Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: The Luggage Problem
Author’s note: I’m going on a week-long motorcycle trip in June around Lake Michigan with friends and I’m going to document the preparations leading up to the trip, as well as post daily entries from the road as the trip happens! You can join me by following along.
Any trip takes a lot of planning. Traveling by motorcycle takes even more planning than normal because you’ve got to be prepared for exposure to the elements, be aware of the limited range dictated by the size of your gas tank, and just know in general that you’re going to stop more often to reduce fatigue.
Add to that the fact that neither my friend Mike nor I have actual touring bikes. He’s got a 2007 Victory and I’ve got a 1994 Harley Sportster. Neither is ideally suited to long distance trips. Not that that’s going to stop us! It does, however, mean we’ve got to do even more planning, starting with luggage, and a way to secure it.
As you can see from the picture of my motorcycle, there aren’t a lot of places to attach luggage. After looking at various packs, I decided that I needed to add a sissy bar to the rear passenger seat of my Sportster.
While I’d have loved to have just walked into my local Harley dealership and made the purchase, the fact is I’m doing this trip on a budget. That meant I had to search out aftermarket parts. I spent more hours than I’d care to account for searching online for the right style and length of sissy bar at an affordable price.
I finally found what I was looking for and placed my order through Debrix.com. Because of the way motorcycles work, this ultimately involved buying four separate pieces: a 14-1/2 inch tall sissy bar; the rails that connect it to the rear fender; a pad; and finally a rear fender luggage rack. The total cost, with shipping, came to about $210.
How does adding a sissy bar to my bike help get me around Lake Michigan? Because it serves as the mounting point for most of the touring luggage sets out there. The packs I’m looking at would secure to the back of the sissy bar and either rest on top of the luggage rack or on top of the passenger seat.
The added long-term benefit of the sissy bar is that I’ll be able to carry passengers without them worrying about falling off the back of the bike. For some strange reason, this appeals to my wife!
So, about that luggage. Again, I’ve spent more time online looking at different packs to mount to my sissy bar then I can even remember. There are actually a lot of options out there, ranging in price from $40 to $500 and more. I found some great sets in the $200-300 range. However, having just spent $210 for the sissy bar and luggage rack, I decided I needed to go with something cheaper.
I could sacrifice the convenience of multiple outside pockets and a stiff frame, but I still wanted a set with two bags: a large main pack, and a roll bag. My reasoning was that I could make use of the roll bag as a good day bag or for riding back and forth to work, which is the bulk of my riding anyway.
One thing I didn’t want to sacrifice was waterproofing. Since we’ll be traveling in mid-June I fully expect we’re going to run into some rain on this trip. While I’m not crazy about riding in the rain, I do want to make sure I’m as prepared for it as I can be.
What I ended up settling on is a nice no frills water resistant luggage set from Dowco called the Rally Pack. It doesn’t have a bunch of the fancy outside easy access pockets and compartments that some of the other bags have. It also doesn’t have a lot of external handles or backpack straps that would make it easier to carry, but I think I can live with the inconvenience, considering the price tag is only $74.95.
As you can see from the photo, it’s a two piece set consisting of a main bag and a roll bag. It also comes with a bungee net for strapping on extra gear and a waterproof liner for the roll bag. From the reviews I’ve read, the liner is junk and the zipper breaks easily. However, most people have said the bag is very water resistant. I may also choose to line the inside of both bags with garbage bags just to be on the safe side.
The bag straps onto the sissy bar using adjustable straps. The bottom of the bag can either sit on the luggage rack, or I can turn the bag around and let it rest on the seat. This would have the added benefit of providing me with a back rest. I plan to take at least one overnight trip before the big Lake Michigan trip, so I’ll get a chance to really test out the bag. This will also let me test riding the motorcycle with the added bulk and weight. Adding weight to the rear of the bike is sure to change how the bike handles, especially in turns.
In my next post, I’ll be talking about the motorcycles my two friends, Mike and Tim, will be riding for this trip. One of them is pretty unique, so be sure to watch for that!
In the meantime, if you’ve got any ideas or suggestions on what I should be packing for this trip, please leave a comment below. I could use some help!