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Motorcycle Luggage

Learn how motorcycle luggage meets demands for form and function.

Need luggage storage for your bike? [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Need luggage storage for your bike?

Motorcycle luggage gives bikers extra space for storage while meeting market demands of form and function. Motorcycle luggage encompasses many different designs, ranging from small leather tool bags to hulking rigid metal panniers. The range of options allow riders to retrofit their motorcycles and scooters with luggage that satisfies cargo needs and also complements personal style.

Luggage by Motorcycle Type

Larger motorcycles, such as cruisers, sport bikes and off-road bikes are designed for longer rides, and can accommodate more luggage. Luggage designed for cruisers takes this into consideration and is often more rugged on the outside to endure harsh weather and road conditions, and features room to store the clothes and gear needed for long, cross-country trips.

Riders owning sport or street motorcycles typically use their bikes for commutes and shorter trips, so luggage designed for these models strikes a balance between smaller size and overall carrying capacity.

Bags designed for off-road motorcycles often feature more rugged construction and slightly smaller carrying capacities than those found on street motorcycles. Extended touring on dirt bikes is rare, but riders often use these smaller packs to carry emergency rations and gear for daytrips and short trail rides.

Motorcycle Luggage Designs

In order to provide riders with the most storage space possible, luggage designers create bags for nearly every structural area of the bike, including the handlebars, fork, tank, tunnel, tail, saddle, sissy bar and windshield. As explained by MotorcycleUSA.com, riders rarely use all of these options at once, but the variety is especially helpful when planning multi-day or specialty trips that require large quantities of luggage.

Tank bags, tail bags and saddlebags take their names from the area of the motorcycle designed to hold them and are very popular with street riders and commuters because of their low-profile shape and moderate capacity. Because of their popularity, tail bags and saddlebags are available in a variety of sizes, offering capacities equal to small daypacks or small suitcases.

Tank bags, however, are unique in that they provide storage without altering the overall appearance or aerodynamic efficiency of the bike, making them especially popular among style- and performance-conscious riders.

Handlebar, fork, sissy bar and windshield bags are generally smaller than tank, tail and saddlebags, and serve mostly to help riders customize their cargo capacities by adding storage in small increments instead of large chunks.

Motorcycle Luggage Material and Structure

Most motorcycle luggage is constructed out of durable fabrics such as leather or nylon. Properly-cared-for leather luggage provides reasonable weather protection and durability along with classic styling for the motorcycle aesthetic. Synthetic luggage has the added benefits of being less expensive, easier to clean and in some cases more water resistant than leather, although it does lack leather's iconic appearance and fashionable style.

In many cases, the choice between synthetic and leather motorcycle luggage is made for riders by the manufacturers themselves -- street bags are usually made of synthetics, while many cruiser bags are usually made of leather, especially saddlebags and tool bags. This trend is due more to the aesthetic differences between the materials than their actual functionality, since both are durable enough for prolonged and strenuous use.

Motorcycle luggage also varies in its structure and rigidity. Many bags, such as tool bags and tank bags, are soft-sided and unsupported, simply because their position on the motorcycle does not require them to support more than their own weight. Saddlebag, tail bags and sissy bags, however, often feature some sort of structural support system designed to reinforce their carrying capabilities, whether it be an internal frame or an external shell.

Saddlebags and panniers are frequently made out of a lightweight metal like aluminum, providing excellent resistance to both water and impact-related damage and are often the luggage of choice for motorcycle tourists and adventurers who plan on covering many miles of rugged and varied terrain on their trips.

Loading Safety

As recommended by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, riders must always remember to keep their luggage securely fastened and evenly distributed on their bikes. In order to preserve the motorcycle's center of gravity, all luggage should also be positioned as close to the ground and the bike's front fork as possible. This is especially important on motorcycles with high-torque engines or heavy rear ends because it lowers the likelihood of producing a wheelie during hard acceleration. It also increases the stability of the front fork and tire, which helps the motorcycle steer firmly through turns and over bumpy roads.

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