Update – autumn 2015
Had a pair ready for my next Morocco trip but sadly they didn’t fit the rack/pipe combination. So back under the bed, ready for next time.
Update – summer 2014
I bought a pair of Mag IIs and used them in Morocco (left).
Update – May 2013
I finally got a chance to actually use my Magadans for a few weeks’ ride around the Southwest USA recently. Admittedly it was only America and I was mostly moteling, but I did enough off-roading to put them to the test. Full story on that ride here.
I am pleased to say – but not surprised to learn – that the Mags lived up to expectations. It’s only a bag, but the no-nonsense design is simply functional and effective – like the Steel Ponys below but much better construction and materials; there’s nothing there you don’t need – other manufactures take note.
Mine were actually semi-permanently mounted on prototype Al Jesse platform racks – with each siderack removable, so I either pulled out the liner to take inside – or removed each side rack where that felt a better idea – or for day rides. More news of the Jesse MonoArm racks in a few weeks.
It never poured with rain but it did when I used them last year so I have no reservations about that aspect. The corner tabs I added on not so elegantly (see below) may become a feature on future versions. For my sort of riding prefs they’re the best thing out there.
ABR magazine recently compared half a dozen soft bags. Highest score? Magadans.
Preamble With no one making anything that suited my needs, a few years ago I decided to make myself what I considered the optimal overlanding set of soft bags. Up till then I’d used Oxford Sovereigns (the best there was at the time – 15+ years ago), some Andy Strapz Pannierz briefly, Touratech Zega Flexes, Enduristan Monsoons all while eyeing up some Steel Pony Gascoynes (right).
They seemed to be the pattern to follow: a big-volume, zip-free throwover keeping the mass of weight low and forward and in one bag with a pair of outside pockets. Only I wasn’t convinced by the merely water-resistant fabric or indeed, rack-free mounting. For over landing loads a rack is the way to go.
Around then I’d discovered Hypalon rafting fabric which would easily answer both crash durability and wet-weather impregnability, if not even slash proofedness. I drew up a template based on roll widths and got as far as taping together a mock up. The problem would be doing a good job hand gluing the one-piece panel into a box shape. The idea stagnated and no one I approached was interested in developing it until I lately realised better to separate the durability from the impregnability: use any tough sewable fabric for the outer, just as long as the lift-out inner was a tough, PVC roll-top liner. Sewable fabric like Cordura or canvas can readily take pockets and tabs which would have to be glued to Hypalon. In my experience from gluing Hypalon and similar fabrics on my boats, sewing is easier.
Along with other ideas I’m testing out on my GS500 project bike, that was to be this summer’s job once AMH6 was wrapped. Then Adventure Spec’s Magadan Bags cropped up, designed by Water Colebatch following his rides in the Russian Far East with (AFAIK) a set of Ortliebs and later Gascoynes. Here was a bit of kit designed following months of hard riding in the field.
Adventure Spec Magadans
These bags were supplied to me in exchange for an Adventure Spec advert in my AMH6.
The Mags are based on the proportions on the 36-litre Steel Pony Gascyones Walter C used or my design if you include the pockets and which I feel is near perfect: bigger than the Andyz, narrower than the Monsoons, zip-free closures unlike the Zega Flexes, and with a chunky lift-out liner supplied unlike any of them.
Two layers of regular-looking (PU-coated?) Cordura make up all the panels of the outer bags, joined with a thick edging. Can tell if one is or incorporates the mysterious and slash-proof Twaron, but one has a ‘ripstop’ like appearance in the weave although it’s possible I may have felt the thin later of Twaron between them. Inside, as with many soft bags, a flexible panel behind a zip slips down the back panel and under the base to give a bit of shape while still retaining two panels facing the bike or the rack. Magadans are designed to be used against racks, as many other soft bag makers are beginning to realise. I made the dimensions about 24 litres rolled up with two folds (left image above) – the regular way of using them. In what I call expanded mode, with just one, less weatherproof fold on the velcro’d top edge of the outers, you can get 32 litres in each side plus 3 litres in the pockets. They weigh 4.7kg (10.3 lbs). The Gascoynes are about the same size but are 23cm wide – an extra two inches giving another six litres in the main bag. However, I’m happy to lose that extra width. The outer rolls up with a velcro closure and two chunky clippy clips incorporating enough slack to still work in expanded mode, or to lash things down on top with the bag fully rolled up in regular mode against the weather.
The two outside pockets are a great idea to keep fluids handy but also out of the main bag. It’s what’s always missing on vinyl Orliebs and something I’ve bodged on myself on other bags using army ammo pouches. Both with velcro flaps, one will take a 1.5 litre water bottle (green bottle) sticking out, or 1 litre flap closed; the back takes 2 litres sticking out with room to spare, or 2 litres closed.
The weight is taken on throw over straps, but as mentioned, with a rack. One bag gets doubled velcro ‘hook’ straps (4), the other gets the double sided ‘loop’ strap. A secure system sandwiching the loop strap from both sides to cope with the large hanging volume and onto which velcro can be re-sewn should it wear out, or a buckle easily fitted. With velcro the less you use it the longer it will last but with a buckle (two types shown right) macro adjustments up or down are much easier to make, especially when the bags are loaded. That’s what I plan to do. The distance on full velcro overlap is 50cm and I’d say you could run them out to 75cm (half overlap) if you’re bike is wide.
I was keen to see how the back of the Mags looked so as to work out how they could mount securely to my planned rack. The Magadans are designed to be merely held against a regular flat ‘hanging’ rack rectangle which most alloy box makers produce for all sorts of bikes. It does this with a horizontal strap which passes through slots behind the side pockets just above the level of the reflective stripe. To me this is not so effective, but is perhaps the best ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for the moment. It’ll stop the bag flapping outwards but, depending on the width of rack verticals, will still allow some forward and (less common) back sliding which could get annoying on the legs, unless you add a retaining strap across the back as the Monsoons had. The good thing with the fabric outer being separated from the inner (like the Monsoons) is that you can sew or rivet on whatever suits your needs and that’s what I did to mine (right) so there’s a direct attachment point. As it is I plan to use a platform rack so the attachment won’t be so critical and may even work without the throw over straps. If I was to suggest a solution it would be something like two horizontal rows of loops sewn across the back panel, a bit like was on the top back edge of the Monsoons (right – for what reason I was not sure). With two rows of such loops you could even eliminate the throw over element, or reduce its stress loads. But it’s unlikely that Magadans will be modified in this way. A mate asked Adv-Spec and was told:
‘We have always found that tags sewn onto panniers result in [them being] ripped off panniers as soon as there is any real load applied or a constant tugging or pulling. The Magadan panniers are designed to have a strap tied around the entire pannier and then around the frame. There are slots in the front and rear bottle holders which allow the strap to pass through to help hold everything in place.
I have to say that from my experience with similar panniers that’s not such a convincing explanation. And even if it was, a tough fabric mount could feature a ‘sacrificial’ ring or loop which could be replaced should the pannier be wrenched away in a heavy fall. But if that’s the Magadans’ biggest flaw then it’s not so bad.
I was pleased to see the inner bags are not some cheap PU-coated drawstring stuff sacks, but full size, roll-top PVC ‘dry bags’ shaped to fit the outers. Sewn seams are taped (right). I suppose I’d have preferred heat welded, like an Ortlieb or Seal Lines. The great thing with separate bags is you can lift them out clean to carry into a tent or hotel room, leaving the mucky outers on the bike if you wish. These are chunky PVC bags that will resist the rubbing against the outers as well as impacts better than most things, and anyway, you can fit a selection of your own in there to compartmentalise better.
As well as the horizontal back strap to locate the bags, the Magadans feature a similar arrangement of loops to take a vertical strap or indeed an adjustable cable lock to wrap around a frame – where used – so securing the bags against opening or removal. Combined with the slash-proof fabric, this ought to make the Mags the most secure soft bags around. It’s hard to know how effective this slash-proof Twaron is without doing the obvious. There are a couple of vids on youtube citing the wonders of Twaron for offshore and ballistic uses, but if nothing else, if you use a rack you’ll be able to cable the bag on (although you could sort of do that with any soft bag).
All up I’d say the Mags look the business: a great size, good features and modifiable for rack fitment. The quality of manufacture (somewhere in the EU) looks good too. Nice work Walter C and Adv Spec; you’ve save me doing a less good job myself. There’s more on using the Magadans here and here.
With Monsoons costing £220, Kriega Overlanders from £500 all up, Steel Pony Gascoynes AUD350 (~£240 + shipping and tax) and Andyz going for £245 in the UK, at £350 I’d say the Magadans are fairly priced when you think what a key component your luggage is on a genuine overland trip.