by Paul Berglund
I was going to ride my motorcycle on a long Dual-Sport trip, and needed a place to put my stuff. I looked around at what was out there and what other people had used on their bikes. My first choice was a pair of hard bags, but I found lots of people who go riding off road don’t recommend hard bags. They can trap your foot if you’re walking your bike through rough terrain. They can be difficult to fix if you break one. They also tend to be bigger and being rigidly mounted, encourage you to strap on even more things. You could end up with one heavy bike. Heavy and off road don’t go together. I know.
Carrying the bags further forward helps to centralize the weight. I decided to go with soft bags and to mount them on the tank. Tank panniers look a lot like saddle bags, but they mount in front of the rider instead of behind. I looked around the internet and only found two companies that make tank panniers, Aerostich and Wolfman. I was using a Wolfman tank bag for this trip, so I went over to www.wolfmanluggage.com to check out panniers.
Wolfman makes two types of panniers, standard and Expedition. The Expedition series is waterproof. For an off road bike, that seamed like the way to go. You have your choice of yellow or black; both list for $79.99. The black ones are better looking, but the yellow ones make your bike more visible to the slack- jaw mouth breathers piloting all those cars and trucks out there. I went with the yellow ones.
What you get is two single compartment bags that each have a volume of 16 liters. The bags are connected with two heavy duty straps. The straps are adjustable so the bags will hang where you want them. Each bag has two more adjustable straps to secure them to the bike. One on the front, and one on the rear of each bag. You loop these straps around a frame tube or other immovable part of your bike, and cinch them down with buckles. The installation was quick and easy. On my bike, the top straps were longer than I needed. That’s a good thing, but the excess strap will flop around in the wind. I wish Wolfman would have included a second set of buckles to secure the loose ends. I could have cut the straps, but I wanted the option of fitting the bags on other bikes. So I stopped by a hiking and camping store and bought two more buckles for about a dollar. Problem solved.
Once on the bike, this is what you get. Each bag is 10”L x 4”W x 11”H and made of heavy duty PVC. The “lid” is held closed by a zipper. The material is thick and it puts up a fight when you want to get things in and out; but I didn’t find this to be a problem. I used the panniers for storing things that I didn’t need often and the tank bag for things I did. On our trip, we rode in the rain and crossed several streams. The contents of the panniers stayed dry. One added benefit came about by accident. I was crossing some logs in the woods and stalled my bike. I lost balance and tipped over. The bike landed on a large bolder. The tank pannier was in the right spot and took the hit. There was no damage to my tank. Saving my tank was worth the price of the bags, plus I got to haul my stuff around. I would highly recommend them if you’re riding off road.
To be fair, they aren’t perfect. Bright yellow bags are more visible, but on an orange bike like mine, they weren’t pretty. You may want the black bags. The second half of our trip was very dusty. The bags are backed with “Toughtek” a soft rubbery material that helps grip your tank and keeps them in place. The bags didn’t scratch my tank, but the dust got in between the bags and my tank and left swirl marks. Dust, dirt and grime are part of the off road experience. I don’t know how you can avoid things like this. Just be aware of it and hit the trail.