The humble tank bag is the most essential piece of motorcycle luggage. They come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, with a number of different mounting options. Which one is right for you and your needs? Let’s break down all the features and differences to help you decide.
Get the Right Tank Bag Size and Shape
The first thing to consider is how big a tank bag you need, which will depend on how you use your bike and what you’d like to take along. The tiny 2.5-liter Micro tank bag from SW-MOTECH is essentially a moto purse and will only fit the essentials, but it’s great for a canyon carver because it doesn’t get in your way while you’re steering. If you’re a commuter, you might want something in the 10-20 liter range, like SW-MOTECH’s expandable Sport tank bag or Ion 2 tank bag. These bags give you room for things like shoes, lunch, and a spare faceshield. Touring riders will likely want the big bags that start at 12 liters and expand all the way to 26, so you can stash plenty of essential items and even extra clothing layers right at your fingertips. Examples of touring-sized bags include the GIVI Xstream XS308 and SW-MOTECH’s waterproof DryBag 130.
Need ideas for essential items to keep in your tank bag? Check out our blog, 12 Best Things to Keep in Your Tank Bag, to see what our staffers are always carrying here at Twisted Throttle.
You’ll also want to take a look at the shape of your bike’s fuel tank. The smallest bags will fit most any tank, but once you get into the larger footprints, tank shape is important to consider. Is it mostly flat, or does it slope towards the seat? Sloped tank bags like the SW-MOTECH GS or ION 3 will fit cruisers and adventure bikes better, while bags with a flatter base, like the GIVI Xstream XS306 and EA102B Easybag, are a good fit for sport-tourers and standards.
Motorcycle Tank Bag Features to Look For
There are some features that almost all tank bags share, from the highest-end GIVI to the budget ION line from SW-MOTECH. This includes rain covers, carry handles, cable ports for power or headset cords, retroreflective details, and expansion zippers. If there are specific features you want, you’ll need to dig into the details of individual tank bags to see what they have or lack. Some handy features you’ll find include clear pockets for maps, phones or GPS receivers; interior and exterior pockets; interior dividers for organizing compartments; exterior daisy-chain loops; shoulder straps; and removable tablet pockets.
Some tank bags have really well-thought-out features, like the GIVI EA103B Easybag, which includes a 15-liter bag, a 25-liter bag, and a map pocket. Each can be used separately or all together, and it converts into a backpack! The GIVI XS308 Adventure has three exterior pockets on a removable band that converts to a fanny pack for the fashion-conscious.
One especially convenient option for many SW-MOTECH tank bags is the electrified tank ring mount, which gives you a power outlet to charge mobile devices while you’re riding. Plus, all of the SW-MOTECH tank bags (except the ION line) have the ability to add a GPS receiver mount. Couple that with the electrified mount, and transporting all your expensive electronics becomes a one-step process.
Choice of Materials
Most tank bags use a durable, water-resistant black nylon for the exterior material. SW-MOTECH uses 1680-denier (or 1680D) ballistic
nylon for their main line, and 600D for the more budget-friendly ION line. GIVI primarily uses 1200D Guzi nylon, but there are exceptions. The semi-rigid bags from GIVI are made of 1000D thermoformed EVA laminated polyester. They’re great for bringing home birthday cakes, thanks to the clam shell design.
SW-MOTECH’s new Legend Gear line incorporates wax-coated canvas with Napalon synthetic leather accents for a vintage look. Finally, the SW-MOTECH Yukon 90 and Drybag 130 tank bags are made from 100% waterproof welded tarpaulin PVC — and they’re not black!
Interiors with light-colored lining will make it easier to find stuff inside. Zipper pulls with rings in them will allow you to put a small padlock on them, like airplane luggage (these are usually called out in the product description as “lockable zippers”). Some bags have waterproof zippers or storm flaps over the zipper of the main compartment. One nice feature on all the tank bags we carry is that they have semi-rigid sides — this makes the bag hold its shape whether empty or full.
Multiple Mounting Options
The three most common mounting solutions for tank bags are strap-mount, magnetic base, and clamp-on tank ring. Each has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your needs and concerns. Learn more about these options by watching this insightful video.
Magnetic tank bags simply use large magnets sewn into the base, to hold the bag to your bike’s fuel tank. Of course your bike needs to have a metal tank, and that’s becoming more rare each model year. The chief advantage of a magnetic tank bag, like the Legend Gear LT1, is that it’s easy to mount and remove, making it perfect for the commuter or running errands. Just grab it and go. It leaves no mounting straps or hardware behind when you remove it, and mounts in a second, literally. You can also use a magnetic tank bag on multiple bikes, assuming they all have metal fuel tanks.
There are a few downsides, however. Magnetic bags are easy to steal if you leave them on your bike. They have very soft material on the surface that touches your tank so it won’t leave scratches; however, if dirt gets between the tank and the bag, it will damage your bike’s finish. That’s why it’s essential to keep your tank and the bottom of the tank bag clean. Magnetic tank bags can also have problems on naked bikes. My first streetbike was a Kawasaki Zephyr 750, and even though my magnetic tank bag was a small, low-profile model, it sometimes couldn’t hold on and it blew into my lap at speed. They stay put much better on a bike with a fairing or windscreen. Many magnetic tank bags also include tethers for the steering head, so you have a little more security if they do detach from the tank.
Pro Tip: Don’t put your wallet in a magnetic tank bag, because it can mess up your credit cards.
A more secure and universal method of mounting a tank bag is to use a strap-mount base. If you ride off-road, strap-mount tank bags are the best choice — and may be the only choice if you have an aftermarket, oversize plastic tank that can’t accept a tank ring. The straps hold it secure to your bike even when you’re bouncing down a trail or have heavy stuff in it, like a 12-pack. Ask me how I know.
While not impossible to steal, strap-mount tank bags are more time-consuming and difficult to remove. They can also scratch your bike’s finish if dirt and dust get between the bag and the tank, similar to a magnetic tank bag. They are also more difficult to move from bike to bike, unless you buy another set of straps or move the mounting straps from one bike to another.
Pro Tip: Running a zip-tie through the buckles will make a strap-mount tank bag even more secure.
The last method of tank bag mountage is the tank ring. Think of a tank ring like bindings on skis: You mount the ring to your bike’s fuel tank using the bolts around the gas cap, then click the bag onto the ring like a ski boot snapping into a binding. Tanks rings are bike specific, so you’ll need to get the right one for your model. Both SW-MOTECH and GIVI have tank ring bags called QUICK-LOCK and Tanklock, respectively.
The tank ring mounting method offers some clear advantages: the ring is inconspicuous and doesn’t ruin the look of your bike, it holds the bag up off the fuel tank so it won’t damage your paint, and it’s easy on/easy off. Not only that, but as we mentioned above, there are electrified tank rings that will bring your bike’s power inside your tank bag so you can charge your devices on the go. Two more cool things about tank ring mounts: rings are cheap, so you can get a second one and mount the tank bag on another bike; and you can bolt the ring to your tail rack and — PRESTO — your tank bag is now a tail bag! There are even solutions to mount a tank ring tank bag to bikes with underseat fuel tanks, such as the BMW F650GS & G650GS Singles and the BMW F800 Twins.
Finding the perfect tank bag can seem confusing with all the different models, sizes, and features out there. I hope this guide cleared some of that up and gave you a better understanding of all the options available. When you consider your needs, your type of bike, and the features that appeal to you, through process of elimination you’ll narrow your choices to just a few bags. Then pick the one that best matches your boots.