Adventure Riding is all about mountains, trails, forests. So we have to be rather sufficient out there. First questions that comes in mind is “what do I carry with me?”. Soon enough the next important question arrives: “where do I pack my things?”.
There are loads of things to carry … clothes, tent, mattress, food, extra fuel and basically almost every item in our Packing List.
Hard Aluminum Panniers
The first answer that pops up is Hard Aluminum Panniers, that are very much advertised and quite expensive. Everywhere around us we see motorcycles “ready for adventure” equipped with two side aluminum panniers and a top box. A key advantage of Hard Aluminum Panniers is that it is possible to lock and insure our things if we want to move away from the motorcycle. Also, if we have been equipped with inner bags, we can transfer our existing, without being obliged to remove the bags from the motorcycle. Finally our belongings are protected from the weather, particularly rain. But these are the only advantages that they have and since in Adventure Riding sooner or later the bike will get dropped, there start their problems!
Usually after the first “good” fall, aluminum will get dented and twisted, with the result that the cap no longer fits perfectly with the body of the pannier. Even a few millimeters of deviation is enough to not let them seal properly and start letting the rain and dust go inside, with all that this implies … Certainly with a hammer and enough perseverance they can be restored relatively close to their original shape, but waterproofness is over for ever!
Second main issue we have with Aluminum Panniers is weight! They are very heave to begin with (even without anything inside them) and add to that the weight of all the necessary metal racks on which they have to mount, it results in an overweight adventure motorcycle that is extremely difficult to maneuver in Off-road conditions. It is difficult even to pick up!
Last problem with Aluminum Panniers is the injury possibility! There are a few cases of riders being injured in their legs when, during a fall, their boot got trapped beneath the aluminum pannier.
Hard Plastic Panniers
In an effort to reduce the high cost and weight of the aluminum panniers, one can resort to the solution of plastic panniers/saddlebags.When riding on-road this is a good option indeed. But Adventure riding is all about gravel road exploration and when we put plastic panniers in this situation, thing can and will got horribly bad very soon.
The plastic side cases (regardless of manufacturer) are not designed to take the stress of a hard dirt road, nor to survive after collision with stones and other immovable elements of mother nature. On a recent trip, the three motorcycles equipped with plastic panniers had many problems. The first broke the locking-base of the suitcase at the first drop and the second broke the mounting-base only by driving the route and without falling!
When it comes to off-road adventures, weight and capability to keep your gear safe from water, dust, mud and snow become a priority. With soft luggage you do not need frames to attach them, resulting in a significant weight reduction. They are flexible so they can absorb impacts without compromising their construction integrity or loosing their waterproof characteristics. In the event of a tear, some of them can be repaired on the spot using repair kits. They can also protect both your motorcycle and your legs working as pillows for when you eventually hit the forest floor
Our experience has shown us that when you are about to venture for an off-road adventure, the only way to go is Soft Luggage, whose only downside is the lack of lock feature, both of their content and the bags themselves on the motorcycle. Beyond that, they have only advantages:
- Purchase cost is significantly lower than any metal solution.
- They are unbelievably light weight. There is usually the possibility to attach them directly on our motorcycle without metal frames, so the behavior of our motorcycle is closer to the behavior without luggage. Always remember that weight is the main problem in Off-road riding!
- They are 100% waterproof since they usually have a roll-top design.
- The eventual drop of the bike will not end in tears, since the variable of their shape allows them to adapt to the soil and not get damaged by the fall.
- In the process they protect the motorcycle as well, acting like a soft pillow.
- Their materials are durable and designed to withstand extensive and harsh use.
- In the event of a hole or tear after rubbing on asphalt or bumping into a blunt object, they can get repaired on the trail, simply and with permanent results. Most companies sell repair kits for their products.
- There are size and shape combinations for all tastes and all kinds of motorcycle.
- Finally they adapt to all kinds of motorcycles, so they easily switch between different motorcycles that we may have.