It’s easy to go wrong buying adventure motorcycle luggage for the first time. The temptation is often to get the biggest bags that will fit and stuff them to bursting capacity. However, the capacity isn’t the sole issue, there are a number of other factors need to consider. Both hard and soft luggage systems have advantages and disadvantages, and what’s right for your buddy may not be right for you. Ultimately, weighing the pros and cons will help you decide which luggage system is your best option.
Here the pros and cons for each.
Adventure Motorcycle Hard Luggage: Motorcycle hard luggage is usually constructed of aluminum, plastic or a combination of the two. It can be purpose built for motorcycles or adapted for motorcycle use.
Hard Luggage Pros
Stability: Hard panniers must have racks for mounting, so luggage solidly attaches to the bike’s rack and won’t shift while riding.
Security: Stuffs can be locked in hard panniers, and your cases can also be locked to the bike, so they can’t easily be removed by thieves.
Water and Dustproof: Stuffs stays dry and clean no matter the weather or riding conditions.
Multi Use: Can double as a stool, table, work bench, etc.
Attachments: Handy for carrying heavy supplies to camp like firewood, beer, water, etc.
Repairable: Aluminum has the advantage of being malleable, it's fairly easy to repairif. You can hammer it back into shape, weld over tears and patch holes.
Safety: The width and sturdiness of hard panniers helps protect rider's legs in slow-speed falls.
Damage Protection: The solid structure of hard panniers helps protect items inside from being crushed in a fall.
Hard Luggage Cons Weight: Heavier than soft bags. Hard luggage weight varies by manufacturer, but a good rule of thumb is between 10-14 pounds per side before you’ve packed anything in them. ADV CASES is a good example of the case weight, with a wall thickness of 1.5mm aluminum accept any challenge, but the weight is only 12.80 pounds per side.
Cost: Generally more expensive than soft luggage
Safety: Can be a safety issue if you fall and pin your leg or foot underneath them.
Adventure Motorcycle Soft Luggage: Adventure Motorcycle soft bags are typically made of PVC (vinyl), nylon or canvas material. More commonly, soft bag are mounted directly onto the bike. A combination of adjustable mounting straps, well-positioned bags and heat shields ensure rackless soft panniers stay away from spinning wheels and exhaust pipes. Many soft bags use roll tops, similar to the closures as drybag, which allows them to be both waterproof and expandable. Waterproof zippers and internal dry bags are other methods used to keep gear dry and dust free.
Soft Luggage Pros
Cost: Less expensive than hard panniers
Compatibility: Rackless soft luggage systems can easily be moved from bike-to-bike.
Weight: Rackless soft bags or panniers weigh 5-10 pounds per set. Lighter than hard bags
Safety: Less likely to catch a foot or leg, If you get your foot caught between a rock or root and your saddle bag, it’s going to hurt a lot less if that bag is made of cordura instead of aluminum.
Compressable: Most soft bags allow you to compress them down with straps, to make them less bulky, when not completely filled with gear.
Soft Luggage Cons
Stability: Depending on the design and how it’s mounted, soft bags can move around in rough terrain.
Security: Soft bags generally aren't lockable and their contents are vulnerable to casual theft.
Durability: Seams can weaken and rip, zippers can break and get clogged with dirt, mounting straps can come into contact with hot exhaust parts and melt, and abrasion resistance is an issue with some materials.
Convenient Access: Dealing with compression straps, roll tops and zippers can make getting into soft bags much less convenient than hard cases.
Through all above comparison on soft and hard luggage, there is no winner. The most important factor for choose is rider's own individual needs and tastes. But from a general rule, for off-road travel riding, the lighter weight and greater safety of soft bags is a better choice. For long-distance travel, where security and day-to-day convenience is a primary consideration, a good set of hard panniers is suitable. What you choose will depend on what matters most to you.