Why choose soft luggage?
Soft luggage is cheap, easy to use and once you’ve invested in some, you’ll be able to use it on almost any bike (although soft panniers don’t work well with all exhausts). It’s very versatile.
What features should good soft luggage have?
Good, sturdy material with decent, chunky zips that will be hard-wearing – and it should come with a waterproof overbag. Look for stout bungee hooks, strong velcro straps and secure fastenings. With panniers, always try them on your bike before you buy. They MUST clear the exhausts.
A good tankbag should have a clear, plastic pocket at the top (for maps or directions) and outside pockets are always handy for things you’ll need on the go: wallet, phone, keys etc. It should also have a strong strap to secure it around the headstock.
A tailpack should have some industrial-strength velcro strapping, as should panniers, for securing them beneath the seat. Tailpacks should also have sturdy bungee cords to attach them around the rear of the bike. Many packs and panniers are extendable and some are multi-purpose: both the tailpack and tankbag seen here can be worn as rucksacks. Plus, much luggage comes with detachable sections so you can add or take away according to how much you want to carry.
Is it tricky to fit?
It’s not tricky but can be fiddly before you get used to it. You won’t need any tools but gaffer tape and extra bungees or a cargo net are a good idea.
Will it stay on?
If you follow the instructions, yes – but always double check any load is firmly fixed in place. If it looks or feels unsafe, it probably is. If it slides around when the bike’s at a standstill, imagine what it’s going to do when you’re weaving through the bends or screaming down the motorway...
1. If your bike’s got a metal tank, a magnetic tank bag is a good choice. Strong magnets on the base and a strap around the headstock hold the bag in place. The magnets are very strong but ALWAYS use the headstock strap as well, just in case, although on some bikes the tank design can make this a bit fiddly.
2. If your bike’s tank is plastic, use the headstock strap and additional bungees to attach the bag (using gaffer tape to protect paintwork). This isn’t ideal though, as it reduces ease of use and makes it more time-consuming to release the bag at stops. The biggest pain, though, is you’ll have to undo all of it, just to refuel…
3. Position your tankbag so you’ll still be able to see the clocks clearly, and the road in front of you (with extended sections, they can get quite tall)! You many end up riding with your chin on it occasionally but, on an unfaired bike, a tankbag can often end up acting like a screen, deflecting the wind from your face.
4. The magnets can attract tiny fragments of metal and you can end up with these bits scraping about between the bag and the tank’s paintwork. So examine and clean the magnet sections regularly. One other warning: magnets can sometimes interfere with credit card strips or camera film so you might be better off keeping them apart.
5. Tail packs like these fit on to the pillion seat of your bike. They’re secured by running a velcro strap beneath the seat, plus bungees and/or further straps (all of which should come with the pack) stretching over the rear body of the bike. Advantages over a tankbag include not having your vision or riding position affected by its presence.
6. A tailpack shouldn’t interfere with your comfort while you are riding but you could feel it if you’re wearing a rucksack too. Keep it well back on the pillion seat. Also, use footpeg hangers and the grab rail (if there is one) to help secure it. Be especially sure it isn’t possible for the pack to slide down one side of the bike or the other.
7. Gaffer tape is useful here, as on the tank, for avoiding scratches from hooks and bungees. Another option is an old towel. Just sit it on the pillion seat and place the tailpack on top, securing as normal. Any thick piece of material should do, if you’re caught without tape; just ensure it’s tied down well.
8. Tailpacks can look a bit precarious, towering on the pillion seat, but they’re pretty simple to secure. Use the pack’s bungees and any underseat straps, pulled taut. For extra security, use a cargo net over the whole bundle and make sure the bag can’t be moved before you set off.
9. Panniers can take a bit more practice to fit securely. They must be properly secured at all times to avoid them either rolling round and getting trapped in the back wheel or melting or even burning on the exhaust. They all come with full safety instructions which should be followed to the letter.
10. Panniers should come with straps to go both over and under the seat and some come with a rubbery base sheet to protect from scratches. Adjust all the straps to avoid any sagging or slippage, and velcro sections on the underseat strap must be generously overlapping.
11. When securing, make sure each pannier is of roughly equal weight to the other and never load beyond stated weight limits. Many also come with extending zips and semi-rigid board to give them structure. Some panniers are angled to avoid the pipe(s), some come with a heat resistant base, but never let them touch your exhaust.
12. As with all soft luggage, remember to stop and waterproof them when the heavens open but always make sure the covers are taut or they’ll flap about all over the place; they can fly off if left loose. And don’t forget to check your luggage often on a trip. Reach around to check it’s there and in position. Unlike a pillion, if it flies off, it won’t scream.