Motorcycle luggage panniers top box tank bag


This section deals with motorcycle touring luggage options

Six Types of Luggage

1) Secure Storage Hard Topbox
2) Convenient Storage Soft Roll Bag

3) Cool Storage Rucksacks
4) Protective Storage Hard Panniers
5) Bulk Storage Soft Panniers
6) Available Tank Bags
Four Areas - - - - - - - 1) On the pillion seat storage  
2) Behind the seat storage
3) On the side storage
4) On the tank storage
Make your Own Soft Luggage System and save a bundle!!
Quiz Question. When selecting luggage carrying options evaluate your security needs before all else

** True/False **

Quiz Question. Your heavy luggage should be packed as low as possible and directly over the rear wheel

** True/False **

Six Types of Storage

You will need six types of storage on your motorcycle i.e. secure, convenient, cool, protective, bulk and available. In all instances the level of waterproof protection is important.

1) Secure Storage.
This is a major issue when touring on a motorcycle. At least one hard lock up pannier, a fanny bag, a money belt are all important. A 'Pacsafe' (see pic below) is a good idea for your bulk storage. Money and travellers cheques should be broken into groups and stored in more than one place.

A spiral cable lock (approx. 1 meter in length and 10mm thick) is also useful for items like your helmet and jacket. By threading the cable through the arms and helmet visor you can take a walk or do some shopping without having to worry too much. Experienced bike tourers suggest a dummy wallet while the bulk of your valuables are somewhere else.

2) Convenient Storage.
Money, maps, compass, GPS, camera, liquids and rain gear must be readily available.

3) Cool Storage.
You should also have a special 'cool' section for items like medication, batteries and camera film.

4) Protective Storage.
Motorcycles vibrate even on excellent roads - now add a poor surface like gravel, add dust, add rain and viola! You have a killer environment for your camera, video camera, GPS  etc Too much dust and/or vibration and you may just find your equipment jamming/failing in the middle of a once in a lifetime tour. Special protective equipment bags and boxes are available that offer moisture, vibration and dust protection e.g. Pelican

5) Bulk Storage.
Your solution here will probably be a soft bag with items like clothing, mattress, bike spares and a tent. Whatever you choose find something that is waterproof. 

A way of making your bulk storage more secure is to purchase a thin cable-stranded net designed for backpackers from a hiking store. This netting encloses the whole bag and is this then padlocked closed. 


A 'Pacsafe' can keep all your soft luggage safe and secure. They are made in a variety of sizes and each size is adjustable. (Find links page on the Navigation page)

6) Available
You must have a convenient storage place which is available and empty and can immediately absorb a road-side purchase eg lunch and dinner provisions. Personally I find a tank bag the best solution here.


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B) On either side of the motorbike is another area that can be used for luggage

1) Hard panniers.

There are four issues here i.e. the material they are made of, their shape, how wide they are and how they attach to the pannier frame

Material. For serious touring the best material is undoubtedly aluminium. Besides offering security they are easily repaired on route. Plastic looks good, is streamlined, colour coordinated and waterproof but when you drop your bike, it breaks, destroying all its advantages.

Shape. Fancy shapes are the legacy of plastic panniers but this affects the payload to a certain extent. If you are a high speed tourer (120 km/h plus) then you will need to consider the more streamlined plastic shapes.

Width. Avoid panniers that are too wide. While they offer a bigger payload they can complicate your life in congested third world city traffic where traffic laws hardly seem to exist.

Attachment. Here there are many fancy "city" solutions involving special locks, clips and clasps. That is where they belong . . . in the city! If you are going to do some serious touring they should be attached "permanently" (screws, rivets etc) and then removed later. Use pannier liner bags for convenience when arriving at your accommodation. 

Panniers generally attach to a fixed pannier frame and come in 30, 40 and 50l sizes. The characteristics of hard panniers are the same as for topboxes and indeed there are matching systems (topbox and panniers) which although looking really cool can sell for up to R5000-00 ($700) a set.

An interesting option with hard panniers is a 'pannier liner bag'. This is soft bag that fits exactly into the shape and size of the hard case. The idea here is to pack the soft bag and then fit it into the hard case. On arrival at your destination the panniers stay on the bike and you take the soft bag into your accommodation.

If you have a tight budget, old tin ammunition boxes are cheap, strong, secure, and waterproof. With a little metal work, they can be attached to a standard motorcycle pannier frame. Alternatively camping stores have new ammunition boxes manufactured in plastic.


Convenience above safety. This  rucksack (hiking bag) solution on the tail of this cruiser may be convenient but safe it is not. This rear load is too high. Worse, is the "sail surface" it will provide in the event of a gusty cross-wind which can be enough to make the rider loose control. On a more positive note, the tank bag and the soft throw-over panniers where the heaviest gear should be stowed.


2) Soft panniers

Soft panniers 'throw over' your bike i.e. one on either side of the bike behind the rider or on either side of the petrol tank (see Chris Bright pic). There are however some soft panniers that do attach to a frame.

When selecting a soft pannier pay very close attention to the position of the bag in relation to the hot exhaust pipe. Frameless soft panniers have the advantage of not interfering with the overall sleek appearance of your bike which can be a major factor for some. They are also prone to moving around however. Ensure that the one you choose is waterproof and offers sufficient security for your needs.

We decided to make our own soft luggage panniers that offers huge advantages for our type of touring. Follow this link for more. Make your own soft panniers



Creating, maintaining and rejuvenating of the waterproofing of boots, jackets, gloves, tents etc is a complex subject with a variety of products within each brand name. Nikwax has a comprehensive range of interesting products and a visit to their website can be very worthwhile (Find links page on the Navigation page) 

Final Comment

South Africa is not the best place to lay your hands on the more specialised and sophisticated biking accessories. In all instances American Mail Order catalogues and Internet sites will offer a you plethora of 'goodies' that may just be what you are looking for. Any American biking magazine will offer a host of websites for you to go to. Try for a pile of luggage goodies (Find links page on the Navigation page)

Four Areas of Storage

Achieving these five different types of storage on a  motorcycle is not that easy. There are two areas that can be adapted for a large storage system i.e. behind the pillion seat, on either side of the motorbike. There are two smaller areas that can be use i.e. on top of the petrol tank, on either side of the petrol tank. Three other small areas exist i.e. under the saddle, on the fork below the headlight and under the engine against the bash plate.

A) Behind the pillion seat

Here there are a number of options;

1) Hard topbox.

Topboxes attach to your motorbike behind the pillion seat. Conveniently speaking  there are two sizes available. A one helmet size and a two helmet size. You may have to fit an adapter plate or mounting kit to get it to fit your bike.

 Topboxes have the advantage of security because they are lockable i.e. the lid locks while the whole thing  locks to the frame. They are also reasonably waterproof. They are however expensive but very convenient as they can detach off the mounting plate in a jiffy and can be carried into your accommodation as hand luggage.

Get into the habit of checking that they are securely attached before riding off as they have a nasty habit of coming off during a ride

Ask yourself the following when it comes to luggage

1) Can I pack and unpack quickly?
2) Can I find each and every item when I need it?
3) How will I do a roadside repair on the luggage solution chosen?

2) Soft tog or roll bag.

In order to attach a soft tog bag or roll bag to your motorcycle you need a flat surface (carrier frame, parcel rack) of some kind behind the pillion seat. This is because both are considerably longer in length than the width of your bike and will move around and obscure your indicator lights. Many riders resort to a home-made carrier frame solution as few commercial products seem to be available.

A biker's roll bag is different to a generally available tog bag in that it has an extra flap that rolls over the top of the bag thus making it more waterproof as the zip is covered. It is a good idea to "Scotchgard" your soft bag if it is not already done or use heavy-duty, plastic liner bags from hiking stores inside your bag.

While security is a problem with all soft luggage carriers these types of bags have a large payload. Do not use elastic cords to secure your bag but nylon tie downs or ropes.  If you intend to camp then your tent will either fit inside your roll bag or be lashed next to it.

Some more specialised bags have special compression straps making their overall size a lot smaller when fully compressed.

3) Rucksacks.

There are also 'day bag' rucksacks that attach to a special frame fitted behind the pillion seat. Typically they come in two different sizes i.e. 34l and 45l. There are enormously convenient and are easy to carry on arrival at your destination. One problem with them however is that your load is very high which can be dangerous in cross winds and when going fast. (see pic below)

There are also certain styles of tank bags that can also be used as rucksacks as they have shoulder straps that fold away underneath the bag.

D) On top of the petrol tank

1) Tank bag.

A tank bag sits astride your petrol tank while being secured by various means e.g. magnetic, straps or bungi cords. It is important to ensure a secure fit to your bike before you purchase it as tanks and tank bags come in all different shapes and sizes. Note that many motorcycles have plastic tanks thus making the magnets useless. In this case a convenient system of straps has to suffice. Choose a bag that offers a four or five point attachment system

These type of bags are an ideal place to store those items where convenience is a factor e.g. camera, documents, wallet, wash kit and perhaps your rain gear. One of their most endearing features is a clear plastic sleeve into which you can slip your map thus having it visible at all times. When you refuel just remember to turn the page! Some bags can expand and contract in size depending on your needs for that day. Tank bags are great for day trips and many serious tourer and cruiser owners consider them a necessity.

Note: Be very careful not to put your credit cards with their magnetic strips near the magnets on your tank bag!

C) On top of the pillion saddle is another area that can be used for luggage

Pillion Saddle Bags

A pillion saddle bag sits astride the pillion saddle while being secured by various means e.g. straps or bungi cords. Small, neat and convenient these are an excellent alternative to a tank bag for day trips or commuting.

Pack low!!

Note that whatever system or combination of systems you choose, ensure that the heaviest gear is packed directly over the rear wheel and as low as possible.

Here is Ted Simon showing off his motorcycle after a recent accident in Columbia on his round the world trip!! Notice how most of his luggage is relatively low with only one smallish pannier above seat height. Note also the large long distance touring gas tank.

Here is a pic of Chris Bright's round the world equipped BMW taken in Egypt. Note the soft panniers alongside the petrol tank.  

The custom-made hard luggage box does not protrude too much above seat level. 

Here is a pic of Shayne Vervoort on his trip through Africa, pictured here on the equator. As a novice rider one must admire his courage and enthusiasm. His luggage solution however is his worst enemy. All this weight so high, one wonders how he is going to navigate the soft sand to the north

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