Travel bags and saddlebags are selected on 3 basic criteria: the volume they offer, the protection and safety they afford, and the style they propose.
Whether you prefer leather or ballistic nylon, when you ride to Sturgis, Daytona or Laconia, you need to pack enough and safely.
Travel bags usually contain more than saddlebags. This is due to the form factor as travel bags are not constrained by the same factors as saddle bags. We all know that their height and weight modify the geometry of the bike and should therefore be selected to match the profile of your bike and your own weight, but they do not stick out on the sides which enables manufacturers to make them a bit taller, wider and deeper than your regular saddlebags. Even Goldwing riders often use an extra travel bag to pack for tours. Goldwings offer superior volume, but the form factor of the OEM saddlebags and top case usually do not accommodate enough gear for a multi-day trip.
Travel bags such those manufactured by T-Bags, Tourmaster and Nelson-Rigg have been studied over millions of miles under all types of weather and riding conditions: not only have these manufacturers maximized the volume available for packing, but they also have gained protection features that make them a really good buy. For instance, most travel bags use ballistic nylon instead of leather. It’s not just due to the fact that ballistic nylon requires no maintenance (leather requires periodical conditioning), but also that ballistic nylon protects from rain and humidity much better than leather travel bags or saddlebags. They are more waterproof, because of tight seals and zippers. Lastly, they are usually more affordable.
Safety is also a concern for travel bags and saddlebags. There are at least 3 different types of mishaps that bags must offer protection from: abrasion in case of crash; direct shock in case of crash; and theft. In case of a crash, it is likely that a travel bag will hit the road surface and be dragged with the motorcycle for some distance on rough asphalt. Leather bags and ballistic nylon travel bags have to be thick enough that their external envelope resists the drag and burn without breaking open. Except for the most flimsiest bags, most bags are adequately manufactured for this event.
Direct shock is an obvious risk for a travel bag or a saddle bag: when the bike hits the ground, the straps that secure the bag to the frame or the backseat may rupture. The bag can also slide out of its position. In both cases, the bag will take a direct hit from the shock, and if not solidly built, its content may spill out. Even though it might be the least concern of the biker at that moment, there is no gain in losing all personal effects on the road during a crash. For this reason, travel bags and saddlebags have to be evaluated under the angle of sturdinesss and structural protection at the time of purchase.
Lastly, it is unfortunate but most bikers will have to face the risk of theft during a long-distance trip. How difficult is it for a thief to break in your travel bags or saddlebags while you are eating at a roadside restaurant, or taking a quick nap at a camp site? From this viewpoint, your bag should be hard to remove from the bike, hard to break in, and hard to cut. Solid OEM saddlebags do a great job on all the counts, with safety locks and a hard shell which is quasi impossible to break with regular instruments. Leather saddlebags are very resistant to cutting, but their lid is usually exposed to tampering because of a looser fit. Ballistic nylon travel bags are usually secured with nylon straps which are hard to cut with a knife but not so hard to cut with scissors. These bags are also more susceptible to being cut and ripped open by knives. But thieves are always racing against time, and ballistic nylon is difficult to cut.
Overall, in our experience, ballistic nylon travel bags do a good job at protecting your personal effects on the road. They are sturdy, shock and abrasion resistant, and well insulated against bad weather. They are difficult to rip open. Their form factors are adapted to the back of a bike, although there are significant differences of fit between models and brands, and this has to be evaluated by the bike owner in view of bike geometry requirements. Style-wise, some cruiser raiders won’t like the ballistic nylon look and prefer to opt for leather bags.
Leather saddlebags are usually sturdy and deep, but they may lack in width due to their position on the bike. They also offer lest protection against bad weather than ballistic nylon bags, and leather requires some maintenance to keep nice. If you travel for a week-end in summer, leather bags will do just fine.
The Modesto store of Renegade Classics carries a reasonable selection of luggage that can be mounted and tied down safely to your bike. We can also immediately order any bag that would compare more favorably than what we have in stock, so don’t hesitate to ask our staff if you have seen a specific model that matches your requirements.