Imagine an adventure bike on tour and I can almost guarantee that the bike you are thinking of has hard luggage attached to it. In fact, you go to the stores and of the five adventure bikes you see along the way, I’d bet at least three of them are box-shaped aluminum suitcases. Hard luggage systems have become almost as synonymous with adventure riders as the legendary helmet with peak or the two-piece textile suit, and for good reason …
A set of sturdy panniers not only looks good on our adventure bikes (especially with an ABR sticker), but is also incredibly practical. They offer security, plenty of storage space and are often quick and easy to use and remove when packing after a long day in the saddle.
But motorcycle cases are not just metal boxes with attachment points. There is a lot to consider before deciding that hard luggage is right for you, and with so many different types of panniers on the market, knowing where to start can be a tricky task.
If you have shopper anxiety when thinking about luggage systems and porters, then you have come to the right place. In this feature, we dive into the world of tough motorcycle luggage to help you decide if it’s right for you and what to look for when buying it. To do this, we partnered with Italian motorcycle accessories maker Givi, who make some of the best tough pieces of motorcycle luggage we have ever used.
Hard luggage made of metal or plastic for your motorcycle?
When we talk about hard luggage, we usually refer to sturdy panniers and topcases that are constructed with either a metal or hard plastic outer shell. Aside from the obvious, what’s the difference between the two?
Metal cases, such as Givi’s Trekker Alaska bike bags, are usually made of aluminum and offer a good balance between strength and weight. I put my hands up here and say that I dropped my bike a couple of times with the metal panniers attached and, despite a few scratches and dents that remind me of my carelessness, it is still functional and waterproof. And everything inside has remained intact and protected.
However, this security comes at a price, as metal suitcases are usually more expensive than plastic luggage.
In comparison, plastic bags are often cheaper and lighter than their metal equivalents (see the Trekker II bike bags von Givi as an example) and they are more flexible so that they are more likely to hold their shape when pushed or pushed. However, their drawbacks are that they offer a little less protection for your belongings and don’t look as gnarled.
Clamshell or top opening?
Now that you’ve decided between metal or plastic hard luggage, it’s time to take a closer look at how the boxes open and how you access your contents.
Overall, hard luggage offers a much more user-friendly experience than soft luggage when opening and closing. There is no need to fiddle around with roll-top closures or fumble with zippers, just snap a latch and off you go. I’m a particular fan of top opening designs that use a hinged lid at the top to give you access to your belongings, and you will usually find aluminum boxes with this type of opening.
They’re easy to use on the go, as your kit won’t fall on the street when the lid is opened, and it’s also easy to pack to the brim and use every inch of space inside. Givis aluminum Pulls Dolomiti boxes are the perfect example of this.
Of course, this approach has its downsides too, and you need to make sure that whatever you need in a hurry (tools, waterproof clothing, sunglasses) is packed last so you don’t rummage around the bottom of your bag like a truffle dog when it comes to it starts raining.
On the other hand, you have a clamshell design that has a hinged side that opens up for access. This approach is useful when it comes to top boxes, but it can be inconvenient with a number of panniers as your kit can fall out if you are not careful.
To get around this, some manufacturers have gotten creative and Givi’s approach to its range Trekker boxes made of plastic (Pictured above) is a particular favorite. They are designed to be used as a top case or pannier so offer the best of both worlds with a traditional clamshell design when used as the former and an upward opening hatch when used as the latter.
This is how it fits your bike
Another important aspect is how your hard luggage is attached to your motorcycle. All hardshell cases need to be attached to a bike-mounted frame, but the approach to the problem varies and we’ve seen some particularly fiddly examples in our day, including a system where you had to screw panels in from inside the boxes (a pain if they were fully packed).
The gold standard is a system that is secure so your bags don’t fly halfway down the M6, but is also quick and easy to use when you pack every morning.
One of our preferred approaches is the patented MONOKEY® mounting system from Givi, which opens the lid with just a lock and key and separates the side pocket or top case from the frame so that you can easily remove your luggage. Converting a MONOKEY box is also easy and requires no keys, and your panniers simply snap into place with a light push.
There’s a reason many manufacturers including Honda and Triumph, standard aluminum luggage from Givi as optional extras.
Finally, it is worth thinking about which accessories to attach to your hard luggage. While the boxes themselves offer plenty of storage space, a number of attachment points allow you to add a little more when you go on a two-wheeled adventure.
For example, I like to strap my tent to the outside of my panniers, which keeps it away from the rest of my gear when wet and lets it dry while driving is a must.
Other accessories that can be attached to hard luggage include fuel bottles, tool boxes, inner nets for the bottom of lids, and even extra soft bags that can be attached to the top. And don’t forget the important handles that are so useful after a day on the road when you lug your boxes into the hotel.
Check the accessories page when purchasing your hard motorcycle luggage to see what else can be added.
Givi hard luggage
Hopefully this guide will help you find the hard luggage that’s right for you.
Now that you know a little more about what to look for, why don’t you go to the Givi’s website to see the full range of panniers and topcases from the Italian brand today.