How to pack motorcycle luggage

How to pack motorcycle luggage

The first thing that comes up every time someone mentions packing anything on a motorcycle is if we are using hard or soft luggage.

While that is a fair question, there is much more to packing than that.

We firmly believe that there is a place for both types of luggage, as we do that a mix of both might also be a solution for many riders, however, for the sake of this article, we will leave that discussion for a later date.

Let's then assume that you have chosen your packing system, it's now time to pack your bike.

So how should you address it?

  • Weight distribution:

The first thing to keep in mind is that not all bikes are the same.

If some bikes tend to be front heavy, others are notorious for being rear heavy, and that is important to know.

If your bike is rear heavy and you pack - or over pack - the rear with no care for weight distribution, you might find yourself pulling unintentional wheelies out of the blue or just feel your front "light" when driving at speed.

As it can be challenging to pack large items on the front half of the bike, keep in mind that handlebar bags, fender bags and frame guard bags are viable packing options.

However, keep present that the more weight you put on your steering column, the worst your driving comfort and turning speed will be, so pack smart if you are using handlebar or fender bags.

If you decide to pack it all on the rear, make sure to check your suspensions settings, you may need to adjust your shock accordingly.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it is advisable to pack the heavier items as low as possible.

As an example, on a side pannier, don't put tolls on top of clothes, go the other way around instead, tools first, clothes after.

This will help keep your center of gravity as low as possible.

The same way, it is important to distribute the weight of your side panniers to make sure your bike is as "weight centered" between the wheels as possible.


  • How much is too much:

In practical terms, its too much when either there is no longer space for you to sit on the bike, or when the bike is so heavy that it is only able to ride downhill.

In legal terms, it's too much if you go over your bike's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

Although we have never heard anyone saying that they were stopped by the police to check the bikes weight by the side of the road, we cannot forget point number one, weight distribution.

If you ride consistently with heavy loads or mid-weight loads over rough terrains, it may be smart to at least upgrade your suspension springs.

Although most road legal bikes nowadays are rated for a driver, a passenger, and luggage, the spring rating they come with from factory are for average weights.

Considering that, if you are 180 pounds, and ride with a passenger of 120 pounds plus 50 pounds of luggage, you can't expect the OEM spring rate to work the same for you as it does with two 180 pound riders with 75 pounds of luggage.

Adjust your spring rate and suspension settings for the setup you usually ride in and get know its limits, above that, regardless of your GVWR, you will be carrying too much!

  • Divide and conquer:

If you are riding alone, there is not much you can do here, however, if there is more than one bike in your party, it's smart to have a little group meeting beforehand.

Although personal items are something most of us prefer to carry ourselves, tools, camping gear, and food amongst other items are easy to split between bikes.

Those items tend to be either heavy - like tools - or just in high quantities like snacks and water. 

Make a list of all you need to take as a group and divide it between bikes.

When riding in groups you tend to all stop at the same time, so no need for five hammers for five bikes, 1 per group is more than enough.

The weight savings in this line of thinking when applied to similar items, profoundly impacts each motorcycle overall luggage weight.

  • Always consider a crash:

No one that rides likes to contemplate the idea of crashing. However, we do so when we suit up or put on our helmets to name a few of those moments.

That same mentality should be kept when packing.

You may have noticed we didn't mention backpacks before, and the reason is simple, although they can very well be used, they pose a specific danger that other luggage options don't.

If you crash, the backpack will hit the ground with you, and by doing so, it may bend your back in ways that your back protector might not be able to cope with.

The same way, if you are packing objects that can be dangerous to fall on top of - camera tripods for instance - it may be smart to safely pack them in a place where you are less likely to hit if you crash.

Other than personal safety issues, it is also important to consider the safety of whatever it is you are carrying.

Cameras, laptops, and other sensitive gear should always be packaged considering a crash, and remember, a crash might just be letting the bike fall while standing stopped at a traffic light or when manoeuvring for parking.

If a "standing still falls" may not be that harmful for you, they might be for any electronics or delicate items you may be carrying.

  • Road trip BONUS TIPS:

There are many tricks and tips when it comes to packing, and with experience, you will find your own, but we couldn't help ourselves to share two of them.

- Pack the more critical things in easy access places.

Regardless if you stopped for a coffee or a border crossing, you might need to leave your bike unattended. 

In that case, carry with yourself your most important items, and to do so, you shouldn't need to unpack the entire bike to reach them.

- Pack your dirty underwear on top.

It's not always easy to carry our valuables on ourselves at all times, meaning that some may inevitably have to stay on the bike.

If we cannot do much to prevent grabby hands from going over our belongings - regardless if they had to break a hard luggage lock or not - we can do something to deter them for snooping around a lot.

Dirty underwear, women's underwear or half ate food on top of your bags covering essential items underneath is a technique many swear by.

We all have different packing techniques, and we tend to change them over time as experience and necessity plays out.

So go out, practice, and let us know if you have any different techniques you use that we didn't cover, it would be great to add your input on to this list!

Check out our infographic on the subject


How to pack motorcycle luggage

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