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What to Carry in Your Motorcycle Saddlebags

What to Carry in Your Motorcycle Saddlebags

Motorcycle saddlebags have become essential accessories for all motorcyclists, whether they use their bikes for commuting or cross-country travel. These saddlebags provide ample storage space, with an average capacity of about 13 liters, allowing riders to pack essentials for both motorcycles and themselves. The versatility of a saddlebag extends beyond motorcycle maintenance-related items and personal belongings, as they are also suitable for carrying groceries, rain gear, gym gear, documents, and tech gadgets. Given the limited storage space, riders often find it challenging to decide what items to prioritize. This article aims to provide practical suggestions and ideas for items to carry in your motorcycle saddlebags.

1. What Are Motorcycle Saddlebags?

Motorcycle saddlebags are pieces of motorcycle luggage that are typically attached to the rear fender struts on each side of the rear wheel. Based on the materials used to manufacture, there are two types of saddlebags: hard saddlebags and soft saddlebags.

Hard saddlebags are usually made of ABS plastic, fiberglass, and sometimes metal, while soft saddlebags are tailored from heavy-duty weather-resistant leather. Modern saddlebags feature key-lockable mechanisms, quick disconnect systems, and built-in LED lights that make it easy to see and locate the items you need. Besides transporting luggage, saddlebags may also be used to enhance the aesthetic appeal of a motorcycle. Therefore, motorcycle saddlebags are available in matte and high-gloss finish to complement the OEM finish of the motorcycle. If you are looking to buy motorcycle saddlebags with the combination of features mentioned above, make sure to check out Viking Bags’ premium saddlebag range for a large variety of motorcycles.

2. A Brief Background of Motorcycle Saddlebags

Motorcycle saddlebags are inspired by the bags attached to a horse’s saddle and they first emerged when Harley Davidson and other motorcycle brands produced war models. Saddlebags installed on military models were used to deliver urgent messages and orders, carry weapons, transport war supplies, and carry tools.

After World War II, saddlebags were also installed on production models. In the United States, leather saddlebags were made available to the public in the 1950s. At that time, saddlebags were small throw-over bags that could be used to carry small personal items. In the 1960s, the demand for saddlebags skyrocketed as more motorcyclists began touring on their two-wheelers. To carry out long-distance trips successfully, they needed large saddlebags with extra storage space. The 1965  Harley Electra Glide was the first Harley touring bike equipped with standard saddlebags. Eventually Indian Motorcycle, BMW, and Japanese motorcycle brands followed suit and started equipping their motorcycles with strut-mounted standard saddlebags. Hard fiberglass saddlebags were popularized in the 1980s as they offered greater storage capacity; however, soft luggage bags retain their importance and preference in the motorcycle world due to their built-in impact resistance. Over the years, the trend of customizing cruisers into bagger-style motorcycles gave rise to the aftermarket saddlebags. Thanks to the aftermarket motorcycle luggage, there is now a wider selection available to the riders.

2.1 Modern Saddlebag Features

Saddlebags have evolved from simple leather bags to specialized motorcycle luggage with a variety of features, making them more travel-friendly and practical. A premium-quality modern motorcycle saddlebag offers the following features:

  • Sturdy Material
  • Hard-shelled/Reinforced Construction
  • Built-in Weather-Resistance
  • Abrasion Resistance (soft saddlebags)
  • Integrated LED Lights
  • Integrated Charging Port
  • Key-Lockable
  • Reflective Properties
  • Quick-Release Detachable Mount
  • Motorcycle-Specificity
  • Ease of Installation
  • Internal Pockets and Compartments
  • Different Attachment Options

3. Quick Benefits of Motorcycle Saddlebags

Motorcycle saddlebags are popular because of the following benefits they offer:

3.1 Safety

Modern saddlebags come with advanced key-lockable mechanisms that allow you to carry your luggage safely. Although saddlebags are not entirely theft-proof, they make it difficult for unauthorized people to access your luggage. Moreover, the lock keeps the lid of hard saddlebags tightly closed so no items fall out due to an improperly closed lid.

3.2 Waterproof

Both hard and soft motorcycle saddlebags are waterproof, so riders can carry any item without worrying about it getting damaged due to unexpected rain.

3.3 Ample Storage Space

Compared to other motorcycle luggage options, such as sissy bar bags, handlebar bags, backpacks, and tank bags, saddlebags offer the most storage space. Whether stock or aftermarket, saddlebags are sold in pairs. This doubles the storage capacity of a motorcycle. You can also divide the items between two saddlebags based on their nature. You can carry motorcycle-related essentials, such as tools, pressure kit, polish wax, spare motorcycle key, bungee cords, straps, duct tape, motorcycle cover, and photocopies of motorcycle registration documents in one saddlebag, while in the other saddlebag, you can store personal items such as a helmet, riding gloves, rain gear, spare jacket, spare clothes, snacks, water bottle, medication, spare phone charger, etc.

3.4 Accessibility

Many saddlebags feature inner compartments that make it easier for you to access your luggage. However, if the saddlebags lack compartments, make sure you organize your stuff in small pouches or bags for quick access.

3.5 Custom Look

Motorcycle saddlebags or side panniers offer a classic custom bagger look to a range of motorcycles, especially cruisers. Saddlebags are available in different materials, sizes, and finishes, so you can easily find one that complements your bike’s original styling.

3.6 Versatility

Motorcycle saddlebags are not restricted to a certain type of motorcycle or purpose and can be mounted on a wide range of two-wheelers. If the bike lacks struts or attachment points to install the saddlebag, consider using an external frame, rail, or bracket.

3.7 Durability

Motorcycle saddlebags are designed to handle different riding conditions, including rough terrain, harsh weather, and wet conditions. Soft saddlebags are impact-resistant and keep your valuables safe even in the event of a fall or a crash.

3.8 Light Reflective Trim

Some motorcycle saddlebags feature reflective trims that enhance visibility on the road, reducing the risk of a collision. Light reflective trims on saddlebags are even more effective when you are riding in dark conditions, indicating other riders to maintain a safe distance from you.

4. Essentials to Pack in Your Motorcycle Saddlebags

When it comes to essentials, each rider has a different definition. However, some items are universal and used by all riders, regardless of the duration of their ride. Whether you are embarking on a weekend getaway, running errands, commuting to work, or traveling to remote places, make sure to carry the items listed below in your motorcycle saddlebags at all times.

4.1 Rain Suit

Always keep a rain suit in your motorcycle saddlebags so you can protect yourself from unexpected rain. Oftentimes it is difficult to find a shelter nearby where you can wait out the rain, especially when you are out on the open road. Rain pants and a jacket will keep you from getting wet and catching a cold. Consider packing the rain suit in a small parachute bag to reduce its size and make room for other items.

4.2 Helmet

Motorcycles are not the safest mode of transportation; therefore, it is necessary to always wear safety gear, especially helmets. In some states of America, wearing a helmet is not mandatory; however, when traveling interstates, it is best to carry a helmet in your motorcycle saddlebag. You can also keep a spare half helmet to change into when it gets too hot to wear a full helmet. Make sure you invest in a large or extra-large saddlebag that can easily accommodate a full-face helmet.

4.3 Spare Riding Gloves

Hot weather and rain can both cause your riding gloves to get wet, which can be quite uncomfortable and make it difficult to control the bike. It is advisable to always keep a spare pair of clean riding gloves in your saddlebags. This way, you will have fresh gloves to wear even if you forget to pack them.

4.4 Hi-Viz Safety Vest

Some highways are busier and more accident-prone than others. When traveling on these roads, it is recommended to wear a hi-viz safety vest to improve visibility in dark conditions. The neon color of these vests makes you more visible and reduces the risk of contact and no-contact accidents. In case your motorcycle breaks down, and you don’t have any road assistance number to call, your hi-viz safety vest will increase your chances of attracting help. In case you run in an accident, use a hi-viz safety vest to be easily recognized by the police once they arrive at the scene. Many of these situations may arise unexpectedly; therefore, it is wise to always carry a hi-viz safety vest in your motorcycle saddlebags.

4.5 Leather Chamois Cloth

Most riders pack microfiber cloth or towel to wipe their motorcycle in case it gets wet due to rain. Consider packing leather chamois instead. Chamois cloth offers excellent leather drying qualities, making it ideal for wiping moisture from leather seats and leather luggage. You can easily squeeze out all the moisture and store the wet chamois in its container when you are out on the road and don’t have time to let it dry. Leather chamois has antifungal and antimicrobial properties, so you don’t have to worry about the growth of molds or mildews. Moreover, chamois cloths are durable and last you many years. These are readily available online and at Walmart for less than $15. You can also use chamois to dry your bike after washing it.

4.6 Bug-Repellant Spray

If you are an outdoor person who enjoys riding in the wilderness or going for motorcycle camping trips, then make sure you carry bug-repellant spray in your motorcycle saddlebags.

4.7 Plastic Cleaner and Shiner

After riding in the rain, it is important to clean the helmet visor and windshield to improve visibility. While you can use a clean microfiber cloth or towel for this task, it is recommended that you use a high-quality plastic cleaner and shiner as well. Motorcycle dealerships offer these plastic-friendly chemicals that keep your expensive windshields well-maintained. Avoid using harsh chemicals, ammonium solution, and alcohol-based products as they can damage the original finish of the plastic. Since you can encounter rain anytime on the road, always carry the plastic cleaner in your luggage bags.

4.8 First Aid Kit

Create a first aid kit including painkillers, bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibiotics, tweezers, disposable gloves, gauze pads, adhesive bandage tape, a travel-size hydrogen peroxide solution, medical scissors, thermometer, and prescribed medication and place it in your saddlebags. Ensure you check the expiry dates on medicines to avoid any medical complications, as the expired medication is less effective and may contribute to antibiotic resistance, potentially resulting in failure to treat serious diseases.

4.9 A Tire Repair Kit

Flat tires are some of the main reasons riders get stranded in the middle of nowhere. While locating a motorcycle mechanic in the city is relatively easy, the same can not be said for when you are on the highway. Therefore, carry a small air pump, tire pressure gauge, and a tire repair kit in your saddlebags. Also, learning how to replace a flat tire yourself can prove to be invaluable in these situations.

4.10 Camping Gear

Whether you plan to travel to another state or explore the scenic landscape and roads in your own state, you may get an opportunity to spend a few days at campgrounds. Therefore, consider carrying a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, and an inflatable pillow in your saddlebags, especially when traveling long-distance. If your saddlebags don’t have enough space to incorporate all the camping gear, you might want to consider packing a hammock instead.

4.11 Tools and Spark Plugs

Motorcycle spark plugs are one the common wear and tear items on a bike. Bad spark plugs make it difficult to start a motorcycle. Therefore, also carry extra spark plugs and spark plug wrenches with you. Also, consider carrying the following tools in your saddlebags to avoid getting stranded on the road.

  • Duct Tape
  • Zip Ties
  • Flashlight
  • Motorcycle Multi-Tool Kit
  • Screwdriver
  • Wrench Set
  • Bungee Cords
  • Pliers
  • Socket and Ratchet Set
  • Lubricant
  • Funnel

4.12 Reusable Water Bottle

The importance of staying hydrated cannot be emphasized enough, especially when you are riding on a hot day. Always carry a reusable water bottle in your saddlebag. Most gas stations, souvenir stores, and grocery stores have water coolers from where you can refill your water bottle. Some rest stops also have water faucets or spigots; however, make sure to confirm that the water is potable before filling your bottle.

4.13 Sunscreen

Always carry travel-size sunscreen in your saddlebags. If you don’t travel often and have one in your luggage bag, make sure you check the product’s expiry date before using it en route. A prolonged journey exposes you to harmful UV rays, and sunscreen will help prevent sunburn.

4.14 Snacks

Carry dried fruit, nuts, breakfast bars, biscuits, and canned food in your saddlebag. Even if you are not traveling long distances, you might need to eat something to maintain your blood sugar level or manage hunger pangs.

4.15 Spare Phone Charger

Always carry a spare phone charger in your motorcycle saddlebags, so if you forget to pack one or lose the one you have on the road, you will still have a charger to charge your phone and stay connected to your family and friends.

5. Last Words

Motorcycle saddlebags are extremely useful pieces of luggage, allowing you to carry different items based on your immediate and long-term needs. The list of items that you should carry in your saddlebags is not to restrict you but to give you ideas. You can always tweak the list to suit your needs. Just make sure that you take weight distribution and the bike’s weight limit into consideration when packing luggage in saddlebags. Heavily-loaded saddlebags or uneven weight distribution can affect handling and jeopardize your and others’ safety.

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