It is just wrong to arrive at your night stop, after a day in the rain, only to find that your tail bag or roll bag has leaked and your clothes are damp. Those wonderful warm and dry clothes you had been thinking about are gone, and you are faced with making the best from the damp selection.
Having shared our respective tales of touring woe, we got to talking about the best soft luggage options and arguing over what works and what doesn’t.
Tail bags, roll bags, throw over panniers, there are so many options, that to pick what works the best, we decided to set a few rules to frame the question. After several cups of tea and reasonable levels of sarcastic debate, we came up with “Da Rulz”.
Here is the logic – if you can call it that – that we followed, and of course, most importantly, the three tail bags we finally picked.
The Top Box
This “rule” caused the biggest arguments. If you ride a sports bike, the assumption that you would have a top box fitted is highly unlikely.
By far the best solution for sports bike luggage is the Ventura luggage system that we use on the Fireblade, but you can’t really call Ventura luggage a tail bag or motorcycle roll bag, so we had to exclude it.
For the non-sports-bike-riding fraternity, the argument was that a top box is the most likely storage accessory to already be fitted to a motorcycle, giving you somewhere to put the tool kit, waterproofs, disk locks, padlocks and alike, rather than needing to make space for them in the tail bag.
Second only to the top box debate came capacity. How much space is enough space?
I’m one of these people that packs too much. I cover all the eventualities short of needing a dinner suit and bring most of it back unworn. Roger, who is much more practical, and can fit everything he needed for five days touring Scotland into a small dry bag, which he then put in the fitted pannier on the Africa Twin.
In the end, we opted for a minimum capacity of 15-litres based on the selection of clothes needed for five days. After all, motorcycle boots are comfortable on a motorcycle, but I don’t want to wear them all day, every day.
We want to spend money on travelling, not the luggage. It would be easy to get carried away with metal side cases and fixing kits. We wanted an answer that came in for less than £90. Anything with a three-figure price tag qualified for instant rejection.
Besides, those fancy rigid panniers, stick out into the airflow like a pair of barn doors and can cost you 5-8 miles per gallon on your fuel economy.
It typically rains at least once while touring, so the tail bag or roll bag needs to be showerproof at a minimum, and really it needs to be waterproof. It would be crazy to consider a tail bag or roll bag that couldn’t even keep out an unexpected shower.
Early on there was a contender that used a rain cover as its sole method of rain protection. However, to fit the cover securely you had to unstrap the bag, fit the rain cover and then strap the bag down again.
True, you could fit the rain cover before strapping the bag to the bike each morning. But what if I wanted something in the bag? A weird side thought to a tail bag being waterproof, was the ease of access. Otherwise, anything in a bin liner could qualify as a waterproof.
After a debate, that lasted at least one mug of tea, we settled on the rule that if the bag wasn’t at least inherently showerproof, it didn’t make the cut.
Ease of Fitting
Given long enough, any sort of bag could be secured to the rear of your motorcycle. Starting each day with the task of looping straps through various parts of your bike and then wondering if the tail bag or roll bag was still secure, is just too much hassle.
What we were looking for, is an easy way of securing the tail bag or strapping down a roll bag. The manufacturer needed to have included this in the design process. Simply including so straps and saying “Get on with it” wasn’t good enough.
As a benchmark, we used the 5-minutes it typically takes me to attach the Givi Dolomiti panniers I use on the V-Strom. After those 5 minutes, there had to be no more worries about the bag coming lose for the rest of the day, and easy access to contents of the bag had to be possible.
Face it – we are annoyingly picky, when it comes to soft luggage.
And The Winners Are …
After all the testing, comparing and scrutinising was complete, we ended up with three favourites. Each of these bags stands out from the others we looked at, and depending on your specific need, you should find a suitable tail bag or roll bag below.
Held Iconic GT – Practical and Classy
Impressive. No wait, I’ll change that, to very impressive. Whoever designed the Held Iconic GT tail bag has to be a motorcyclist with both feet in the real world.
Held also kept the manufacturing costs down without sacrificing quality. It would be easy to design the perfect tail bag if you are not concerned about the retail price tag. For Held to have created an outstanding tail bag that you can have delivered it to you – from SportsBikeShop naturally – for less than £90, is remarkable.
The Held Iconic GT comes in two sizes. The medium expands from 5 to 11 litres and the larger starts at 15-litres and expands to 21-litres if needed. The medium is the perfect size for a day pack. The larger Iconic GT is the way to go for a five-day trip.
Inside the semi-rigid outer case of the Iconic GT is an integral dry bag. You fill the dry bag, clip the bag closed and then roll the top of the dry bag over to stop any possibility of water finding its way in.
Securing the Iconic GT to your motorcycle is completed using the two built-in – fully adjustable for length at either end – straps, which loop under the seat. The straps attach below the zip line so access to the inside of the Iconic GT is never restricted.
We put the Held Iconic GT through our simulated rain test without using the rain cover that you will find in the external pocket. Nothing in the dry bag was damp after a sustained 10-minutes soaking, yet water did make it through the zip and on to the integral dry bag.
Normally at this point, we would reject the Held Iconic GT for not being waterproof. The Held Iconic GT is certainly showerproof, the soaking the bags were given in our rain test was of monsoon proportions. The clever bit though, is that Held designed the rain cover to fit over the Iconic GT after it is strapped to the motorcycle.
The elasticated tie-down straps allow you to tuck the rain cover under the tail bag, without having to remove or alter the way the Held Iconic GT is attached to your seat.
See, we told you the designer at Held was a motorcyclist. Not many manufacturers would think of these details.
It would be easy to continue highlighting the thoughtful touches that the Held Iconic GT tail bag has. I could tell you about the two document pockets located the lid, which you can access without having to open the integral dry bag. Or I might mention the bungee net on the top of the lid. Or perhaps the carrying handle, that other tail bag manufacturers often seem to forget we need.
There are even four blue elasticated hoops inside the Held Iconic GT that we have no idea how to use. They are there for a reason, but it is lost on us. If you know the answer, please put it in the comments below. We are intrigued.
Comparing the Held Iconic GT to our list of requirements …
- Cost – Yes. £90 for the large.
- Waterproof – Yes, thanks to the integral dry bag.
- Easy to fit – Yes. Couldn’t be simpler and it’s stable when loaded
- 15 litre+ Capacity – Yes. Go large
By the way a tail bag in German is a Hecktasche – who knew?
QBAG – Value for Money
Used, abused, totally waterproof, and with a whopping 60-litre capacity, the winner of the Value for Money category has to be the QBAG I purchased from SportsBikeShop for a crisp ten-pound note.
I bought the QBAG to replace the aesthetically pleasing but not exactly functional panniers that came fitted to my 1050 Tiger. As to whether the QBAG is a tail bag or a roll bag or just a plain bag, is open to interpretation. I’ll let you decide. Whatever it is defined as – it is brilliant.
There are two occasions that stick in my mind to justify the claim that the QBAG is waterproof. The first was a three-hour ride to the Portsmouth ferry, in biblical levels of rain. The sort of rain that should have seen Noah and the animals pass us on the A34. Yet not a drop made it inside the QBAG.
The second time was during a ride along the magnificent N-260 in northern Spain. The rain was a constant irritation, that day. It would throw it down. Stop. Drizzle. Sunshine and then the heavens would once again open. And yet not a drop of water made it inside the QBAG.
That amazingly low price does means that there are a few wrinkles. Firstly the voluminous capacity and the lack of even semi-rigid sidewalls make it a bugger to carry. As soon as you think you have hold of the QBAG, the contents will shift and your grip weakens. The addition of a carrying handle would be wonderful.
Then there are the supplied straps which are out of balance with the size of the QBAG. Filling the 60-litre capacity and then attaching the QBAG to your motorcycle by the supplied straps would be a total act of faith. That problem can be easily solved with some cam straps from the local motor spares shop.
The QBAG also takes a hit for not really helping out when it comes to securing the bag to the bike. There are eyelets around the bag to thread the straps through and then it is a case of finding the parts of your motorcycle to pass the straps through before tightening.
Ideally, the QBAG would sit lengthways on the pillion seat with the straps under the seat. Yet fill the QBAG to anywhere near the 60-litre capacity and it is going to be a tight squeeze between you, the tank and the QBAG.
And then there is the location of the eyelets … they block access to the bag when it is strapped to the motorcycle. But all of the niggles accepted … £10 for a waterproof 60-litre roll bag. There is just no arguing with that. Get one.
Oxford DryStash T15 – Convenience
There are three Oxford DryStash roll bags to choose from, ranging in size from the T15 that we tested (15-Litres), through the larger T30 and up to the voluminous T45.
There is little to choose between them on price. Looking through Amazon I found the Oxford DryStash bags starting at £25 for the T15 and only increasing to £30 for the T45. Which does beg the question why did I buy the T15?
With the QBAG having already beaten all the other bags on capacity-for-the-price, all I needed was the 15-litre T15. As the only difference between the Oxford DryStash bags is the capacity, our experiences with the T15 will equally apply to the other, larger size, Oxford DryStash bags.
Oxford claims that the DryStash T15 tail bag has a capacity of 15-litres but we think they are underestimating. The DryStash swallowed the benchmark pile clothes for the five-day trip, including a pair of size 10 shoes without the slightest hint of a struggle.
The seams on the inside of the tail bag are rain sealed and the outer flap covers the zip to prevent any water working its way through there.
The strange thing about the DryStash is that the outside of the tail bag will become soaked, not unlike a rain jacket with a waterproof membrane.
Examining the bag after our 10-minute soak test, there was every expectation that the inside of the Oxford DryStash was going to be full of water, yet other than a few drops that ran in as we opened the DryStash T15, the inside was dry.
The Oxford DryStash range comes with a shoulder strap and four decent nylon straps to anchor the bag to your motorcycle.
Whereas hoops mean tie-down straps, the Oxford Drystash also comes with a wide velcro strap that is attached to the base of the bag. Pass this strap under the seat and velcro it to itself and the DryStash is attached to your seat. I haven’t tested this as the sole method of attachment, on an all-day ride, but it worked well enough, on a short but vigorous ride, through some nearby country lanes.
And lastly, the shoulder strap on the DryStash range means that your hands are free to carry all of the other items motorcyclist have when walking into the hotel at the end of a days ride. Yes, I know it sounds irrelevant, but think of this point the next time you are struggling to carry everything.
The Oxford DryStash is an enigma. It is totally practical. Waterproof. Easy to attach. Easy to access and simple to carry. Having bought one you will never think about it again. It will just get on with the job it is designed for and not get in your way.
One day, you will buy something fancy to replace the T15 and only then will you understand all the things the Oxford DryStash did so well.