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What are Saddlebags?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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Saddlebags are the equivalent of a leather trunk for motorcycles, and come in many sizes, shapes, styles and price ranges. They consist of two main semi-box-shaped storage carriers that hang on either side of the rear fender of a motorcycle. The compartments have flip-over tops, secured by leather straps. The design of any particular motorcycle is key in picking the right saddlebags, as rear shocks, tailpipe line and other considerations can play into proper fit.

There are two main types of saddlebags: bolt-on or sling-over. The bolt-on version can be secured to a permanently installed saddlebag bracket, or a quick-release saddlebag brace. The slingover type are joined by a leather sling that is placed under the rear fender pad or passenger seat. Sling-over saddlebags are geared towards those who only need them occasionally, as is often the case for riders with non-touring bikes.

Quality leather saddlebags are reinforced with plastic to make them more rigid, preserve their shape, and enable them to carry heavier items. The inside wall of the bag, closest to the bike, might also be reinforced with steel. Many have external pouches for easy access to small items that might be needed more frequently.

Various do-it-yourself methods can be used to lock saddlebags, but the fact remains they are reinforced leather at best. When the cycle is parked among a throng of other bikes at a local watering hole or popular eatery, the average biker might not worry about it being a target. But as these bags are routinely used to haul valuables and some bikers prefer to take their bags with them when they dismount, particularly if the bike will be out of sight or in a location away from other riders.

A traditional quick-release saddlebag brace stays affixed to the bike while allowing easy release and re-installation of bags. This is an especially important consideration for touring enthusiasts. Without a quick-release bracket, the bags will have to be emptied of their valuables each night and repacked each morning. This can get tiresome on a long tour.

Third generation Ghost Brackets came up with a completely unique system suitable even for day cruisers. Saddlebag brackets mount to the backsides of the saddlebags themselves, rather that to the bike, preserving its stock appearance. This is a good thing for day-cruisers and V-Rod style motorcycles that don’t necessarily lend themselves to “the saddlebag look” associated with touring bikes. The brackets slip on to slightly elongated chrome bolts in the fender struts, barely noticeable when the bags are removed. The brackets also provide a handy flip-up handle to carry the bags in a suitcase configuration for easy transport.

One potential disadvantage of some sling-over saddlebags is that they can “flap up” with the force of the wind, not being anchored to brackets. A remedy is to carry heavy items in them, such as water bottles or drinks. If using sling-over bags it is especially important to check that the bags will not interfere with the motorcycle’s operation or come into contact with tailpipes.

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