Wearing A Motorcycle Backpack Whilst Touring? Let’s Talk!

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We’ve all been in that situation when our significant other sits us down and utters the infamous phrase, “we need to talk.”

Rarely does anything good or positive ever come after this phrase.

You know, instinctively, that whatever is to follow will be uncomfortable.

That knot in your stomach starts to tighten as you rapidly think about what you might have done.

You shift uncomfortably in your seat.

Sweaty palms and a dry mouth follow as you prepare for a barrage of blame.

But sometimes, very occasionally, the words “we need to talk” come from a position of concern.

We say them because we care. And that’s exactly the position from which this post is coming today.

rider with motorcycle backpack
We’ve all worn a backpack on our motorcycle. But is it wise? Image via Anil Kumar Shrestha / Unsplash

I’ll Be Honest, I’ve Used A Motorcycle Backpack

Let me clarify right from the beginning of this post that I have worn a backpack on a motorcycle.

Commuting, working, photography shoots, studying, errands… all have required me (at some point) to wear a backpack on a motorcycle.

But it’s not something I’m proud of.

And wearing a backpack on a motorcycle has always made for a morally uncomfortable ride (as appose to a physically uncomfortable one.)

I’ve never enjoyed a ride whilst wearing a backpack. Because, fundamentally, I know I shouldn’t be doing it.

So today I want to sit you down and utter the words “we need to talk.”

Because we need to clarify why wearing a motorcycle backpack whilst touring is NEVER a good idea.

biker on bend
There’s always an alternatives to backpacks. Image via Ondrej Trnak / Unsplash

Lack Of Empirical Evidence

Along with the ubiquitous leather vs textiles debate, to wear/not wear a motorcycle backpack has been a subject of contention for a long time.

The main reason for its debate is that there is no empirical evidence that can advise us either way. And the main reason for the lack of evidence is the sheer amount of variables.

There are different kinds of crashes. And they happen at different kinds of speeds.

And then there are different kinds of backpacks. Even what’s in them varies from person to person.

When you put all these together, the combination of factors is infinite.

So far, it has proved impossible to conduct any kind of regulated experiment under controlled test conditions that can be used to draw comparisons.

Therefore, it’s important to remember that anything you read or hear (including this post) can only really be anecdotal or speculative.

off-road with motorcycle backpack
There’s no hard and fast evidence to say that backpacks are neither safe nor dangerous. Image via Labskiii / Pexels

The Dangers Of Wearing A Motorcycle Backpack

For the purpose of this article, let’s start from the beginning of a hypothetical accident – just to give it some sort of logical order.

Imbalances Cause Accidents

First and foremost, a motorcycle backpack can cause imbalances. If it slides to one side during some enthusiastic cornering, your natural reaction will be to shift your body to compensate for the backpack dragging you off the bike.

This will alter your body position and mess up the physics of your cornering technique. And if you mess up the physics, you’ll mess up the corner.

So it could be that the backpack itself is the causative factor of you coming off your bike.

If it wasn’t on, the accident may have been avoided.

biker city scape
Backpacks cause imbalances. And imbalances cause accidents. Image via Gabe Pierce / Unsplash

Straps, Snags, And Getting Caught

The next danger of backpacks is that they have straps. And that means they can get caught in stuff.

Now, not all backpacks have straps. There are many motorcycle-specific backpacks (such as motorcycle roll-top backpacks by Kriega) that do address this issue.

But many don’t.

And almost all non-motorcycle-specific backpacks do not.

If you get thrown from your bike and your straps get caught on your bars or mirrors when you leave the seat, this could cause any number of torsional (twisting) loads on the spine.

Worse still, if the straps become snagged on the bike, you’ll stay with the bike as it tumbles/slides down the road.

This could mean that you end up underneath the bike as it rolls down the street because you never physically left it or slid away from it.

off-road using motorcycle backpack
Some backpacks take into consideration the dangers of loose straps. Image via Irina Petrichei / Unsplash

A Motorcycle Backpack Causes Rolling & Tumbling

Okay, so let’s say that your straps didn’t get tangled in the bike. This is where your motorcycle gear comes into its own.

Armour will go some way to protecting you against impact as you hit the ground.

But the material of your gear (especially leather) will cause you to slide away from the bike. Armour or padding protects common impact points. And abrasion protection helps stop the road from taking a layer of skin off your ass.

But if you’re wearing a backpack, it will likely cause tumbling and rolling. Impact after impact after impact as you bounce down the road every time your backpack hits the tarmac.

biker on mountain road sunrise
Backpacks likely cause rolling and tumbling. Image via Gabe Pierce / Unsplash

Is A Hard-Shell Motorcycle Backpack Any Better?

You could argue that hard-shell backpacks would protect your spine from direct impact should you land flat on your back.

And you’d have a point.

But hard-shell backpacks are big units. And if you land flat on your back, my counter-argument would be that your spine would go into a state of hyperextension as you hit the ground.

Not only would your spine hyperextend, but you’d also likely end up with whiplash.

Furthermore, the rolling and tumbling we spoke about above would be exacerbated and encouraged by a hard-shell backpack. I dare say this would make the entire ordeal all the more unpleasant.

motorcycle backpack during cornering
Hard luggage could do more harm than good. Image via Jerome Niederberger / Unsplash

The Contents Of The Backpack

If you are thrown from your bike and you land directly on your back, physics will distribute that impact across your entire back. It will use the surface area that’s available to share the load.

The problem with a motorcycle backpack is that whatever you have inside it will impact the part of your spine that sits on the other side of it.

So if you’re carrying steel toe-capped boots, or tools, your in for a bad time.

Or if you carry photography equipment and tripods (like I have), you’re also in for a less than rosy experience.

yamaha r6 commute
The contents of your backpack could be what causes you damage. Image via Graham Mansfield / Unsplash

How To Carry Stuff On A Motorcycle

It seems so unnecessary to wear a motorcycle backpack these days. Especially when we have so many alternatives available to us.

So how do you carry a backpack on a motorcycle?

Well, let’s have a look at few options below.

Get A Top Box

The most logical answer is to get a top box fitted.

Put all the stuff you need to carry in your backpack, and then put the backpack in the top box.

Not only is it not on your back, but it’s also safe and out of the rain.

Moreover, when you get to your destination, the top box acts as somewhere to store your helmet once you’ve removed your backpack. Win-win.

bmw topbox vs motorcycle backpack
Just get yourself a top box instead! Image via Sherman Yang / Unsplash

Strap It To Your Bike

Just because a backpack is designed to be worn on your back, that doesn’t mean it has to be.

Attaching a backpack to your motorcycle is very easy – especially if you strap it to your pillion seat or top box rack using bungees, rok straps, or a cargo net.

Strap It To Luggage

The very nature of a backpack is that it’s designed to be attached to stuff.

Use the clips and buckles to attach it to other luggage. I’ve even passed a roll-bag through the shoulder straps of a backpack and used it as a backrest.

You can (with a bit of thought) also fix them to panniers, or simply carry them inside a pannier.

bike with soft luggage
Most motorcycle-specific backpacks can be strapped to the bike. Image via Sigmund / Unsplash

Use A Tail Pack Instead

Tail packs are an awesome bit of kit.

Many on the market today attach easily and quickly to your pillion seat. And they also have carry handles and shoulder straps making them easy to use off the bike.

Oftentimes, they are expandable and waterproof. And they’ll always do a better job of distributing the weight evenly compared to a backpack.

Problem solved!

bmw with soft luggage vs motorcycle backpack
Tail packs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and convert into backpacks when off the bike. Image via Ozgur Akman / Unsplash

Wearing A Motorcycle Backpack: Conclusion

Deciding whether or not to wear a backpack for motorcycling is always going to be difficult without any concrete advice.

And whilst anecdotal evidence warns us against the dangers of motorcycle backpacks, there’s just as much speculative evidence to suggest we have nothing to worry about.

But until it’s clear either way, I’m concerned about you.

So just buy a damn top box instead!

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