Don’t worry, this isn’t yet another hard vs soft motorcycle luggage debate!
To be honest, try not to get caught up in that argument. People all over the world are content to argue about this subject until they’re blue in the face!
The best thing to do is consider what you need your luggage to do and then go from there.
I started off with soft motorcycle luggage a while ago. My first trip was on a CBR600, and without a native option for panniers, I ended up going for soft luggage instead.
I can’t say they were perfect. But they were inexpensive and they served their purpose.
Since then, I made the move to more touring-orientated bikes. And with them came OEM hard panniers.
I’d love to say my experience with hard luggage was revolutionary after using soft ones. But to be honest, that’s far from the truth!
In general, I find them to be too expensive, too big, too wide, and (for the price of them) WAY too flimsy.
And that’s not to mention how difficult it is to store them when not on the bike.
So I made the switch back to soft motorcycle luggage.
Is Soft Motorcycle Luggage The Way To Go In 2021?
If you’re making the switch to soft motorcycle luggage in 2021, there is a lot to consider.
And with companies producing new soft luggage concepts all the time, their functionality is becoming more evident.
So let’s have a closer look at soft motorcycle luggage and some practical uses and drawbacks.
Amongst others, we’ll cover:
- Mounting options
How Much Does Soft Motorcycle Luggage Cost?
In comparison to hard luggage, your money stretches way further with soft motorcycle luggage.
With full hard luggage systems from certain (un-named) manufacturers costing upwards of £2,000, soft luggage gets you a lot more for your buck.
And as proved in my CBR example above, you can spend as much or as little as you like. In the case above, I think I spent about £100.
But if you want to go all-out, you can expect to be spending well into the hundreds on your setup.
Of course, the reason it costs more is because the quality is better. And if you can afford it, I’d recommend going for a decent setup rather than a cheap one.
The other cost-benefit of soft luggage is that you can build it up over time. You don’t need to layout for the entire lot all in one go.
So take your time, find what works, and then build up a personalised collection over time.
How Much Does Soft Motorcycle Luggage Weigh?
For me, one of the biggest benefits of soft luggage (besides the cheaper price) is the weight reduction.
Whilst some brands of soft luggage need mounting racks, many simply throw over and attach to the seat. This eliminates the need for mounting brackets or racks.
Even if your brand of choice requires a mounting rack, the fact that the luggage is made of material means it is going to be light.
So if the bags are light, then the rack can be smaller.
And smaller means lighter.
Related: 5 Of The Best Motorcycle Tail Packs
Soft Motorcycle Luggage Mounting Options
Whilst there are many to choose from these days, most aftermarket soft luggage systems either come with or without a mounting option.
With a mounting option, the luggage comes with lightweight mounts that fix to the bike. The luggage then fixes to the mounts.
For example, check out one of our favourite mounted systems – the flagship Backcountry 35-litre pannier kit by Mosko Moto.
Another one we like is the Monsoon Evo pannier system by Enduristan.
If you want to save even more weight, you can go for a rackless system such as the Blizzard Saddlebag system by Enduristan.
The OS-Adventure series from Kriega is also an excellent option.
Soft Motorcycle Luggage & Safety
When it comes to safety, you’ll get varying answers depending on who you speak to!
If you talk to someone who rides off-road a lot, they’ll tell you that soft panniers are the safer option.
And if you ever got your leg stuck whilst paddling through a deep, muddy rut, you’ll know why.
The sharp edges and corners of hard panniers can take your leg off. Especially if the bike they’re attached to is a 250kg adventure bike.
Soft motorcycle luggage generally sits higher up on the bike. It also tends to be smaller.
This means that the luggage ‘gives’ before your leg does. Not only does this allow for a more cushioned impact, but it also gives the opportunity to remove your leg from underneath it.
If you like to ride on technical trails, you’ll know that hard panniers snag on every tree, every branch, and every protrusion within a mile!
And if you catch one, not only can it throw you off your bike, but it can also rip the pannier off.
Soft motorcycle luggage tends to be more giving. And forgiving.
If you snag a soft pannier, it will likely move and ‘give’ around obstacles allowing you to continue.
Soft Motorcycle Luggage & Security
The advice you get about soft luggage security depends on the bias of the person you speak to!
There’s no doubt that hard luggage provides a better safety option.
But if an opportunist thief wants to remove your panniers (whether soft or hard), they will.
And that’s the end of it.
But as mentioned, the technology of soft luggage has come so far over the last few years. And manufacturers are starting to emphasise security.
Most riders place their valuables in separate bags, and then remove these when they leave the bike for the night.
But for times when you are leaving the bike in the day but don’t wish to take your valuables, something like a PacSafe is a good option.
Companies such as Kriega also now offer kevlar-lined luggage that is resistant to slashes.
Related: 7 Of The Best Motorcycle Tank Bags
Soft Motorcycle Practicalities
So the points listed above are the main things to consider when choosing a setup.
However, soft luggage also has a range of other practicalities that can make your life easier in a real-world setting.
Fixing Soft Motorcycle Luggage
For the high cost of hard panniers, they tend to crumple under a fall.
So if you fall off and dent it, you have to try and beat the panel out to get your stuff back in and close it.
If you can, great.
But if you can’t, then it’s going to be an awkward trip back to your accommodation.
On top of this, any gaps in the seals mean it will no longer be waterproof.
This isn’t as much of an issue with soft luggage.
Even after a spill, soft luggage tends to be fine. And even if it does suffer a minor tear, this is fixable on the trail.
Any assortment of cable ties, string, and duct tape should keep it secure until you can get a more permanent fix.
And it will still be waterproof.
As soft motorcycle luggage is usually smaller and more compact, this means it is slimmer.
And if you’ve ever tried to filter with hard panniers on, you’ll know it can be a sketchy moment when you realise your panniers are wider than your bike!
A lot of the better quality soft motorcycle luggage these days are waterproof. For example, the Kriega series listed above is waterproof as standard. But even the cheap ones I started with at the top of this post never leaked thanks to the integrated rain covers.
If you are worried about waterproofing, pannier liners keep your stuff dry and offer a convenient way to carry it.
Customisation & Compatibility
One of my favourite aspects of soft motorcycle luggage is that I can customise it for my needs.
My hard panniers will never change – they can only stay as they are.
But if my soft luggage isn’t full when I’ve finished packing, I can roll the top down or compress the bag with straps.
And I can also go the other way.
If my bags are full, I can attach more bags to the existing ones to increase the amount of available storage.
Soft Motorcycle Luggage & Organisation
You’d think that having all your belongings in just two hard panniers would make it difficult to lose stuff.
But I find it harder to keep track of everything!
With soft panniers, I can organise all my gear into the numerous pockets and storage spaces available.
I can personalise my packing so that it’s intuitive to find stuff when I need it.
Also, internal and external pockets mean I can compartmentalise.
Finally, a lot of soft motorcycle luggage comes with a dedicated water storage solution – or places dedicated to the storage of a water bladder.
This is a dicey game with hard panniers. Because if it leaks, then your gear is guaranteed to be wet!
Again, I love that I can swap things around with soft motorcycle luggage.
If I know I’m crossing borders and will need my passport, money, or papers, I will put them in a pocket that is accessible.
But if I know I’m not crossing borders, I can stow them safely in an inner pocket – out of harm’s way, and out of the way of the rain or any thieving hands.
I can then utilise the accessible pockets for whatever else I know I will need on that particular day – be it a camera, my drone, or extra water.
Soft Motorcycle Luggage: Conclusion
As mentioned at the top of this post, it isn’t my intention to convince you that soft luggage is better than hard luggage (or vice versa.)
It’s horses for courses, and you need to decide what you need for your trip.
Riding a big GS 1250 Adventure on tarmac? Take hard luggage.
But if you’re riding a smaller, lighter bike, venturing off-road, or simply want a lighter, more versatile setup, go for soft motorcycle luggage!