Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Use Bags A Lot

This is not the Lost Motorcyclists' bike. It's just
 to give an idea of how useful bags can be.

There are many different ways of carrying things on a motorcycle.  Saddlebags, trunk box, tank bag, fairing pockets and compartments, sidecars, trailers, and backpacks.  But the most overlooked method of hauling your crap is the humble bag strapped or bungied on to the seat (or wherever it will fit.)

I'm sure all the other methods of hauling crap have their own unique body of knowledge that you must learn, but the most complicated to figure out is how to use the bags.  Bags are very versatile. Relatively cheap, can fit on almost anything, and carry almost anything.  But you have to know how to use them.

Well I use bags a lot, because I am kind of cheap myself, and many of my trips are unique enough to require new bags.  So I thought this would be a good time to share some tips about packing bags for a motorcycle trip.

Like most other knowledge, I aquired this gradually. When I took my first trip across Canada, I used garbage bags to stow all my gear. You might think I would know better, especially as this was my second motorcycle and I had been riding for three years already. After that trip, I learned that garbage bags shred at higher speeds.  The next year I went out west again, and I had durable bags custom tailored for my stuff. (meaning they were home made - but still good bags).

So after 40 years riding, I should have the right bags for travelling by now, but I still don't.  That's because the crap I take keeps changing, and it's very important that the bags are the right size, because it's best if the bags are full. Full bags are semi-rigid, and stiff bags are easiest to strap on tight and stay in place.  If the bag is too big, it will flop around, get loose, break things, tear etc. etc.

This trip is the first time I will be travelling with my wife riding her own bike. Also the first long trip with the Burgman. And the first trip where we are too old to use small thermarest mattresses - apparently now we need a full foam mattress, which will be the biggest items in our luggage.

The ideal form factor for a bag, if it is to be strapped on a motorcycle rear seat or luggage rack, is about 20-30 inches long, and anywhere from 1 to 15 inches in diameter.  Bags of this approximate shape can be strapped on securely when they are full and fairly rigid. And if the passenger seat is free, you can carry several bags of this shape, strapped together, very securely.

Since the mattresses are the biggest items, I will start my planning around them. I need to find a bag just about 25 inches long and 13 inches in diameter to put both foam mattresses in (rolled together).  After several hours on the internet it turns out that Canadian Tire has a bag almost that size.  It is the Outbound Expedition 65 Litre bag - just an inch shorter than what I want.  If the mattresses cannot be crammed in, I can always trim 1" off the foam.

Next I need a bag for the tent, which actually comes in its own bag, a convenient 5"x24".

Another bag will be required for the sleeping bags/pillows/some extra clothes.  I have a Sealline 30 Litre dry bag that could hold some of those.  Dry bags were invented for canoeing, and they are so waterproof that you could throw them over Niagara Falls without any water getting inside.  Instead of an ordinary closure, you roll the end up and strap it down - making a completely watertight and very strong seal.  If I am not using a "dry bag", and I need to keep the contents dry, I put a plastic bag inside the outer bag.  A garbage bag will do fine.  Do not assume that it will never rain on a long trip.

One of the down sides of bags is that they can be ripped off fairly quickly.  There are several things you can do for security.  First one is don't put essential items in a bag that is strapped to the bike and out in the open.  Although I have never had one stolen, or even had one fall off, I did once forget one in a parking lot at a hotel.  Second tip is to not have bags that look too good.  Actually this is pretty easy after the first day of riding through rain, as all the bags will be dirty.  So the third tip is to not have bags that look too disgusting, as that might attract random vandalism. (actually I have no scientific evidence to back that up).  But if you don't leave the bike for long periods of time fully loaded, you should have no problem.  After you get to a motel or campground, leave the bags in the motel room or tent before you go off sightseeing.  Although you may wonder about the security of the tent, in my opinion it is as safe there as anywhere.  I trust campgrounds for safety, maybe even more than a locked motel room.  If you must do sightseeing during the day, which leaves your fully loaded bike in a parking lot - well at least make sure no essential trip-ending items are in the bags.  Take them with you or lock them up in any secure place you have.  In our case, Burgie has two secure areas, so we'll be OK.  The Vulcan has no secure areas, so if I were travelling alone, I would not go sightseeing away from the bike during road days, bike fully loaded.

Picture: This bike has another problem - the high seat of the BMW GS plus loaded rear seat mean it is very hard to sling a leg over.  Lost has a low seat height, so I can do it fairly easily.  Burgie has an even easier way - the step thru design.  The picture is here


  1. You write, 'anywhere from 1 to 15 inches in diameter.' That's quite a range ... LOL!!

    The value of green plastic garbage bags can hardly be overestimated ... provided that they are protected from the wind ;-)

    Experienced backpackers always pack along a number of spare bags - they take little space, weigh next to nothing, and come in handy for all kinds of stuff!

    And 'experienced backpackers' would also snort at your plan to pack along foam mattresses! Then, again, a lot of backpackers would also contend that even the kilogram or so for a Therm-a-Rest self-inflator is excessive ;-)

    But, then, you'll not be backpacking - motorcycle touring allows a lot more 'crap' to be packed along.

  2. I am definitely NOT of the pack light freeze at night clan, especially when using a vehicle of any kind.

    1. I feel about the same.

      I carried all our camping gear in one bag, strapped to the back seat. It was a 90 litre bag, and when packed weighed about 45 pounds, inclding axe, tent, two mattresses, two sleeping bags, and two "Alite Monarch" camp chairs. Our coldest night was 4 degrees Celsius, and with our equipment it was still comfortable.

      The pack made a good backrest for me while riding, I never noticed the extra weight on the bike. When we were at motels I usually left the bag on the bike, padlocked in a Pacsafe wire security mesh.