Carrying stuff on your back on a motorcycle is not the ideal way. It keeps weight high, pulls on your shoulders but offers easy access, a place to keep valuables that comes with you and good option to store electronics and other items that may be susceptible to vibration or damage if attached to the bike.
We asked to test a selection of the back backs available and managed to attain the Oxford XS30, the American Kargo Trooper and the Kriega R25 last year. These bags were then swapped out between Zac and ‘Arris so that they could get a good sense of the unit’s pros and cons over a season of riding, and this is what we found out.
Oxford XS30 (discontinued)
Capacity: 30 litres
Price: $180 (slashed down to $63.40)
It has plenty of features (reflective piping, bungee webbing, two side pockets, helmet carrier in bottom, earphone cord) that make it much more useful than a standard backpack pressed into motorcycle duty. A large 270 degree zipper offers easy access to the main storage compartment.
First things first: the zipper is obviously problematic, as it separated after only a few days use (because there were two tabs, I was able to continue use after ‘Arris threw it out). It does seem to keep water out, despite its issues; I put it under the shower and was unable to get it to leak in a few minutes of spraying, but depending which spec sheet you read, that zipper is only water-resistant.
In day-to-day use, the pack did serve well; you can pack enough clothes to get you through a weekend, plus a laptop and a few other odds and ends. Nobody in their right mind would use a backpack to travel long-distance, so for knocking around on a short overnight trip, this pack would have enough capacity to work.
When wearing the backpack, I found the straps did not contour as well to the body as the American Kargo or Kriega backpacks, leaving me feeling tired after wearing it for hours. The earphone cord port could be useful, but I didn’t have any reason to put it to the test
Oxford has discontinued this pack, and it’s mostly unavailable, and often at steep discounts when it is — if you see it on the shelves of your local retailer, don’t pay the original $180 MSRP. At that price, better options exist, which is probably why it’s disappearing. It seems they might have come out with a new line.
The loser is obvious, it’s the Oxford. I quite liked it initially as it was easy to load with one big wrap-around zipper and no straps to get in the way, but on a stop at my local postal outlet to grab two weeks worth of mail I heard and big ‘swoosh’ behind me and turned around to see all my mail all over the floor. The zipper had given out and the lack of any strapping meant that it immediately dumped all of the contents on the floor.
I was lucky it happened there and not on the open road. Being on only the second week of testing I gave up on it and have little else to say except to not buy it, even at a deep discount – unless you’re okay with arriving at your destination with a broken zipper and an empty bag.
Weight: 2.15 kg
Dimensions: 22″ H x 14″ W x 10″ D
American Kargo is a fairly new company; they’ve only been making motorcycle backpacks for a couple years and the Trooper is their top-of-the-line backpack. Nice touches include a soft pocket for goggles, a packaway rain cover, helmet storage straps, reflective panels, high-viz construction. The side pockets have inner compartments to arrange tools, etc, so things aren’t just getting mixed up and loose in the bag. Has a laptop sleeve, too, big enough for 15-inch laptop. Lots of handy loops, D-rings, etc.
Although American Kargo doesn’t officially list the Trooper’s capacity, it can carry more than the Oxford XS30’s 30-litre load, but not by much. The trouble is, the main storage compartment isn’t that large, and due to all the straps and accessory pockets on the outside of the bag, it’s hard to pack a lot of bulkier items of clothing.
However, it is quite easy to pack other stuff; there’s a separate tool compartment with straps to sort wrenches, etc.; the goggle compartment is a great idea, same as the routing loops for earphones, if you’re into that (personally, I prefer an in-helmet speaker system).
The Trooper can carry a lot of stuff without wearing out your shoulders, if you’re wearing it correctly. Their strap system is super comfortable. The straps have one beefy buckle, as opposed to Kriega’s two-buckle system, which means there are less buckles to break, but if it does break, there’s no backup. The wide straps distribute the load evenly, and are highly comfortable.
A few potential issues: The fabric on the straps seems to be fading prematurely, although the bag itself is fine. The bag is quite heavy even while empty, as it’s quite beefy in construction and has lots of fabric in it; it’s probably half a kg more than I’d like, at least. The three-zipper closure of the main compartment makes it easy to unpack, but that’s three zippers to potentially fail, not just one. However, the zippers appear quite strong, and none failed during the summer of testing.
While the Trooper is only water-resistant, not waterproof, the slip-on cover completely repelled all water when I used it in downpours this summer, and was quick to attach.
I was expecting the American Kargo to come second but I was not expecting it to be so close. This is a quality bit of kit with a very easy open top that despite having two zippers, could be easily opened by simply pulling the top up. A single zipper down the middle opens up the main compartment even if it does end up looking like a dissected frog as a result.
Buckle straps reinforce the tough looking zippers and the flaps cover said zippers to help aid some water resistance. It’s quite comfy too, but as Zac said, it does seem to weigh a lot and I found that to be the issue at the end of the day as it would leave me with sore shoulders.
Capacity: 25 litres
Weight: 1.4 kg
Dimensions: 520 mm (H) x 300 mm (W) x 160 mm (D)
Kriega has been a highly recommended backpack maker for many years. Why? Because they make tough, high-quality luggage that sheds water easily. It’s also the most expensive bag in this test, but you do seem to get what you pay for and it does come with a 10 year guarantee.
The main attraction to the R25 is not just its toughness, but its simplicity. There are only two small pockets – one external, one internal, plus a laptop sleeve good enough for 14-inch laptop. There’s a small flapped hole at the top so you can thread the tube from a hydration bladder through and a carrying handle on the top. You also get the option of including a back protector in the backpack.
Kriega is the brand to beat in the world of motorcycle backpacks, and using this pack, you know why. It’s much lighter than the American Kargo bag, partly because of a lack of fabric added to make extra pockets. It certainly doesn’t feel flimsy, despite being almost a kilo lighter.
While the high-viz Trooper has (arguably) a safety advantage, you could wear the R25 anywhere and nobody would look at you funny. The pack has four compression straps that keep the opening tightly shut if the zipper fails, which gives a lot of peace of mind if you’re hauling around a pricey laptop or something. It has fewer gimmicky compartments than the Trooper, but a few things like a water reservoir and strap-secured mini-packs can be added on, at additional expense.
I enjoyed the R25 when I used it, although I spent less time with it than I did the other two. It was comfortable, it didn’t leak, it didn’t spew its contents on the highway — and if you read online reviews, it seems it would continue to offer this performance for years.
The interesting thing about a group test is that after a short amount of time you naturally find yourself reaching for one product over the others. This was the case with the Kriega, a bag I’ve grown to love so much that I told Zac he could keep the American Kargo – I think the Oxford is sitting a few layers deep in a New Brunswick landfill.
There are a lot of adjustment options but once you’ve got it set up, it fits snugly to the rider without limiting movement and distributes the load to the hips and chest (saving your shoulders over the long haul). It doesn’t slide around in use and you quickly forget it’s there. It’s easy to get on and off and is well made, simple and strong (the zipper is a tough, oversize YKK jobbie).
Kriega don’t claim it to be waterproof, rather water-resistant, which I would agree with. It would have been nice if there was a waterproof baggie included for things like laptops just in case you get caught out in a dumping, but a Ziplock does that job and is pretty inexpensive too. I’d also like to see some helmet carrying option, but then you’d get a weight penalty, so it’s not a deal breaker.
I use it for everything – carrying my laptop and files to and from work, hikes into the woods with the kids and even for carrying stuff when riding a motorcycle! It’s really useful on the Fundy Adventure Rally scouts as it holds tight to the body in gnarly stuff and doesn’t fatigue the rider over the day. Yes it costs a little more than the competition but it’s likely going to give you a much cheaper cent/km ratio over the long term and with comfort too.
Between the Kriega and the American Kargo, it’d be a tough choice, depending on what you want. If you want a backpack that’s handy off the bike, and able to carry enough clothes and stuff for overnight trips or picking up a few groceries on the way home from work, the R25 is superior.
However, if you want a pack that works well all-around, in both commuting and touring roles, the American Kargo might be the way to go, as it still has plenty of carrying capacity, and can keep things like tools and gadgets organized. However, it is already quite heavy and the temptation to over pack it and knacker your shoulders over a long day is there.
The Oxford is helped by its sale price, but its catastrophic failure right at the start of testing means we cannot recommend it at all. In fact, we’d go as a far as to say it’s not worth it at any price – even if they paid you.
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