The pannier or saddlebag is the original riding luggage used by cowboys, soldiers, and postmen, to name just a few.
Even though many types of motorcycle luggage are available, panniers are still the first choice for most bikers.
If you are looking for the best pannier to fit your bike, here is what you need to know.
Top 5 Motorcycle Panniers
Givi EA101B Easy-T Expandable Motorcycle Saddlebags
I love the way the Givi EA101B Easy-T panniers look. The hexagonal shape looks ultra-cool on any bike. It helps that the hex shape isn’t just for style – it helps add rigidity to the bags, so they keep their shape better.
One of the things that Givi does well with their motorcycle luggage is portability.
The Easy-T saddlebags have a shoulder strap so that you can carry them easily. The bags even look good when carrying them (if you haven’t noticed, I love the style of these bags). It is a bit awkward to carry both panniers at once, though when you are without a pillion.
As for other features, Givi delivers everything you’d expect from one of their products in this price class.
You’ve got dependable safety straps for fitting the panniers, rain covers, and sturdy construction. Thanks to the mini-zip, you can easily remove items from the main compartment while on the go.
I wish the fabric were a higher denier, but the bags are reinforced with rigid plastic, so they hold up well.
Dimensions: 29cm x 18cm x 28cm, 29cm x 28cm x 47cm expanded
Capacity: 19 litres each, 30 litres expanded
- Great style
- Reinforced for stability
- Strong zips and construction
- Rapid on/off system
- Rain covers included
- Shoulder straps
- Small capacity for its dimensions
- Water resistance could be better
Givi E22N Monokey Cruiser Panniers (Pair) – 22 Litre
These 22L panniers are a good option for anyone looking for smaller, sleeker hard cases from a well-known brand.
Givi makes some high-end top boxes and panniers. These cases are aimed more at the budget market. But at their price, they’re well-made, lightweight, and easy to install and uninstall.
Using Givi’s Monokey locking system, these can be mounted or removed quickly and easily carried by their handle.
Each box is rated to carry 5kg – not a huge amount but about right for the 22L size.
This smaller size and low key, aero design make these a fit for a rider who wants storage options but doesn’t fancy anything too large or bulky.
These are not a heavyweight, touring type storage solution. But they don’t add a huge amount to your width and look decent on most bikes.
Check the listing to see which mounting hardware from Givi works best with your model of bike.
Dimensions: 22.5cm x 47cm x 37cm
Capacity: 44 L total
- Decent construction
- Easy on/off
- Easy to carry off the bike
- Not as heavy-duty as some other Givi kit (though priced accordingly)
Givi Trekker Black Monokey Panniers (Pair) – 66 Litre
These 33l matte black panniers are aimed at a more touring-type market and come at a higher price point. And while these are on the more expensive side, they feel and look like a premium product.
They use an industrial-looking design and can be opened at the top for access without risking the contents falling out.
Mounting and dismounting is also hassle-free and quick. They use the Monokey system as the previous set of panniers on our list.
Heavier duty plastic and a larger volume make these more suitable to adventure use, but you could get a decent amount of grocery shopping in there too.
Aesthetically, we like these. Matte black works with every other colour known to man, and the simple design won’t clash with the majority of bikes.
Some nice touches are included. An extra barrel, keyed the same as the panniers is included. This means if you also have a Givi top box, you can install the extra barrel there – making all your storage open with the same key. Spare keys are also included.
Also available in an aluminium finish which is surprisingly cheaper at the moment. We’ve linked both options below to help you make a comparison.
Dimensions: 52cm x 41cm x 23cm
Capacity: 66 L total
- Look great
- Easy on/off
- Lots of storage
Oxford Heritage 40L Panniers
With their rustic, military look, these panniers will appeal to riders of trackers, brats, scramblers, and other retro-style bikes.
They use waxed cotton with a wipe-clean finish and a roll-top closure to keep the rain out. Listed as ‘water-resistant’, reports from commuters in the UK say the waterproof liner along with the waxed exterior is enough to keep even heavy rain out.
And while I like them (and will suffer a bit of extra hassle for the aesthetic), some people might find the old-fashioned hook and loop fastening system a hassle. It’s not a big deal. You’ll need to adjust the straps the first time you set it up, but once you’ve done it once it’s simple.
For those who prefer to use a pannier set that mounts to a fixed bracket or frame for convenience – this is not the set for you.
These fasten under the seat and feel secure once fastened down. The included shoulder strap for each bag is a nice touch for off the bike and helps to hold them in place while fastening or adjusting the mounting straps.
We’ve seen some minor complaints from riders of twin-coil style rear shocks. The way the pannier mounts around the seat means there’s a possibility the fabric will rub on the suspension coils.
Take a look at photos of these things mounted if you think this will affect your bike.
- 40L of storage that doesn’t ruin the look of your classic/custom
- Decent water resistance
- Should last a long time
- Not instantly removable as some modern mounting systems
- Leather bits are not real leather (which means you don’t need to treat them, I suppose!)
Kappa Racer Expandable Saddle Bags
Expanding from 17 to 30L each is a nice feature and one you’d expect to suffer for in the looks department. Not so here.
These are decent-looking. The aero styling, muted clours, reflective piping, and small footprint in the closed position will appeal to riders wanting to keep it simple.
These panniers instantly feel firmer and more substantial than a typical soft-shell set. The solid, fire retardant base helps and the semi-rigid frame means everything holds its shape – both in the closed 17L or expanded 30L configuration.
That base helps avoid a common problem with this type of storage. With saddlebag-style panniers, proximity to the heat of the exhaust can be a problem. You’ll still need to avoid direct contact. But these tough, heat-resistant bags are built to last.
They’re also well thought out with a bottle compartment in the front, easy-to-reach zippered pockets for essentials, and detachable shoulder straps for off the bike. The strap mounting system is also simple and effective.
We like the wet weather solution too. The fluorescent orange rain covers make you more visible in bad weather whilst being effective at keeping your stuff dry.
- Look neat on lots of bikes
- Expandable – and look ok in both setups
- Flame-retardant base and semi-rigid frame
- Good design and mounting system
- Expensive (but worth it)
The most important thing to consider when choosing panniers is size. If the panniers hang too low, they can go over the exhaust and get damaged.
In severe cases, the bags can get sucked into the rear wheel. I don’t have to tell you how disastrous that could be.
Even if your bike can fit large panniers, it doesn’t mean you should get the largest panniers you can find.
Panniers that are too large can:
- Make your bike look ridiculous
- Cause drag while riding at high speeds
- Throw you off balance
- Put too much weight on your bike
Measuring Motorcycle Pannier Size
Before you buy panniers, you must measure carefully. Even though most have a hard protective bottom, they can still get damaged by the exhaust.
You must have at least 2 inches of clearance between the exhaust and pannier. The higher up your exhaust goes, the smaller panniers you’ll be able to fit.
- Side-to-Side: Measure the distance from the back of the seat to the indicator. This is the maximum width of the panniers. You might need to relocate your indicator to the back of the bike.
- Top-to-Bottom: Measure from the seat pad to the exhaust pipe. Your panniers need to be at least two inches shorter than this measurement.
With these measurements, you should be able to figure out the right size panniers for your motorcycle.
Installing the Panniers
Panniers consist of a yoke in the centre and two bags on each side. Depending on the bag and your bike, you can put the yolk under or over the seat.
Going under the seat is more secure because the seat is holding the pannier straps in place. However, going on top of the seat can add a bit more distance between the bag and exhaust.
Every bike will be slightly different, so you may have to play around a bit to get a solid fit.
This video should help.
Hard vs. Soft Motorcycle Panniers
Both options have their pros and cons.
For new riders, soft luggage is probably better. Its lighter, easier to handle and more forgiving in an accident.
However hard saddlebags will give far more protection to your belongings and are more suited to touring and adventure riding.
Motorcycle Pannier Materials
When we imagine panniers, it is usually big leather bags that come to mind. Leather was the original material used for saddlebags and has a cowboy feel.
A lot of people (especially Harley riders) prefer the timeless style of leather panniers. However, aside from style, there aren’t too many benefits to leather.
Compared to modern synthetics like polyester, leather requires a lot of maintenance.
Even if you take really good care of your panniers, acid rain and sun will quickly take a toll on the bag. Plus, it can be annoying to open/close straps on leather bags.
- Can last a lifetime with proper care
- Looks good
- Easily damaged by rain and sun
- Requires extensive care
- Loses form quickly
- Good water resistance
- More options for sizes and shapes
- Quality varies drastically
- Not as “timeless” a style
If you choose to go with polyester motorcycle panniers, pay attention to the material’s denier. This is a rating of how thick the material is and how much abuse it can tolerate before ripping.
Panniers Ease of Use
I love how a classic leather pannier with fringe looks on a cruiser bike. However, after listening to the complaints of riders who use them, I would never buy one myself. Those straps are tough to open/close – especially when you have gloved hands.
To make sure you are getting a saddlebag that is easy to use, look for:
- Quick-release buckles or straps for easy opening
- Extra compartments and pockets
- Easy on/off
- Handles for easy carrying
- Expandable size
- Top-loading compartments