Hard vs soft luggage is one of motorcycling's greatest unanswered questions. Check out the pros and cons to each and our ultimate set-up
Your luggage system can be one of the trickiest things to decide on. You’ve got hard vs soft, weight distribution, security and arrangement to think about. It’s no easy feat. And it’s made even harder by having no right or wrong answer. Philosophers, great thinkers and brilliant minds have been pondering this question for a millennia (well, quite a while) and they still argue. Don’t get sucked into it, have a read of these pros and cons and try the set-up you feel comfortable with. It comes down to what suits you best and the type of riding you’ll be doing.
Hard luggage is brilliant. You’ve got security and peace of mind thanks to metal containers complete with locks. It’s neat, there are no straps flailing in the wind and your gear is perfectly compartmentalised into one of three boxes. Hard panniers can be plastic or aluminium with most adv riders opting for aluminium as it can be bent back into shape in case of a drop. The three boxes can also double up as two handy chairs and a picnic table. Lovely jubbly.
Cost is one big factor. Fitting a GS with boxes will cost you thousands. Your width is greatly increased making filtering very difficult if you ride in cities. But most importantly the top con is if you’re actually going to ride off-road. Hard panniers can brake legs in a topple, stick your foot out to try and catch yourself or get it stuck in a rut and that pannier driving into your leg won’t be pretty. Be honest with yourself here, if you’re hardly going to touch the rough stuff then this doesn’t matter. If you’re not going off-road then hard boxes are the way to go.
Soft luggage is cheap, easy to attach and repair. It looks more ‘rough and ready’ reducing unwanted attention. If you’re going to ride off-road, soft bags are the best choice, you can paddle through ruts and crash without the fear of your luggage doing more damage to you than the fall itself.
The only real con with soft luggage is security. There are options on the market which are now slash proof, but I haven’t tested those yet so can’t vouch for them. A simple PacSafe wire mesh (or cable if you’d rather save the faff) is enough to deter most opportune thieves. And if someone really wants to get inside your bags then nothing will stop them, not even a lock on a pannier (which can always be smashed with a hammer and chisel). Waterproofing is another factor, but I’ve had ‘100% waterproof’ soft bags leak less than metal top boxes. So, this can always be overcome by putting your stuff in another dry bag.
THE ULTIMATE SET-UP
I’ve tried both set-ups and have never been completely happy with either. Full on hard luggage attracts too much attention, makes the bike too wide, heavy and uncomfortable off-road. While with soft luggage I’m forever worrying about my gear’s security.
I’m now only happy with this compromise:
A hard-top box and soft panniers is the absolute perfect compromise for any adventure bike. You’ve got all the benefits of both systems wrapped up in one.
All of the electrical and expensive equipment (laptop, cameras, paperwork) live in the top box and clothes and camping gear live in soft bags. We don’t have to worry when off-roading, we’re slimmer than with metal boxes, it saved a mini-fortune and we have added security for our valuables. Check out our review of the SW Motech Trax Adv Top Box here.
Here’s how we packed
- All our electricals and important stuff live in here.
Side bag 40l
- This bag only contains camping equipment, including sleeping bag, tent, grill, MSR stove and so on. We welded a small, lightweight tray and shelf onto the rack for the bag to slot into. We use a Pacsafe wire mesh net (buy them second hand on eBay) to secure this bag to the bike. They are a hassle to take on and off, but we don’t camp everynight so we leave this bag on the bike when going into accommodation.
- On the other side we have the spare Rotopax fuel and water containers, which counterbalance the weight. The XT has a little 15l tank, so the fuel container comes in very handy. And the water is important for camping, washing ourselves and dishes.
Top bags 2 x 40l Lomo waterproof roll bags
- We have a roll bag each, containing our personal clothes, trainers and wash kit only. These bags are kept light. We don’t secure them as if someone nicks them they’ll get an old pair of pants and a toothbrush. They’re 100% waterproof, lightweight duffel bags from British watersport company, Lomo. We’ve used their bags everywhere from hard off-roading in India to skiing in Bulgaria and they’ve proved ultra tough. You can check them out here.
Front fairing bag 10l
- This bag has been tied onto the fairing. We use it to store food, snacks and a rain cover for the bike (which is mainly used as a theft deterrent)
Front fairing bag 5l
- This bag counterweighs the 10l bag and holds our security chain
Hidden bag 10l
- This bag is quite well concealed and usually covered in dirt. It’s very light and only has spares and accessories such as a tyre compressor, puncture repair kit, fuel funnel and zip ties.
Home-made Gutter Tube
- This tube holds spare oils like engine oil, WD-40 and other accessories like tape, ratchet strap etc. In areas where fuel stations are farther apart this stuff comes out and we put Coke bottles filled with petrol in here.
Army Ammo Box
- We bought an army ammo box for £12 from eBay, drilled some holes in it and attached it to the sumpguard up front. We then drilled a few more holes, attached half a gate lock hoop and then popped a padlock through it. Now it’s a secure tool box, holds all our tools, is hard-wearing, waterproof and helps distribute the weight upfront. Click here if you fancy making your own!
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