Carrying Stuff

If a bike cant carry a simple briefcase, I rate its carrying capacity as poor

If you ride to work, you carry stuff, like a briefcase. If a bike cant carry a simple briefcase, I rate its carrying capacity as poor. You would be surprised how many so-called "big" bikes cant carry a simple briefcase. Sooner or later we all carry things on our motorcycle, if only a spare helmet. A poor carrying capacity makes this dangerous. If you only ride on Sunday, you can skip this section.

On a motor-cycle you can carry luggage on the:

  1. Side of the bike (side-panniers)
  2. Back, behind you (back-pannier or pack-rack).
  3. Tank, in front of you (tank-rack).

All affect the bike balance, width and wind-flow differently, and need special fittings.


Often your square briefcase wont fit into the round side-pannier

Side-panniers are popular because they are easy - you open them and drop luggage in. They are fixed form, lockable and waterproof, but usually small and curved so the wind flows over them. Often your square briefcase wont fit into the round side-pannier, nor will a spare helmet. Check your side-panniers can carry what you want them to. Large side-panniers jut out, making the bike less maneuverable.

Side saddlebags are more flexible, but also often small and cannot fit a helmet or briefcase. They are not as waterproof as panniers. Carrying luggage in side-panniers or bags can affect the bike’s balance if you only load one side.

Back panniers

Back panniers sit behind the rider, so the wind resistance problem is less. Nothing juts out on the left/right, so maneuverability is not affected. A weight at the back moves your center of gravity back, but usually not by much. A back pannier is always a good option, even if small. However a pack rack is more flexible.

Tank Rack

The advantage of carrying stuff on the tank is that it sits centrally, and doesn’t reduce bike stability. The disadvantage is it wrecks your tank paintwork. you can fit a tank rack to avoid this, and a tank rack bag to put things you need often, like a map.

Luggage Rack

My preferred luggage method is a backpack that attaches to a pack-rack fitted to the back of the bike. Here are the advantages:

  • Backrest. When you travel without the backpack, the pack rack is a passenger safety backrest. It stops them falling off the back if you accelerate.
  • Central. When you attach the backpack to the pack rack, it sits behind you. If you have no passenger, the pack sits where the passenger normally sits.
  • Flexible. If you have a passenger, the pack can switch around to sit behind the passenger.
  • Mobile. When you arrive, you lift off the pack and walk away.
The pack rack and pack is the ultimate carriage flexibility

For me, the pack rack and pack is the ultimate carriage flexibility and safety. It is stable because the backpack sits where the passenger normally sits, which suits the bike’s design. It is flexible and mobile because when you park, you put the backpack on your back and walk away. It is large enough to carry your helmet, jacket, leggings and gloves. You can carry it with you when walking around, or leave it somewhere safe. When traveling, you can add a sleeping bag to the top of the pack with a bungee cord.

The Helmet Hook

Many bikes have a helmet hook on the side. NEVER use this to carry a spare helmet when riding. It is not designed for that. It is just a place to put your helmet after you stop, so you don’t have to carry it around.

Bungee cords

You can use bungee cords (or “elastic bands”) to fix a pack to a bike pack-rack. I find that if you stretch the band diagonally, you only need one cord. Bungee cords can also attach luggage behind you on the bike. Without a pack rack, you will need several cords or it will move. Use the cords from several angles, then add a final cord to “tension” the other cords.

What to carry?

I carry my licence and insurance in my wallet. Here are some things I carry in my jacket when riding:

  • Copy of license/insurance - in case of no wallet.
  • Toll money - lots of coins
  • Tire gauge - to check my tires any time
  • Tissues - to wipe
  • Lip chap- in case
  • Sun screen - in case
  • Map(s) - for when lost
  • Visor defogger spray/fluid - in hot wet weather
  • Glove liners - for cold weather or passengers
  • Spare $5 - you never know

Other things I carry on the bike are:

  • Basic tools: pliers, philips/slot screwdrivers, plug socket, crescent and spanners.
  • First aid: Band-aids and antiseptic,
  • Balaclava - just in case
  • Wind-breaker - for passengers and just in case
  • Instant camera - to photo accidents
  • Bungee cords - for unexpected luggage
  • Black plastic bag - for rain