Motorcycle Tankbags: Why So Many?

Motorcycle Tank BagTankbags, tankbags and tankbags: There are a gazillion of them to choose from! For such a simple piece of motorcycle luggage, how different can they all be?

For some riders, all of this is moot because they ain’t gonna put one of them contraptions on their bike no matter what! The primary drawback of anything that rests directly on the paint of your motorcycle is that…well…the darn thing is on your paint! And “yes,” “absolutely,” and “of course,” all the tankbags that I’ve owned and/or looked at, do come with a smooth or felt-like material on the bottom to protect the paint, but in the day-to-day, real world of attaching and removing a tankbag every time you get gas, small amounts of dirt or sand may sneak their way in between your tankbag and your fuel tank. And for some souls any minor scratch or scuff is worth a good round of cursing.

Having said all that, and having used them for many years on uncountable trips…I have found I couldn’t live without ‘em. (And I do my best to help keep that paint tidy with regular washing and waxing).

Motorcycle tankbags come in many sizes and configurations and they are an easy way to add storage capacity. But besides size, why so many different models?

Size, for most riders, is probably the one thing that matters the most when it comes to tankbags. So there are tons of different capacity options all by itself. But after that, the next consideration will be thus:

Are you a magnetic kind of rider or not?

And in this case, we aren’t talking about how many members of the opposite sex are drawn to you. Regardless of how high that factor may be, you still need to resolve whether you can even use a magnetic tankbag. Or…should you opt for the strap-on system?

You motorcycle fuel tank will be the main determinant. Is it steel? It might be. But then again, it might not be. Some tanks are aluminum or use some other composite material. Other tanks are plastic. Test a small magnet to your tank to be sure. If you don’t have a steel tank, you are in the market for a tankbag that has a strap-on attachment design. Note, there are some tankbags with both strap-on as well as magnetic attaching systems, which is useful if you ride different motorcycles, and/or if you expect your tankbag may outlive your current ride.

OK, so after checking out the sizes and ascertaining whether or not you are a magnetic rider or otherwise, what else is so different about all these models?

Well, almost all are going to have some sort of see-through pouch for displaying a map right on top of the tankbag. But the size of that map pouch can vary considerably. This may not seem like a big deal, but a small map pouch means forever folding and cutting every map in the future you will want readily visible. A larger map pouch just makes adding and/or changing out various maps much more manageable.

Anything else about that size issue? Yes, indeed. A bunch of tankbags are expandable. Merely zip open a pleat and voila, instant storage expansion. Some tankbags even allow entirely different sections to be added and removed at your leisure to accommodate different rider storage requirements. At least I find that when I’m riding across country, or when I’m going motorcycle-camping, I need a little more storage than when I’m blasting around for the afternoon.

Pockets are another common feature on tankbags. Some models have pockets on the inside. Some on the outside. Many have both. Some have pockets specifically for electronic equipment. Some have pockets that allow for wires to be gracefully routed through the bag. Pocket design and selection alone comprise a number of different ways that tankbags differentiate themselves. And of course those pockets do allow for greater segregation of various rider travel items.

Handles on tankbags are very common. Which allows for easy transport away from the motorcycle. However, some tankbags also have a single, over-the-shoulder strap, which can be desirable, especially for larger bags. And there are some tankbags that have a dual, shoulder-strap system, so that the tankbag can be transported away from the motorcycle in much the same way as a hiker with a backpack. For some riders, this feature alone will narrow their selection process down to only those that meet this backpack-carry criterion.

OK, we talked about the bad and a little about the good. Is there an ugly side to all this?

I consider motorcycle crashes to be ugly. And a safety feature to keep in mind regarding tankbags is what you put inside. Most items are relatively innocuous: tankbags are a convenient place to store small items a rider may wish to have ready access to, especially maps, extra gloves, sunglasses, earplugs, hat, extra shirt, snacks, etc. However, a rider should be cautious about storing certain items that could be an additional threat to rider safety in the event of a mishap. Things to avoid storing in a tankbag include: tools, sharp items, heavy objects, or anything you just wouldn’t want intimately forward in the event of a frontal collision.

An additional storage consideration for those using magnetic tankbags is to avoid storing cameras, film, digital media, or anything susceptible to magnetic damage or corruption.

Oh! One more thing, if you can, try the darn thing on your own bike before you pay for it. You may like the idea of a lot of storage, but such a large tankbag may actually be too big for your motorcycle tank. It could be too long or it could be too wide. Heck, in some cases, the slope of your tank may be such that certain bags just look too unbalanced. The point is, if you can, just check it out on your own bike.

Having said all that, if you are selecting a tankbag from your local dealership, the reality is they are only going to stock a limited selection. So your choices won’t really encompass the mass of models that are available out there. And that, to some people, is a good thing!

25 thoughts on “Motorcycle Tankbags: Why So Many?

  • I’ve long used the classic Eclipse tank bags. These have a sewn-in map pocket of adequate size and keep maps out of the weather. With the neoprene waffle-pattern base pad that threads onto the female Fastex buckles, it is reasonably secure during maneuvers yet easily removed during fill ups or for security purposes. One of them had been on a Yamaha RD400, then a BMW R100RS, and its non-expandable 8″ high main area proved adequate for nearly any load. I would sometimes stuff my rain suit into it, to avoid having to grab it out of a saddlebag or its inner bag liner, in case i needed it in a “hurry.”

    One thing to ensure the stability of a tank bag is to simply not put heavier items in it. Some first aid, light food items, a couple of water bottles, sunglasses, and camera with clothes around and above it for padding is about all I used mine for. I did think a rather small magnetic bag was handy, but not nearly as stable, because of the waxing required to keep the tank in good shape when using it.

    While I think the factory BMW bag is okay, I have found that their zippers are not the best, nor does their narrow and tall expandable design offer the best ergonomic solution as they get in the way of the rider when fully filled with the zippered-in extension in place. They are also model specific to the bike and very expensive.

    I’d probably put no more than 6-8lbs in one but never really found the CG to be that adversely affected for handling purposes. Mainly, it was a “bulk” issue between the rider and the often lower set handlebars and controls of a sport tourer that was the issue.

  • I’ve owned bikes with and without tank bags and hard luggage. I would have to say for daily use a tank bag is the best piece of gear you can have. Sometimes you just don’t want to lug around hard bags. A tank bag is perfect to provide that easy to access storage space for a water bottle, lunch, etc. or to transport a coffee to the office.

  • Just depends on what is important. My ultra has loads of storage, including the tour pack. First thing I bought was a triple bag windshild storage unit. I don’t like the way it rubs on the windshild, but it’s worth it. Those things I want close while riding go in that unit.

    IMHO, the tank bag covers one of the best parts of the bike. At least on mine, so I’m not inclined to bury this piece of art under a tank bag.

    See ya on the road!

  • I have been using Cramster for close to 5 years now. the Tank Bag (magnetic) has been great. I have used it on some very tough terrain and the bag was still in the same place where i had fixed it. as for the paint is concerned. I use a towel between the bag and the tank. this helps. I would suggest that you can take a look at it.


    Keep the Rubber side DOWN.
    Ride Hard – Ride Safe

  • I’ve not thought much about a tank bag since I have side bags and tour pack, but since I go on very long rides each summer (6k to 10k multi-state trips) and sometimes need more storage room, I’m going to check into whether one would be good for my bike. If I get one it has to allow me to connect to the intercom on the tank, and also not impede my ability to fuel the bike.
    I have a 2011 HD Ultra Classic. Does anyone have any specific ideas on what tank bag would work best for me? I do like the idea of the map window so I don’t have to fish in my pocket or get off to look for the map. I have a GPS but sometimes I want to be old school and look at a paper map since it gives visual confirmation of the locations of towns, etc., that the GPS would not.

  • Hmmm, I cannot think of anything that I would need in such a hurry that I could not stop , get off the bike and retrieve from a saddlebag or small tail pack, except for my EPi pen which is strapped to the front of the bike where I can reach it instantly. Besides that I think the tankbag is simply ungainly as well as UGLY! Traveling in un-charted territory? STOP, look at a map, get a general idea of the direction you wish to go and go. To me, riding a motorcycle IS THE ADVENTURE! If you are worried about getting or being lost, that is the time you NEED to stop, take a break, relax while looking at your map or (God Forbid,the GPS) then take off in a more relaxed manner! After all, it is NOT the destination, IT IS THE RIDE! ;- )

  • best thing is the tank bag..mag or strap ..unhook take it with you..20 sec.’s no distraction ,look foward not down, need something pull to the side sit on bike find it then go… even a small one with a zipper that expands up to double size… oh did i say its handy for carrying a hand gun, all legal like not on you – ….and if its in a holster inside the bag that covers 70% of states transport laws….and you know where its at all of the time for safety….

  • I really wonder how safe is riding with such an obstacle distracting your line of sight. Would it restrict your arms movement? I like all of the load in the back of the bike where can only be seen by people behind…..I forget about it until reaching destination. Perhaps something in the fork front is acceptable.

  • I’ve tried soft , plastic & ally luggage , but one item which is constant is my tankbag , I wont go without it . Inside at the moment are spare bulbs , fuses , notebook & pen , earplugs, sunglasses , swiss army knife , energy sweets, plastic survival bag, small binoculars, hiking compass, whistle , When I go away I had camera , mp3, change for coffee, tolls. passport etc. Bon Voyage

  • I would not use a tank bag but then with two large panniers I do not need them

  • It seems I’m the only one that has never seen the need for a tank bag. I did consider the idea for a few brief moments but, saw no no real need for it. After all, with two side cases, a top case and a trailer who needs it.
    The other aspect was that maybe just a little extra weight on top of the tank raising the centre of gravity a little might reduce the bikes cornering ability just a little.
    As for carrying stuff on your back whilst riding, definetly a no no. Strap it on the back seat if you don’t have a rack/carrier fitted to the bike. (That comes under buying the right bike/accessories to suit your needs)
    Aything we might need during a ride goes in the top case. Also means you actually have to get off the bike and move around which I do every hour or so.

  • To save the finish on a metal tank, I use a piece of rubber draw liner (waffle weave) cut to fit the under side of the tank bag. Magnets never touch the paint.


  • I have all the bags from BMW on my R1200RT.
    That said I could not go with out them, now that I have then! (Factory ofcorse) 🙂

  • To the comments about magnets being a hazard for the contents of your tankbag … I’ve been carrying my laptop, a small digital camera, and a separate hard drive in the bag, directly over the magnetic mounts … for ten years, almost every day … and have not once experienced data loss.

    Vibration, on the other hand, can be a challenge .. padding is good 🙂

  • I have a set of River Road tankbags that are around ten years old now. These things are rugged, have straps to be used as a backpack, and have lasted thru countless trips now.

    They must have been inexpensive or I wouldn’t have purchased them … I don’t remember, it’s been a long time.

    They came in a set of two, with a zip-off magnetic tank attachment. There’s a smaller expandable bag, which fits into the larger bag for storage … or zips to the top of the larger bag to make one tall tank bag! The top of each bag has a clear map compartment, heavily velcroed on to keep it water-resistant in the rain … oh and it came with a rain cover too, also with a clear top so you could still see your maps.

    These things are fantastic. They see daily use (I commute 50 miles), and the large one is just big enough to carry my work laptop plus a set of clothes and some meds. I love these things.

  • I have a Cortech tank bag for my Nightster – love it!! It is magnetic, and I position it so I don’t have to remove it to fill up the tank. So fewer on and offs. Also I keep my camera in there, with no problems! But I keep my camera in it’s own form-fitting “pouch”, so maybe that give it an extra layer of protection from the magnetism… Also the bag has the backpack straps, which I find to be a really great feature to have.

  • I spent alot of time researching tank bags for my V Strom. I chose the Bags Connection City Bag that utilizes a gas tank ring mounting that mounts the bag above the tank. It is easy to remove to gas up and just snaps back on the ring when done. Very slick set up and easy and practical. I have also run power into the bag to power my many accessories with a weatherproof disconnect for removing the tank bag completely.

  • I picked up a T-Bag at one of the Bike shows, but only after a lively discussion with several sales staff…most with limited knowledge of t-bag features.

    The bag I chose has virtually all the features mentioned in this article. I was lamenting the fact, that the window at the top was small for a map, until I removed the modules… there to my surprise was a full-sized map opening at the bottom, should I decide to ride with a map and a small storage pocket only. It has a handle, and straps for carrying like a backpack, as well as removable pockets for MP3 players, cell phones etc.

    My only concern…theft. Putting all the valuable stuff in the tank bag is great…but on the occasion that I need to pay for gas inside, or run into a store, I just hope that convenient carrying handle is not to easy a target for a would-be thief. Since this is the first season I’ll be using the bag, it may be a moot point, or if paranoia has its moment…it is just a matter of taking it with me.

    I would love to know what most people actually carry in the t-bag. The point about not putting a camera or other devices with magnetic issues into the bag is a good point. Yet, the bag I have, has padded areas for cameras and lenses and a side pocket for MP3 players which could have a real problem with magnets. A guess a magnetic compass anywhere near by, would be out of the question as well…


  • I have been considering a tank bag for some time now and this article has made me inspect the offerings better. I have certain needs, like GPS protection and viewage, cell phone recharging, that I take into consideration but your article has made me look at the few I have chosen again with a more critical eye.
    Thank you!

  • I have made two fairly long trips, 1500 and 2200 miles recently. First was with a tank bag and second was without. I really missed having it on the second trip. Won’t leave home without it again.

  • Every time i use my tankbag (rapid transit, i love it) I put a shammy cloth I’ve cut specifically to the bottom of said t.bag down on the paint first. It’s an extra hassle and an extra cost, but I have much greater piece of mind. And it does reduce the ware from the bag on the paint.

    IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP! When moto-camping, sometimes you may come across a camp ground that has been well loved for many a years by many many many eager campers. These site pose a high risk of magnet contamination by IRON-FILINGS!!! from gun fire, burned metal, and all around skulduggery. Always inspect your magnets contact points after camping to ensure that there are no iron debris or it will DESTROY your paint very quickly! Usually magnetic bags have a zipper to remove the magnets. Take them out, clean the fabric thoroughly, replace magnets and be thankful that I’ve learned this expensive lesson for you already.

    Peace 🙂

  • Once I bought my bike, the tankbag was and still is an essential piece of equipment. Pockets outside with efficient zippers and zipper pulls are needed when wearing gloves. Switching out to sunglasses, earplugs (save your hearing), motrin (for those really, really long rides), water, beefy jerky (stave off hunger and stay focused), tire gauge, wallet, cell phone, garage opener (genie makes a key chain garage sized opener, even has an LED flashlight!)….its also very useful with passengers to accomodate their needs as well. Even on a sportbike I’d have (a cool one) to carry things. I have a large, flat metal tank so my Chase Harper is a perfect match…my advice take careful note of your tank width & length and slope angle, then look at tankbags that match your tank. It’s likely the tankbag you want will come either w/magnets, straps or both! I prefer magnents to remove easy for fill-ups as I use the tankbag frequently. A tankbag, coupled with a tailbag (see Motofizz) or saddlebags give you plenty of space to go touring for days. Not to mention balancing the load as well and having access to your essentials in front of you, makes for a much more relaxed, and competent rider.

  • Love your email newsletter. I never fail to learn something or see a new perspective I hadn’t consiidered. I’m in my late 50’s so every minute is precious especially the ones I spend riding. Thanks for helping me spend those minutes a little more wisely and with greater enjoyment.

  • I would like to add that powerlet has electrical plugs that can attach to the tank bag and is made so it will not let in water,

    also on long trips you can lean on you tank bag to take pressure off of you arms and other parts of your body, what I want is a tank bag that can come off and be used as a back pack, I have a few tank bags and the one’s buell makes I would stay away from them they fall apart.

    I think and would have to research that one of the comunication copanies makes a bag that houses all the electronics,

    I will do a research and get back as to what is what I think is a good all around tank bag.

    Mike S

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