When It comes to choose panniers for your motorcycle, there are two main options available: hard or soft ones.
I was new to the infinite debate between the two parties, which it has been going on probably from before i was born; suddenly I found myself in the position to pick one for my trip around Australia, after years of using just backpacks and top box cases, for my shorts commutes around town.
For a long trip instead, this became an excruciating decision.
Fortunately, I had the choice made for me, since my 1190 Adventure came already with the hard KTM ones, directly from the dealer.
On top of that, around half of my trip, I had the chance to try the other party, getting some Giant Loop Siskyou soft Panniers.
Somehow, I tried to imagine what would push me to pick one or the other anyway; most of the times the criteria of your choice is strongly influenced by your riding style, your finances, or your parking location.
Before writing this article I felt also the need to read about this matter on various forums and websites. Many people were fancying hard or soft panniers for all valid reasons; this obviously caused further confusion in my head.
There are in fact several different opinions about those, which are related mostly to the different styles and level of riding of each user.
Because this choice is, at the end, so personal, It’s hard to standardise a perfect solution for everybody.
Although, after all this reading and riding that i’ve done myself with one and the other, i believe that the choice upon purchase, has to be made based on one factor:
The Style of Riding
Let’s talk about the HARD PANNIERS to start.
It’s a known fact, first of all, that hard are more expensive than soft ones.
This point does not apply only if you “do your own”; I’ve in fact seen lots of people using fuel cells as panniers, which are very cheap, durable and lightweight (if plastic), but certainly not completely waterproof (if not done properly) and secure for storing your personal belongings; plastic ones are sometimes flimsy and they will most certainly crack if you drop your bike.
Hard panniers in any case have to sit on a rack mount that has to be fitted separately, which can also be made ad hoc or bought for roughly USD $300.
I rode 20000 km using the hard KTM panniers (42 litres the left one and 31 litres the right one), which are “not recommended” for off-road tracks.
It’s a more street oriented kind of solution, i have to admit, but I didn’t really experience any trouble at all (except the excessive weight), while riding on gravel and sand.
Overall, I have to admit that these panniers served me very well through all the long roads, bumpy tracks and torrential rains I encountered in the south regions of Australia.
Their waterproofness is certainly remarkable and you can rest for sure that your things are secured in there.
Many people state and prefer hard panniers because of the capability of “protecting” the rider from accidental falls of the motorcycle, but It’s also true that once bent or damaged, those lids or hard structures fail miserably in going back the way they were, causing all the sort of issues like water leakage, vibrations and locking problems.
Repairs are then very hard to perform and users are most of the times force to replace the whole thing, which can be cost effective.
Ultimately, I appreciated my hard panniers for 3 main reasons:
– Easy to remove
– Valuable items protection
My bike is significantly heavier than the other smaller Dual Sport machines, due mostly to the engine displacement and the fuel tank size (1190cc and 23 litres tank). Adding those bulky hard pannier was not an experience that I found rewarding while going off road, for sure.
On gravel roads and light dirt tracks, the difference was minimal though.
Riding on sealed roads with hard panniers was certainly ok, despite of the strong wind resistance caused by the excessive protrusion of the boxes; even at regular speed in fact, their squared surface made consumptions sensibly higher, due to the intense friction with upcoming air.
Also, removing the panniers, when full, was easy but they were certainly not comfortable enough to be carried around for long, even with those good big handles on the side.
On bumpy or twisty mountain roads those were also affecting my riding style, excessively sticking out on the side of my bike, not allowing me to lean as much as I wanted.
Also, the lowered position on the bike, was making my riding not so pleasant, especially during short and hard turns.
On top of this, exceeding 140-150 km/h was causing problems to the bike stability; strong vibrations on the handlebar occurred, making riding quite dangerous.
Obviously, these last three points are very personal; this kind of luggage system is not meant to be used for “fast riding”.
They are indeed very effective instead for touring and nice cruisy rides.
Things felt definitely more secure when left in there, while leaving my bike unattended, or when parking my bike at night.
So, I was glad that I had hard panniers while I parking my bike in the street, in the city.
Let’s talk about the SOFT PANNIERS now.
When I switched to soft and rackless pannier system, using Giant Loop Siskiyou, my riding experience changed completely, I have to say.
I rode 20000 km with them and I went through dust, mud, water and sand; they behaved beautifully, as good as hard panniers, in terms of waterproofness and resistance, which made the transition between the two kind of luggage systems absolutely seamless, in this sense.
The position of the soft panniers was slightly higher than the hard panniers, since they hang from the passenger seat (roughly around 10cm above the hard ones), slightly moving away from the centre of gravity of the bike.
Even with this modification, my whole riding experience improved, especially while going off-road and really sharp twisty sealed roads.
Surprisingly I found out that soft panniers were actually “bigger” than my old hard ones, regardless of the slimmer look that they had at first sight.
Being soft and “malleable”, I could in fact stuff them up until their physical structure allowed me to.
The size of each bag is 35 litres, which is plenty for storing everything I had in my hard panniers (42 and 31 litres instead).
Rain and water crossing were my main worry once i switched to this solution, but I have to say that the yellow watertight pods, placed inside each bag, protected my items completely from water leaking in.
Many people that bought these panniers, removed the passenger handles and pegs from the back of the KTM, to have better access to the bags, but I left those on, since they weren’t of obstacole to me at all. Actually, i regularly use pillion handles to lift my bike up, if needed.
Ultimately, I liked my soft panniers for 3 reasons:
– Better riding experience
– More storage capability
A further note has to be made on the weight difference between the two; I personally felt that trimming on weight was somehow the best solution I could opt for.
It made my riding experience more pleasant and it felt more suitable to my riding style.
Being lighter and narrower means, less consumption on tyres, fuel and less friction against strong head winds, without considering the slightly minimised stress on rear shock.
So, in conclusion, the market offers a great variety of solutions for your long and short travels.
Going hard or soft with the choice of your panniers is just a little variable on the great equation that will be your journey.
Your riding style should be the only factor to take in consideration when making the choice.
If you are planning to carry with you very expensive items and you don’t want to take them with you all the times, you should better insure them, first of all, and never leave those in your bike unattended, in any case, in my opinion, even if you put them in a hard pannier.
So I think that ultimately, it does work as a deterrent for bad intentioned people to have a lock on your panniers, but still does not guarantee 100% safety against theft.
As a matter of choice between hard and soft, I don’t think that this is a strong enough point to opt for one or the other.
Make sure you take in consideration where you are going to ride and the way you ride.
I’m riding with soft ones.
Thanks for reading.
Please let me know what you think or if you have any personal experience about this never ending argument.