Kawasaki GPz and RKA SuperSport 33 Soft Saddlebags

In our recent Power Tourers Comparison, we pitted Kawasaki's excellent GPz1100 against Suzuki's new bad-boy Bandit 1200 in a test of open-class sport touring prowess. Needless to say, soft luggage would be required for our testing venues.

When we went to pick up our GPz 1100, we were surprised to find Kawasaki had outfitted the bike with a set of its optional designed-for-the-GPz hard-cover soft saddlebags. Cool. One bike down, but what to do with el Bandito?

A quick look around the MO offices revealed nothing but old torn and tattered luggage that had already seen too many miles. Not the stuff you want showing up in test bike photos. So we placed a call to Richard Battles at RK Accessories in Santa Rosa, California, and he offered up RKA's new-for-'97 SuperSport 33-liter premium saddlebags for our test. While he was at it, he threw in a matching 16-liter SuperSport expandable magnetic tankbag. Now we were ready for some real sport touring.



Out on the open road, which set of bags provides the optimum set-up? You would think, who better to build a pair of saddlebags for your GPz1100 than Kawasaki itself? Aesthetically, Kawasaki's bags are attractive with their combination of hard plastic outer shell and traditional cordura nylon construction, blending well with the GPz's styling. After trying the factory bags, though, we were left wondering if there wasn't a better design.

They lose points with their complicated mounting system that requires opening the bags to release two dzus fasteners that hold the bags to their frame. If the bags were full, it means rummaging through your gear to do so. The RKA bags, on the other hand, are a model of simplicity.

Constructed of rugged 1000 denier cordura combined with 200 denier nylon (raincover stuff) and 3/8 inch foam for the inside lining, the SuperSport 33 liter saddlebags are designed to fit almost any motorcycle. Their over-the-seat mounting system means the bags can be removed in a matter of seconds without disturbing the bags' contents. Each bag also comes with heavy-duty webbed cam-buckle straps front and rear for securing each bag to the passenger footpeg brackets and rear turnsignal stalks. This system keeps the bags stable in heavy acceleration and braking situations.

Another nit-pick with the Kawasaki bags is its closure system. Opening and closing the bags is an annoying process. The zipper closure is covered by a series of small individual flaps secured by Velcro. Peeling back these covers to expose the zipper is an ordeal that takes longer than we'd like. We weren't crazy about the Kawasaki mounting hardware either, which stays on the bike and looks unattractive when the bags are removed.

The RKA luggage also has a Velcro-closed flap over its YKK zippers, but, unlike the Kawasaki bags, it's a single, large flap that's easy to open and seal. The bags are reinforced with an internal support system of .060 ABS inserts, and have a Sherpa fleece facing to protect the motorcycle's painted bodywork. An internal support strap insures the bags will not sag into the tire or onto the exhaust pipes.

According to RKA, the SuperSport 33 saddlebags were designed for modern sportbikes that often come with a solo seat cowl over the passenger area, or simply just have a solo seat. The bags' tapering, airfoil design provides for clearance over today's large, high-mounted exhaust canisters found on most sportbikes.

And the bags hold a surprisingly large amount of gear. We were able to fully pack the RKA bags for a long weekend two-up sport tour, and had enough room left over for the significant other to pack her hair dryer (something we couldn't do with the hard-cover Kawasaki bags). It may seem at first the mounting straps over the seat may be a source of passenger discomfort. But the straps are backed with light foam, and our pillion never once complained - in fact claiming she never really noticed them at all. RKA states the bags may be optionally mounted under the seat if desired, while still maintaining pipe clearance.

Despite the glitches, there are some nice features to Kawasaki's bags as well. Once installed, they don't move around, staying firmly secured at any speed. Off the bike, there's a built-in cordura carrying handle for transporting the bags to your hotel room. And the GPz's saddlebags expand a considerable amount as you pack in gear.

At first we were divided in our opinion of Kawasaki's bags until we heard the price. At $389.95 plus another $99.95 for the mounting hardware and $29.95 for raincovers, they're just too expensive for soft saddlebags. In contrast, the RKA Supersport 33's retail for just $165.00 in solid colors, or $185.00 if you want contrasting-color piping like those shown on our test YZF1000. Add-in one of RKA's matching SuperSport 16-liter expandable magnetic tankbags at $115.00, and you'll not only get way more carrying capacity than the Kawasaki bags offer, you'll still have around $190.00 left in your pocket.

Maybe Kawasaki should have fitted the excellent bags used on their own Concours instead.

The Kawasaki system is available as an option to the GPz1100 from your local Kawasaki dealer. The RKA SuperSport system is available from RKA at (800) 349-1-RKA, fax (707) 579-5046, or visit their web site at http://www.rka-luggage.com.

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