December 10, 2023

Hard or Soft Motorcycle Luggage: Which is Best For You?

By Melissa Delgado

When it comes time to take a trip on your motorcycle, you’re going to have to bring some things with you. The easiest, safest, and most secure way to do that is with motorcycle-specific luggage, letting the bike carry the weight. But what style is best for you?

In essence, there are two types of motorcycle luggage: soft and hard. Some argue that soft luggage is ideal for urban riding, while others insist it’s the only suitable choice for extended journeys. Alternatively, some claim that hard luggage should exclusively be employed for city driving.


Soft Motorcycle Luggage

Soft luggage is typically made from vinyl, nylon, or a canvas material. These attach to bikes via straps, so they can fit on pretty much any motorcycle. To decide what works best for you, it’s important to think about what type of items you’re carrying and where you’re riding.

These are more like duffel bags for your bike. Generally they have a zipper or clip closure and are secured to the bike with adjustable straps, making them reasonably universal. There is soft luggage that leans more toward a dirtbike application (often drybag style) or a cruiser application (often leather) or a sportbike application (often cordura), but can usually be modified to fit whatever you ride.

While hard luggage stays the same size and weight no matter what you’re carrying, soft luggage is only as bulky as your stuff. Which means if you pack light your luggage will consume less space. And because soft gear uses straps or a rack-less attachment, it’s much easier to remove from your bike. That also means that you can quickly attach it to a different bike, or switch it out for other gear.

The cloth-like material of soft luggage also offers plenty of room for customizations. Often, they often come with a MOLLE system (webbing and/or straps for attaching additional gear) and versatile pockets.

Soft luggage is also much more lightweight and, thus, is favored for off-roading and adventure riding. It doesn’t widen your bike in the same way that hard, heavier luggage does, so you’re able to zip around mountains and through traffic just as if you weren’t carrying anything at all.

Pros of Soft Motorcycle Luggage

  • Safer in a crash
  • Easily detachable
  • Inexpensive

Cons of Soft Motorcycle Luggage

  • Can look messy
  • Easy to break into
  • May shift while you ride


Hard Motorcycle Luggage

Hard luggage is typically made of aluminum or hard plastic and is often waterproof and secure. Hard gear is pretty durable to the elements and can safely hold delicate electronics. Since it is a hard material though, there is also vibrational damage to be aware of while you ride. Especially if you’re on a dirt road, you should be sure to protect your electronics and the like with soft cloth or a bag so you can avoid this. But if you do make an unfortunate tumble, you can be confident that the hard luggage will keep your items safe.

It can also generally accommodate a larger volume of items, and makes it simple to organize your items. Since you can just open the luggage and grab something, it is much less of a headache when you pull over and just need an item or two from your bags.

Most of the time, hard luggage requires hard panniers (a framework that fits on your bike to hold the cases). These are much more stable than the straps soft luggage uses, and also mean that your luggage won’t move around while you ride.

Hard luggage is lockable. Where soft luggage can be cut open or cut off, hard bags present a much tougher target for a would-be thief. Even if your soft bags are attached with a strap under your locked seat, a pocket knife will make short work of them. Hard luggage is the most secure option for when you’re going to park your bike and be out of sight of it.

This type of gear is also often very heavy and will increase your bike’s weight and width. The added strain on your frame reduces your turn speed and can make lane splitting even more difficult. Hard luggage is undoubtedly better suited for large bikes.


Pros of Hard Motorcycle Luggage

  • Difficult to break into
  • Weather-resistant
  • Easy to keep items organized

Cons of Hard Motorcycle Luggage

  • Less safe upon impact
  • More expensive
  • Creates a heavier and wider bike



The Verdict

Obviously, the choice is up to you. Maybe what works of you is a mix of both. As the motorcycle industry continues to expand, maybe we’ll see some new innovations to our luggage.

Ultimately, it’s definitely best to make a well-informed decision based on what you are traveling with, where you are traveling to and if you’re doing street or off-road. Be sure to research your options and choose the one that is best for your needs.


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