Long term update: A fully loaded weapon

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With my panniers still fresh and in need of breaking in, I knew I had to use them at the next available opportunity. So when a group of mates and I decided to head to the New Forest for a camping weekend, I ditched the car convoy and packed my bike with a tent and beer. 

Packing into panniers is a huge time-saver. Forget roll-up bags and bungee straps, you just unlock the pannier’s lid, chuck it all in and be done with it. The boxes are massive, which means there’s a tonne of space to stash all my gear. Both the top box and the left pannier are big enough to take a full-face helmet. The right side is smaller – thanks to the exhaust – but there’s still plenty of space. 

There is enough room to store a sleeping bag, roll mat, beer, clothes, a spare helmet — should anyone fancy a pillion ride, my fuel stove, pots and pans with plenty of space left over for… emergency beer. I cranked up the rear preload a few notches, pumped up the tyres and followed the cars for about five minutes until I got bored and shot past. The adventure had started.

My smug grin didn’t last long before hitting a traffic jam. My filtering was slowed down due to the width of the panniers and on a few occasions I had to wait for the wider vans to move up before I could squeeze through. It quickly became a pain, especially in baking heat. 

Never mind, the New Forest is a fantastic place to ride a bike — you’ve got to take it a little easy in case a horse wanders onto the road, but the views are spectacular. The twisty slivers of tarmac snaking their way through the forest, coated either side by thick greenery, makes for stunning riding. It’s made all the better on the unassuming and easy-going V-Strom. I soon forgot about my traffic jam ordeal, sat back and enjoyed the ride.  

Upon arrival, I quickly set up my own little enclave at the campsite. While my friends yanked fold-up chairs out of brimming car boots, I sat on my pannier and used my top box as a table. Our campsite pitch was massive and secluded by towering trees, which made an ideal ‘learn-to-ride-a-motorbike’ location.

Three friends who had never ridden a bike before learnt to ride on the V-Strom, staying in first gear and using only the clutch to control the speed. Within half an hour they were riding around on the grass in circles. I left the panniers off for their riding lessons. There is a case to be made that the rear of the bike won’t hit the ground if they drop it, but the potential to catch a foot or leg under an aluminium box is worse.

Panniers are a pain in the arse when off-roading due to their weight, how difficult it is to paddle the bike, and the potential for broken bones from being trapped under the bike. So I kept them off and held onto the grabrail while walking my friends round in circles until they were confident enough to go it alone. The fact that first-timers found it so simple goes to show how incredibly easy the V-Strom is to ride.  

So, to sum up – panniers are great for carrying all camping equipment, but terrible for filtering, and if you ever find yourself on a patch of grass teaching friends how to ride a bike then take them off. And at £1250 they are a hefty investment. But if you’re planning plenty of camping trips or long hauls, they are worth the expense.  

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Andy Davidson

By Andy Davidson

Former MCN Feature writer