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Can You Safely Wear a Backpack on a Motorcycle?

Can You Safely Wear a Backpack on a Motorcycle?

Motorcycles are a convenient option, especially when it comes to traveling within the city to run errands, commute to work, visit friends, or enjoy city life. They are often preferred over cars due to being lightweight, compact and narrow, nimble, affordable, and fast. People who live in motorhomes also prefer owning small motorcycles or scooters because of their maneuverability, low maintenance costs, and fun factors. The ever-increasing demand for motorcycles has led to a widespread evolution, involving the introduction of highly comfortable, road-oriented, and adventure-focused motorcycles that are equipped with more components than just an engine, frame, suspension, and brakes. The new motorcycle genres cater to a wide range of riding styles, including adventure touring, off-road riding, highway travels, camping trips, canyon carving, street racing, dirt racing, and regular urban commutes. Different types of motorcycles are designed for specific riding styles, and they come with distinct features that support their intended action or use. However, the most common accessory or feature found on a motorcycle is none other than a luggage bag. Whether custom or stock, various types of luggage bags can be attached to a bike to fulfill one’s storage requirements. The most convenient of all the motorcycle luggage options are backpacks. But is it safe to wear a backpack filled with your personal belongings when riding a motorcycle? This article aims to outline different types of backpack options available to motorcyclists, the many benefits and potential hazards of using backpacks, some safety tips, and backpack recommendations to help you make the right purchase decision.

1. Types of Backpacks Used for Motorcycling

Motorcycle backpacks are crafted from sustainable materials, including ballistic nylon, leather, Cordura, and polyester, which can withstand natural elements. The robust construction of backpacks allows rough use, low maintenance, and longevity. Motorcyclists can use regular or motorcycle backpacks for their storage needs. On average, riders tend to be more inclined towards buying specialized backpacks, especially if they have years of motorcycling experience.

The specialized backpacks are well-received because of their numerous benefits, ability to adapt to different riding styles, performing exceptionally well on a range of terrain. Compared to normal backpacks, specialized ones have a distinct aerodynamic shape, greater volume, looks that complement the bike, highly-secure systems for attachment, and other built-in accessories that make riding with luggage possible.

1.1 Non-Specialized Conventional Backpacks

Conventional backpacks are fashioned from less enduring materials that have a low strength-to-weight ratio and tend to fall apart sooner. However, premium varieties constructed from tested ballistic nylon, Cordura, or even leather are also available to users at much higher costs. Since these materials have a high endurance, the pieces of luggage crafted from them also guarantee longevity, resilience, and value for the money. Conventional backpacks, no matter how sturdy, usually lack heavy-duty straps and specific mounting points that are crucial to ensure that the luggage/backpack will not fall off the bike en route. Due to this main feature, riders consider these bags inferior to specialized varieties. Lack of attachments also leave you no choice but to wear the backpack throughout the ride if you wish to eliminate all chances of dangling straps getting caught, luggage falling off, items falling off, and the accidents or no-contact crashes that emerge as a result. Fatigue caused by wearing the backpack for an extended period of time often compels riders to place the backpacks on the passenger seats or luggage racks and tie them with a rope or bungee cord. While this might work, it is not always safe because the equipment used to secure the backpack is itself not dependable. When it comes to urban commuting or leisurely rides within the city, using non-specialized standard backpacks is a safe option because you won’t get exhausted during a short ride. Also, within cities, riders maintain a much slower speed compared to when riding on the freeways, which helps reduce the risk of unfortunate events arising due to trapped straps.

1.2 Motorcycle Travel Specialized Backpacks

As their name suggests, backpacks that are specialized for motorcycle travel are called moto-backpacks, moto gear bags, or biker’s backpacks. These bags are engineered to cater to all the riding needs of a biker and are fashioned from materials tested to handle a broad spectrum of riding. Materials such as Cordura, leather, or a combination of leather and ballistic nylon impart all the necessary qualities to the backpack that allows it to withstand rough use, rugged landscape, rocky roads, and rash riding. These materials are quite flexible and easily take on a streamlined shape that helps maintain stability, handling, and aerodynamic efficiency of the bike. They come with multiple compartments and pockets that prevent you from over-packing and adding unnecessary bulk to the bike. Consequently, you can easily navigate traffic-dense roads, narrow routes, and cramped dirt trails as if there were no luggage bag mounted on your bike.

The motorcycle backpacks are purpose-built and have special compartments and pockets to serve different luggage purposes. A top zipper pocket is usually provided for sunglasses, phones, chargers, licenses, wallets, and keys. The bottom zipper compartment is usually provided to pack shoes, the main compartment has a laptop sleeve and enough space to store other items, side zipper or mesh-net pockets can be used to store a water bottle, extra gloves, a change of clothes, and the MOLLE webbing system allows you to attach other necessary equipment that you are unable to fit inside the pockets. In addition to padded shoulder straps, motorcycle backpacks also come with attachment clips to help you secure the bag around your waist. These clips help you adjust the straps to lift off stress and pressure from your shoulders and neck region, improving ergonomics. The one feature that distinguishes motorcycle backpacks from regular non-specialized options is the motorcycle attachment straps. These straps can be used to secure the backpack to the sissy bars, ensuring greater peace of mind and riding comfort. 

2. Benefits of Using a Motorcycle Backpack

Whether you choose a regular or a specialized motorcycle backpack, there are several benefits of using one when riding a motorcycle:

  • Backpacks are the most convenient option for lugging personal items on a two-wheeled vehicle.
  • They are narrow, lightweight, streamlined, and sleek, maintaining maneuverability, handling, and aerodynamic efficiency of the bike.
  • They come with a multi-pocket and MOLLE webbing system that ensures packing efficiency, cargo and weight management, increased storage capacity, and segregation of delicate, most-used, or soiled items.
  • They come with shoulder straps and mounting attachment clips and straps for maximum security.
  • Specialized backpacks are crafted from sturdy and stress-tested materials, making them a reliable option for adventure riding, touring, camping, hiking, landscape photography, wilderness explorations, day rides, work commutes, etc.
  • They offer adequate storage capacity to fit in all the items you might need during a short or long motorcycle ride.
  • Compared to other motorcycle luggage options, backpacks are highly cost-efficient and low maintenance. If you buy from a well-reputed brand, they will prove to be a worthwhile long-term investment.
  • Backpacks with shoulder, waist, and chest straps are highly comfortable, especially if the shoulder straps are padded. You can easily wear them on a motorcycle for a short or long trip.
  • Backpacks are easy to carry around, so you can also have them with you. This rules out all chances of theft. Since backpacks have zipper pockets, you can add locks to them to deter pickpockets. 

3. Are Motorcycle Backpacks Safe?

A backpack is a safe piece of motorcycle luggage; however, it may act as a safety hazard in the following scenarios:

3.1 Unequal Weight Distribution

Motorcycle backpacks may affect the handling and stability of your bike due to unequal weight distribution. This may happen if the contents of your bag shift during the ride or if you pack the luggage in such a way that results in more weight falling on one side, causing the motorcycle to tilt in that direction. This may throw you off balance, especially when riding on uneven off-road trails or bumpy roads.

3.2 Loose Straps

Motorcycle backpacks come with long shoulder straps, attachment straps, and chest and waist straps. If you forget to clasp any one of the straps, they may dangle loose and get caught in the rear wheel or chain. Securing the backpack to the luggage rack or seat by wrapping a rope around it is a common practice among riders who use standard alternatives. These wrapped ropes or straps often come loose when riding at high speeds or irregular routes because the rope is subjected to harsh vibration, rocking movements, drag force, and wind resistance. Once the strength of rope or bungee cord is compromised, they or the entire backpack can get caught in the moving parts causing the bike to wobble, fall over, or crash.

3.3 Extra Strain & Burden on Neck & Shoulders

Low-quality and inexpensive standard backpacks usually lack foam padding in the shoulder straps, attachment points, sternum clips, waist straps, and other amenities that help relieve the excess burden or stress on the neck and shoulder region. The fear of dangling straps also keeps riders from mounting the backpacks on the motorcycle, and rightly so. During long-distance trip, nothing can amount to the same torture of bearing extra weight on your shoulders. Not to mention, the force of the wind and a heavy back pressing down on your shoulders cause fatigue to set in quickly, leading to loss of control on the bike and fatal accidents.

3.4 Failing Zippers

When a rider’s backpack guarantees durability, it means that all of its parts, including materials and stitching, attachment accessories, and metal zippers should perform equally well for an extended period. If the textile and stitching is intact, attachment equipment, mesh-net, and zippers should also not get damaged easily. However, some backpack manufacturers deliberately add cheap zippers on sturdy backpacks, compelling riders to purchase replacements. Worn-out zippers can easily come loose due to harsh vibration, wind resistance, and the bike’s movements, causing your items to fall off the motorcycle. In addition to losing your valuables, fallen items can lead to non-collision accidents and other complications.

3.5 Motorcycle Crash

In the event of a motorcycle crash, if you fall off the bike while wearing your backpack, it can increase your risk of sustaining stress and impact-related spine, neck, and back injuries. On the other hand, if one of the straps of your bike gets trapped in the chain, wheel, or handlebars, it may cause the motorcycle to fall on you or cause a fatal neck injury. Furthermore, if you land sideways on your ribs, the items packed in your backpack can cause broken ribs, and shoulder or elbow joint dislocation as the additional weight of the luggage can increase the intensity of impact. Hard objects in your backpack may also lead to severe spine, neck, and head injuries.

4. Wearing vs Attaching a Backpack on a Motorcycle

When riding on a motorcycle, there are two ways you can carry your luggage in a backpack. Either you wear the backpack or attach it to your bike. When attaching your backpack to the motorcycle avoid the following practices:

  • Attach the backpack to the fuel tank.
  • Using long ropes to secure the backpack to the passenger seat.
  • Do not hang the backpack over your handlebars.
  • Do not overload the backpack as it disrupts balance.
  • Avoid securing the backpacks to the luggage racks using bungee cords.
  • Do not leave loose straps dangling from the backpack.
  • Make sure the backpack does not obscure the tail light, brake lights, and turn signals.

The best way to mount a backpack on a motorcycle is to first install medium or large sissy bars. If your motorcycle lacks proper attachment points to secure backpacks, make sure you modify your bike and add safe attachment points or brackets for wrapping loose straps around. Furthermore, choose a backpack that has attachment points, especially when embarking on a long-distance trip.

5. Tips to Safely Wear a Backpack on a Motorcycle

Based on the potential safety hazards caused by the backpacks, here are some tips to safely carry the luggage-filled backpack on your motorcycle.

5.1 Weight Management for Balance and Stability

Wearing a backpack on a motorcycle is safe, provided you do not overpack and learn how to ensure proper weight distribution. There is a reason motorcycle backpacks come with different zippered compartments. These pockets or compartments are designed to discourage you from throwing items haphazardly inside the backpack. Items that can rattle or move around more freely should be secured in a pocket or a divider. Moreover, when placing items in the side pockets try to divide weight equally. For example, if you are packing a 25 oz water bottle in one side pocket, make sure the same weight is placed in the other pocket as well. Heavy objects should be placed closest to your back, which is why laptop sleeves are designed in the main compartment that makes direct contact with your back.

5.2 Tie the Straps Properly and Double-Check

Take your time when tying mounting straps whether you are wearing the backpack or securing it to the sissy bars. Once you have finished tying all the straps, pull on them to check their strength, and double-check for any loose straps. During long-distance travel, check all the straps when you take breaks and consider untying and retying them to ensure safety.

5.3 Install Sissy Bars & Buy Backpacks with Chest & Waist Straps

Motorcycle sissy bars allow you to safely secure the backpack to the motorcycle. They also provide you the option to take off the backpack when you are too exhausted to safely wear it during a ride. Moreover, choose backpacks with chest straps and waist straps, as they provide additional support and relieve stress from your shoulders.

5.4 Look Over the Backpack for Wear & Damage

Riders tend to be less conscious about inspecting damage and wear and tear of backpacks that have a high-quality material construction. This negligence and too much confidence in a brand can lead to unfortunate events, such as a loss of valuable possessions, accidents, and fatal injuries. The most common signs of wear and damage include loose zippers, frayed stitches, and small holes that eventually get bigger. Make sure you give a thorough look over your backpack before every ride even if you have to bear the burden of taking out all the contents of the backpack and repacking it. Also, don’t be lazy when it comes to fixing worn zippers and replacing the old backpack that has lost its strength and resilience.

5.5 Choose Motorcycle Backpacks

 When riding a motorcycle, fall or crash happens to be the most common unfortunate event on the road. When it comes to selecting a more accident-proof option, specialized rider backpacks tend to win over conventional options. Though you can find padded shoulder straps on both versions, streamlined shape, secure attachment accessories, and sternum clips are some of the features unique to moto backpacks, making them a more secure alternative.  It is also recommended to wear a back protector and a thick leather jacket when wearing a backpack for a long-distance trip.

6. Best Motorcycle Backpacks for Safe Riding

Due to the multifaceted and riding-centric features of rider’s backpacks, more motorcycle and adventure touring aficionados are willing to invest in budget-friendly luggage options that simplify the concept of carrying luggage on a two-wheeler. With a wide selection of normal and specialized backpacks available online and otherwise, it becomes extremely difficult to choose one. When buying a motorcycle backpack, it is essential to prioritize quality as only premium motorcycle backpacks come with durable attachment clips and straps that are responsible for ensuring safety. Viking Bags is an expert when it comes to designing backpacks that are sturdy, practical, and safe to wear on a motorcycle. While the brand offers a large collection of backpacks, the following products offer a universal fit.

6.1 Viking Trident XL Motorcycle Backpack

The Viking Trident extra large motorcycle backpack is a great piece of luggage for short city rides and long hauls. Riders can use this backpack to carry their laptops and other essentials to work or to carry camping gear for an adventurous motorcycle camping trip. However, for camping trips, you would have to add other pieces of motorcycle luggage, such as a top case and saddlebags. The Viking Trident motorcycle backpack is constructed from heavy-duty Cordura and offers a storage capacity of 2135 cubic inches. For greater comfort and optimal safety, this backpack comes with sturdy waist straps and sternum/chest clips that help you adjust straps so they stay in place as you ride at high speeds. The hook and loop ties at the back further improve the ergonomics and comfort. When spending your time off the bike, you can easily carry this backpack using padded shoulder straps. This feature comes in handy for hikers and motocampers. The backpack comes with zipper pockets, mesh net pockets, and a special fleece-lined pocket. These pockets allow you to categorize items, store fragile items, and water bottles, and store frequently used items. A separate zipper pocket is also provided for shoe storage. If wearing a backpack on a long trip sounds uncomfortable and exhausting to you, you can attach the backpack to the motorcycle by putting away the shoulder straps.

6.2 Viking Tactical Motorcycle Backpack

The Viking Tactical extra large motorcycle backpack is another great option if you prefer backpacks to carry your personal belongings. The bag is crafted from Cordura, a sturdy and tear-resistant material, and offers a storage capacity of 2746.1 cubic inches. The Tactical backpack is designed with a special hook and loop ties design, so you can easily carry it with you when you are off the bike. In addition to these ties, this backpack comes with padded waist straps, adjustable chest clips, and shoulder straps, which you can put away to attach the backpack to the sissy bars. This high-quality universal motorcycle backpack comes with two separate pouches, one for your sunglasses and the other to store wet items. The wet pouch can be easily mounted on the external MOLLE webbing to keep it separate from other items stored in the backpack. On each side of the backpack, there is a large mesh-net pocket where you can store water bottles to stay hydrated during the ride. For packing convenience, this backpack opens flat to 180°, a unique Viking Bag innovation. Whether you need a backpack for university, work, long hauls, short rides, camping, or hiking, the Viking Tactical XL motorcycle backpack is an affordable, comfortable, and safe option.

6.3 Viking Voyage Motorcycle Backpack

The Viking Voyage is the most road-focused option in the Viking Bags’ universal motorcycle backpack series. This large backpack is crafted from Cordura and is tested to withstand the toughest road and weather conditions. Therefore, it is the perfect option for those who enjoy camping trips, off-road riding excursions, long-distance adventure rides, hiking, and other similar recreational activities. The Viking Tactical backpack offers 1800 cubic inches of storage. Moreover, the bag comes with a separate laptop sleeve, making it a well-suited option for work commutes and university commutes. This large backpack allows you to continue work even in remote places, so you always stay at the top of your work priorities. For efficient packing and cargo management, the bags come with a top pocket lined with fleece. You can store your sunglasses and other delicate items in this compartment. Furthermore, the backpack offers four side pockets and additional compartments that are large enough to store shoes, spare clothes, extra gloves, rain jackets, or other useful items. The water-resistant zipper pockets allow you to safely store documents, cell phones, and electronics. Whether you wear this backpack using the shoulder straps or attach it to the sissy bars, its streamlined shape helps keep the overall width of the motorcycle narrow. Lightweight and sturdy, the Viking Voyage is also a perfect piece that you can add to your adventure touring luggage system.

6.4 Viking Patriot Motorcycle Backpack

The Viking Patriot is a medium motorcycle backpack that offers 1403 cubic inches of storage capacity. This backpack is another safest option whether you choose to wear it or mount it on your motorcycle. The bag is equipped with sturdy padded shoulder straps that allow you to wear the bag for an extended period without getting exhausted. For even greater security, the Viking Patriot medium motorcycle backpack comes with an adjustable chest/sternum and waist clips that keep the bag securely in place. The backpack has several additional features that make it practical for a wide range of riding styles and recreational activities, including camping, hiking, itineraries, city rides, work commutes, short motorcycle trips, and regular use. The Patriot backpack comes with a laptop sleeve in the main compartment, a top zipper pocket for phone, wallet, and key storage, two side pockets for quick access, a bottom compartment to keep shoes separate from other items, and a MOLLE webbing system to attach additional equipment.

6.5 Viking Dirtman Motorcycle Backpack

The Viking Dirtman motorcycle backpack is a small bag that offers ample storage to carry essentials for your within-city itineraries, off-road adventure, and enduro riding. With a storage capacity of 854 cubic inches, this backpack is the safest and most convenient option for riders who don’t prefer large-capacity backpacks. Crafted from ballistic nylon and leather, the Viking Dirtman backpack is the best waterproof option in the entire universal motorcycle backpack series. This adventure-focused backpack is lightweight and has a streamlined design that helps maintain the stability, balance, and aerodynamic efficiency of the motorcycle no matter the terrain. The backpack comes with sturdy padded shoulder straps and heavy-duty adjustable waist and sternum clips to keep the backpack securely in place as you ride on well-paved and uneven roads. The reflective pipework is another feature unique to the Dirtman backpack for motorcycles as it ensures optimal visibility, especially at night. As for packing convenience, quick access, and luggage management, this small backpack comes with several internal organizers and external zipper pockets that are big enough for you to carry clothes, shoes, rain gear, extra gloves, and other essentials. Moreover, this motorcycle backpack comes with a reservoir pouch so you can pack hydration packs. Practical, functional, and safe for riding, you can wear this backpack easily without getting tired or simply mount it on the sissy bars for even greater comfort.

7. Safer Motorcycle Luggage Options Other Than Backpacks

If riding with a motorcycle backpack feels daunting or uncomfortable to you, then you can opt for other motorcycle luggage options that are versatile, durable, weather-resistant, and offer maximum security to your belongings. 

7.1 Motorcycle Saddlebags

Motorcycle saddlebags or side panniers are highly popular among riders. These bags come in different sizes and offer ample storage capacity for you to transform your bike into a safe utility vehicle that can also carry equipment, tools, clothes, electronics, and other items for you. Motorcycle saddlebags are mounted on side pannier racks or fender struts with the help of sturdy bolts and lock nuts. If you apply Loctite and the right amount of torque to the mounting bolts, they will hold the saddlebags and your luggage safely no matter the road or weather conditions. Since saddlebags are mounted on both sides of the motorcycle, they help maintain the balance of the bike, provided you follow the principles of weight distribution and refrain from loading luggage beyond the bike’s weight limit. There is a large variety of motorcycle saddlebags that riders can choose from, including plastic side panniers, aluminum metal hard side cases, hard-shelled leather panniers, or soft leather saddlebags. All of the saddlebags are designed carefully to fit perfectly along the lines of the bike and maintain its streamlined appearance. It would not be wrong to claim that motorcycle saddlebags are safer than backpacks.

7.2 Motorcycle Tank Bags

Motorcycle tank bags are small or medium-sized bags that are attached to the motorcycle fuel tank using magnets, tank bag harnesses with heavy-duty straps or bike-specific tank rings. Each tank bag mounting system is highly secure and holds the bag in place as you ride at top speeds or maneuver challenging terrains. Tank bags are made of weather-resistant nylon, polyester, or other synthetic waterproof textiles and that is why they serve several riding purposes. Tank bags are neither too large nor too small so as to obstruct a rider’s view. They offer ample storage space to store all of your items. Many motorcycle tank bags come with cargo nets at the top for you to place your riding gloves when not in use. They are the perfect and safest luggage option for riders who need a small-capacity bag for daily rides. They are also an essential part of the adventure touring or cross-country motorcycle luggage system.

7.3 Motorcycle Tour Packs

Motorcycle tour packs are large luggage rack-mounted top cases attached to the bike’s rear. They are crafted from plastic or aluminum depending on the kind of bike you own. Usually grand-touring bikes feature large plastic tour packs, while adventure touring motorcycles feature aluminum top cases. Both types are sturdy, weather-resistant, and spacious. However, plastic cases are not impact-resistant and tend to crack or break in the event of a fall or crash. When looking for large-capacity motorcycle luggage options, tour packs are the perfect choice. They offer enough space for you to pack a full-face helmet along with other essentials. Plus, they allow you to install LED lights and speakers for better visibility, quick access, and entertainment.

7.4 Motorcycle Tail Bags

Motorcycle tail bags are a similar option to tour packs; however, they are crafted from soft yet durable materials, such as leather and 1680 D ballistic nylon. Tail bags come with strong straps that are compatible with the mounting points on the bike. When choosing a tail bag, it is necessary to check its fitment. Due to the strong and secure attachment to the luggage or passenger seat, tail bags are considered a much safer option than backpacks. They greatly reduce rider fatigue, the risk of loose straps getting caught in the bike's moving parts, and imbalance due to poor weight distribution. 

8. Last Words

It is generally safe to wear a backpack on a motorcycle ride, provided you use a specialized backpack designed specifically for motorcycling. Also, make sure to secure all the attachment straps to avoid any loose straps getting caught in the bike. Furthermore, use motorcycle backpacks with chest and waist straps and padded shoulder straps as they keep the bag tightly in place, and reduce fatigue, and risk of injuries in the event of a crash. Avoid overloading your backpack, and strapping to the luggage rack, seat, or tank. It is also recommended that you inspect your motorcycle backpack for wear and tear, fix the damage, or replace the backpack to ensure safety on the road.

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