Case study: Best universal motorcycle panniers


There may well come a time when you need to carry luggage on your bike and universal motorcycle panniers can be a cheap and practical option – whether you’re heading on a multi-day camping trip or simply commuting to the office.

While some may be able to get everything they need into a rucksack or a roll-bag on the pillion seat, many others prefer the convenience and carrying capabilities of panniers. They can house any manner of kit securely and keep it dry. Mounting it low down, below the seat line and either side of the rear wheel tends to affect the bike’s handling and stability less than a heavy bag sat up high in the seat, too.

Related: Triumph Tiger 900 luggage reviewed

Of course, not all bikes can use panniers; some with mid- or high-mounted exhausts, for example, simply don’t have space to house panniers with a capacity worth having. And for those that can accept panniers, the manufacturer will generally have a set available as an option but these chances are, these will not be cheap.

You can spend up to £1000 on a pair of boxes which, if you’re buying new and putting it all on the never-never, may not be too painful month-by-month but it can be a big hit if you’re buying secondhand, for example.

One advantage of spending this kind of money is you can get hard panniers in a colour that matches the bike and uses the same lock as the ignition and steering lock for convenience.

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These will likely be completely waterproof and fairly secure but can be a pain to lug around when you get to your destination. Soft panniers from manufacturers are an option – they are generally cheaper but not as secure and possibly, not as waterproof either.

But a set of aftermarket universal soft panniers can be useful and portable and – crucially – available for almost any bike with the exhaust system in the right place. They can be just as effective at keeping the weather out, just as portable – if not more so – than hard panniers and can be slung over the shoulder cowboy-style for carrying into the hotel, for example.

Be aware that you may also need a pair of pannier racks on your bike to prevent the bags from pulling in and coming close to – or even hitting – the rear wheel or exhaust in use but with a rack in place, there are lots of options available.

I've used a few of Lomo's products before and they have always kept any contents completely dry. The company also makes drybags for all sorts of watersports and like its other products, these are formed in PVC tarpaulin material with welded and taped seams to ensure the contents remain dry.

They each hold 30 litres for a total of 60 litres (plenty for a week-long trip away) and are designed to fit an existing pannier rack via three adjustable Velcro straps with side straps securing the bottom of the bags to the bike. In addition to these touring-style panniers, the company also produces adventure-style panniers and ones to fit crashbars for adventurers.

Ryde produce a range of inexpensive motorcycle luggage and these panniers get pretty good reviews online, particularly when you accept that they are showerproof at best. Most accept that for longer trips, contents should be protected with further weatherproofing, an internal drybag or plastic bag but nonetheless, they offer good capacity and have a large compartment with three external pockets for bits and bobs you need access to. They secure using straps and bungee cords and have zipped gussets to expand if necessary.

For a chopper, cruiser or a custom, particularly one of the big American bikes like a Harley-Davidson or an Indian, then it has to be leather (though thankfully, no tassels) when it comes to luggage. These PU leather saddlebags have rigid sides to keep contents safe and secure and fit to the bike with a wide strap and bungee straps to keep it secure. The manufacturer says they are waterproof and quick-release buckles help to get to the contents quickly and easily.

Italian manufacturer Givi have a huge range of soft panniers available including for adventure bikes and urban commuters but this model is one of its retro Corium range which, incidentally, are vegan-friendly. Each bag (you can use two per bike) hangs on a separately-available strap that runs over the pillion seat and has a capacity of 16 litres.

The classic design means they are particularly well-suited to retro bikes and they are formed in 1200D polyester with a removable waterproof liner to keep contents dry. Adjustable straps mean they can also be used on bike with high exhaust pipes, such as scrambler-style machines.

SW-Motech's Blaze range of saddle bags fit to a removable arm on the bike and then, the two saddlebags join over the seat using a wide Velcro strap for a secure and safe fit. They are available for a huge range of bikes, the bags are fundamentally the same, the fitting kits are bike-specific, and are expandable, from 14 litres to 21 litres. The bags are formed in ballistic nylon with a water-resistant inner lining, but they are also supplied with waterproof inner bags and fasten from the top.

Price: $230.00

These side bags from Shad can either be fitted using universal straps or, for a more secure fixing, they can use a bike-specific kit from the manufacturer. Made in PVC tarpaulin, they are completely waterproof and their semi-rigid design means they retain their shape and stability even when only partly full. Each bag has a capacity of 25 litres and has two waterproof internal pockets to keep items safe and dry.

Forming part of Oxford's Lifetime range (it also has Heritage and PVC tarpaulin Aqua ranges as well as a budget range), these panniers offer storage for all sorts of bikes that wouldn't ordinarily be able to take panniers.

There’s a total capacity of 60 litres and the bags are held by straps across the pillion seat as well as several to make sure they remain secure in use. The bags are showerproof but come with waterproof inner bags to keep the contents dry and also include a range of useful features such as a luggage net on top for items like spare cloves and external pockets.

These stylish saddlebags from Italian manufacturer Kappa come with twin hook-and-loop straps to fit over the bike's pillion seat and elasticated straps to keep them tight on the bike. They are expandable from 16 to 25 litres each and come with separate rain covers to keep the weather out and the contents safe and dry.

There are reflective inserts for visibility at night or in poor weather conditions and each bag also comes with a shoulder strap for use off the bike.

Kriega equipment is not cheap but then, it is exceptional quality. These 36-litre saddlebags are a universal fit for retro-style bikes and straps sit across the pillion seat while straps and aluminium buckles hold them in place against support racks that are fitted to the bike.

They are made in 1000D Cordura and feature a roll-top closure with a large flap covering the top and side of the bags for complete waterproofing. They also come with a shoulder strap for use off the bike.

US-brand Mosko Moto is a pioneer of the toughest backcountry kit, and through quality products and a strong marketing strategy has made a name for itself among the most hardcore of riders

Comprising a 1680D Ballistic Nylon yoke with leg holsters and three removeable drybags (2 x 25l, 1 x 22l), the system is packed with pockets, straps and MOLLE loops, offering an adaptability that isn’t seen anywhere else.

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About the author: After qualifying as a mechanical engineer, Jim Blackstock began working on magazines in the early 1990s. He remains passionate about product testing to ensure readers know what products offer good value and why. He relishes torrential rain to see if riding kit keeps water out and an hour or two to tinker on a project bike in his workshop.

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