This guest post was kindly contributed by Lyndon Poskitt of Races to Places.
When it comes to motorcycle luggage there is much debate on the market around what type of luggage to get. Hard luggage, soft luggage, lockable to the bike, lockable enclosures / security, waterproofness, functionality offered, rider safety etc., etc. Having used all kinds of luggage systems over the past 15 years and 500,000 km of riding everything from road to extreme off-road, and crashing more times than I can remember, I thought my experience might be worth sharing. I want to start by saying this, there are so many good brands of luggage on the market today, it really does come down to personal preference as to what features and price are important to you. While I mention a few different brands in this writing, all served me well at the time and simply helped me to work out my personal ultimate setup.
Adventure riding started for me in 2005 or so when I toured the USA mostly by road on a KTM 950 Adventure. I had the Touratech hard cases, large ones and way more luggage than I needed as I was really underprepared and inexperienced. It was fine though; I never dropped the bike, I didn’t ride off-road much and I got on just fine. The boxes were relatively secure so I didn’t worry too much about theft. I used internal bags that were easily removable when required (even when full of stuff) and the cases themselves were weather resistant . . . at the start!
As time went on, I began to ride more off-road and explore more out-of-reach places and in 2007 I found myself pre-running for the Baja 1000. Riding dry rivers, washes and the Baja 1000 race course I was pushing the bike hard with the hard cases. At one point I was catapulted from the bike after clipping a bush in a dry wash, reshaping one side case in the process. Then I almost snapped my leg after it was dragged under the box when I took a dab (placed my foot down) on some rough rocky terrain and finally I cartwheeled the bike on a fast open road after clipping a hidden washout and pretty much destroyed both side cases. At the time I knew no better; I straightened them out using rocks as hammers but they never fitted the same and for sure were no longer waterproof. The more I straightened them, the more they cracked and failed (aluminium). I never had the same confidence from this point, riding off-road with hard luggage both from a safety and reliability point of view.
So I moved on to a Giant Loop great basin, a soft horseshoe-shaped luggage system that sat over the top of the bike’s rear saddle / rack. It was never truly waterproof but was really reliable, strong and tough and I never broke it, despite all my attempts with various crashes and off-road excursions. I couldn’t fit as much gear as I did in the hard cases and it was more awkward to pack but it worked well as I tried to keep what I carried to a minimum. The shape made it less easy to pack but I lived with it for a year or two. I did various trips with it in the USA, Africa and the EU. My only two complaints really were how it wasn’t fully waterproof so my stuff always got damp in extended periods of poor weather, even with the internal pack sacks; and it also carried its weight up high since the majority of volume was above the seat, not ideal from a centre of gravity perspective. I wanted the durability of this soft type bag but with the ability to keep the weight low down and it had to be totally waterproof. Security was minimal with the Giant Loop but it was relatively easy to remove so no big deal.
When it came round to my World Trip “Races to Places” as documented on YouTube, I worked with Adventure Spec and used their Magadan Panniers. I liked their design because they offered what I wanted, a soft bag solution that kept the weight low down, had a volume similar to that of the hard cases and was watertight (via internal dry bag). The internal dry bag was not easy to remove when the bag was full and also added weight to the setup, albeit minimally. The attachment of the bag to the bike and / or luggage rack was a little crude, two Velcro straps across the saddle / top of the bike worked great to set the height of the bags and prevent them from falling down but there was nothing built in to hold the bags still on the bike, which was essential for off-road riding. Thankfully they included some through passages in the design so that the user can strap the bags to the frame horizontally and vertically around each side pannier. At first I used a Kriega strap but the plastic buckle just kept allowing the strap to slip in wet / rough off-road conditions so after trying a few different ones in the end I wound up using Blunt Force Product straps with metal buckles and abrasion resistant webbing, these did the job perfectly. I was able to secure the bags to the bike sturdily enough for everything I could throw at them; the downside, it made removing and installing them a pain in the ass. It was complicated and slow to do and that resulted in my leaving the bags on the bike pretty much all the time. To lock the bags to the bike I had to use an external wire rope lock or similar item which to be honest broke after so long and I just threw it away and never bothered anymore.
Lots of people used to ask me if I was worried about having stuff stolen from my unsecured panniers but in five years travelling on Races to Places, four years without locks or security, I never once had anything stolen from my bags. For sure I am careful not to park the bike on display or leave it unattended in areas of doubt but generally it was never a problem. I never left valuables on the bike anyway, always carrying them with me in my backpack or removing them when I left the bike (laptop, cameras and documents etc).
Three years into Races to Places and in search of a truly waterproof tank bag I came across Enduristan and I have to say it is the most durable, waterproof and well-built tank bag I ever had. While discussing my luggage wishes with Enduristan it became apparent that they didn’t have a luggage system available in their range of products that would be truly suitable for the long-distance hard-core adventure rider and they approached me to help develop something. This was the chance to put everything together I had experienced, learnt and wanted into a set of panniers and test them while on my travels. I got my thinking cap on and started with a list of requirements that looked something like this:
- Soft design side pannier system of material capable of withstanding heavy falls and also easy to repair
- Waterproof without additional internal bags
- Luggage rack attachment system that provides positive location and allows easy removal and a locking solution
- Locking the enclosure can be achieved by a wire rope lock or similar item
- No requirement for a heavy, additional back plate or attachment mechanism to attach the bag to a luggage rack
- The attachment system should have a redundant / backup solution in case of any failure to allow reattachment out in the field, crucial for remote adventure riding
- Protection on first impact / high impact points
- Modularity – ability to attach bottle holders, small and large fender bags or other luggage accessories or components to the front, back and top of the bag (similar to the most expensive hard cases)
- Lightweight – to be some of the lightest soft pannier solutions on the market without compromising strength and durability
- Small and large volume options to offer user choice
With the above in mind the Enduristan Monsoon EVO pannier system was developed and I went on to test it and use it through my adventures in Africa which was over a year and almost 60,000 km. Regardless of the manufacturer, the bottom line was that I had the opportunity to have a pannier system that I wanted, exactly. I rode thousands of kilometers, crashed and dropped the bike plenty and just used the product as it would be used by anyone out on their adventures.
To summarize, a strong and durable soft-pannier solution can deal with the rigors of off-road riding far better than a hard-case solution. It is also much safer from a rider perspective because soft bags compress and move a little should your body come into contact with it, reducing the risk of injury or severity of injury; this has to be a top consideration for sure.
Soft bags can be completely waterproof, tough and remain waterproof even after falls and spills on the trails. They also don’t have to be difficult to install and remove and they can definitely be lightweight and have equally as much modularity as traditional hard cases.
Ultimately it is your call, but for me, hard cases have only two advantages over soft bags: firstly, they look more Rolls Royce for those wanting the Ewan and Charlie look, and secondly, they are ultimately more secure and lockable, but really, I am honest when I say I have never had anything stolen from a soft pannier in my five years travelling around the world, never had them cut open with a knife and never came back to find they had been accessed while I was not there. You can always add a wire-rope type lock around a soft bag to remove this worry, or like me, never leave valuables inside. I have found that most thefts are opportune, when something is left on show or easy to access.
While I am not travelling the world currently, I am still managing some smaller trips and for that I am using a small soft pannier called the Enduristan Blizzard which has a teardrop shape suitable for bikes without luggage racks but is similar in design and features to that of the Monsoon Evos.
It’s good to have so many different types of luggage and brands on the market to choose from these days, allowing us to choose for ourselves the ones that meet our requirements. Ultimately as long as you are happy with your selection then you can concentrate on enjoying your ride safely and with reliable luggage, something we all love to do.
All the best and happy adventures,