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10 Tips for Motorcycle Luggage Success

Wisdom provided by Happy Trails CEO, Tim Bernard and Shop Manager, Jason Ward

On a recent trip to the Happy Trails Factory, I sat down with company founder Tim Bernard and longtime Shop Manager Jason Ward to discuss their top ten tips for motorcycle luggage success.

1: Soft or Hard

What's your mission? On long trips away from home, hard luggage offers the additional security of built-in locks. Whether a quick pit stop on that cross country journey or a leisurely lunch at a cantina in Mexico, it's nice to know that your most valuable gear is locked up tight. Soft luggage, on the other hand, offers complete compressibility and when emptied out can enable you to do things like squeeze through traffic or down narrow single track. While most soft luggage tends to sag, The "Mojave" line by Happy Trails incorporates a unique "anti droop" back plate that keeps the loaded bags firmly in place.

2: Assess your profile

How much disposable horse power do you have? On larger adventure bikes like the BMW GS 1200, all that extra power may enable you to carry a larger setup that will likely not impact performance at 75 miles an hour. The same may not be true for the venerable KLR 650 whose carbureted, single-cylinder output struggles to keep 75 miles an hour in a light headwind. Your drag profile matters and "gear guy" or not, take into consideration what your bike can handle. Already have your pannier setup? Take a look at your "bug line." If your bags/boxes are covered in excess dead bugs or mud, it may be too wide.

3: Keep it Waterproof and Dustproof

A lot of gear insinuates that it's water proof when in reality it is merely water "resistant." Tim notes, "It's really nice to have something dry to put on after a long ride in the rain." Happy Trails uses materials and seals that you'll find in another popular Idaho pastime: white water rafting. Both their hard and soft luggage combinations are proven performers in all conditions, including dust. Though not something that people often consider, dust and sand can wreak havoc on your most expensive electronic gear.

4: Make Use of Interior Rack Space

Once you have your tail and side racks installed, it's time to get creative. Between the pannier mounts and your motorcycle frame, there is a lot of interior space that is great for mounting hard tool tubes or storage sleeves. With all of your essential tools and spares tucked away, you can pop your side boxes off, head out for that gnarly day ride and know that you have the essential gear to make it back.

5: Separate Your Gear and Make It Accessible

When touring the Pacific Northwest, it's very possible to go from temperatures in the 50s, to rain, to 100-degree heat in under an hour, so keeping your clothing layers easily accessible is a no brainer. Plan to keep items that you will need to regularly access in one pannier and reserve the other side for the gear that will only be required once you hit camp. And once you hit camp, what's the first thing you are going to need? A light. Keep one handy in your pocket or tank bag and be prepared for pitching a tent, an emergency roadside mechanical inspection, or finding your way to that campground registration kiosk.

6: Evaluate Your Weight and Suspension

Gear, panniers and mounting racks all add weight and this directly impacts how your motorcycle handles. Though practicing with your setup is important, the first thing that any rider should do is check the manual. Make certain that your ADV touring setup is within the manufacturer's recommendations and adjust accordingly. Having trouble making it work? Consider a tank bag, or other front-end luggage accessory to even out the load bias.

7: Bring Rain Gear

Rain gear has its obvious use as water protection, but considering the small amount of space that it takes up, you may just find that you use it in other situations as well. A good light weight rain jacket can be used as the perfect camp jacket or as a "mud suit" when you plan to hit the town after a day of off-roading.

8: Divide and Conquer

Bring spares: tubes, lights, fuses, chains and a well-thought-out tool kit. The beauty of riding in a group is that you can disseminate these items across the team and keep each rider's load to a minimum. The downside to riding in a group is that a single flat tire or busted chain can derail the entire day or even the trip. Remember when packing, always pack for the group.

9: Use Bike Specific Racks and Equipment

Pannier and luggage setups can be expensive, but shlocked together homemade kits (think ammo cans) can have a drastic negative effect on bike performance. Aside from being draggy and not waterproof, do-it-yourself kits are often over-engineered and extremely heavy. Referring back to point 6, just because the rack "can" handle it, doesn't mean it's a good idea for the motorcycle. Tim and the gang at Happy Trails started building KLR parts in 1991 and now offer a full line of luggage accessories for the most popular dual sport and adventure bike models. Ride comfortably, knowing that the testing has been done.

10: Keep the Seat Clear

If you plan to do true adventure touring, then maintaining your position flexibility is a must. Too often riders fill the back half of their seat and have to wedge themselves between the handlebars and their gear. Now what happens on a critical downhill track? Can you get up on the pegs and shift your weight accordingly? What about on that 300-mile stretch of super slab? It'd probably be nice to have a bit of room to stretch the legs from time to time. Work to eliminate any non-essential gear and free up that rear seat space. Also good for those times when you need to give somebody a lift!

Photo: Jason Ward, Tim Bernard of Happy Trails

Derek Roberts/July 15


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