How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle

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How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle

How Wide Is Too Wide?

Riding a lot of unfamiliar bikes, I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally been guilty of thwacking a wing mirror or 12 with an unexpectedly wide pannier. The rule of thumb for motorcycle luggage is that, to retain lane-splitting ability, it should be no wider than the handlebars. If you’re strapping something big to the back of your bike, and are planning on riding in traffic, that rule works for you too.

Consider the bars of even a modest bike, like the Kawasaki KLR650 that measure 37.8 inches, leaves you with a lot of space to work with. I’ve strapped full-size gear bags to the back of sport bikes while flying to foreign track days, without trouble.

But many bikes go outside that bar width, most notably machines like the Suzuki V-Strom 650 and Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200. By doing so, they sacrifice their ability to lane-split totally, but still otherwise function as perfectly capable motorcycles.

Contain It

Got five hundred pairs of shoes you need to transport to that Imelda Marcos holiday gala? Common sense dictates that they’ll need to go in some sort of bag or box, but the same method works even if you’re carrying a single awkward object. Bags, boxes and other containers can help attached straps, bungees or other retention methods. They can also protect your cargo from the elements and provide a flat, grippy surface that will interface well with your bike. Even just throwing a bungee net across an array of objects before strapping the whole pile down helps hold things in and create a single, solid mass from a random group of many things.

How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle
That’s a lot of shoes…

Photo by Adam Cohn

Strap It Down

Here’s where it gets fun. Using bungee cords or similar to strap a big object onto your bike is a creative mind game with several variables and near infinite answers.

The general rules, not matter what kind of strap or cord or rope or whatever is that they need to be tight, allowing for no movement of the object whatsoever. It stands to reason that the attachment method should also be strong enough to hold the object to your bike while accelerating, braking or subjected to wind from any direction. Remember, your bike’s aerodynamics often see wind wrapping around and hitting it from the rear; that’s why t-shirts blow up the backs of squids.

Bungees are good for most bags and such, but anything heavier or more awkward should probably be handled by tie-down straps. Rope is a bad option and should only be used if you’re in a pinch. It’s just difficult to get very tight without specialty knot abilities.

How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle
Cross-tie the load for a snug & safe fit.

Photo by the Author

I like to cross objects in an “X” shape, starting from something low and strong on the bike, around my feet or butt, passing over the object, then down to a tie-down point on the grab handles or passenger pegs at the rear. Bonus points if you can pass the straps through some sort of loop or handle or similar to provide strong location for them. If location points are not available, run an additional strap around the object and under the tail to prevent it from moving side to side.

Any point you connect to should be strong enough to support the pull of the strap under tension and the full weight of the object. Metal is good, flimsy plastic is bad. The object should be totally prevented from moving front-to-rear or side-to-side. Bonus points for adding extra straps as fail-safes.

If strapping an object to the tank, you can pass a strap underneath the headstock at the front (make sure you don’t obstruct steering or pinch any control cables) and there’s likely something under the rider seat you can hook to or wrap around too. Most fuel tanks have a pronounced ridge around the bottom that’ll take a hook or you can hook straps to parts of the frame, fairing or engine. Just make sure your straps aren’t going to be too close to any hot parts that might melt, weaken or distort them.

One Last Check For Safety

Once strapped down, give the object itself a firm shake. Seriously, did you use your strength? Did it move? If yes, start over.

Do the same with the straps, pulling on them shouldn’t detach them or loosen them in any way.

Can you get on and off the bike? Are your lights visible? Is your plate? Will the movement of the rear wheel hit the straps as the bike hits bumps? Is everything clear of the chain?

Think about any and all possibilities for what could go wrong and try to address them. Then throw an extra strap or two in your pocket just in case and hit the road. Those pigs aren’t going to take themselves to market.

What’s the largest or most difficult thing you’ve ever transported on your motorcycle?

  • eddi

    I have never even approached the level of carrying skill of the least of Asian cargo haulers. In Korea, I saw loads that would bog a pickup down casually cruising through bumper-to-bumper traffic. Bicycles are routinely reinforced with rebar and carrier cages welded to them.

    Loading my top case and bungeeing a pack to the back seat usually does it for me. Add saddlebags and I could migrate as I pleased with all I would ever need. I have hauled awkward loads. Just recently a new printer. In the top case with the bungee net to tie it down and if stayed right where I left it. Of course the traffic behind me was WAY behind me, but that was a bonus.

    • runnermatt

      “In Korea, I saw loads that would bog a pickup down casually cruising through bumper-to-bumper traffic.”

      That is because today, in the US, most truck engines are made for horsepower bragging rights, not torque and reliability under duress. I think the early 90′s was the last time “half-ton” pickups were built for work instead of glorified commuter toys.

      • Stuki

        Current half tons are capable of carrying more than they ever were. Diesels these days aren’t all that as far as reliability go, but aside from that, and their silly size, new trucks are bloody marvels for what they cost.

        • runnermatt

          I disagree. My Dad’s 1989 F150, other than lack of horsepower was far more capable of carrying loads than Half-tons today. Granted Ford saw fit to put a 3.08/1 final drive ratio in it for gas mileage so it didn’t have much power with its 300 c.i. (4.9 liter) gasoline straight six, but it’s suspension was far better suited for carrying loads and the 300 straight six was pretty much bullet proof. When my dad sold it with 100k miles we had not had to change the clutch or brakes despite hauling a 1100 pound lawnmower and other equipment in the bed and then towing a 1500 pound trailer with said lawnmower/equipment. Because of the lack of power to get the 3000 pounds of trailer and mower moving from a stop you had to slip the clutch while feathering the throttle at 2000 rpm (torque peak, I’ve heard it was close to 300 ft/lbs.) The standard gearing from Ford was the biggest problem with the truck as in their attempt at gas mileage the 3.08/1 gearing meant the truck got better gas mileage at 60 in 4th gear instead of 5th.

          Looking the manufacture websites for current half ton trucks so few options for making the trucks better for work. Looking at the Ram (Dodge) website recently I saw that the only options for making the half ton truck better for work was a choice of final drive gearing, but serious work gearing of 3.73/1 or 4.10/1 are not available in the 1500′s.

          Also, your assertion that gasoline engines are as reliable as diesels is just plain wrong. Sure gasoline engines are a lot more reliable than they used to be, but once you start making the gasoline engines work hard day in, day out they will not last as long their diesel counterparts. When working hard towing a load the increased resistance to acceleration means that pistons, connecting rods, crankshafts, main bearings and caps, and head studs see increased forces because the energy released by the combustion of the fuel/air charge cannot be turned into work as quickly. Because it cannot be turned into work as quickly the parts mentioned have to contain that chemical energy until the parts convert it into mechanical (kinetic energy) work.

          • Piglet2010

            The other problem these days is that too many people are thoughtless and think because their truck is fine going down the freeway at 75 mph unladen, it should be fine to do the same with 1,500 pounds of stuff in the bed or pulling a 7,500 pound trailer.

            • runnermatt

              Yeah there are those people too. Just because you have the horsepower to go that speed doesn’t mean the engine isn’t going to eventually overheat or that the brakes are up to the task of stopping that amount of weight… repeatedly, or that the weight of the trailer won’t just push the tow vehicle around.

              My younger brother used to work at Lowes in the Lawn & Garden section. People would pull up and want to load 2 pallets of stone (3000 lbs. each) into the back of a half ton. They seemingly think pickup trucks have an infinite weight limit because they don’t understand the concept of “weight limit”. City people that think this way are encountered more frequently than country people, but country people are not exempt. Tire pressures and tire weight limits are beyond them as well. My brother tells the story of a customer who had them load a bunch of stone into the back of an SUV. They told the customer that the SUV and its tires were not rated for the weight, but the customer insisted. After they loaded it up the customer got in and drove 10 feet and all four tires blew out. I would have loved to have seen that. Sometimes they made customers sign waivers before loading things.

        • runnermatt

          Oh and my Dad’s 2005 Dodge Ram 3500 non-dually has 220k miles on it and still gets 24 mpg with 4.10 gears while weighing 7000 pounds wet. My younger brother has also used it to beat his friend who was driving a BMW 335i in a impromptu drag race.

  • Darragh McD

    this was the article that i expected to see Wiley wearing doggles on the back of a bike; or maybe even on the tank

  • Jack Meoph

    “positioning it as close to your motorcycle’s center of gravity (an
    imaginary point in the center of the bike, just ahead of your genitals
    and below the fuel tank) will minimize its impact on handling” and once the engine is removed to accommodate the load, you can Fred Flintstone your bike to your destination.

    I will always have a tail bag on my bike. There are some things you can not do without when you go for a ride, and I will not ride with a backpack. My Triumph has a top box, which is fantastic, and it’s effect on the bikes handling is negligible. If I have to take more than what will fit in a tailbag/topbox, tankbag, and saddlebags, I’m taking the car. I’m glad I have that option, and I’m not one of those folks with 20 chickens in cages strapped down on my scoot. That would suck.

  • ThinkingInImages

    I just switched to saddle bags after a few years of backpacks and tank bags. They’re brilliant! Yes, I’m spooked by the width issue, especially on a narrow motorcycle like a CBR, but it’s worth the overall convenience.

  • HoldenL

    Sunday, I took a 7-foot Christmas tree home on the back of my Versys. One word: RokStraps.

    • Blixa

      Nice Versys.

    • metric_G

      All I can think of is Richard Hammond in the Top Gear UK Vietnam special, riding his 125 cc Minsk with a Spanish galleon scale model strapped on the back.
      If you didn’t see it yet it is a must for motorcycle enthusiast.

    • Eric Shay

      Off road even!

    • Stuki

      That thing looks almost as hard to lanesplit as a Vstrom with factory panniers…….

  • Justin McClintock

    This whole article reminds me of the old saying: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    • nick2ny

      Always thought it was “just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t”

  • Michael Howard

    “Absolutely” anything? Uh… “Almost” anything, yeah. “Practically” anything, sure. “Absolutely” anything? ‘Fraid not. Great article aside from the exaggerated headline.


      Seen a cow being carried on chinese motorcycle in Tanzania, Africa!!!I was lost for words. Seen a canoe tied to a bicycle too, though not related to motorbikes, still got two wheels!!Amazed!!!OPbviously cannot carry a car or stuff like that….but theres lots of stuff one can carry albeit the exaggerated headline

  • Blixa

    I would love to know how to carry a 35 lb dog sans sidecar.

  • Jason 1199

    I keep a bungee net and rok strap hooked on my KLRs luggage rack at all times. It lets me bring home random things on the fly: dinner left overs, boxes, parcels, spare gear, a gym bag for Crossfit, and up to 4 bags of groceries

  • Jacob D

    Ropes are a great backup, they can fold up smaller than a bungee in most cases and can be tied to any length you need. As for knots? you don’t have to be an expert, just creative. Test out the knots and you’ll find one that works for you. Typically lots of loops through loops through loops with the end puled though and tied off somewhere to eliminate flapping does the trick. And on top of all that rope is extremely cheap. I wouldn’t say I rely on rope, but whenever I do a bike trip theres usually tied down with rope.

    • Rich

      If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot!

      • Piglet2010

        Or use the handyman’s secret weapon, duct tape.

    • I Have the Hat

      A taut-line hitch isn’t too difficult to learn. Never used it on a bike but have done so successfully on car roof racks.

    • Sean

      Why a backup? Ropes are great at securing loads, and knots aren’t some crazy skill learned by only the most devoted Shaolin monks. Check out Animated Knots by Grog for easy, step-by-step instructions. You’ll be a hit with your friends when they need to secure that monster flatscreen to the roof of their rackless car, or to their motorcycle for that matter.

      • Piglet2010

        The problem with ropes and knots is that it is nearly impossible to get the fastening truly tight – unlike say a strap where you have the mechanical advantage of a racket buckle..

        • Sean

          Two words: truckers hitch.

          • Piglet2010

            “3:1 Purchase: The arrangement of line
            provides a theoretical 3:1 purchase. However, rope is running over rope
            with considerable friction. In practice the mechanical advantage is
            much less, may be more like 1.6:1. However, hauling on the line can be
            surged and then the friction is an advantage as it helps hold the gain
            while the end is secured. The theoretical 3:1 gain assumes that the
            lower attachment point is fixed and the upper point is being moved.”

            1.6:1 is not comparable to what a ratchet buckle can achieve.

  • Yuri Grinshteyn

    Using photos of people in “3rd world” countries who are doing the best they can to make life work with very limited resources as illustrations for “what not to do” is insensitive at best and basically assholish. These guys (and often women) are probably better urban/day to day riders than most of us. You guys do good work on the site, and there’s no need to stoop to jingoistic bullshit to make your point.

  • Rich

    I spent a year commuting on my BMW R/75, 70 miles round trip, while doing restoration carpentry.
    30″ steel toolbox bungeed avross the luggage rack; 4 foot level bungeed to the side of the frame; milk crate bungeed to the passenger part of the seat, with skilsaw, drill, grinder, router, blades and bits.
    On another job, I did punchout work with a friend, riding a BMW R/80 from house to house on the same bike, both of us wearing toolbelts, and my friend sitting backwards with two sawhorses and a power miter saw across his lap.
    Pickup trucks are for girlymen.

  • mulderdog

    I miss Mulder and the KLR !

  • Jose Manuel

    Air Compressor = Easy

  • runnermatt

    My test to see of something is strapped down good enough. Grab the item and shake, jerk, push and pull it. If the bike moves before the item moves it is strapped down good enough. Ideally the item shouldn’t move in relation to the bike when the bike moves.

  • Blixa

    I’d love to do what you did, but my tank bag gets really hot underneath, so that’s my only concern. I bet my dog would be thrilled to ride peering over the bars – I’m just afraid to burn him. Maybe it’s time for a new ride? ;)

  • Roland Straylight

    Was once sent to fetch a dinner set (as in new crockery) from argos minutes before the place closed. Strapped to bike ok, but scared shitless of speed bumps and potholes on the way back.

  • Diego Martinez

    I wish I could track down the photo, but a friend arrived to a party once carrying a 10 gallon fishing cooler on the back of a ’95 VFR750…

  • Michael Howard

    In the early 70′s my father and his 2nd wife did their honeymoon from Missouri, through Colorado, Wyoming, and back to Iowa on a CL350 scrambler. In addition to the normal tent, sleeping bags, etc., they carried two VW tires to a family member in Yellowstone. When asked by people along the way what the deal was with the tires, Dad told them they were his training wheels.

  • eddi

    We have only scratched the surface here. If this works a motorcycle truck from Huajun Motor Tricycle Manufacturing Co. Ltd.

    You really can carry ANYTHING on a motorcycle. It just takes broadening your definition of a motorcycle.

  • Jose Manuel