Most people know that backpacks are an easy way to carry your “stuff” whatever stuff you have. If you’re a student or if you commute to work on a motorcycle, a backpack is simple; throw it on and go.
But, Should you wear a backpack on a motorcycle? Although a definitive answer is still out for debate, it is speculated that in a crash, a backpack can increase the risk of spinal injury. A heavy pack can effect a rider’s balance during a ride or during a fall.
Let’s take a look at some of the dangers of wearing a backpack while riding a motorcycle and look at some solutions to how you can do it safely.
Backpacks are convenient. Most people own a basic backpack and, if you use one on a regular basis, your pack is probably ready to go most of the time. This makes it so easy to grab it and go. If you’re a student, it’s a necessity, and if you’re a student who commutes on a motorcycle, well, you’re going to wear it. I don’t think it’s fair to expect all riders to avoid wearing a backpack just because some say it might be dangerous. I personally wear one when I commute on the bike and I’ve never had any problems with it. So, instead, let’s look as some ways you can make riding with a backpack safer.
The Dangers, The Solutions
Before we can change our habits, we need to be familiar to the dangers of wearing a backpack while riding.
Straps. Most packs have adjustable shoulder straps and some may have other straps that can dangle freely. While it’s not likely that the extra strap length will get caught up in the chain or wheels, they can be annoying while riding. But in the event of a crash, there it is plausible that a strap could hang up or get caught in something during the fall.
Use a small Velcro strap, like you would use on cables, to roll up and secure any excess straps that are flying in the wind. Choose a backpack that has these strap holders built in, or has a place specifically to tuck away excess straps. Avoid backpacks that have a lot of straps for other gadgets such as skateboard, tents, or camping gear.
Added stress on the shoulders and back. Even a pack that is only moderately heavy will have an impact on how your shoulders feel. If your ride is short, under an hour, you probably won’t notice much. But if you have a long commute, or you’re riding for more than a few hours, the stress on your shoulders will build up and start to bother you. This increases fatigue and just makes for a crapy ride.
Limit your riding time when using a backpack. Consider other luggage options if you know you have a long ride ahead or ride long commutes on a regular basis. Also, choose a backpack that has a chest clip. This simple solution will take much of the weight off your shoulders and distribute the weight evenly across your chest.
A strap at the waist will also pull some of the weight off your shoulders. Backpackers can carry 30 pounds for hours and hours because most of the pack weight rests on the hips rather than the shoulders. Some smaller backpacks will come with hip support, so this may be a good option for you. If so, make sure the pack is riding on top of your hip bones, otherwise it is ineffective.
Zippers can work their way open leaving all your stuff on the highway. Seriously, this can happen. Have you ever seen someone walking along with their pack slightly open from the stress of it’s contents? It can happen on the road too.
This one is easy. Don’t close the zippers to the middle of the pocket. Instead, both zipper pulls should be at one side of a zipped up pocket. In fact, you should be in the habit of doing this all the time, not just when riding with your pack. It keeps your belongings much more secure.
So, what happens in a crash? A lot of people might think that the backpack will save your back from road rash or impact. But let’s look at the logistics of that. A pack will extend out from your back probably by a foot or more. If you were to land flat on your back, your body would bend backwards around the pack. Also, your head will be an additional foot off the ground. Think about the stress this could cause to your spine and neck.
Landing option number 2. Your backpack strap snags on the mirror, or handlebar, as you go down. This could cause a major shoulder or neck injury.
Landing option number 3. Your pack will slide sideways and you land on your ribs, crack! This can be a problem depending on what you’re carrying. Are you carrying tools or small solid objects? Even a laptop, if you land on it just right, can do a lot of damage.
Wear a back protector in addition to the backpack, and that back protector should be on YOU, or included in your riding jacket, and not included in the backpack. Why? If the back protector is inside the backpack, and it shifts or comes off in a crash, it’s worthless.
Purchase a backpack that is specifically designed for motorcycles. Many of these packs are designed with a hard shell on the exterior. This can help with drag. Although a drag free pack won’t eliminate drag completely, it will keep the drag evenly distributed along your back no matter what you put in your pack.
Choose a pack that includes a chest strap and a waist strap. Make sure all these straps are nice and snug when you wear the backpack. You actually want it to be an extension of your body, rather than something hanging or dangling off your body.
You’re thrown off balance in turns due to poor weight distribution or objects shifting in your pack.
There is a method to packing a backpack that is better than throwing your stuff in blindly. If you have to carry tools or small objects, put those things is a smaller bag or a tool roll to prevent them from rattling around freely. Make use of those little zippered compartments or pen pockets.
Heavy objects should be placed closest to your back and right at the center of the pack, if possible. Lighter weight items, such as a clothing, jacket or shoes, should be placed farthest away from your back. If you don’t have enough stuff to fill up your backpack, increasing the risk of items shifting around, consider using a light jacket to take up that extra space.
What to Consider When Choosing a Backpack
This topic could be an entire blog post in itself, and maybe I’ll take the time to do that. But for now, here are a few things to consider when selecting a backpack that’s right for you.
If you ride a sport bike, you’re going to want something that sits comfortably when you’re in that forward riding position. Consider a smaller bag that is drag resistant. One that fits nice and snug to your back. Keep your pack weight to a minimum since a lot of the weight distribution will be on your lower back, in addition to your shoulders. Also, with that forward position, your arms are going to be carrying some of that pack weight.
If you ride a standard bike, where you’re in an upright position, the weight of the pack is going to stress your shoulders more. Consider a pack that includes a waist strap and chest strap to distribute the weight to your hips and chest. Again, choose a pack that will fit you nice and snug.
If you ride an ADV or want to use a daypack with hydration system, make sure the hydration bladder sits close to your back as it will be the heaviest. Choosing a pack with a lot of zippered compartments is fine, but make sure items can fit in each pocket securely and that they don’t shift around when riding.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of considerations when choosing a backpack. And there are a gazillion choices out there. Yes, a gazillion trillion. But, I hope this article has helped you think about the cautions you can take when you ride with a backpack.
I’d love to hear your comments. Do you ride with a backpack? What do you use or recommend?