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Types of Motorcycle Luggage

Saddlebags

When you think of motorcycle luggage, you’re probably picturing saddlebags. And as the name suggests, they've been around since horsepower came on four legs.

Saddlebags normally hang over the rear seat, rear fender or luggage rack of a motorcycle. They come in pairs and sit on either side of the rear wheel.

When we say “saddlebags,” we normally refer to a soft-shell or semi-rigid bag. On the flip side, saddlebags of the hard-shell variety are usually called “side cases.” And just to confuse you, the term “panniers” can be used to describe both hard- and soft-shell luggage of this type. Sorry.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to mount: sometimes, it’s as simple as slinging  them over your motorcycle and tying a few straps. If hardware is required, it’s often a small, universal bracket that keeps saddlebags from contacting the rear wheel. When sold separately, these brackets can be found in our luggage parts section. Easy to steal: saddlebags cannot be locked onto the motorcycle, nor locked shut.
Easy to fill: because of the soft-shell or semi-rigid design, you can cram oddly-shaped objects into a saddlebag. A bit unwieldy: because the shape and volume isn't fixed, saddlebags are liable to turn in the wind. This can cause problems if they rub against the rear wheel or exhaust pipe.
Inexpensive: soft-shell bags are inherently cheaper than hard-shells. Less protective: soft-shell bags won’t protect your belongings if you accidentally lay the bike down.
Easy to take on and off between rides: many saddlebags come with quick release mechanisms to separate the bag from the harness. Less waterproof: while some saddlebags come with storm covers, they are generally less waterproof than hard-shell side cases.
Unobtrusive: because they are placed behind the rider, saddlebags won’t affect your riding position. And since they are down low, saddlebags don’t change a bike's center of gravity very much. Problematic for passengers: depending on the type of motorcycle, some saddlebags can prevent passengers from reaching their foot pegs. That said, most slanted or "teardrop" designs don’t have this problem.

Shop all saddlebags here.

Side Cases

Side cases, like saddlebags, sit on either side of the rear wheel. Due to their hard-shell construction, however, they are normally bolted on rather than slung over the top. This requires a mounting bracket, which is sometimes included in the purchasing price. Side cases are typically made from plastic, fiberglass or lightweight metal.

Advantages Disadvantages
They are waterproof, durable, and offer some crash protection for your belongings. They occasionally crack on impact, and might need to be replaced afterwards.
Side cases often lock onto your motorcycle, and lock shut. Side cases normally require a mounting bracket and hardware for installation, which can be mildly complex.
They often come with quick releases, so they are very easy to take on and off between rides. When the side case comes off, the mounting bracket stays in place. Some people find this ugly.
Fixed shape – once in place, they are unlikely to twist and bulge in the wind or under a full load. Fixed shape – it’s difficult to cram oddly-shaped objects into a side case.
Unobtrusive – because they are placed behind the rider, you won’t notice that the side cases are even there. When installed down low, the center of gravity will also be largely unaffected. Problematic for passengers – depending on the type of motorcycle, some side cases infringe on the passenger’s leg room.
  Expensive – hard-shell materials drive the price up.

Shop all side cases here

Sissy Bar Bags and Tail Bags

These types sit upright and behind the rider. Both terms designate a soft-shell or semi-rigid bag, and you will sometimes hear them used interchangeably.

As the name suggests, sissy bar bags strap onto the sissy bar. They can be placed in front of the sissy bar (resting on the motorcycle’s rear seat) or behind it (resting on the motorcycle’s rear fender or luggage rack).

Tail bags are exactly the same, only they aren't necessarily used with a sissy bar. In this case, they can be strapped to other accessible points (luggage rack, rear fender, seat, frame, etc.). Tail bags and saddlebags are sometimes sold in matching sets, with one harness system that attaches all three pieces of luggage. If you’re considering a large tail bag, you should have a solid rear seat or luggage rack to sit it on.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to take on and off – installation normally involves Velcro and buckles, and can be accomplished in a few minutes. Some models can be quick-released from the harness as well. Easy to steal – they cannot be locked shut, nor locked onto the motorcycle.
Easy to fill – because of the soft-shell or semi-rigid design, you can cram a lot of oddly-shaped stuff into a sissy bar or tail bag. Unstable – as you fill the bag, the shape and volume will change. This makes it more likely to turn in the wind.
Inexpensive – soft-shell bags are inherently cheaper. Less waterproof – while some of these bags come with storm covers, they are generally less waterproof than hard-shell top cases.
Unobtrusive – because they are placed behind the rider, you won’t notice these bags very much. Problematic for passengers – depending on the type of motorcycle, some sissy bar bags and tail bags take up the rear seat.
Up high – you can access these bags without having to bend over. Up high – this has an effect on the motorcycle’s center of gravity. You’ll notice that these bags change the balance and handling of your bike.

Shop all sissy bar bags here

Shop all tail bags here

Top Cases

A top case is the hard-shell version of a tail bag. Top cases require a mounting bracket, which attaches to the rear of your motorcycle. Some top cases infringe on the passenger's seat, while others extend behind it. They are often sold in matching sets with side cases.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to take on and off – top cases can normally be quick-released from the mounting bracket. Mounting brackets are more complex to install. And with the top case detached, some consider the bare brackets to be ugly.
Fixed shape – the hard-case design ensures uniform aerodynamics. Top cases will not accommodate oddly-shaped objects, as the sides do not bulge out.
More waterproof and durable than soft-shell counterparts. More expensive.
Unobtrusive – because they are placed behind the rider, you won’t notice these bags too much. Problematic for passengers – depending on the type of motorcycle, some top cases take up the passenger’s seat.
Up high – this makes top cases easy to access without bending over. Up high – this has a greater effect on the center of gravity. You’ll notice that top cases change the balance and handling of your bike.
They can be locked onto your motorcycle, and locked shut.  

Shop all top cases here

Tank Bags

No surprise here – tank bags are attached to your motorcycle’s gas tank. If your bike has a uniform metal tank, magnetic flaps can make installation a breeze. Otherwise, strap systems are used to secure the piece of luggage.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to take on and off – magnetic flaps simply stick on. If you have a plastic tank, there are strap and harness systems with quick-release functions. Tank bags cover the gas cap, so they have to be removed every time you fill up.
Very accessible – one of few luggage types that can be accessed from a riding position. Many tank bags have clear pouches on the front for GPS systems, cell phones and maps. Obtrusive – Tank bags can get in the way. They often make it impossible to see the instrument panel. ADV and dual-sport riders find that tank bags inhibit a standing riding position. Likewise, sport riders cannot enter a full tuck with a tank bag.
Inexpensive – tank bags employ soft-shell designs, which are generally more affordable. Tank bags cannot be locked shut, nor locked onto the motorcycle.
Well-balanced – because gas tanks are designed to be high and heavy, a tank bag won’t affect your motorcycle’s handling very much. Risk of scratching – tank bags are always designed with scratch-less fabrics. But, if you get dirt or dust underneath, there’s a risk of damaging your paint job.
They don’t work for everyone – many cruisers have instrument panels on the tank, and therefore cannot accommodate tank bags. Motorcycles with oddly-shaped tanks may also make this type of luggage impossible to install.

Shop all tank bags here

Handlebar Bags and Fork Bags

These are small, tubular pieces of luggage. They're mounted at the center of the handlebars or across the front of a bike’s fork. However – due to their small size – they can also be placed in a number of creative locations.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to take on and off – a few straps is normally all you need. Easy to steal – they cannot be locked shut, nor locked onto the motorcycle.
Unobtrusive – because of their tiny size, these bags won’t affect your riding position or the bike’s handling very much. Tiny – they only offer a small amount of storage space.
Inexpensive – they are tiny soft-shell bags, so you can get them for a song. Not very waterproof – the exposed location puts a huge strain on waterproofing. Some models can handle it, others can not.
Easy to access – Depending on the location you choose, these bags can be reached from a riding position. They are great for keeping driver's licences, keys, money, tools, etc. Because of their location, you have to be cautious when mounting handlebar or fork bags. Will the steering be inhibited? Will it block airflow to the radiator? Will it crush when the suspension compresses?
Versatile – these bags are small enough to be installed in a variety of locations.  

Shop all handlebar bags here

Fender Bags

Most dual-sport and off-road motorcycles have extended front and rear fenders. It's possible to attach a small fabric bag to these areas. But since the plastic anchor points are relatively weak, fender bags have to be small and lightweight.

ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
Easy to take on and off – a few straps is normally all you need. Easy to steal – they cannot be locked shut, nor locked onto the motorcycle.
Unobtrusive – fender bags have a minimal effect on your riding position and handling. Tiny – you can’t fit very much into a fender bag.
Inexpensive – with a tiny soft-shell construction, fender bags are very affordable. Not very waterproof – the exposed location puts a huge strain on waterproofing. That said, some models are sold with storm covers.
Versatile – many fender bags can be mounted on the front or rear fender. Unsteady – fenders tend to bounce and vibrate, especially on off-road terrain. You wouldn't want to put anything fragile in one of these.

Shop all fender bags here

OEM Bags

 Ducati Performance luggage. By Aaron Weber.

Original equipment manufacturers normally sell luggage accessories to go with their motorcycles. These may include any of the types listed above.

Since the pieces are built by the OEM, they are guaranteed to match the size and style of your particular bike. However, selection is normally limited and prices can be diabolically high. If you do a bit of homework (which you’re doing right now), an aftermarket luggage setup is almost always the better choice.

Advantages Disadvantages
Guaranteed to match the size and style of your motorcycle (assuming that no modifications have been made). Frequently overpriced.
  Limited purchasing selection.

Shop all bags here

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