Our Soft Motorcycle Luggage Solution


Have you noticed that motorcycle accessory catalogues can feature hundreds of biking products but few of them actually fit your exact needs? It is like they make the perfect product in the research and development department and then deliberately make a few changes - most of which seems to affect my wallet I might add!!

Take motorbike side panniers for example. My wife Carole and I tour long distances through rural South Africa both on road and off road. There is no pannier designed for this.

Last year we toured with two genuine BMW hard panniers. They were great as they did not rattle, they attached securely and offered reasonable security. This all came to halt when we dumped the bike into a ditch and two very expensive panniers were left with cracks the size of the San Andreas Fault.

This year we needed replacements. Buying a new set of  hard panniers did not make any sense  - plastic or aluminium they cost a fortune and will get damaged with our type of touring! We considered having then made up in galvanised sheet metal by a dude who sits at the side of the road (a common sight here in South Africa) but expecting them not to rattle would be just too much to ask.

Soft panniers on the other hand have a reputation for shifting around and still cost a lot. A cheaper generic set would be a high risk. How would we know whether they would shift around unless we tried them? (a scenario that would render them un-returnable to the store)

Instead we saved ourselves a bundle and bought two matching 35 litre day (hiking) bags. Well made of rip-stop fabric, waterproof and with lots of convenient compartments they lacked only one feature i.e. security. This was sorted by buying two Pacsafes i.e. a lockable cable net designed to protect the hiking bags of international backpackers (for more on Pacsafes see the luggage page). This allowed us some measure of security when the Pacsafes were fitted over each of the day bags.

The net result was a reasonably priced solution that can be replaced every year if necessary. The solution offers reasonable security, some water protection, does not rattle, does not shift around, keeps the weight down low and looks attractive.

The pictures below will give you some idea of our design.

The Pacsafe

An example of a Pacsafe taken from the Pacsafe brochure. They are available in three sizes and can also be used to secure riding jackets, boots and helmets to the bike when shopping

The Day Bags

The two day bags strapped to steel frames attached to either side of the bike. This keeps most of the weight right down low - where it needs to be! 

The additional compression straps (shown below) allows extra items like water bottles to be attached without them having to be put into the bag itself. We treated the bags with a waterproofing agent on top of the original treatment.


The Compression Straps

The bags original straps were kept thus maintaining  the bags usefulness once off the bike

The shoulder straps attached to the top of the pannier frame (see E above).  The hip straps looped around the bottom of the steel frame (see A above)

The specially made compression straps (shown here F and H) keep the contents of the bag good and tight. These straps go completely around the bag, the frame and anything else you want held in place. Because they are expandable they can accommodate things like grocery shopping when on route to your camping site.

The Steel Frames

Shown here is the simple frame (see K) that attaches to the bike's original pannier frame system (see L) with four small bolts 

The turn buckle (N) allows the bracing wire (T) to be kept taut. The bracing wire travels up and over the saddle and attaches to the same point of the pannier frame on the other side. The two turn buckles can also be seen in the photo second from the top.

The bracing wire allows a considerable payload without putting unnecessary strain on the pannier frame because the excess weight is borne on top of the bike just behind the saddle.

The system above served us very well during our 1500km trip through the Western Cape. We knew that if we dropped the bike the damage would be limited to bending - something that can be repaired on the road. If a bag was ripped to threads we could simply buy another from a market or department store and keep going!

All these topics are dealt with in greater detail on the Tour and Luggage pages of this web site. Check them out!

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