Motorcycle Saddlebags - Buyer's Guide

A Buyer's Guide To Throw-Over Saddlebags

The practical choices for motorcycle luggage are numerous-barrel bags, tank bags, tail bags, tailpack systems, to name just a few. However, if you want to get really retro, there's only one option: the throw-over saddlebag-two cargo bags connected by a yoke. That basic design still appeals today; just throw your stuff in the bags, toss them over the back of the bike and hit the road. Well, sort of. First make sure the load is balanced, then secure the bags to the bike frame. Also, we strongly suggest you mount a metal bracket to your bike to provide further support and prevent the bags from being ingested by the rear wheel. And finally make sure there's enough clearance between the bottom of the bags and your exhaust system. (We suggest one to two inches.)

Leather is no longer the only choice in saddlebags; there's now a variety of synthetic materials that tout superior durability, water resistance and an attractive appearance and feel. All come in a variety of sizes, dictated by both cargo needs and the location of your exhaust pipes. Finally, you can get your saddlebags smooth-sided or with braided leather edges, conchos, studs and fringe. You can also probably get sequins if you absolutely have to have them...

Fox Creek Leather Fatboy Saddlebags $340Fox Creek products come with a lifetime guarantee for workmanship and materials, but the company says it doesn't cover "damage from knife fights." With 5-ounce top-grain cowhide construction with a hard-rubber backing and plastic inserts for shape, there's some tough stuff here. You get traditional belt-buckle closures and a full-length zipper for the main compartment. Under the large flap, there's a full-width zippered pocket, with three more pockets inside. Inside is a soft Cordura lining. The yoke is adjustable and bags can be zipped off individually and carried with an integral handle that has metal snaps to prevent accidental unzipping from the yoke. Unfortunately, the snaps are hard to close, yet pop open with minimal force. Included cords allow you to tie the bags to the bike or saddlebag brackets. Naturally, the Fatboys are made in the U.S.A.
ACE Leather Products No. 66 Med STO $350These classically styled saddlebags from ACE Leather are fashioned from heavy-duty stuff, primarily 9-10-ounce leather, with the back covered in hard rubber for durability and to help maintain the bags' shape. They close with chrome roller-buckles and long straps that can also be used to lash down extra gear (say, a jacket) on top of the luggage. There's a leather handle atop each bag and each side sports a decorative piece of leather topped with a silver star badge. The inside of each pouch features a single large, compartment partially covered by short dust flaps. The yoke is adjustable and also has the quickest bag-removal system in this bunch-three chrome fasteners that release with a quarter-turn. Made in the U.S.A.
Auburn Leather Co. Bandito Chubby $418Auburn Leather Co. makes its bags from 9-10-ounce "hand-selected U.S. steer hide." That skin is drum-dyed and claimed to be UV resistant. These bags have a soft feel and feature side panels of basket-weave embossed leather. There's also a variety of synthetic panels on the back and inside for water resistance and to maintain shape. Two quick-release fasteners hidden under chrome buckles and leather straps close the bags. The yoke is adjustable for width and has a 10-inch, heavy-duty zipper on each side, with protective flaps above and below, plus a snap to keep each zipper closed. The top of each bag features a detachable carrying handle, and two leather cords on the back securely fasten them to your motorcycle. Made in the U.S.A
Carolina Leather Works Carroll Leather 786 Throwover $150The Carroll 786 Throwover bags may be the big bargain here. Made of heavy-duty 10-ounce full-grain leather that's oak tanned, drum-dyed and finished with black waterproof topcoats, they're backed with a PVC composite material for added durability. The stiffness of the leather maintains the shape of the bags. Stress points are riveted, and the buckles and studs are all chrome-plated brass. There are quick-release fasteners under the brass buckles, with leather ties on the back to secure the saddlebags to your bike, as well as studs around the edge of the lids. Inner dust flaps don't fully cover the top of the compartment. While the yoke isn't adjustable, Carolina Leather Works provides a sizing chart to find the right bags for your motorcycle. Made in the U.S.A.Dimensions: 13"W x 10"H x 5"
Custom Classic NBR 15 Saddlebags $200This model from Custom Classic Saddlebags is the quintessential BIG touring bag, constructed of "premium quality" 8-ounce weather-treated leather with riveted stress points. There's an ABS plastic sheet on the inside to maintain shape, and CCS also states that these bags don't need any sort of mounting brackets-just the included leather ties on the back. The slant-shaped bags feature chromed studs around the front edges with three rows of studs on top. Four D-rings on top of the bags give you additional options for lashing on more gear. Quick-release fasteners are hidden under the traditional chrome buckles, and the yoke has limited adjustability for fender width. If you can't fit all of your gear into these, you should probably think about getting a car. Made in the U.S.A.Dimensions: 18"W x 12"H x 7"D. (858) 213-6643
Leatherworks Motorcycle Cruiser 112ZPLK2 $480The Leatherworks saddlebags are a mix of old and new. For the traditional bits, you get 10-12-ounce leather construction with a plastic back panel to maintain bag shape. The chrome buckles come with leather straps long enough to cinch down items atop the saddlebags. There's also a leather handle on each bag, with pockets on the back (and another pocket inside). Modern features include quick-release fasteners under the chrome buckles, plus four metal clips on top to mount additional gear. The adjustable yokes have zippers on each side with protective flaps; the zipper ends can be tied closed to brass grommets. The trick feature is a unique internal locking system that opens with a key inserted into the side of the bag. Made in the U.S.A.Dimensions: 16"W x 12"H x 7"D. (888) 265-9650
Saddlemen, Highwayman Elite Slant Saddlebags (Large) $173Saddlemen claims its heavy-grain "elephant hide" synthetic leather is the most realistic of the synthetic materials. Each bag has a handle and three D-rings on top that can be used to strap on more gear. The inner dust flap snaps closed, the inside of the bag is lined with plastic, and there's hard plastic on the back. Quick-release fasteners hide under traditional chrome buckles and also feature built-in locks. The bags come with four small chrome padlocks that can be used to secure the zippered yokes to the bags (you can also hang them on the front buckles to give the appearance of locked bags). Included nylon carry bags make for easy packing and unpacking. The saddlebags use nylon webbing straps and quick-release buckles to secure them to the motorcycle. Made in China.Dimensions: 17"W x 10"H x 6" (800) 397-7709
RoadKrome (Motovan) Houston Saddlebag Deluxe Braided $176RoadKrome claims these synthetic-material (called "Leather Tek") saddlebags look like real leather but don't require the same care as animal hide. Inside the main compartment, you'll find a pocket large enough for a wallet, and a polyethylene sheet to provide reinforcement and maintain the shape of the bags, plus long dust flaps that snap closed. Decorative braid runs around the top and side edges, and there's a RoadKrome logo embossed on the side. Quick-release fasteners are hidden under traditional straps-and-buckles and the adjustable yoke can be placed above or below the seat, depending on the seat mount. On the back, there are leather cords to strap the bags to the frame or saddlebag brackets. The Houstons, interestingly enough, are made in Pakistan.Dimensions: 14.5"W x 10.5"H x 6.25"D.
Willie & Max Ranger Braided Super Slant Saddlebag $196Willie & Max claims that the synthetic material used for the Super Slant saddlebags is flame retardant and contains UV protection and anti-mold/mildew inhibitors. As on many of the models here, outside straps and buckles conceal quick-release fasteners, providing easy access to your gear. In addition to the main pocket, the bags also have an outside pocket sized for a wallet or small camera. The top flap closes with one buckle and a hook-and-loop patch, and the yoke is adjustable for width, with zippers for easy removal and mounting. The Super Slants have decorative braid around the top edges and pocket, and a removable carry handle. Interestingly, the internal bag stiffener is made of Coroplast (think "plastic corrugated material"). Made in the U.S.A.Dimensions: 16"W x 11"H x 6.5"D. (847) 356-7763
River Road Medium Zip-Off Slant Saddlebag $150River Road claims the Zip-Off Slant's synthetic leather "looks so real you'll look twice," and it features UV protection too. Decorative braid adorns the edge of the covers, and the bags feature a fully adjustable yoke with zippers for quick removal. Each bag also has a carry handle and closes with hook-and-loop material and two quick-release fasteners hidden under traditional chrome buckles and straps. There's the obligatory plastic material lining the bottoms and in the outer sides for strength and shape retention. The inner dust flaps are long enough to overlap. Made in Indonesia.Dimensions: 17"W x 9"H x 6"
Support Is GoodIf you use saddlebags on your bike, it's always a good idea to install a set of support brackets too. These consist of a U-shaped piece usually made of round bar-stock, black- or chrome-finished. They bolt on to the motorcycle through the fender or top shock mounts and prevent the saddlebags from contacting the swingarm, shock, rear brake caliper and rear wheel. We consider the brackets to be essential because at the very least, the saddlebags will likely get damaged without them. Worse is that, without the brackets, one of the bags could get wedged between the rear wheel and the swingarm. We don't think you need an explanation of the consequences in that situation. Manufactured by RoadKrome, River Road, National Cycle, Cobra and others, support brackets are model-specific to each motorcycle. Prices range from $40 to $170 per pair, and brackets are available from J&P; Cycles (, as well as at your local motorcycle-accessory dealer.
TourMaster Cruiser II Large Slant Saddlebags ("Rivet") $180TourMaster claims its synthetic leather material is durable, almost maintenance free and stain and rust resistant. The Cruiser IIs also feature chrome studs on top and decorative conchos with fringe on the sides. The bag closes with quick-release fasteners hidden under traditional buckles, while the inner dust flaps are secured with a snap. The bottom, front and rear of the bags are padded inside. The adjustable yoke can be used above or under the seat and has zippers for attaching each bag (snaps keep the zippers closed). There's also a handle on each bag for easy transport; other bonus features include neoprene pads on the back to prevent scratches on your bike and removable rain covers (not found on any of the other models here). Made in China.