Whether you ride a motorcycle to commute or for sport, eventually you will need to transport something. When I first started riding, I tried to limit myself to carrying what I could zip up in my motorcycle jacket. Unfortunately, that made even simple errands virtually impossible to accomplish on a motorcycle. There are a number of motorcycle luggage solutions available, each with pros and cons.
To start, there are a few
basic rules to keep in mind when carrying a load on your
motorcycle. Though it should go without saying, it is critical
to make sure anything you are carrying on you motorcycle
is secure and will not shift or come loose while on the
road. The force of the wind on your gear at highway speeds
should not be underestimated. Also, keep in mind that bike
manufacturers spend a great deal of money optimizing a motorcycle's
design for proper balance and performance. Anything you
attach to the motorcycle can disrupt the motorcycle's center
of gravity and make it less stable. Though most motorcycles
come with some sort of rear rack, it is actually preferable
to carry the load lower on the bike to keep the center of
gravity down. Also, carrying too much weight toward the
rear of the motorcycle takes weight off the front forks
which means less traction for the wheel reponsible for steering
the bike. Each style of cargo carrier has its limits and
its own pros and cons. The three main factors to consider
are amount of weight being carried, location and security.
Bungee Net - The bungee net is a cheap and popular
option for securing gear on a motorcycle's rear rack. Because
a regular bungee cord only holds along on axis, there would
be potential for gear to slip out. The bungee net is made
up of bungee cords running perpendicular to each other,
giving it multidirectional strength. They can stretch to
accommodate different sized loads and can be used with just
about any motorcycle. Bungee nets are very compact and when
not in use, they can be rolled up and tucked into a pocket.
They are also very flexible and are able to bind even unusually
shaped objects. One downside to the motorcycle bungee net
is that unless the item is at least helmet sized, there
may not be enough tension in the bungees to firmly hold
the load tightly on the motorcycle's rear luggage rack.
Without enough tension, the load can shift easily and the
net's hooks may not hold to their anchor points. Another
downside to the bungee net is that they cannot be locked
and people passing by can easily see exactly what you're
carrying so it is not advisable to leave anything of value
unattended. Bungee nets are an inexpensive solution with
a cost of under $10.
Top Cases (Motorcycle Trunk) -
Top cases mount on the motorcycle's rear rack and address
many of the bungee net's shortcomings. Motorcycle top cases
carry small objects just as effectively as they carry large
ones. Most can accommodate a full-face helmet without a problem.
Since they are often hard-shelled and lockable, items can
be secured if you need to leave it with the motorcycle. (This
can be useful if you want to lock up some of your bulky motorcycle
riding gear once you reach your destination.) Most motorcycle
top cases have mounting plates that attach to the rear rack
that allows you to attach and remove the top case quickly
and easily (usually with a push of a button once unlocked).
There are motorcycle trunks that are built specifically for
different motorcycle models or universal kits that work with
a wide range of bikes. Certain motorcycles (usually cruisers)
come equipped with matching cases from the manufacturer. Because
they mount high on the motorcycle, they are not ideal for
balancing heavy loads. On top of that, these cases are bulkier
and cannot be stowed out of the way when not in use. Large
top cases on smaller bikes can also make it less comfortable
to your motorcycle with a passenger. Costs can vary with low-end
generic motorcycle trunks being available for a little over
$50 while quality cases can cost over $200.
Tank Bags - This relatively simple piece of motorcycle
luggage is exactly what the name implies; it is a bag that
mounts on the motorcycle's gas tank. The location of the
tank bag allows quick and easy access though its small size
limits what can be stored in this piece of motorcycle luggage.
The location is keeps all weight over the heavy core of
the motorcycle and is pretty good for maintaining stable
balance. Some tank bags include a clear waterproof pouch
on top so that maps or directions can be stored and consulted
at a glance (not that you should be trying to read a map
while in motion on a motorcycle!). Tank bags usually have
pockets that are good for storing automatic toll devices
such as Illinois' I-Pass or for storing change for tolls.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this style of motorcycle
luggage is that a tank bag can be a hassle when it comes
time to refuel. Also, since it straps directly onto the
gas tank there is a chance the paint's finished to be scratched
or otherwise damaged by the direct contact.
Panniers (Saddle Bags) - Motorcycle panniers mount low on the sides of the motorcycle and come in leather, textile or hard shell varieties. They help maintain a low center of gravity, which helps ensure a stable ride. Hard shell panniers with locks are obviously more secure than the soft, though fabric or leather allow for more flexibility in the size and shape of the items carried. Because motorcycle panniers are positioned near the bike's exhaust, it is important to keep textile panniers from resting on the exhaust pipe. Usually a heat shield or metal frame will be mounted over the exhaust to keep them from being damaged by the pipe's extreme heat. Panniers are usually the most expensive type of motorcycle luggage.
Custom "Glove Box" - Another option that some ambitious motorcycle riders pursue is creating a small carrier of their own. Many motorcycle models have some open room between the instrument panel and the front fairing. Some riders have used this space to engineer a small storage compartment. Though cheap, this type of carrier can only accept very small items. It is also critically important to make sure any custom add-ons like this do not get in the way of any moving parts or affect steering in any way.