You don’t have to own a massive touring bike to go touring in comfort. Just add a set of soft panniers to your motorcycle and you’re good to go.
Soft luggage is easy to use – it takes just a few minutes to setup. Most systems have strong Velcro straps that connect the two panniers together. You adjust the width between them and then run the straps under your pillion seat – sometimes via the bike’s subframe – and then secure them in place, sometimes with an understrap and bingo, one tourer!
The really good sets also come with shoulder straps, so you can easily detatch your panniers and carry them to your accommodation. What would be easier?
Hard or soft luggage?
If you’re looking to fit soft luggage, you’re in the right place but if you want hard luggage, also known as side cases or hard panniers then click the link for our guide to those.
What size panniers do I need?
This all depends on how many people you’re packing for and for how long you’re going away. Oh and also whether you really do need to bring a separate pair of shoes to go with that lovely dress.
For a solo weekend away, you won’t need much more than 30-litres per person if you pack sensibly. If you’re going for a week’s touring in Europe, 50 litres will offer you absolutely loads of space.
The ideal touring setup
When I’ve been touring on a bike without built-in hard luggage, my ideal setup has been to tour without a rucksack. While a rucksack might be handy on the commute – as your stuff comes with you when you leave the bike – it’s not great or required when you’re touring.
You don’t want the added weight on your shoulders for long days in the saddle, plus you want the freedom of movement and finally, you just don’t need to be lugging that much kit around.
My ideal touring setup for a week abroad is a pair of panniers – or a large tailpack – and a tiny tank bag to keep useful essentials, like suncream, sunglasses, paperwork, visor cleaners and loose change to hand.
Once I’ve packed my panniers, I don’t want to have to delve around in them to find stuff when they’re on the bike. If you’ve taken the time to pack your stuff in a tidy and organised manner, you don’t want your undies falling out, followed by your washbag and then a shoe, when you’re trying to find your sunnies.
Keep the panniers zipped up until you hit the hotel room and you’re in business.
Easy to fit, flexible space
With a universal fit, these panniers from Kappa will fit the vast majority of bikes with their Velcro retaining system. Each pannier is expandable from 16 to 25 litres, meaning you can nicely weight your stuff and adjust the straps to keep it tightly packed. Waterproof covers provide solid rain-protection – they also come with shoulder straps.
Sleek panniers with a lifetime guarantee
Oxford has a good range of budget motorcycle luggage and these P60R panniers tick all the boxes. Easy to use 7-point retention system, expandable, rubberised side panel helps them stay planted and protects your bike’s paintwork. Removable waterproof liner, an internal net pocket and an external bungee to secure additional items. What more could you ask for?
The cheapest motorcycle panniers
If you only need a set of panniers for one trip or it’s the sort of thing you just don’t want to spend much money on, then you can get much cheaper soft panniers.
We had a look around online and these ones from Lomo were about the cheapest ones we could find that didn’t fall apart after a couple of uses. They’re roomy enough – approximately 30 litres each side, making them 60 in total.
We read one review from a BMW GS owner who said it wasn’t compatible with his bike but 99% of the other reviews are all positive.
While these panniers are waterproof, in my experience you can never fully trust waterproofing claims. There’s an easy way to solve this: buy a couple of roll-top waterproof rucksack liners, like these ones for example. They’re actually double-useful, as you can leave the panniers on the bike, unzip them when you arrive at your destination and just carry the liners with your kit in, to your room, meaning you don’t have to faff around removing the panniers.
There’s no big issue with your panniers getting soaked in a downpour if all your stuff stays dry in a liner.
Panniers or a tail pack?
When I’m touring solo, I always opt for a tail-pack over panniers. I have a ruthlessly efficient packing list and can fit everything I need for a week’s travel in a 30-litre Kriega tailpack.
Some bikers prefer panniers as it keeps the weight slightly lower down. If you’re taking a pillion, a tail pack is out so panniers are the best option.
But if you’re a rucksack tourer, save your backache, there’s a better option!
Soft panniers: Ben's Top Tips
Not all panniers work without a rack. Some brands require you to buy a frame that mounts to your bike's subframe and the panniers then fix to that frame.
Even the best panniers will probably let a bit of water in if you're riding al day in heavy rain. For added peace of mind, buy a waterproof rucksack liner (or if you're a tightarse, use a bin liner) to keep your kit dry.
Gaffa tape is great at stopping the panniers from rubbing your bike's paintwork
Some panners have heat resistant zones to stop them melting on a hot exhaust but in reality, these will only work for a few seconds. If your panniers are touching your exhaust, they'll most likely have melted by the time you get to wherever you're going. Even if where you're going is the end of your drive.
A cargo net of bungee cord is a useful thing to carry with you, as it can be used to help secure your luggage, should a strap break or it can be used to help you carry more stuff!
Soft motorcycle luggage FAQs
Are all panniers universal fit?
Not quite. You’ll find that the quality brands list the bikes that the panniers work with, or, more likely, the bikes that require a separate fitting kit. The cheaper soft panniers tend to use velcro straps that run under the seat. These have almost infinite adjustment so you can get them to work with pretty much any bike.
Do panniers need a frame or rack to mount them on?
Soft panniers don’t. You hold them in place using straps with ratchets or, more commonly, velcro. Once properly fitted they’ll stay secure, even when fully loaded. The really good panniers sets will also allow you to tighten up the bags when empty to stop them flapping around.
Thanks to the following websites which helped us research and write this motorcycle panniers guide: