How To Carry Luggage On A Motorcycle

luggage on vtx motorcycle
Motorcycles aren't just the greatest mode of transport in the world. They're a way to really get out and see the world, if you pack smart and get the right luggage.

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Yes, it’s true. If you weren’t riding a motorcycle and taking just about any other mode of transportation, you could travel with several pieces of luggage on your trip.

Part of the adventure of riding a motorcycle on a long trip (at least for me) is leaving a lot of worldly junk behind and just bringing the bare essentials I need. Riding a motorcycle forces you to do that of course, making you get creative on what you can and can’t take with you.

How To Carry Luggage On a Motorcycle

Securing additional items to a motorcycle such as luggage and other cargo is a straightforward process:

  • Find empty surface area on the bike
  • Locate attachment points
  • secure the bag using bungee cords or a bungee cargo net
  • Adjust weight distribution as needed

Find Empty Surface Area On the Bike

First things first;

You’ve got to find an area on your motorcycle that has enough surface area for what you’re trying to haul with little or no overhang if you can. If you don’t have any side bags or a trunk you can generally make good use of your passenger seat.

Need a little more room?

If you don’t already have one, consider getting yourself a sissy bar (for more cruiser styles) or other rack that you can put cargo on.

Locate Attachment Points

Find good securement points on your motorcycle that you can attach bungee cords or tie to. A good securement point will be either on the frame or an attachment mounted directly to the frame. Avoid plastic and other breakable materials as attachment points. 

It was just mentioned (but is worth repeating), you may need to consider purchasing an aftermarket rack or sissy bar which gives you both a good location to put luggage and/or cargo, but also a good attachment point. Keep your make and model of motorcycle in mind should you choose to get one. 

Even if your bike is already equipped with a trunk, you may want to mount a motorcycle luggage rack on it so that you can make use the trunks surface ara.

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Weight Distribution

Last but not least is making sure that you distribute the weight of your motorcycle luggage and other cargo evenly on your motorcycle. You’ll want to keep everything as centered as possible with little to no overhand if you can. 

If the weight distribution isn’t correct you’re setting yourself up for a crash when your cornering or doing low speed turns. 

There’s also the potential to spill your load all over the highway. 

With a little planning, finesse, weight distribution and bungee cords, you can carry a variety of cargo on your motorycle.
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Motorcycle Luggage Vs Regular Luggage

It sounds a little obvious, but try and stay away from using regular travel luggage on your motorcycle and stick to luggage that’s made for motorcycles. 

Why is that?

Regular travel luggage can be oversized and fit on your motorcycle awkward.

You’ll want to try and stick to motorcycle specific luggage that will work better for your bike and withstand the elements. 

Get the Right Kind of Luggage for Your Bike

This might sound really obvious, but you’d be amazed at the number of times people have bought expensive luggage for their motorcycle, only to find it doesn’t fit.

One of the best things you can invest in is a magnetic tank bag. It’s basically a big, roomy backpack that you fill, then whack on the tank, and it won’t budge because it’s magnetic. No bungee cords (they’re surprisingly useless on a motorcycle, so use ROK straps instead if you’re strapping anything down) or cumbersome luggage.

But, of course, your gas tank has to be metallic in order for the bag to stay on. This is what I mean by getting the right kit for your vehicle.

The only disadvantage to using a tank bag is that it can scratch or scuff the paint on the tank. Microfibre rags underneath can help with this.

Most magnets in tank bag configurations are strong enough to adhere to the tank through the rag. Then you have something to wipe your bike down with later.

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Don’t Compromise on Safety

Life’s all about balance, and at no time is that more obvious than when you’re sitting on a motorcycle. You balance on the bike because the machine is carefully crafted to factor in your position as you hold the center of gravity.

When you start introducing extra weight (we’re talking luggage here, not your partner) you’re shifting the center of gravity, so you need to account for that when choosing the best way to pack.

So, you can invest in some saddlebags, side panniers or aftermarket hard bags, which are a great idea. The main difference between the two is that saddlebags are made of fabric or leather, so they’re more flexible. They’re not as waterproof as panniers, though, which are plastic, lockable, and solid.

They can either click onto a luggage rack, or they can sit astride the back seat. There’s a bag on either side, so don’t go sticking all your shoes in the left one and your underwear on the right. You’ll wonder why it’s so hard to steer. Balance, remember?

Designed For Motorcycles…

Modern-day luggage solutions (like these) take into account wind factor, so they’re built to be streamlined and not add to wind resistance too much. But you can help yourself out plenty by using a little of the old gray matter when packing up your motorcycle.

Keep your weight low and balanced, by packing your side bags with a little thought. Put the heavier items at the bottom, lighter at the top. It also makes sense to keep the important things at the top of your bags, so you’re not rooting around for them, unpacking everything on the side of the road.

If the side bags are giving you more wind resistance than you’d like, then consider a trunk setup instead. Because the trunk will sit behind you as you ride, you don’t have to worry about wind resistance, but this is where you’ll need to be mindful once more about your center of gravity, as now it’ll have moved back a little.

In addition to using bungee cords, Rok Straps and a great addition to travel with for extra support.
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Backpacks Are a No-No

It’s tempting to sling a backpack over your shoulders as one extra form of luggage, but this is far too dangerous. It can pull you back as you’re riding, and when it’s heavy, you’ll tire easily. However, you could get yourself a pack-rack, which sits behind you like a passenger.

Your bag goes in the rack, rather than being on you. It’s much safer and is actually pretty comfortable to lean back against when you’re really in the zone on a long, open stretch of road.

Use What the Bike Lords Gave You

If you have built-in storage in the bike, then use it. If you’re someone who loves to get out on the open road and disappear into the forest for a couple of days when things get too heavy, you should factor this into the specifications before you’ve even bought your bike.

Bikes for carrying gear and luggage are built to hold everything you need, whether this is through removable extras or permanent fixtures. Under the seat, in the side panels. Tell the sales guy what you’ll want. He’ll find it for you.

Don’t forget that while you’re searching for the right luggage, think about the conditions you’re going to be biking in.

Waterproof has to be the only way to go, but do you want that to include fabric luggage, or harder, more plastic structures? Do you want to be able to take the luggage off and go hiking with it once you’ve arrived at the right spot or lock it and leave it on the bike?

How to carry luggage on a motorcycle

Use Your Pockets

Sure, there’s a limit to how much of the contents of an overnight case you’re going to get in the pocket of your jacket, but there’s a real trick to knowing what should go where.

You should carry the most important items on your person. Wallet, keys, phone, passport… they can all be safely tucked away in a zipped-up pocket of your leathers. They’re easy to get hold of when you need them, and you don’t have to unpack your carefully stored luggage to find them.

Packing up a motorcycle with luggage is all about packing smart. Roll up your clothes tightly, wrap socks into t-shirts, think about vacuum packing if you’re really in it for the long-haul. Then you can Mary Poppins the hell out of your bike once you’re parked up and unpacking, laughing at the guys looking for somewhere to park their huge camper vans.

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