When you’re driving a car, your storage capacity is probably the farthest from your mind. From a backpack to a briefcase to a couple of kids and/or the family pet, you probably just pack everything and everyone who’s coming along into your vehicle and go—zero thoughts required. That might change if you need to transport something large, like a couch or a massive flat-screen TV—but everyday cargo probably doesn’t even make you blink.
The thing about motorcycles is, you can carry a lot of the same things if you plan appropriately. It might take a little more thought and investment in storage solutions to transport all necessary items, but it can be done—well, within reason. (You’re still going to have difficulty transporting a big couch, though you might be able to strap a TV into a sidecar rig with enough bungees and ratchet straps, as well as the right attitude.)
Let’s run down a bunch of potential storage and transport solutions that are available for your bike in 2023.
This is an easy one, and it’s a place where a lot of new riders start. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and carrying capacities. Some have clear vinyl map pouches on top, some have magnets for steel tanks, and some have straps for non-steel tanks. Some may mount to your gas tank with a ring connector for extra security (which will have a specific fit for a given bike model). Some tank bags also come with handy rings and a detachable shoulder strap so you can carry it around off the bike.
Backpacks and Messenger Bags
You might think that any old backpack or messenger bag that you’re already using will work just fine on a motorcycle. In some cases, that may be true—but ideally, if you have the chance, you should try loading your chosen bag up with your usual items and then get on your bike in all your gear with the backpack or messenger bag on.
Both backpack and messenger bag comfort on a motorcycle depends on a number of factors. Does the backpack interfere with the back of your helmet? That might not be a problem if you’re just wearing it while you’re out walking, but it makes a huge difference on a bike. Is the messenger bag’s load throwing your balance off as you try to maneuver the bike? Balance is everything on two wheels, so that’s also a potentially serious issue.
Of course, if you have a pillion seat and no one’s riding in it, you could always take a bungee net, bungee cords, or even ratchet straps and secure any backpack or messenger bag you like to the rear seat. That solution works well if you hate riding with anything on your back other than a jacket, and also helps lower the center of gravity for your load.
Plenty of motorcycle gear makers offer moto-specific backpacks that may have extra breathability built into the straps and back padding. Some also have water-resistant (or even claimed waterproof) roll tops to keep what’s inside dry if you get caught in a downpour.
As with all other backpacks in every specialty (hiking, cycling, student-ing, etc.), you’re the only one who can decide what will work best for you in your specific situation. I once had an extremely nice moto backpack, full of organizational pouches, with a robust rubber bottom, and allegedly waterproof—but it was physically much too large for me, so I unfortunately had to send it back.
Leg, Waist, and Other Small Bags
Depending on your preferences and what you need to carry, a smaller bag that attaches to your body while you’re riding could be just the ticket. Just like tank bags, backpacks, and other bags, these can run the gamut in size, style, materials used, robustness, and waterproofing or water resistance. I like a little leg bag in some circumstances, because it’s just the right size to stash all the everyday carry stuff (phone, comb, spare camera battery, etc.) that I use on a regular basis.
With a bag like this, it doesn’t matter how many pockets you have in your jacket or pants, nor how well they fit the items you need to carry. My leg bag has a little waterproof cover, as do many of them—which is also useful.
There are a wide range of panniers, side bags, side cases, or whatever other synonym you prefer, which can fit a wide range of bikes. Some bikes already have the necessary mounting bracketry installed to accept side bags. For others, that’s a separate purchase you’ll need to make. Sometimes shops or aftermarket accessories manufacturers offer discounts if you purchase both the brackets and the bags together, which can save you some money over buying each part separately. You can also sometimes find good deals on used equipment, depending on when and where you’re looking.
Available bags range from soft to hard, from waterproof to not. Adventure moto gear specialists make waterproof inner bags to protect items that you want to stow inside bags you may have that aren’t necessarily waterproof. Those can be a good option if you want the benefits of waterproof bags, but don’t want to shell out for a whole new expensive set of luggage.
Some side cases can fit a full-face helmet, while some can’t. If you regularly wear a Bluetooth communication unit that mounts to the outside of your helmet, be aware that you may need to pop it off and stow it somewhere else to get your helmet to fit properly in a side case.
These will be sized to fit the bike, so you’re going to find a larger top box for, say, a Multistrada than you are for a Hunter Cub CT125. In many cases, they’ll offer more storage space than side bags will. Some big touring bikes have top boxes that can fit two full-face helmets inside. They’re available in a variety of aesthetics, from ones that are color-matched to your bike to big aluminum adventure cases. If you know that you’ll be shopping for side bags and top bags, choosing a matched set with a single key will make your life easier.
Top boxes usually require specific mounting hardware to attach to your bike, which may be sold with the box or offered separately. Be sure you know which is the case with your chosen solution so there aren’t any surprises when you go to install it on the bike.
Milk Crates or Wooden Boxes and Bungees
No matter whether you’re going for a hipster aesthetic, or it’s just what you had around and you wanted to carry something, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t (or shouldn’t) securely fasten a robust milk crate or wooden box to the back of your bike with bungees (or even zip ties). Most bikes—even small-displacement ones—are rated to carry two average-sized adult humans. If you’re overly concerned about recommended gross vehicle weight, you can always check your owner’s manual for that number.
That said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is, make sure that your chosen milk crate or wooden box is actually robust enough to carry whatever you want to carry. Here in 2023, some milk crates (particularly plastic ones) are more decorative than functional. They may look like they’re the real deal, but then unpleasantly surprise you when they turn out to be flimsy garbage. Take a little time to try flexing parts of the crate before you secure it to your bike to avoid unexpected cargo-related heartbreak.
The second is, make sure you have good, secure mounting points for your bungees. Steel mounting hooks that are attached to the frame are ideal, but other metal will also work. We probably shouldn’t need to say this, but your bike’s bodywork is no place to mount any part of a bungee, bungee net, or ratchet strap. If it even looks like the hook is going to slip away from where you’ve put it, find somewhere else for it to go.
Bungees, Bungee Nets, and Ratchet Straps
I’ve carried a few bungees (with little rubber caps on the ends of the hooks) in a zip-top baggie for just about as long as I’ve been riding. They’re small, they don’t take up a lot of space, and that way I know I can strap anything I need to carry to the backseat with no problem. I’ve brought home everything from an old printer to a cat scratching post to 40-pound bags of wood pellets. With a good set of bungees, so much is possible at very little additional cost to you.
A bungee net can be even better, if you have enough good places to mount the hooks—because you don’t even have to worry about securing multiple individual bungees over whatever you’re hauling. In all these cases, check that the hooks aren’t going to scratch anything, and also that the elastic in the bungees is still supple and stretchy. Like other things involving elastic, bungees do eventually wear out—so be sure to replace them as needed.
Onboard Storage on Your Bike
While some bikes come with luggage attached, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Instead, I’m talking about bikes that come with storage built in—from a frunk, as found on the Honda NC750 or the Zero SR/F that I’m currently living with, to the unique onboard storage compartments found in the Honda Pacific Coast, to your favorite scooter.
Maxi-scooters have a lot of onboard storage space built in under their seats. That’s part of why I chose a maxi-scooter as my first bike. I had a lot of stuff that I needed to carry every day, including a big knife roll for culinary school. Bikes with external luggage cost more—and besides, a knife roll wouldn’t really fit in a pair of side bags or a top box. A maxi-scooter had plenty of room for a knife roll and then some.
Regular-sized scooters usually also have some underseat storage, although it won’t be incredibly capacious. The BMW CE-04 has a storage area behind a sliding door under the seat that looks a little roomier than most electric scooters, but underseat storage is one area where most electric scooters unfortunately fall a little bit short of their combustion counterparts.
There are a wide variety of special vessels made to safely carry spare fuel, should you need to top up while you’re nowhere near a gas station. From liter-sized fuel bottles to reinforced fuel bags to hard auxiliary fuel tanks, what you choose will depend on a number of factors, including how much spare fuel you expect to need.
If you do choose a soft-sided fuel bag, just make sure you familiarize yourself with what the experience will be like getting the fuel out of the bag and into your bike, because it could potentially be messy. Liter soda bottles with the bottoms cut off make a helpful funnel in some cases (and depending on where you’re traveling in the world, you may find fuel sold in liter plastic bottles anyway).
The fine folks at Fortnine recently did a video comparing a number of ways to carry fuel on your bike, which has more information to consider. Do you agree? Disagree? What have your experiences been, and do you have any good advice that you’ve found in your own travels? Let us know in the comments!