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.
The Great Basin Saddlebag is available from:
MotoOverland for 439.99 CAD
GiantLoop for $399.00 US
11 Comments Add yours
Thanks for the well considered review. I think Andrew has thrown down a gauntlet that I’d love to see one of our customers take up: Prove that riding around the world CAN be done, and done well, safely, securely and comfortably using only soft luggage. While we realize that most riders are not able/willing to endure what our friends at MotoSyberia subject themselves to, we look at what these determined Polish rides have accomplished on lightweight dirt bikes and are convinced that virtually anything is possible with careful planning, patience and determination: 23,000 km on KTM 400 EXCs, overland from Poland to Omsukchan, Siberia using our original bolt-on Giant Loop Saddlebag and what they could lash to their machines. Any takers? Just let us know! – Harold, http://giantloopmoto.com
Considering I just picked up a new 690 Enduro R don’t tempt me. We occasionally do a little riding now and then. Do you have a link to the MotoSyberia folks to share?
Bring it, Neil! We’ll sponsor your RTW ride on the 690 without hesitation. Please do take a look at the MotoSyberia.com website (here’s the link to the English version http://motosyberia.com/index_en.php). These guys are smart, funny . . . and maybe just slightly crazy. We love their escapades! Skol, Harold, http://giantloopmoto.com
Hehehe… One sponsor down…
I’m kind of shocked at the idea that the GL great basin is not ‘enough’ for a RTW trip. Personally, I think they are HUGE and my ONLY contender for such a trip would be the GL Coyote.
Admittedly, the farthest I have been is L.A. to Cabo San Lucas. But with the Coyote I wanted for nothing. Harold, let’s talk about that sponsorship deal, you guys buy all the gas and I’m out the door tomorrow! 😉
My partner and I have signed on for a London to Beijing trip in April and we plan to use the Great Basin bags in place of hard cases (she is on an F650gs and I am on a 1200gs). We are not so much concerned about the volume/size of the Great Basin as we are about security (i.e. bags getting slashed open).We are looking at the Pacsafe 120 (tried the 85-120l size so far), but are finding the fit to be a bit awkward… any suggestions?
Hi Bruce – Good to hear about your amazing trip. Personally, I’m convinced that the only real security for bikes and possessions is having your bike/gear in a locked space (e.g., in your hotel room, garage, etc.) or removing your gear and keeping it in a securely locked space. Even locked hard cases aren’t as secure many people believe them to be. While I was riding for three weeks in Australia recently, I quickly established an end of day routine of removing the Great Basin, attaching the two ends to each other to make a carrying handle, unzipping my Fandango Tank Bag and carrying everything with me in one manageable trip to my room. With the temptation removed (a good reason to carry a motorcycle cover, too), all but the most motivated thieves are deterred. Keep us posted as your trip unfolds. – Harold
Harold, do you think the giant loop bag can withstand multiple motorcycle drops (as I am told to expect on the London-Beijing trip)?
We recently did a dirt ride with the great basin mounted on my 690 Enduro R. The luggage stood up to around 5-8 drops and cushioning the bike as it was drug on it’s side under a tree. It stands up well. Could hardly tell it had been abused.
In answer to my own question re: whether the giant loop can withstand multiple drops…we recently did an off road trip with RawHyde Adventures in Death Valley. My girlfriend must have dropped her bike about 20 times and the giant loop tolerated the ordeal well. Additionally, one time her leg was caught under the giant loop, with no harm to her leg. I can only imagine if it had been a hard case rather the giant loop on her leg…
Hey Bruce! Sorry I missed your first question – thanks Neil for chiming in. And it sounds like you have the first-hand experience now with our bags. We have had customers email us about our bags surviving all kinds of abuse – low-siding across two lanes of pavement, being bumped off the freeway by a truck changing lanes, being hit by a deer, etc. Not only did the bags hold up, but they also helped prevent further damage to both bike and rider. Send us some pics – I would love to share your feedback. Thanks for riding Giant Loop, Harold