Should I Wear a Backpack on a Motorcycle?


Motorcycle rider with backpack

Should I Wear a Backpack on a Motorcycle?

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.

Do not ride a motorcycle with a backpack unless it is specifically a motorcycle backpack. Wearing a normal backpack can increase the risk of spinal injury. A heavy pack can affect 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 at 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 with the dangers of wearing a backpack while riding.

Straps that dangle freely

Danger:

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.

Solution:

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 skateboards, tents, or camping gear.

Extra weight on Shoulder Straps

Danger:

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.

Solution:

Rest and get stronger in the shoulders will help here. Limit your riding time when using a backpack to relieve stress. 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 or waist support straps. 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.

Zipper can Vibrate Open

Danger:

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 its contents? It can happen on the road too.

Solution:

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.

What happens with a Backpack on a Crash

Danger:

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.

Solution:

Wear a back protector in addition to a specifically designed motorcycle backpack, and that back protector should be on YOU, or included in your riding jacket, and not included in the backpack. Why? If the 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. These hard shells 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 or waist straps. 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.

Poor Weight Distribution on Backpacks

Danger:

You’re thrown off balance in turns due to poor weight distribution or objects shifting in your pack.

Solution:

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 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 Motorcycle 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.

General Features to Look For

  • No way sharp objects would go through the backpack
  • Look for Hard Shell motorcycle backpacks
  • Built from tough materials, such as Cordura fabric
  • Can attach a back protector
  • Waterproofing is essential for your backpack on motorcycle
  • Avoid roll-top closure, these are just annoying to use.
  • A helmet carrier component on a motorcycle backpack can be a quick and easy way to store your helmet off the bike.

Sport Bike

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.

Standard Motorcycle

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.

Adventure Bike

If you ride an ADV or want to use a daypack with a 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.

Best Motorcycle Backpacks

My Recommended Motorcycle Backpacks

Best Tail Bag/Backpack Hybrid (click for current price)

Best Hard Shell Backpack (click for current price)

Some Alternatives to Motorcycle Backpacks

Tank Bag

Tank bags are usually located right on the gas tank, which is located at the front of your motorcycle, on top of the tank. They usually come with multiple compartments and offer more space than a backpack. A benefit of tank bags is that you can access them while riding. But their downside is that when you get to your location a backpack will be easier to carry than a tank bag.

Tail Bag

Tail bags are located on the pillion seat are fantastic for carrying your everyday essentials. The great thing about tail bags is that they can be removed and placed on the ground, making them easier to carry around and store than a backpack or tank bag. But a tail bag is usually small, more so than backpacks.

Saddle Bag

A benefit of saddlebags is that you can also access your belongings while riding, but they usually have fewer compartments than a backpack. Usually with 1 or maybe two large openings. This main compartment is almost always larger than your backpack.

Top Box

The top box is another luggage option that you cannot access while riding, but it’s usually located further back. Top boxes also aren’t easily taken off once you’ve arrived at your destination.

To Sum Up

So, as you can see, there are a lot of considerations when choosing to take a backpack on the bike for motorcycle riders. And there are a gazillion choices out there for carrying a backpack on your motorcycle. 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 and hopefully given you some solutions to help mitigate the risk. Whatever you do, buy specific motorcycle backpacks.

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