It’s an overland and adventure rider debate as contentious as oil, octane or tires… the ultimate luggage question, soft bags or hard. So what do you equip your bike with for an around the world trip (RTW)? Two years ago I settled on hard bags for my BMW F650GS Dakar, reckoning that security, water resistance and durability were the way to go. Fifty thousand plus miles and over fifteen countries later I’m revisiting my options.
Visit any of the adventure riding or overlanding forums and you’ll find at least one debate on hard boxes versus soft luggage when equipping your bike for an overland trip. I faced this decision over two years ago when my round the world trip started and decided to go with the hard cases for the reasons previously stated. Recently, with my experience as an adventure rider and many miles in which to use as my testing ground, I’ve come to an impasse and decided maybe there were better options.
It’s an accident on the Mexican border that’s forced me to reconsider soft luggage. A minor down but the hardcases impacted my leg leaving a nasty battle wound and bruising. Also, the bike’s subframe was damaged as a result of the torque generated from the bags on impact.
So evaluating the options I contacted Giant Loop, who generously agreed to let me test the Great Basin.
The Great Basin Saddlebag comes with an impressive array of options for sorting, storing and securing your kit. Two pannier pods, two stuff sacks, padded top case and two bottle carriers – equally useful for fuel or water. Though the bags interior space is oddly shaped for those coming from hardbags, and using it optimally requires extra thought.
The “U” shape of the bag allows it to conform nicely on the rear seat and yet hang at an angle, which didn’t affect my riding. Their website touts “rides like it’s not even there” and well, they aren’t kidding. I had to turn around to make sure the bag hadn’t fallen off.
The best part is the weight of the Great Basin. Coming in at 50 liter volume and having an empty weight of only 8 pounds (on my home scale) the bag is light and has enough capacity for a day ride, commuting for work and even a weekend trip. It’s light enough to be easily thrown on the bike when needed but feels strong enough to protect your gear when out riding.
The width of the bag when on the bike was about 28″ as compared to my hardcases, which are about 38″ wide. The Great Basin has compression straps on the side, so the width can change as you cinch down the gear. These straps also ensure that when the Great Basin isn’t completely full there the bag isn’t flapping in the wind.
The narrower profile was liberating when negotiating snarled up city traffic. On a number of occasions I found myself like a London courier, splitting lanes and carving through gaps in the traffic, which is maybe not the best (or most legal) thing to be doing in Portland!
The bags design is user friendly; I had the bag fully strapped onto the bike and realized I’d forgotten to put my camera in for my test ride. There was no problem with opening the bag with the double-headed zipper and just pushing the SLR in because the zipper runs far enough down the edge of the bag to enable easy access to the contents of the bag even when its fully attached to the bike. The zippers are strong and durable which is a good thing considering on most my gear the zippers break first.
Equally easy is refueling the bike, simply loosening one of the side mounting straps allows access to my bikes side filler cap.
Per Giant Loop’s website the bag is made of waterproof material but the seams may leak. This isn’t a problem for fair weather riders who can wait out the weather. But, riding around the world means riding all year round.
Now that I’ve experienced both hard and soft cases, I feel in a better position to decide what type of system meets my needs. One major concern for RTW riders is the cargo space needed for long distance traveling. The Great Basin just isn’t big enough to accomplish this in its current form. Due to the limited capacity, I found myself strapping extra bits to the bike, which forced me to carry things higher on the bike.
Stacking my necessities higher was not good for stability and exposed more of my gear to the elements. This is livable but creates additional issues with securing the items. I still appreciate the narrow profile of the bike when using the Great Basin but due to the extra bags I had to use, it seems I was piling up rather than down creating a top heavy mass.
A major concern with the bag, given my type of riding, is security. In the hardcase setup the cases are locked to the bike and have locks on each lid keeping everything inside secure. The peace of mind I get from that is a big bonus. With the Great Basin, however, there is essentially no security.
You may want to consider adding Pacsafe security system and while that’s an extra expense of $84.99 (Pacsafe.com), with The Great Basin priced at reasonable $399 its still a lot less than a set of hardcases.
For its intended audience, the hard core lightweight expeditioner, the Great Basin Saddlebag is a winner. However, when on a round the world trip one has to pack heavier and needs a bit more room meaning the Great Basin is not a clear cut.
But with a few tweaks, like a bump in volume and workable laptop storage area, the bag would be back in contention as long distance multi-continent luggage choice.
While this high quality US made product may not answer your “Round the World” needs, if you are looking for a solution for a week, a weekend or a day of riding I would highly recommend the Giant Loop Great Basin Saddlebag.