Motorcycle Luggage Comparison: Nine Textile Saddlebags

Saddlebags and motorcycles were made for each other. These textile bags are affordable, roomy, and versatile. They offer varying degrees of convenience and protection for your gear. From the December 2003 issue of _Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine. Saddl

The image of a lone biker cruising down the road with nothing but a sleeping bag strapped to his fork is...well, pure nostalgia for riders in the 21st century. Nowadays, we like our creature comforts, limited packing space or not. And thanks to the wide variety of carrying options out there, now you can take it with you.

When thinking of motorcycle luggage, most riders picture saddlebags first. And why not? Throw-over packs have been around since the days of the Pony Express, and we all know motorcycles and horses are a lot alike, especially when it comes to cargo room. Unlike the simple leather sacks of yore, however, modern cargo carriers now come in every conceivable size, shape and material, from nylon to plastic to leather. If you're looking for versatility, the bags will provide the flexibility you desire. Within that group, the most functional choices are the synthetic textile luggage we've chosen here. These malleable saddlebags also fit a wider variety of bikes, and are easier on your wallet than other options, like leather or hard bags.

Most of the luggage featured here is constructed of nylon, which comes in varying thread thicknesses, or denier. The larger the denier number, the thicker the thread used and the stronger it is. Thicker also translates to stiffer, which means high-denier bags will be more durable and hold their shape better, but thinner bags can be more pliable and lighter. The bottom line, however, is that nylon is versatile, durable and, when coated, can even be waterproof.

But it's not just plug-and-play with this luggage_--_when looking at soft saddlebag systems, you should know the configuration and parameters of your bike. High pipes or intrusive side covers can easily shred a set of bags, and nylon will melt when exposed to heat. Any one of these scenarios can result in a potentially nasty spill or an embarrassing yard sale (and nobody wants to see your pile of dirty laundry). Make sure there's ample clearance between the muffler, chain, tires and brakes; some saddlebags even come with guards to keep them from flopping into the chain or tire. A proper fit also entails positioning bags so that they don't block turn signals or access to passenger footpegs if you're shuttling a companion around. Adding aftermarket saddlebag stays (metal supports) designed for your bike will also keep your baggage off danger spots, providing extra security for your load.

The other thing to check is the bag's attachment system. Typically, you'll have a pair of straps that go over or under the rear seat. These may be adjustable with hook-and-loop straps or buckles to determine how the bags sit when mounted. A strap usually extends forward from the front corner of each bag so you can secure it to a mounting point such as a passenger peg. Another strap usually routes around the back to stabilize the bags. Once everything is set up, removing the luggage is often just a matter of disconnecting three clips and lifting them off the bike. The downside of this, and all strap-on arrangements, is that they can't be locked. You'll have to secure the bags with a cable lock or carry your valuables in something more portable, like a backpack.

Other considerations include moisture protection_--_many soft saddlebags require rain covers_--_and comfort_--_straps can often get in the way of passenger positioning. But if you pick a set of soft bags that fit right, they'll give you all the flexibility you'll ever need for the long haul.

**Chase Harper Phoenix Saddlebags **
6-inch W x 12-inch L x 9-inch H
21.42-liter capacity/ea.
2 anchor pts./bag
1 ext. pocket/bag

Chase Harper is known for its choice designs, and the new Phoenix Saddlebags don't disappoint. These bags are an updated, larger version of its classic Cruiserbags item, and feature a simple rectangular shape with solid midweight Cordura nylon construction. The top-access main compartment has three fold-down flaps to protect the interior, and an outside zipper pocket can stash your documents. The top flap on each secures with two cinch straps and buckle closures. We were also pleasantly surprised to see soft pack-cloth lining, a nice change from the usually harsh interior. These bags are also foam-insulated to help protect your goods from severe temperature changes. Phoenix bags have one adjustable wide flap connecting them together via hook-and-loop that lowers over the seat of your bike, and each unit also sports two nylon straps (one in front and one in back) with quick-release buckles that secure to attachment points on the bike. These sacks are also narrow, so you don't have to worry about misjudging your bike's width, and they're a relative bargain at $100. Available in black.

**Givi T405 Voyager Panniers **
7-inch W x 15-inch L x 11-inch H
11/21-liter capacity/ea.
2 anchor pts./bag
1 ext. pocket/bag

Givi is synonymous with superbly designed luggage, so we were happy to snag a set of its expandable Voyager bags. Our first impression is that they look like two soft briefcases strapped together, but they're deceptively voluminous; a smart design allows them to expand from 11 liters to 21 liters. The clamshell seam lets you load them as you would a suitcase, and then run a zipper around to close the two sides. Those zippers are a bit thin, however, so we're glad to see hefty adjustable straps securing the bags along the outside and top with buckles. The Voyager's two attached nylon belts adjust to each other with hook-and-loop and fit over the saddle, but you have to attach your own straps to the provided D rings to stabilize the load. The bags do come with a rain cover and shoulder strap, and a rubberized backing protects your bike's finish. Each black bag has various external pockets to hold anything from Palm Pilots to water bottles, and the whole thing is Scotchguarded so your luggage looks good longer.

**Nelson-Rigg SB-900 Touring Saddlebags **
9-inch W x 17-inch L x 15-inch H
35-liter capacity/ea.
2 anchor pts./bag
1 ext. pocket/bag

If you're on the Mother of All Road Trips you might want to consider Nelson-Rigg to handle your hauling duties. At a lofty 15 inches tall, its SB-900 Touring bags will accommodate all the odd-sized knickknacks you could possibly hope to amass in your travels. The side-loading bags have a large sleeve and a multipocketed organizing section within to help you catalog all your speeding tickets and ChapStick tubes, but it's the capacious main compartment that's really impressive. Both pieces are padded and come with a neoprene backing that fits between your bike's bodywork and the bag to prevent unsightly scratching. Two large nylon belts secure the bags to each other and the saddle, while an adjustable nylon strap runs from the front and back to stabilize the load. Each bag is secured with two buckled straps that run from the side to the top of the bag, where there's a convenient carry handle. These beefy bags get points for mesh pockets on the side, giving you a handy place to stash a water bottle on the ride. Available in black.

**Ortlieb Dry Bag Saddlebags from Aerostich **
8-inch W x 15-inch L x 10-inch H
22.19-liter capacity/ea.
2 anchor pts./bag
No ext. pockets

These stout sacks may require an engineering degree to assemble_--_nylon stiffeners need to be fitted first_--_but once you do, the Dry Bags are practically bombproof. Spacious, too. The top-loading design rolls closed and clips at both ends for a tight seal, and a bottom strap secures the whole deal. The end result of all this manipulation is complete waterproofness_--_the pliable PVC-coated construction is the same as that of river-rafting dry bags. The bike side of each bag is also backed with a foam pad so as not to scratch your precious paint, and there's a reflective patch at the rear so you're visible to traffic, which shouldn't be a problem if you order the screaming-yellow color option_--_it's brighter than the sun. The Dry Bags are also narrow, which appeals to the lane-splitting commuter in us. They attach via two large hook-and-loop adjustable straps that go across the seat; nylon straps with quick-release buckles secure them to fore and aft mounting points. Get yours in black or yellow waterproof fabric.

**RKA eXpandable Saddlebags **
$235 black, red, $275 for premium colors
4.5-9-inch W x 16-inch L x 11.5-inch H
52-liter capacity/total
2 anchor pts./bag
No ext. pockets

RKA is another homegrown outfit featuring a wide variety of solid luggage designs. Its new eXpandable saddlebags offer a whopping 52 liters of space (26 liters when closed), but they're also one of the sleekest sets here. The company took its standard 47-liter saddlebags, morphed them with its 33-liter bags and made them expandable. The bags' outer is 1000-denier coated Cordura nylon, with foam in the main compartments for cushioning and ABS inserts for shape control. The units zip open suitcase-style, and feature adjustable retaining straps inside and faux sheepskin backing to pad your bike's finish. There's even a rain cover included. The attachment system can go either over or under the seat, utilizing it as an anchor point, and mounts independently of the saddlebags. Dual nylon straps tighten across the seat area and connect with hook-and-loop closures. Connection straps then snap to those via quick-release buckles, so the bags can be unclipped for removal. The system offers straps front and rear to keep the bags stable. And if that sounds complicated, RKA will throw in a free video explaining the whole process in detail.

**Rev-Pack Deluxe SaddlePacks **
$159 black, $179 for colors
8-inch W x 12.5-inch L x 11-inch H
14.2-liter capacity/ea.
2 anchor pts./bag
No ext. pockets

After some three decades, Rev-Pack is still cranking out quality crafted motorcycle luggage in California. Its Deluxe SaddlePacks boast a clean design, with a heavy-duty, urethane-coated Cordura construction and nylon lining. These bags also feature triple-wall compartments, with foam added between plies for insulation and stability; this ensures that they keep their shape pretty well. A stiff front flap overlaps a hinged inner opening that opens wide to make packing effortless, and each bag is encircled by two adjustable straps secured with quick-release buckles. The bags can be vertically positioned via a harness system placed over the rear seat that attaches to the bike with removable quick-release tabs. The entire deal can be tightened with various rings on the saddlebags. Padded handles atop each bag make them easy to carry off the bike, and there's an extra piece of soft vinyl on the back to protect your bike's finish and make the bags more waterproof. The Deluxe SaddlePacks come in black, blue, green, grey, red and tan_--_heck, just give them a call to hear all the options.

**Roadgear Hi-Adventure Jumbo Sport Saddlebags **
9.5-inch W x 16-inch L x 12.5-inch H
90-liter capacity/total
2 anchor pts./bag
4 ext. pockets/bag

They're jumbo all right_--_you can fit a small refrigerator or several riding outfits in the Jumbo Saddlebags' vast cargo area. The top-loading bags zip open wide like an ice chest to swallow all your gear, and outer pockets on each side accommodate even more stuff when filled thanks to expanding panels designed into the 1000-denier Cordura Plus fabric. The bags attach to your bike using removable nylon-loop straps and a quick-release tail line. The Jumbo bags are adjustable to sit lower or higher than the passenger seat by threading the two hook-and-loop top harness straps through D-rings on the upper inside panel of the bags. Dual handholds on either side of the double-zippered top flap allow for transport off the bike, and all main pockets feature large pull tabs on two-way zippers for easy manipulation. A rubberized backing prevents the bags from scratching your bike, and they're available in a variety of bright colors_--_get them in all black, red/black, silver/black or yellow/black.

**Tour Master Nylon Cruiser II Slant Saddlebags (Large) **
6-inch W x 14-inch L x 9.5-inch H
15-liter capacity/ea.
2 anchor pts./bag
No ext. pockets

You know Tour Master for its quality riding gear, but its Cortech luggage should make you take notice, too. The Cruiser II Slant bags offer a solid construction featuring heavy-duty, water-resistant 840-denier nylon and internal support panels to hold their shape. The main compartment is accessed via a top-loading design with a box-style lid utilizing hook-and-loop fasteners, and a nylon lining with a drawstring to seal out the elements. The adjustable mounting yoke can be fined-tuned to fit your bike with a series of interlocking cross-ties, and can be permanently mounted under the seat of most motorcycles. It features a locking Zipper Removal System allowing you to zip off the bags individually while the yoke remains. A carry handle is positioned atop each bag for convenience, and lines run from the front and back to shore up the load. Synthetic leather accents add a touch of class along the top panel, and neoprene protection pads and rain covers are included. The Cruiser II bags come in several sizes; ours were the Large, available in black only.

Wolfman Summit Saddlebags
8-inch W x 15-inch L x 11.5-inch H
45-liter capacity/total
2 pockets/bag

Colorado-based Wolfman's bread and butter is making super-tough luggage for the dual-sport side of the industry, so you know its products can take a serious beating. A sleek design makes its Summit bags deceptively capacious_--_these two top-loading saddlebags combine for a cavernous 45 liters of cargo space. Features include fleece panels to protect your bike's bodywork, exterior D-rings on each bag to lash down extra gear and additional top and side pockets. Bags mount to the bike with an adjustable five-point system, with two straps that can go over or under your saddle secured to each other with adjustable buckles you can tighten even when mounted. The bags are made of durable Cordura nylon, with high-quality webbing and heavy-duty zippers, and all seams are bound and reinforced. The Summit bags are available in black, black/red, black/silver and black/millennium for a carbon-fiber look.


Chase Harper
(877) 965-7977

Givi Luggage
(877) 679-4484

(714) 850-1811

Ortlieb Dry Bag via Riderwearhouse
(800) 222-1994

(800) 766-2461

RKA Luggage
(800) 349-1752

Roadgear Inc.
(800) 854-4327

Tour Master
(818) 880-0000

(800) 535-8131

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

Photo by Andy Cherney