In Part 1 of this series, we looked at Wolfman’s Rolie bags; in Part 2, we looked at Kriega’s bags. Today, we’re looking at Ortlieb’s Moto saddlebags, and summarizing everything.
Ortlieb Moto saddlebags (approx. $215)
While the Wolfman and Kriega bags could theoretically be adapted to many different motorcycles, they’d be best suited to dual sport bikes. The Ortlieb Moto saddlebags offer a more standard look. Ortlieb is a German company best-known for their bicycle gear, but they’ve been making an effort to promote their motorcycle lineup.
Most sets of generic soft saddlebags set up the same way. A couple of Velcroed straps usually run between the bags; you take those straps and use them to span your bike’s tail section, hanging them on your two-wheeler in very much the same way a cowboy would hang saddlebags on his horse.
Then, most of these saddlebags have another strap that comes off the bottom of the bag, in the front, and runs through your rear subframe, or your passenger peg assembly, allowing you to tighten the bag towards the front, as well as on top.
If done correctly, this system will keep a set of soft bags fairly secure without needing a rear rack; the bags are stabilized by your bike’s tail-section and the straps, and if you’re careful when you put them on, they won’t move around on you mid-ride, causing a dangerous situation.
However, in my experience, while this system is feasible for some motorcycles, for many users, a rack will improve the luggage-carrying experience.
The Ortlieb Moto bags use this sort of mounting system, but they add a twist. Most of these generic throwover saddlebags are made of some sort of Cordura or other synthetic material, with standard zipper closures and rain covers that are held in place by elastics. That keeps the price down, but doesn’t make for great waterproofing – especially if your cover blows off while you’re flying down the highway.
The Moto bags are instead made of a waterproof PU material that serves as the bags’ rain-shedding layer, as well as keeping dust and sand out. And instead of trying to incorporate a waterproof zipper into the design, raising the expense as well as the risk of failure, the Moto bags have roll-top closure, similar to the Wolfman and Kriega bags.
As well, there’s a plastic insert that fits into the Moto bags, keeping them in shape even if they aren’t full of gear. There’s also a stiff plastic backing to the bag that ensures wind pressure doesn’t force the soft bag to bend into your wheel while you’re riding.
When you want to carry the bags, Ortlieb included carrying handles to make it easier to haul the bags around. There’s even an interior pocket on the inside of the bags to help you sort your luggage – something neither of the other two bags offered. They also have large reflective patches on the back, to aid nighttime visibility.
How well do they work
Rob and I both put the Ortlieb bags to the test last year, and for the most part, were very happy. Rob took them out first, on a jaunt through Quebec, and here were his impressions:
“Wow, you gotta love the Germans. This stuff is all quality and with the design thoughtfulness that wins wars (well, a close second at least). Unlike the Wolfman luggage which requires a PhD just to set it up, the Ortlieb stuff can be done with only requiring to look at the instructions AFTER you put it all together to confirm you did it right. There is some IKEA-like assembly to be done with the saddlebags that come with a stiff plastic insert that is held in place by for screws, but once in they mean that the bags are stiff and hold their form … Tops are the rolly bags bits to keep out water.”
It’s worth noting, though, that Rob was using the bags with a rack system on his KLR, and the purpose of this test was to use the bags without racks. So, I strapped the Ortliebs to the tail of last year’s NC700X long-termer for my fall tour of Newfoundland, to see just how well they worked sans rack.
The answer – for the most part, very well. I rode through some torrential downpours through the tour, and not once did my gear get wet inside the saddlebags – and gear that’s actually waterproof makes me happy, happy, happy.
Because the Honda’s fuel tank fill is underneath the rear seat, I had to remove the Ortliebs every time I gassed up. By the end of the trip, I had the routine down-pat.
I only ran into trouble once, on the Bay D’Espoir highway. While traveling down Canada’s Worst Highway (according to the CAA), a particularly large pothole bottomed out my suspension; the saddlebag ended up catching on the rear wheel or brake disc, putting a small hole in the bag. Thankfully, none of my gear fell out, and when I reached St. Johns, I was able to repair the bag with some snare wire and Goop. The repair proved just as strong and waterproof as the original stitching, though a little uglier.
So, while it’s feasible to use these bags without a rack, you might want to think about how hard you plan on riding down bad pavement. That’s not saying the other bags from the competition would have fared any better; no soft bags are going to work well if they rub against the rear wheel or brake disc.
To stop the bags from suffering any more damage on Newfoundland’s bad pavement, I ran bungee cords between them, tensioning them outwards. I ran thousands of kilometres of rough asphalt after Bay D’Espoir, and had no more problems.
Aside from that hole, which can’t really be blamed on the bags, the bags proved to not only be waterproof, but they were also very convenient. The small openings on the tops of the Kriega and Wolfman bags make them harder to use, especially if you want to access gear on the bottom. I had no such issues with the Ortliebs.
Still, I didn’t feel they were as stable as the Rolies or the Overlanders, partly due to their shape, and partly because you can fit more gear in them, so they’re heavier. Other users may disagree, but that was my impression.
Remember, with a 52-litre capacity, you can haul a lot more stuff with the Ortlieb bags – they become a much more serious long-term hauling option. If you combined them with racks, they’d be unstoppable.
Likes: A standard-styled bag with waterproofing, lots of capacity
Dislikes: Maybe not as stable as competitors’ bags, without racks.
The Wolfman Rolies, the Kriega Overlanders and the Ortlieb Motos are all great luggage systems. What you buy is going to come down to your budget and your bike style.
Generally speaking, I’d say the best buy among all these bags is the Ortlieb Motos. They offer more luggage capacity and options for less money, and they’re the easiest to use day-to-day while you’re on the road. And, they don’t look out of place on any machine.
But if more aggressive off-road work is your goal, look at the Kriega and Wolfman bags. They both offer fantastic utility, toughness and stability; ultimately, the choice between would likely come down to price point.
The Wolfman bags come in a bit cheaper, and their modular nature means they can affordably be reconfigured as tank panniers, a tank bag, or something else, should you need to do that. It’s hard to argue with affordable versatility.
Having said that, Kriega bags’ good looks, high build quality and ease of use made them my personal favourite of all the bags in the test; if I had to save up for a set, this is where I’d put my money.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
[…] In the past, motorcyclists generally had two options: Bolt on a metal rack and strap saddlebags or panniers to it, or bungee down a pack. Increasingly, adventure riding’s rise in popularity is resulting in more lightweight universal solutions to this problem though. We’ve tried a few ourselves (see our review of Wolfman’s Boulder Beta here, and our soft luggage comparo here). […]
[…] 2013, I wanted a better solution. I’ve always been a fan of the roll-top Ortlieb-designed saddlebags so I was pleased to discover a similar, more beefed-up design being made by a company called […]