What Are Motorcycle Panniers? A Helpful Guide

Motorcycle with panniers

Motorcycles are great for weaving in and out of traffic, getting to your destination faster, and feeling as free as a bird. What happens if you need to take something with you, especially on a daily basis, like a laptop or notes and files for work. Well, you get luggage bags known as panniers. 

A motorcycle pannier is a luggage bag that can be attached to your motorcycle allowing you to transport your belongings. There are two types of motorcycle panniers. The first is hardshell panniers, made from robust fiberglass, different plastics, or metal that are mounted to your bike. The second is soft panniers that are made of a material such as leather or nylon. 

The word pannier is taken from the French meaning “breadbasket” and is a bag, box, basket, or another similar container.

You may think that there are only a few types of panniers to choose from if you are looking to get some luggage for your motorcycle, but this article will surprise you. It will explain the various different types of panniers made from multiple materials as well as where you would attach them to your bike. 

What types of motorcycle panniers are there?

  1. Softshell Panniers
  2. Saddlebags
  3. Sissy bar bags and tail bags
  4. Tank bags

Softshell panniers

Softshell panniers are a soft type of luggage that you can mount to your motorcycle. These bags are similar in ways to a backpack depending on the class and made of soft materials, and are opened usually using a zip, drawstring, or belt. They will typically be held and mounted onto a motorcycle with straps or magnets, allowing for easy use. 

The advantages of softshell paniers are that they are the cheapest type of motorcycle luggage, can be easily mounted to your motorcycle, and the sides because they are made of soft material they can expand, allowing you to accommodate more in the bag when necessary. 

Some of the disadvantages of softshell panniers are that they do not offer significant protection against the elements. Due to them being made of vulnerable material and not being physically fastened to a motorcycle, they are also susceptible to being stolen. Another factor is that if your bike should fall or you find yourself in a crash, the bags offer little in the way of keeping your valuables safe. 


Saddlebags are the panniers most people will think of when they think of motorcycle luggage. They are typically softshell or semi-rigged in construction. They are will hang over your seat or your luggage rack and, in some cases, even your fender. They come in pairs and sit on either side of the rear wheel.

Due to them sitting low and at the back of the bike, they do not alter your motorcycle’s center of gravity too much, which is an advantage, but it could be awkward if you have a passenger. 

Sissy bar bags and tail bags

This type of luggage is still a softshell pannier but can also be made of semi-rigged construction. You can recognize them because they are typically shaped like a rectangle and sit upright behind the rider. Sometimes they will be sold in sets with saddlebags. 

They will also feature a hardened strap that you will use to fasten it to the sissy bar, as the name suggests. Sometimes this will leave it hovering in the air on the sissy bar itself or alternatively it will sit on the rear of the seat or on the luggage rack if this is larger in size. 

Tail bags are almost identical in fashion; however, they will incorporate straps that will go around the frame of the bike, the luggage rack, or the seat. 

The disadvantage of this type of luggage is that it will raise your center of gravity, but on the flip side, this type of luggage is easy to get to when you want to grab something from your bag. 

Tank bags

As the name would again suggest, the tank bag is fastened to your tank via straps and magnets. A nice feature that some tank bags have is a section for your GPS, so you can see where you need to go if you are on route. A great advantage is that it won’t have any handling effects on your bike because your tank is meant to be high and heavy anyway. 

The great thing about a tank bag is that you can put your more valuable items in it as the bag is always positioned close to the rider. Many tank bags are easy to take off the bike so when you get off your motorcycle you can take the bag with you.

The one downside is it is pretty obtrusive to the riding position, especially if you are a sports rider and lean down to get that close tuck advantage. 

You can view a range of cheap panniers available on Amazon by clicking HERE

Hardshell panniers

  1. Side Case
  2. Top Box

Hardshell paniers, as you would have guessed it is the opposite type of pannier, being that they are made of robust hard material. The advantage of this type of pannier is that they are more resistant to the elements (with some being waterproof) because of their material. 

Hardshell panniers are solidly mounted to your motorcycle or frame which is attached to your bike, and they have locks making them pretty tricky to open if you do not have the key, hence deterring would-be criminals. However, if you do have the key, this type of motorcycle luggage sports a quick release function allowing you to open up the bag easily. 

Another advantage is that your belongings would be safe if your bike has a slight slip because they are so robust and designed to take fall. 

Disadvantages would be the installation process which would take a considerable amount of time and effort. They will typically come with a bracket (mount) specific to the make and model of the motorcycle, and some can be tough to install.

Another factor to consider is that these types of panniers can have quite an expensive upfront cost. The brackets which the hardshell panniers attach to are mounted permanently to the motorcycle are usually sold separately and can be quite expensive. The hardshell panniers are also expensive to purchase, but once this upfront cost has been met this type of luggage system will last for years.

Side cases

Side cases are the hardshell version of saddlebags, the difference being these are made of a rigid material such as fiberglass with lightweight metal construction. These side cases will be bolted onto the sides of your motorcycle with a bracket rather than slung over it like the saddlebags. 

Top box

Many riders usually use the top box for daily commuting and add the side case if going on a longer trip.

Don’t forget that if you have the side cases mounted to your motorcycle you may find that you will not be able to filter in and out of the traffic as easily as you can if you only had the top box mounted to your motorcycle. This is why many commuters only have the top box mounted on their bikes.

I have written an article about the best motorcycle top box available today which you can read by clicking HERE.

Other types of smaller panniers

  1. Handlebar bags
  2. Fork bags
  3. Fender bags

These are the last type of bags that we can somewhat classify as panniers because they are still motorcycle luggage. These types of bags are small tubular pouches that you can put across the center of your handlebars, across the front of your forks, and in the case of fender bags, you can actually place them on the front of the rear of your dual sport or Motorcross bike. 

You can, in fact, put these bags anywhere and get a little creative with where you place them because they are so small. The advantages of these are that they are super easy to install and are not obtrusive in both weight and size. Additionally, they are typically inexpensive. The disadvantage is because they are so small, the space you have in them is limited. 


We found out that there are two types of panniers that you can purchase nowadays. The main difference between them is that the one version is made of a soft, flexible material similar but more durable to that of a backpack, while the other is made of robust fiberglass, plastic, or metal. 

Each type has its own hard and soft version, with each having advantages and disadvantages over the other, such as resistance to elements, weight, the center of gravity, position on your motorcycle, and price. 

Happy Riding

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