Rocket Touring Gear Roundup
Here's the problem: you have two large and very fast motorcycles and need to go very fast to somewhere far away, and you don't know quite where it is. You will need plenty of complex, specialized and expensive equipment, and you'll want to buy it from somebody with good customer service who can get you what you need in record time.
That was just the situation we faced a few months ago when we tested the Kawasaki ZX-14 and the Suzuki Hayabusa in a two-day high-speed hijink. We thought it sounded like a job for Aerostich, so we contacted our friends at the Rider WearHouse, selected some stuff based on our own bulging, greedy eyeballs and their careful recommendations, and the following plethora of items is what we got. We hope you enjoy reading about this gear as much as we enjoyed using it, even though that probably isn't going to happen. But we can hope.
Ortlieb Dry Saddlebags Aerostich.com Direct Retail price: $167.00
If you think the Germans know a thing or two about building motorcycles, wait until you see what they can do with motorcycle luggage. Okay, maybe that statement will generate too much anticipatory excitement; but if you're in the market for waterproof soft luggage you'll still be happy to know that Ortlieb Outdoor Equipment makes a product worthy of consideration. Simple in design and use, Ortlieb's waterproof saddlebags make it easy to keep whatever you stuff in them high and dry. Lacking zippers, snaps or any conventional closure system, the opening of the bags fold or roll down onto themselves (several times depending how full they are) and use a strap and clip to complete the closure to create an impenetrable seal against weather. Helping keep the worst of the weather out is the waterproof material that the bags are constructed from. With little details in the packaging or Ortlieb's website, our best guess is that the entirety of the interior and about two thirds of the exterior is covered in some type of vinyl coating.
Just as simple as the strap and clip closure system is the mounting system. Consisting of nothing other than more straps, clips and two large and robust Velcro pieces, the saddlebags can be attached to most bikes in a heartbeat. But before you set out to conquer the worst that the weather can dish out, you might opt to install the two "polypropylene stiffener panels" to give some shape to the bags. Installation requires a Phillips screwdriver (which you'll supply) and the funny little grabber thingy (included from Ortlieb) to secure the panels. It only took us about 15 minutes. The surface of each bag that faces the precious finish of your bike's bodywork is covered by a durable foam pad. With dimensions of 15"x10"x8", the bags provided plenty of room for a two day trip for one person. As a final touch two, unobtrusive reflective pieces of tape reside on each end of the bag for safety.
Although material, construction and design of the Ortlieb waterproof saddlebags are of high quality, they may be better suited to some bikes than others. As can be the case with many sport or sport-oriented bikes, the tail section bodywork typically isn't conducive to having anything attached to it other than the smooth, tanned gams of a lovely lady. Such is the case with the ZX-14 that we slung the Ortliebs over. Inevitably, we opted to secure the two large Velcro straps that connect the bags under the saddle rather than over it to help prevent the constant shifting of the bags from side to side. Unless you expect to meticulously measure the weight of the contents of each bag so as to be precisely matched, we didn't immediately see a way to prevent one bag from dominating the other and thereby edging ever closer to the hot surface of the bike's dual exhaust cans. Ortlieb recommends at least 10 centimeters of clearance between the bags and the surface of the exhaust, but we'd say that's a bit too close for comfort. Unless the bags were cinched so closely together by the large straps as to give the visual effect of being a pair of bat wings, we found it very difficult to keep one bag or the other from creeping closer to the exhaust.
In fact, one bag did get close enough to melt the interior stiffener panels, causing it to deform in one small area. Although the bag's contents weren't damaged, we suspect that this could be a problem for some users. So be mindful of this should you choose to install them on a bike with an exhaust that is relatively close to the bodywork.
On a good note, the bags never interfered with turn signal operation and ultimately got the job done even though we never had the chance to test their waterproof abilities.
We suspect that these bags may be better suited to a bike with a more conventional rear seat, like a KLR or something with a similar inclination to venture off the beaten path and into harm's way.
- Pete Brissette
Chase Harper Sport Trek Tank Bag Aerostich.com Direct Product #1993 Retail price: $87.00
Just like a Swiss Army knife or a good multi-tool, a motorcyclist's best friend can come in the shape of tank bag. It keeps things right where you need them at all times, holding the essentials for a commute or a two-week trip. As a courier, I relied on my tank bag(s) all day long, and they needed to be ultra-durable, highly functional and simple all at the same time. I've had some name brand bags that certainly didn't live up to their name and I've had bags of lesser fame that I could still be using today (if I choose to), and they would perform like they did on the day I bought them. A good tank bag, in my humble opinion, is indispensable.
Chase Harper is a brand familiar to most cyclists, even if they've never owned or used one. That says something about a company's products. To put Chase Harper to the test, I selected their Sport Trek tank bag. It measures 9" x 12" x 4" and is 8" tall when fully expanded. The bag is made from 1000 Denier Cordura (another immediately familiar name to motorcyclists) and it can be mounted with standard straps or magnetically. It includes a rain fly and has a handle and extra strap for shoulder carrying when off the bike.
It's a rather simple bag in that it has few ancillary exterior pockets, save for one just below the main zipper, closest to the rider. It also has an internal mesh pocket and a handy draw string at the bottom of the main compartment that does a good job of cinching items down. The strap system consists of at least two primary straps: one that loops around the headstock area on the bike while the other strap faces the rider and gets secured somewhere under the seat to reach up and clip to the bag. You'll have to get creative with this strap that goes under the saddle when it comes time to find an anchor point. In order to keep from rubbing on or otherwise damaging your bike's finish, this same strap has a nice protective pad made from a dense, closed cell foam. Simply weave the strap through it and the paint is safe.
Another feature that I really admired was the material on the bottom of the bag, the surface that is actually in contact with the fuel tank. Although it is sewn to the tank bag at two points, it's relatively free from the rest of the bag. This presumably allows the bag to shift while not actually shifting on the tank itself; at least this was my experience. The bottom side of this material that contacts the gas tank is made from or covered with a soft, textured, grippy rubber material. It does an excellent job of staying put. Some other bags I've used in the past didn't do so well when it came time to sit still. Trust me, you don't want to be fiddling around with a tank bag to keep it centered while flying down the road or in traffic.
One final feature that I found superb was the map sleeve or cover. It's made from a fairly thick, clear, soft plastic and it functions like a Ziplock sandwich bag, except that it uses Velcro to open and close. But that's not the best part; it can be completely separated from the bag by, you guessed it, more Velcro. That's one well-thought out piece of planning as far as I'm concerned.
Ultimately all is not well with the Sport Trek, at least as far as ease of use is concerned. The bag is separated into two compartments. The bottom half has a large chunk of foam (made to the shape of the bag of course) stuffed inside of it, and my best guess is that it gives the bag some type of support structure while protecting your goods from bouncing on the tank. If you're so desperate for every usable square inch of space you can get, the foam is easily removed. The larger, upper compartment which is also the main stowage area collapses or expands to adjust to your needs. Unfortunately it has little shape or support when expanded beyond its fully collapsed position. And rather than use a hearty zipper to control expansion, the Sport Trek uses two large Velcro pieces on each side.
To expand the bag, you must unroll (for lack of a better term) the top edge of the bag to break it free from the Velcro. This, to my dismay, was also the only way to access the zipper to get into the main compartment. Another problem with this method is that all the material that isn't expanded bunches up inside and creates a cumbersome pile which you have to deal with when rooting around for your items. My main issue with this tank bag is that it fails miserably in the "ease-of-use" department. If you're the type of rider who needs a simple but well-built tank bag, the Sport Trek might be for you. But if you're someone who needs quick and constant access that isn't bothersome, you might look to a different bag.
The Chase Harper Sport Trek tank bag can be found at http://www.aerostich.com/catalog/US/Chase-Harper-Sport-Trek-p-16399.html or in their catalog as item number 1993 for the standard mount or item number 1994 for the magnetic mount. The bag comes in black and retails for $87.00
- Pete Brissette