choosing and using a set. ** By Jamie Elvidge.**

When it comes to motorcycle luggage, synthetic soft saddlebags provide cost-effective versatility, good looks and almost always the most packing space. They are also lightweight and easy to remove, so you can simply whip them off each night on a tour or stow them in a closet when you're not on the road. Soft saddlebags come in all shapes and sizes to suit your bike and packing style, and they are usually free from conchos and fringy detail to provide a clean, sophisticated look. So, if you're looking for efficiency, this is the way to go.

When shopping for synthetic items, remember the number preceding denier applies to the thickness of the thread used. The thicker the thread, the more tensile strength you'll get. High numbers provide some stiffness so your bags will hold their shape, even when empty.

If possible try fitting the bags on your primary traveling bike before your buy them. You can see if the fastening system works and assure yourself that they won't contact the pipes, touch any moving parts, or interfere with the passenger's leg. Some bikes may also have turn signals that get in the way of saddlebags.

Every saddlebags maker has a unique mounting system. We prefer the type that allows the receiving mechanisms to stay on the bike. This way, you can just unclip them and walk away, and effortlessly reinstall them in the morning without fine-tuning.

If you're carrying saddlebags and your bike isn't equipped with stays (chrome extensions below the fender to keep your bags from interfering with the wheel) you definitely need them. Soft bags will gravitate toward the wheel causing damage to the bags—and in the worst case, they'll catch and cause a lock-up.

Make absolutely sure the bags won't contact the muffler. It will destroy them. Good soft bags provide plenty of adjustability. Remember the bags will ride lower after an hour or two on the road, so leave space. We've seen plenty of underwear burn, and last year watched a bag light up.

Saddlebags need to attach to a bike fore and aft. Typically, we hook the front straps to each passenger footpeg or floorboard bracket and the rear connectors to the taillight stems. Most synthetic saddlebags feature throw-over versatility. We recommend the straps stay on top of the seat so you can adjust them if needed.

Top-loading bags are nice, and ideally the whole top panel will zip open so you can rummage. Side-loading bags provide the easiest access to goods down below, but things often spill out. Also, they are more difficult to zip shut and you will lose some expansion room.

With top-loading bags, pack the stuff you don't use during the day at the bottom. Also, place heavy items down low to preserve the motorcycle's center of mass. Make sure each bag is carrying roughly the same amount of weight to avoid handling issues.

Smaller compartments on the sides or tops of saddlebags are a useful feature, allowing you to organize items that you might want on the road. Other features we find useful are carrying handles, loops for bungee cords on the tops, and oversized zipper pulls, to make them easy to use with gloves. If you ride behind a someone with reflective panels on their bags at night, you will immediately appreciate this feature. Some bags have zipper or top designs that allow them to be locked, though this will only discourage the casual thief.

Look for nylon that's been treated with polyurethane so that water will bead up and disperse during a light rain. No nylon luggage will be completely waterproof, however, and good bags come with custom-fitted rain covers.

We've never had a problem positioning over-the-seat straps so they don't offend passengers. If you're not carrying a companion, you can secure a large duffle to the back seat. The saddlebags will support its sides (and the duffle will support your back).

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

Bag guards keep bags out of the wheel. These are by Cobra.
The loops are looped around a solid component, and the bag may be unclipped from them.
Large top openings are usually the most convenient.
Separate compartments make it easy to find things you want on the road.