Got places to go and things to haul? Here is how to carry absolutely anything on a motorcycle.

Photo by Motographer

Are you one of those chumps who thinks a motorcycle’s carrying ability is limited to what fits into a backpack or the stock panniers? Think again, there is actually a huge range of ways to carry cargo by bike.

Size Matters

But not how you might think. Free from stuff like a roof, windows or doors, you can carry some surprisingly tall, long or wide objects on a motorcycle. What’s more important is the object’s shape. A 8-foot long pole may not fit in even a large car, but you could strap it to the side of a bike.

When considering an object for motorcycle carry, first consider the space you require as the rider and the area through which you need to freely move. Consider that sacred; anything that impinges on your ability to comfortably control a motorcycle, including mounting and dismounting it, shouldn’t be carried.

Carrying oversized loads with finesse.

Carrying oversized loads with finesse.

Photo by Proggie

Next, consider a motorcycle’s relationship with its environment. Again, we have an unexpected advantage in that roads are built to accommodate cars, but motorcycles occupy a much smaller “footprint” than the average automobile. We’re therefore free to expand outside the perimeter of our vehicle without encountering fit problems with most roadways. A great example of this is most topboxes. Go look at one and you’ll notice that it hovers over the rear of the bike, out beyond the backseat passenger and even the wheel, thereby adding room for cargo without reducing space for people. The trouble here is obviously that you can alter a bike’s dynamics by moving weight far from its center of gravity or create a built in obstacle that could create an unwelcome interface with another road user. Draw an imaginary box around what you’d consider defines the “space” a motorcycle owns in traffic and try not to go outside of that.

Also worth bearing in mind is aerodynamics. If you’re only going around the corner, a big cardboard box on your backseat isn’t going to cause many problems, but applying highway-speed windblast to that object could. We’re not so much talking about your ability to strap something down tightly here, more the impact large objects will have on handling when hit by windblast or side winds. If you’re new to the action packed sport of transporting things by bike, we’d suggest starting small, gaining experience and working your way up slowly before attempting to carry a fridge through a thunderstorm during rush hour.

Not good.

Not good.

Photo by Daniel Palmer

Weight and Where To Put It

So we’ve covered the fact that carrying a heavy object a long way outside your motorcycle’s center of gravity is probably going to be a bad idea. But, motorcycles actually are able to carry a surprising amount of weight. Heck, our long term Honda Grom is rated at 340 lbs max load capacity. I weigh 180 lbs, so that leaves 160 for random pieces furniture/livestock/family members.

But where is all that weight supposed to go? Well think about the things it’s specifically designed to carry: passengers, luggage and fuel. If it comes with a passenger seat, even your ridiculously light sportbike is built to haul the weight of a full-size human on its tail.

That tail is obviously the place to start when carrying cargo but motorcycles are also designed to carry gallons of heavy fuel and likely a rider even heavier than yourself. When carrying something very heavy, positioning it as close to your motorcycle’s center of gravity (an imaginary point in the center of the bike, just ahead of your genitals and below the fuel tank) will minimize its impact on handling.


How Wide Is Too Wide?

Riding a lot of unfamiliar bikes, I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally been guilty of thwacking a wing mirror or 12 with an unexpectedly wide pannier. The rule of thumb for motorcycle luggage is that, to retain lane-splitting ability, it should be no wider than the handlebars. If you’re strapping something big to the back of your bike, and are planning on riding in traffic, that rule works for you too.

Consider the bars of even a modest bike, like the Kawasaki KLR650 that measure 37.8 inches, leaves you with a lot of space to work with. I’ve strapped full-size gear bags to the back of sport bikes while flying to foreign track days, without trouble.

But many bikes go outside that bar width, most notably machines like the Suzuki V-Strom 650 and Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200. By doing so, they sacrifice their ability to lane-split totally, but still otherwise function as perfectly capable motorcycles.

Contain It

Got five hundred pairs of shoes you need to transport to that Imelda Marcos holiday gala? Common sense dictates that they’ll need to go in some sort of bag or box, but the same method works even if you’re carrying a single awkward object. Bags, boxes and other containers can help attached straps, bungees or other retention methods. They can also protect your cargo from the elements and provide a flat, grippy surface that will interface well with your bike. Even just throwing a bungee net across an array of objects before strapping the whole pile down helps hold things in and create a single, solid mass from a random group of many things.

That's a lot of shoes...

That's a lot of shoes...

Photo by Adam Cohn

Strap It Down

Here’s where it gets fun. Using bungee cords or similar to strap a big object onto your bike is a creative mind game with several variables and near infinite answers.

The general rules, not matter what kind of strap or cord or rope or whatever is that they need to be tight, allowing for no movement of the object whatsoever. It stands to reason that the attachment method should also be strong enough to hold the object to your bike while accelerating, braking or subjected to wind from any direction. Remember, your bike’s aerodynamics often see wind wrapping around and hitting it from the rear; that’s why t-shirts blow up the backs of squids.

Bungees are good for most bags and such, but anything heavier or more awkward should probably be handled by tie-down straps. Rope is a bad option and should only be used if you’re in a pinch. It’s just difficult to get very tight without specialty knot abilities.

Cross-tie the load for a snug & safe fit.

Cross-tie the load for a snug & safe fit.

Photo by the Author

I like to cross objects in an “X” shape, starting from something low and strong on the bike, around my feet or butt, passing over the object, then down to a tie-down point on the grab handles or passenger pegs at the rear. Bonus points if you can pass the straps through some sort of loop or handle or similar to provide strong location for them. If location points are not available, run an additional strap around the object and under the tail to prevent it from moving side to side.

Any point you connect to should be strong enough to support the pull of the strap under tension and the full weight of the object. Metal is good, flimsy plastic is bad. The object should be totally prevented from moving front-to-rear or side-to-side. Bonus points for adding extra straps as fail-safes.

If strapping an object to the tank, you can pass a strap underneath the headstock at the front (make sure you don’t obstruct steering or pinch any control cables) and there’s likely something under the rider seat you can hook to or wrap around too. Most fuel tanks have a pronounced ridge around the bottom that’ll take a hook or you can hook straps to parts of the frame, fairing or engine. Just make sure your straps aren’t going to be too close to any hot parts that might melt, weaken or distort them.

One Last Check For Safety

Once strapped down, give the object itself a firm shake. Seriously, did you use your strength? Did it move? If yes, start over.

Do the same with the straps, pulling on them shouldn’t detach them or loosen them in any way.

Can you get on and off the bike? Are your lights visible? Is your plate? Will the movement of the rear wheel hit the straps as the bike hits bumps? Is everything clear of the chain?

Think about any and all possibilities for what could go wrong and try to address them. Then throw an extra strap or two in your pocket just in case and hit the road. Those pigs aren’t going to take themselves to market.

What’s the largest or most difficult thing you’ve ever transported on your motorcycle?