One easy way to make your bike more useful is to add some luggage. When bike manufacturers think luggage, they get out the clay models and start laying up fiberglass. Before you know it, there's a set of heavy hardbags hanging off of the rear fender, adding weight and width even when they're not in use.Hard bags can be very useful, don't get us wrong -- but they're not the only solution. They're not even always the best solution to hauling stuff on your bike.
Here's what we look for when we're shopping for soft luggage for our bikes:
- Durable fabric, double-stitched seams, high-quality zippers and fasteners
- Some degree of water-resistance and/or an included waterproof cover
- Simple, integrated system for attaching the luggage to the bike
- Lots of compartments and useful space
- Good looks and some reflective material for added safety
- Reasonable prices
Here are five of our favorite pieces of soft luggage:
T-Bags Dekker 2 Bag: $249.99
This tailbag is rigid, so it keeps its shape even when empty, and looks good on a pillion or luggage rack. It's made from ballistic nylon with multiple waterproof coatings and comes with a rain cover. It has four quick release mounting straps and 8 bungee loops and D-ring tie-down points. Over 2.6 cubic feet of storage space - that's almost 4,500 cubic inches.
This 3,500 cubic inch bag has Swiss Army Knife utility, with multiple pockets and side compartment that you can access even when the bag is secured to the bike. This bag has modular elements, including a top roll that you can strap on to increase capacity. The 1200-denier SaddleTuff material and SaddleHyde panels help make the bag rigid, and multiple carrying points make it useful off the bike as well.
The cool arched shape of this tailbag compliments modern bike styling, and looks good on the back of almost any bike. Made of ballistic polyester and polyester-backed twill, this bag also has reflective striping and logo, and includes a rain cover. 24 liters (1,465 cubic inches) of storage space comes in handy for extra gloves, notebook, compact camera and other essentials on the go.
Wouldn't it be great if your tank bag could also be your backpack when you get off the bike? That's what Icon has done with the 1,800 cubic inch (approximately) Urban Tank Bag, which combines all of the conveniences you need in a medium-sized tank bag with all of the usefulness of a backpack. Its got magnetic mount, and is even equipped with a helmet carrier with a neoprene protector. The Icon Tank Bag is constructed with water-resistant ripstop material, has a clear map pocket (including a CD/MP3 player compartment) and padded backpack straps to boot.
When it comes to luggage, it's hard to beat the capacity and usefulness of saddlebags. When used correctly, saddlebags are great. They carry their load low and closer to the bike's center of gravity. If you load them evenly from side to side, they have minimal effect on handling and balance. An added benefit is you can use them and still carry a passenger, unlike many seat or tailbag options. Good soft bags, like these classy Nelson Riggs, provide easy-access, mount and unmount from the bike quickly and maintain their shape with rigid sides and lower panels. You can fit a lot of gear in these tidy bags with a capacity of 1,200 cubic inches per side.