In most households you will find one, two or several bungee cords for various uses. Things like, keeping the ice chest lid secure; keeping an overloaded trunk closed; or simply securing household items. There are a lot of bungee cord hacks out there. But, when it comes to securing heavier objects, or things that are in motion, it might not be the best thing to use.
Are bungee cords safe a motorcycle? The safest answer is no, they are not. Bungee cords are one of the leading causes of eye injury. Bungee cords, made of numerous strands of elastic materials, come in a variety of strengths, but will lose their elasticity over time. There is no way to determine the exact strength, and a bungee can weaken or break if a portion of it is frayed. When you stretch a bungee cord tight enough to secure a duffel bag, it can spring back unexpectedly, sending a hook flying straight at you.
There are dozens of stories on the web about bungee cord disasters or near disasters, and I have one of my own. I was riding in death valley and planned on a full day of riding on some dirt roads. Knowing that gas is scarce, I bungee’d a 2.5 gallon plastic gas can to by rear rack. I was very careful to make sure it was secure. The bungees were tight and there was no way the can would fall of. I was confident the can was secure.
I pulled into the parking area at my second stop, my first, being about 1/4 mile down a washboard dirt road. When I got off my bike, I noticed my 3 bungee cords were dangling loose from the rack, with no gas can. Huh? I considered myself very lucky since one of the cords was long enough to snag in my wheel or chain. Thankfully it didn’t. Disaster averted. I packed them back up and went in search of my gas can. I never found it, but I did notice a large area on the road where someone spilled some gasoline. Hmm, wonder how that happened?
I found out that day that bungee cords were not the best solution for strapping something to your bike and was not the best way to carry extra gas. So, if you can’t use bungee cords, what can you use to secure your bags, or other things, to your motorcycle?
Cargo nets are made of a webbing of elastic cords with 6 or 8 hooks on the corners and edges. It’s designed to be thrown over your bag, stretched tight, then secured with the hooks. Basically, it’s a bungee cord with more hooks. Cargo nets are better for securing bags that are not designed to go on a motorcycle, or something that is an odd shape.
What to look for in a cargo net.
- Strong, tight elastic cords
- Small weave, under 3 inch squares
- Plastic hooks instead of plastic coated metal hooks
- Adjustable hooks such as those found on the PowerTye.
The PowerTye has done a pretty good job at making improvements to the basic cargo net. They are available here on Amazon if you want to check out the prices. Cargo nets work pretty good for lightweight luggage or bags and short trips to work or the store. Just like bungee cords, the net won’t fully secure heavy luggage and the elasticity will deteriorate over time. So, if you’re going to use a cargo net, make sure you use a size that fits the bag you’re trying to secure. Smaller nets, designed for motorcycles, are best. But, there are better options of you’re trying to secure a duffel bag or dry bag to your bike.
Metal Cam Buckle and Strap
Flat, nylon straps with a metal cam buckle is a great way to secure your camping gear or a duffel bag to your rear seat. These straps are made of heavy duty polypropylene with one single cam buckle at one end. A cam buckle is designed to allow the strap to move through the buckle easily in one direction, but when you pull the other direction, the cam with it’s tiny teeth, will clamp down on the strap keeping it secure. A good, strong pull will cinch it up pretty tight. How tight? If you find it hard to get your fingers under the strap, then you’ve got it good and tight. As with the rope, always wind up and secure the excess strap.
One complaint people have regarding metal cam buckles, is the risk of the buckle damaging your bag or scratching your bike. This is a legitimate complaint, but it’s a matter of personal preference and due diligence. To avoid scratches, don’t place the buckle side of the strap against your motorcycle. Don’t let the buckle dangle down while your loading and unloading your gear.
Ladder Lock Buckle and Strap
This method is very similar to the metal cam straps, but the buckle is a little different. Ladder lock buckles are generally made of plastic. This will be a little more gentle on your gear than a metal buckle, but plastic runs a slightly larger risk of breaking. You’ll use the same kind of polypropylene strap with the buckle at one end, feeding the strap through the buckle allowing the teeth to grip the strap when it’s pulled tight.
When using a straps with a buckle at one end, you need to always make sure the strap is secured to at least two objects on the bike. For example, loop it through a grab handle and a part of the frame. Of course this depends on what’s available on your motorcycle. If you were to loop it through only one part, the duffle bag will not be adequately secure.
A length of parachute cord looped through grab bars or motorcycle frame, depending on your bike, would be a good alternative although there are better alternatives further in this post. If you use rope, make sure you know how to tie a good trucker’s hitch so you can get the rope cinched up tight before tying the final half hitch. Trucker’s hitch? Half hitch? Yep, if you’re going to use a rope, you’re going to have to know the good knots. A simple square knot or granny knot will slip over time, causing slack.
Even if you get your luggage good and tight with a rope or cord, it’s still not the best option. Cheaper ropes can stretch over time and you will need to check the tightness of your rope periodically throughout your ride. Also, if you’re a little weak with your grip, you could have some trouble getting the final knot tight enough.
One last tip to using a rope. Wind up the excess ends of the rope and tuck them away so that they WILL NOT come loose while riding. A dangling rope can end your ride in a heartbeat, just like a dangling bungee cord.
Ratchet straps come in a variety of sizes from small, to big heavy duty straps that hold cargo on trucks. They do come small enough to use on a motorcycle especially if you have a large and heavy bag to tie down. They are bigger and heavier than a strap with cam buckles and care should be given when taking them on and off your bike. Be careful where you place them so that you don’t scratch your bike, and when removing them, be careful so they don’t fall and bang against your bike and put a ding in your exhaust. Nobody likes it when that happens.
Ratchet straps come with either a hook or a loop on either end. For tying down a bag, the loops on the ends of the strap would be most helpful rather than a hook. You can loop the end of the strap around a foot peg bracket and the other end around the frame or grab bar, depending on your bike, then attach the ratchet together on top of your bag.
In my opinion, the most ideal strap would come in two pieces. Each piece would have a loop on one end. Then, you’d connect the two together with a cam buckle. There is a similar strap on the market called the Rok Strap and people seem to really like them. They use a clip in combination with a ladder lock buckle making the strap adjustable. They also include a small section of heavy duty elastic material like a bungee to give the strap some flexibility.
So, as you can see there are a lot of alternatives to using bungee cords to tie down a duffel bag on your motorcycle. They are safe when used properly and they won’t spring back and take out your eye if they slip out of your hands. In any case, always secure your gear carefully and check it periodically during your ride.