• Smart-looking design • Good fit according to AS size chart • Generous length keeps you snug • Very light and rolls up to about a litre (below right) • Two-way zips on the vents • Kevlar abrasive patches • Actually had 3 outside pockets (contrary to AS description)
• Main zip is one-way and lacks storm flap • Single underarm vents limit air flow • A bit heavier than the claimed 650g/702g • Is an integrated hood that useful? • Felt a bit too skimpy for all-day travels on road and trail
What they say: A lightweight waterproof breathable over jacket with DuPont™ Kevlar® reinforced impact areas. This expedition/trail jacket includes a helmet a[sic] compatible fold away hood, body vents and one throttle friendly chest pocket.
Review The Trail shell is the latest addition to Adventure Spec’s own brand rider wear, including the vented Atacama Race jacket, similar open-weave Mongolia and the popular Linesman softshell I used in Morocco and Algeria. The Trail / Singletrack is their first waterproof shell to wear all day, rain or shine, or over some of the above listed jackets. It breathes, it vents, it’s waterproof and has an integrated hood. But note that unless you’re riding in the tropics, as an all-weather, trans-continental travel jacket you may find it a bit skimpy; the body is not much thicker than my hill-walking cag. The priority has been to save weight and bulk while retaining the function and the agility needed in off-roading, rather than sitting on the slab at 120kph.
Contrary to AS’s online description (which may get corrected), the Trail / Singletrack has three external pockets (left), not one. Good to see. In one of the lower pockets is a small combination whistle/tyre valve-core tool. The latter will work but blowing through the tiny whistle, the air soon backs up and doesn’t make a usefully audible noise.
High-wear areas like elbows/forearms, shoulders plus the lower sides get rugged kevlar patches which also help give the otherwise plain nylon shell some eye-catching texture. The elongated back with its drawstring hem helps keep draughts at bay when crouched over the bars on a mission.
Adv Spec suggest the bonded membrane shell errs towards waterproofness rather than breathability, and without layering, the thin body fabric won’t keep you as warm as heavier jackets. When things do warm up or slow down in gnarly terrain, single underarm vents with two-way, water-resistant zips help the air swill around, especially if you open up the front. But with front zipped up and on the move, I’ve found single underarm vents less effective in purging air, compared to paired vents like on my Traverse.
I’m not convinced the roomy hood which tucks into the collar is such a useful feature for bike riding, even if it does make for a cushy collar. It’s huge, and the rationale of it stopping water running down the back of your neck is not an issue I’ve experienced with a snug jacket collar or wearing a neck buff while riding for hours in downpours. Around a camp or at the roadside, it may have its uses (I mislay at least one cap or hat a year).
I think many potential buyers would sooner see that weight re-allocated towards some sewn- or velcro’d in sleeves for armour pads. Such an option would broaden the Trail’s use out towards less technical moto-travelling as opposed to pure dirt biking, where some sort of padded or armoured top (right) would probably be wise.
For the purpose for which it was designed, Adventure Spec’s super light Trail Waterproof Shell will suit many riders. Be it the bike or the gear you wear, lightness is always desirable, but to me all-weather functionality is more important. For my sort of riding I’d be happy to skip the hood and, if necessary, carry another few hundred grams for proper through-venting, a big, securely dry inner pocket and a storm-flap over the front zip.
Like the CRF250L itself, I use longer rides to try out new stuff, new ways of doing things or whatever else catches my imagination. Below is the equipment roll call from the 2013 Honda ride around Southwest USA. What worked, what didn’t and why. The prices given in £ or $ are what I paid for the gear or what it cost. Some items like Kriega, Magadans, Trailtech and Aero stuff has been supplied to me over the years in exchange for adverts in the book.
Adventure Spec Magadan bags – £330 No complains about my Magbags; the best soft bag out there for my sort of riding. Simple and functional, great capacity, big external pockets and tough fabric. It didn’t rain enough on this trip to test them, but it lashed down on previous UK rides with no leakage, even through the fabric outer, let alone the thick PVC liners. Requires a rack but that’s the way it should be for heavy loads in soft bags. More on the Mags here. Verdict: regret giving these away with the CRF.
Aerostich wool seat pad – $67 I used this last year in Morocco on a BMW 650 twin which has a seat straight out of Enhanced Interrogation; sadly the Aeropad couldn’t save it – three inches of Moroccan mattress foam did. On the Honda the wool pad may have taken the edge off, giving another hour’s comfort but I actually found frequent dismounts were as effective to posterior durability. Another interesting thing: mostly I rode in my leather jeans but one hot day I wore thinner (slipperier?) synthetic 5-11 Tactical trousers (great gear btw, much tougher than ‘outdoor rec’ stuff). Result: sore arse arrived very soon. I also found the wool would pack down and lose its loft after a few long days, but could be easily washed and ruffled up. And after a night in the rain a vigorous rub dispersed most of the moisture. Verdict: seemingly minimal improvement but can’t do any harm.
Alpha Three tail rack – on bike Never heard of Alpha Three – could be Japanese rather than Chinese? – but this ‘Type A’ item was a neat little rack with downward pointing prongs incorporating hexhead bolts to securely attach stuff, should you wish. A tendency has developed towards racks cut out of flat metal sheets, either thick alloy or thin galvanized steel. Reason: cheaper manufacturing costs not necessarily reflected in the retail price as they’re the latest ‘thing’. Smaller ‘plate racks’ the size of the Alpha might be fine but some of the wider ones as tested in Overland Journal (Fall 2012) have nasty thin edges that I wouldn’t want to meet while tumbling down a slope, even though I’m all for wide ‘sheep racks’ in principle. Conventional tube racks are easier to use and grip, when needed. There are a few more CRF-L rack options listed here. Verdict: a slick and well-featured tail rack.
Barkbuster Storm handguards – $130 Always liked the Aussie-made BBs and even though cheaper versions are available I splashed out at more tolerable US prices US prices on some Barks with the biggest Storm handguards to keep for later. Cheapies often don’t fit so well; the key I believe is the articulated joint (available separately) at the inboard mounting end. Cheaper versions off ebay have no joint – less easy to position optimally. I like to think the Storm handguards kept my hands warmer and drier and so deferred the need for heavy gloves – I always prefer thin unlined gloves. The only time I fell off the Barks did their job, although one drawback with all lever guards is you can’t hang stuff, including a helmet, so easily off the bar ends. I’ve fitted bungy hooks on previous bikes. Verdict: worth paying out and keeping for the next bike.
Bashplate – came on bike I omitted to note what brand it was – Ricochet is a name that bounces around the forums. Engine protection is a no brainer of course, even if I only dinged it once on the gnarly Lockhart Basin track. The fit was fine – no exposed bolts on the underside and a hole to enable drain plug access without removal. But clamped directly to the frame rails I found the resonance intrusive. I reduced that by refitting the plate with some strips of closed cell foam (karrimat) on the frame rails. Like others, I also think a bit more width to either side would improve protection of the filter housing and bottom hose. Verdict: As usual, the OE plastic plate is a joke. Essential for off highway riding.
Bell Mag 9 helmet – $70 Probably discontinued by now but great lid for the money. Full review here.
Benchmark atlases – $15 I’ve been using these for years in the US and on this trip they came into their own for riding off pavement across Nevada and Utah. Yes they’re big to carry on a bike and may well be available as a tablet app, but give me a paper map any day for getting the big picture. I barely use the additional guidebook-like recreational info you get in a Benchmark but it’s good to know it’s there. As with all paper maps, dirt road accuracy got a bit mushy at times, and here I found the US-sourced Garmin satnav filled in the gaps. And then when the satnav was wanting, just like a proper map I could read a long-lat easily off my Garmin 62 against the Benchmark’s incremental long-lat grid (above) to find exactly where I was. Verdict: I’ve tried Delormes but Benchmarks are to the US what OS maps are to the UK.
Double Take mirrors – $100 pair! A mate had these in Morocco last year and I admit I fell for the hype – or wanted to see if they lived up to it. At over $100 a pair (iirc) the RAM ball-mounted DT mirrors provided infinite positioning and crash-proof toughness. I took one and left the OE Honda mirror on the nearside (on the right side in the picture, left) but soon wished I’d either kept both Hondas or ran them the other way round. For seeing what’s behind you the OE Honda was a better mirror – bigger (wider), clearer and immune to vibration or movement. That was until my single, low-speed fall on the right side when the Honda glass shattered in the otherwise undamaged plastic housing. Honda dealers at the time only sold the whole mirror assembly which had to be ordered. Perhaps they’re suited to more aggressive off-roading where falls are more frequent, but where you probably want mirrors to get to your riding location. Here a Double Take or the like soon pays for itself, although I found at road speeds it blurred too much to be reliable and moved around on the dirt or in strong headwinds, no matter how hard I clamped it. And with that nifty mirror-base RAM mounts they are rather nickable; RAM’s theft-proof clamp is not the slickest design. Verdict: built for crashing, but on the Honda less good for seeing.
EJK fuel controller – on bike I’ve had 4×4 turbo-diesel engines ‘chipped’ through I never knew exactly what was being done – it seemed to be one unprogrammable map and the sort of performance chasing meddling that doesn’t interest me that much. For petrol engines EJK’s fuel controller is a bit more sophisticated: an ‘electronic jet kit’ enabling you to increase fuel delivery (richen the mixture) as you experiment with performance enhancement. Short version: at $200 a useful bit of kit to experiment with or optimise the mixture; long version here. Verdict: another good reason to bid adios to carbs.
FMF Q4 pipe + Megabomb header – on bike (sold for $350) The bike came with this set up the suitably calibrated EJK (above) and holes in the airbox, but one day’s dirt riding convinced me the Q was not at all Quiet and would have driven me nuts on the long road. Even at double the weight I was happy to refit the weighty OE cat silencer and flogged the FMF set up. Verdict: way too noisy and can’t say I noticed any significant power loss once removed.
Garmin GPS 60CSx – £160 used I used the bulkier GPSMap 72 for years to log tracks for my off-roading guidebooks until it started playing up. I was happy to replace it with the more compact and popular 60 series using the similarly intuitive interface. This one had Utah topo maps on it and took the UTBDR tracklog without any undue gnashing of teeth. And a RAM cradle mount performed securely without vibration issues. Verdict: CSx not made any more but still preferable to touch screen Montana/Oregons.
Garmin Nuvi LM50 – $80 used I hoped that a US-sourced Nuvi would have maps which featured the countless miles of unsealed roads in the western US, and so it did. When the Benchmark atlases got a bit vague the Nuvi led me out of the mountains, providing it was set up right and you took the suggested directions with a pinch of salt. Don’t know if it was my basic unit but I found that the full range of tracks around me would only display once a ‘Go to’ was set (a memory saving feature perhaps?). It meant I couldn’t scroll/zoom out to see the possibilities around me without a ‘go to’. Also, I was too lazy to address what I knew would be problem with vibration. Last year using a similar unit in Morocco I was smart enough to lay it on foam on the tank, this time with a cobbled together Garmin/RAM set up the vibration at higher revs caused it to cut out. I’ve since modified my home-made mount to incorporate a foam sandwich (above left) that may work better with future moto Nuvi-ing. Used Nuvis are cheap and easy to find on ebay; Garmin’s moto-focussed waterproof Zumo is not. You can buy waterproof pouches for a Nuvi to fit your bike. Verdict: as long as it has worthwhile mapping, a used Nuvi is a good value nav aid.
Old iPad $200 vs Macbook Air $600 I soon found that trying to update this website on the road from an iPad was frustrating, even with an accessory keyboard; WordPress have not got to the bottom of it. Luckily craigslist Phoenix had several used Macbook Airs within arm’s each. What a relief to get back to Mac’s laptop platform at about the same size and barely twice the weight of an iPad. Verdict: a tablet to read but a laptop to write and edit. Nearly six years, many trips and a couple of dents later, I’m writing this in New Zealand on the same well-used airbook. What a brilliant machine!
Kriega R30 backpack – £135 I’m not so keen on tank bags but can’t fit all my essentials in my jacket so a backpack like the R30 takes the laptop and other valuables, sandwiches and quick access day items. Too heavy a backpack accelerates backside pain but the R30 rested on the Watershed when seated so took the weight off my shoulders. Like a lot of Kriega stuff there’s some very clever but over-complex strap adjustment system that I never investigated; for me it fitted well enough out of the box. It includes a double clip joining the shoulder straps across the chest which along with the grippy mesh on the back helps keep it in place. On the back are cinch-down straps to stop a loose bag flapping. But when unclipped the chest clip arrangement doesn’t hang naturally off the shoulders when walking and who wants to walk around clipped in as if you’re ready to make a parachute jump. On the move I can’t say I ever noticed it which is the point and the capacity is expandable enough for all my needs; if not camping you could probably get a superlight touring load all in there.
Best thing about it was a simple, zip-free roll-top closure which, unlike around-the-top zips, won’t matter too much if you forget to do it up – opened zips see stuff fall out. The small outside pockets do feature water-resistant zips which are a bit stiff to use, but then zips do need cleaning from time to time. The R30 has a velcroed-in, removable waterproof liner which I hear is up to the job and easy to replace once it isn’t. Or just use your own dry bags. The chunky top handle is another good feature, the reflectives are probably useful and the quality of construction is what you’ve come to expect rom Kriega. Verdict: expensive for a backpack but actually designed for biking not hiking.
Liquid Containment 5L fuel bag – £60 I figured this was a compact way to inexpensively increase fuel range and rated fuel bags as such in the book: rolled up out of the way when not needed; handy when they are. That may be true for the odd occasion when you need extra fuel, but I found a fuel bag was less well suited to near daily use on a motorcycle. The rot set in when the o-ring cap seal fell out and blew away unnoticed at a fill up in Vegas – didn’t notice that until that evening when everything reeked of 85 octane. A day or two later I picked up a replacement o-ring for a backstreet garage, but had gone off the bag by then. The other pain on a bike is securing a wobbly bag of fuel reliably, securely and without faffing. Sure, the tough plastic LQ has holes on every corner but at a fuel stop you have to release the bag, prop it up, fill it up, cap it and then secure the load to the bike. If I had stuck with it I’d have found a good method, but these sorts of repetitive tasks need to be foolproof for the day you rush it and make a mistake. Like scores before me, I found a red plastic $10 one-gallon can strapped to the tail rack better for near daily use. To fill up simply undo the cap, like an auxiliary fuel tank; to decant into the bike tank undo the straps, pour in and refit. A bigger tank in a worthwhile size was not available for the CRF-L at the time. Note; the fuel bag I used was not the same as the 7L item which Zen sell in the UK. Theirs is an older, bigger and superior model with an integrated pouring spout inside the cap and a handle. Verdict: in practise not so convenient for regular use.
Maxxis IT Desert tyre – $110 Amazingly the CRF-L’s OE rear IRC tyre was finished in 3000 miles – a record for me, and on a 18-horse 250, too! I found the meaty-knobbed Maxxis (like an MT21 or D606) was easy to fit with short levers and some WD40 lube, didn’t play up on the highway (bike not heavy or powerful enough to stress and flex the knobs) while on the dry and rocky dirt I rode at road pressures it did the business and I’m sure would have outlasted the IRC. Verdict: performed as well as better known brands; a pair goes for <£100 on ebay.
Panasonic Lumix FT2 – from £60 used I’ve had this camera for a couple of years now and use it almost every day. When it was playing up recently I looked around but newer models in the FT range all had compromises (smaller battery, less megapixels, unnecessary gimmicks like GPS, expensive) as did other brands. So I got another old FT2 off ebay for £60 but which time my original camera had fixed itself. What I like about Lumixes is they commonly feature wide-angle lenses (28mm or less) over excessive zooms. An FT2 camera is also shockproof and waterproof to a few metres so rain or sand won’t bother it and it’s robust enough to survive ‘carefree’ treatment. Yes, the enclosed lens is tiny and the zoom is limited, but slipped into my jacket’s chest pocket and hung around my neck on a cord, it’s easy to use while riding. And just occasionally the auto exposure captures the scene as well as any DSLR. At other times – especially on full optical zoom, the quality drops off; better to shoot wide at max resolution and crop later (I always disable digital zoom). With landscapes, a trick I use with these types of cameras all the time is half press the shutter and expose off the sky, then lower the camera, compose and click. The resultant ‘tricking’ into under exposure often gives a richer result (or one that can be more easily edited). I didn’t film on this trip, but have done a lot elsewhere and the results are up to youtubing. I even sold my annoying GoPro a while back and am now happy to use the FT2 for movie making. The tougher, DSLR-sized Gorillapod also works well as a steady tripod or clamp. Verdict: until it wears out or breaks up, can’t think of a better P&S camera.
Riding gear On this trip to save weight I bought a lid once in the US (see Bell), wore my heavy leather trousers and old Altberg boots on the plane and brought my Aerostich Kanetsu electric vest to make up for my regular ‘M65’ desert jacket; no armour, Gore-tex, mesh or reflectives – just light, quick drying and with enough big pockets to make up for not being a Darien. In the event of heavy rain I had my old Rukka one-piece suit, but never needed it. For gloves I has my similarly ancient unlined Aerostich Deerskins (sadly MIA) and a pair of Armr Moto WXP8 gloves for cold days. Apart from the Rukka, all got used all or some of the time. Temperature-wise this trip was quite extreme but I felt protected enough to be comfortable, while never feeling over-laden with clobber, as you can do with moto gear. Verdict: for the local conditions, the best set up I’ve ridden in.
SealLine XL map case – £15 I normally use this for sea kayaking or packrafting, the zip-lock seal keeps maps and other bits dry and the big size gives you the all-important big picture without the need to open up and refold a map too often as the crashing surf closes in. In the Southwest the map case took a folded back Benchmark with room to spare and stopped the pages flapping in the wind. I found a neat way of holding the maps case down was stretching a thin loop on inner tube from one side of the engine to the other (right). Note: they also make roll-top map cases, not as reliably waterproof as the zip lock version. Verdict: moto or boto, great bit of kit.
Slime anti-puncture fluid and compressor (both $10) Can’t say the luridly green Slime fluid stopped any punctures on my ride, but for ten bucks it was worth the squirt. Also on the shelf in Walmart was a Slime-branded 12-volt compressor (right) also for a tenner and with a pressure gauge too and the ever useful flashing light. More compact and lighter than my Cycle Pump, I actually used the Slimepump a few times and it performed fine. Verdict: well worth $20 for peace of mind.
Slipstreamer Spitfire windshield – $70 Just what was wanted for the CRF; a small, inexpensive, one-size-fits-most screen to keep the wind and rain off. Mounting is a bit rudimentary but adds up to a quick, tool-free way of temporarily removing the screen while leaving the bar mounts in place, something I was slow to catch on to for dirt day rides when the screen was not needed. With only two mounting rods (no triangulation) high-speed runs into headwinds or rough tracks caused the screen to inch back – this could have been fixed by anchoring the base of the screen to the headlamp cowling. It seemed hard to get a tight fit on the screw down screen mount lugs too, but meddling with spacers or rubber shims would fix this. Verdict: Great value, simple fitting and effective.
Trail Tech Vapor digital guage – $90 A great gadget for a travel bike like the CRF-: with limited instrumentation. Click the link for full review.
Watershed Chattooga dry bag – £65 Another kayaking item that works well on bikes. Watershed dry bags use a tough fabric, but unlike your average roll-top bag, they feature a chunky ziplock-like seal that makes the bag immersion proof. At about 20 litres the Chattooga model is compact but big enough to take my infrequently used tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and a spare pair of gloves. It didn’t happen on this trip but it’s good to know in heavy rain you need not worry at all about your camping gear getting wet until you take it out. For smooth closure the zip seal can use a bit of WD or 303 once in a while. Verdict: Watershed when it absolutely positively has to be kept dry.
Only a week later than planned the Honda and I now are on the road for a month or more’s riding around the fabulous Southwestern USA. How long had that been on the ‘to do’ list?
The Magbags filled up without too much compression or compromise and of course riding it out onto the lawn the bike flapped around like a three-wheeled shopping trolley full of cement – just as do all loaded bikes at Mile Zero.
Yesterday I flew back from a talk near Tacoma where I met Tom Grenon, just back from Baja and with whom I KLR’d through BC and Yukon back in 2001 and where I confirmed what it is I like about deserts! The plane flew via SLC and across southern Utah and some place called the Grand Canyon (right) where I’ll be in a couple of weeks. But first it’s west to Vegas and Death Valley, the accessible corners of the Sierra Nevada and Northern California. Then maybe up to the BR Desert in northwest Nevada and down to southern Utah. After that who knows, New Mexico or maybe even Baja Mexico.
Tune in for time to time to see how it all pans out and how the bike and gear perform. Or see you on the trail or at the Overland Expo around 18 May, near Flagstaff.
I said this already: soft bags may be ancient, pack animal-era technology but they have very much caught on in advworld. Some are little different to the things I was throwing over my bike 40 years ago; one or two feature significant innovations in mounting, fabrics, lockability and more.
On advrider (as well as in my own review) questions got asked about the volume claims of the GL Siskiyou pannier: 34L said GL, while me and another guy measured l x h x w as near as we could and came up with 24L.
‘Aha!’ the bloke from GL replied – we establish volume by filling out our bags with beans until they bulge out and that way get 35 litres so that’s what we rate them at. It sounded plausible and got me thinking: what is the maximum volume of a shaped, non-elastic but flexible rectilinear container like a motorcycle side pannier? Logic suggests as the box form flexes out sideways under the weight on contents, the shorter side will pull in and the volume will remain constant.
But intuition (or maybe logic too) suggests capacity ought to increase: the classic Envelope Test performed by an obscure Cartesian monk, Antoine de Connerie in front of a disbelieving King Philippe V in 1444: An envelope is a flat container with a volume of next to nothing; open it a little and volume increases, open it a lot and volume increases some more up to a point when opening it out too much will reduce volume to near zero again as it folds back in on itself.
Al Jesse [Luggage] and I discussed this: he reckoned volume of a rectilinear vessel is fixed, but I was not convinced and now I have the answer: If the flexible container is a cube (l x h x w all the same) volume when filled (with beans, water, anything non-compacting) will not be altered much. There may be some fabric bulge.
But a rectilinear flexible box (‘suitcase’) seeks to attain the geometric nirvana of cubic equilibrium and does deform and expand substantially. L x w x h on my Magadans rolled up and clipped came in at 24L (left). It doesn’t sound so much and would be identical to a 24L metal box.
But, fill the Mags with water and you’ll easily get 40 litres in each side, as the pictures right and below show. Seems hard to believe but there are no less than two fills of that 20L white bucket inside the Mag bag, rolled up, clipped down and ready to roll were it not for the fact that it would give me a hernia trying to lift 40kg (88lbs).
Does this all really matter? Yes, it does because for a start, the l x w x h method doesn’t truly represent the maximum potential volume (MPV) of a flexible, non-cuboid container, even if the maxed-out 40L capacity demonstrated on the left is unlikely to be achieved in the real world of packing your panniers with normal travel stuff.
It matters all the more when trying to compare stated fabric pannier volumes with rigid metal or plastic boxes as a guide to buying one or the other. My comparisons in the table at the bottom uses the l x w x h method but that only compares like against like. In all cases you can get more in your bags.
Even then, I think the dimension ratios of a flexible container may also have something to do with it. I recall the guy from Enduristan saying something like the reason their original Monsoons (left, reviewed here) are wide (closer to a cube form) is that they have/can make more volume (by presumably having less far to go to reach ‘cubic optimisation’).
But on a motorcycle I still believe slimness is a desirable attribute and is something that for example, Jesse Luggage strive to maintain in their mounting systems and cases. Al likes to boast that some of his rack and box setups are narrower than competitors’ racks alone.
So, in summary, think carefully when comparing stated rigid box volumes against fabric panniers. A rigid box’s capacity is immutable but a soft bag may be more than you think.
The Magadan was used because it was the pannier I used at the time, but this test would work and give similar results with any similar product.
Giant Loop are well known for their innovative ‘horseshoe’ bags which wrap around the back of a dirt bike but which, in my opinion, are not especially easy to use day-in, day-out and have been proven not to be waterproof and have zips which can be weak points. That may not matter for a weekend run with your mates in the hills, but does on the overland.
Now Giant Loop have joined the likes of Enduristan, Adventure Spec and a few others in producing a conventional throwover pannier, the Siskiyou, named after a mountain range in southern Oregon. These types of panniers are just about as old as motorcycling of course, up till a few years ago Ortliebs were widely used by moto travellers. I recall my first pair of ‘soft bags’ in the late 70s, elegant lightweight cases (left) crafted from a lustrous space-age combination of vinyl-coated cardboard. But this was the advent of the monoshock era where soon they’d be no more twin shocks to keep the swinging pannier backs out of the rear wheel or final drive. As I say elsewhere, over the years I’ve melted my fair share of soft panniers and even dealt with small luggage fires (right). Nevertheless, I still prefer soft luggage for overland or adventure travel despite the drawbacks of security, perhaps combined with one small detachable hard case for valuables.
These panniers were sent to me for a quick look by Adv Spec
WHAT GIANT LOOP SAID AT THE TIME … A ‘round-the-world contender, Giant Loop’s Siskiyou Panniers™ combine the convenience of hard panniers with all of Giant Loop’s performance advantages. Rugged, rackless, lightweight — and damn sexy…. Backed by a Limited Lifetime Warranty…
The GL website specs shown above left also claim each pannier has a volume of ’35 litres’. I’m not the first person to question how they arrived at this figure; my calcs put it at more like 24 litres. We’re all used to exaggerated claims, but that was quite a discrepancy. I read that they measure their luggage products by filling them with beans and doing so I suppose it’s possible that a soft fabric pannier would bulge out. In fact I’ve since found that that is exactly the case so Giant Loop’s estimate of 35 litres is right in the ball park.
GL are fairly ambiguous about what they’re made from other than ‘military-spec materials and construction‘, but it looks like the well-proven and widely used combination of a Cordura shell with a vinyl back, interior and lid. Unusually, sandwiched inside this thick shell is an unseen additional layer of closed cell foam, or something similar. It helps shape the bags and also reduce damage by padding the contents when you crash. GL wisely suggest that any hard-edged items in the baggage are well wrapped for such an eventuality: it’s standard practice in packing soft baggage.
Rather like the Monsoons, the top edge of the Siksiyou’s shell has a sewn-on sleeve of coated nylon with a thin zip and roll-up clips, similar to a dry bag. Inside you get a separate yellow nylon liner (below right) cut more or less to fit in the panniers, with well-taped seams, a thick layer of TPU coating on one side, plus another thin zip and roll-top clips. Over the top of this drops the thick PVC lid which clips down on straps, with additional separate straps for attaching stuff to the top of the lid rather than tucking it under the lid straps – another nice touch. Inside the lid is a flat zipped mesh map pocket.
There’s also a small cinch-cord pocket on the front of each pannier, but although they describe it as ‘bellowed’ it’s actually a simple wedge that’s nowhere near as big nor usefully box-shaped as the four pockets you get on Magadans although it’s said they’ve been designed to take 2-litre Touratech cans, as pictured left. On the right, a 1.5 litre water bottle in the pannier’s pocket.
The two bags join together using broad vinyl velcro pads. These pads feature additional lashing rings to secure other luggage or to fix it all to your bike. The Magadans use the same system, but with a pair of wide velcro straps rather than full-width pads which seems bit OTT. Me, I’d prefer buckles and straps over velcro anyway, because as the volume of your load changes or rough roads take their toll, fine tuning the tension may be required – and that’s much more easily done with adjustable buckles that super sticky velcro, be it strap or pad. On the Mags such a buckle mod is easy to do – with the Siskies you’re stuck with the pad which I’m also not sure would be great to sit on on a hot day. The GL installation page suggests: “For 2-up riding, affix a small seat cushion to the top of the Siskiyou Panniers“.
To stop the bags sliding back you get a strap to attach to the pillion footrest or thereabouts (left), as on the Monsoons but something that was missing from the Magadans’ first version. Subsequent versions low have a tie-off D-ring.
Included with the Siskiyou bags are a pair of alloy exhaust guards (rather like I bodged on my Suzuki – I got the idea from GL). You also get two hose clips, some instructions and a sticker and to stop your sidepanels getting scuffed GL can also supply some protective vinyl film. The exhaust guards are an admission that many a soft pannier has melted like a Cornetto when it shifted or otherwise got too close to the pipe. Modern efi bikes with catalysers run especially hot and indeed the Siskiyou panniers tested on a Husky Terra by Cycle World magazine (April 2013) melted. So like GL say, additional guards may be needed. On any bike you need to think carefully how loaded throwovers will react when they shift on rough roads against a hot pipe. This need avoid or deal with meltdowns with soft bags is why some riders understandably prefer hard alloy or firm resin boxes, although in my opinion mounting soft bags on some sort of rack is the way round this flaw.
The Siskiyous have a sporty cutback base which makes them more suitable for regular bikes with low, upswept pipes. Whatever, this shape will greatly increase the Siskiyou’s fitting options to many more bikes than the usual adv suspects. The GL logo is emblazoned on the sides, but in a pleasingly understated way. Unless that ‘GL’ logo glows, I’m not sure there any reflective surfaces as found on the Mags and Monsoons – possibly the thin edge of the lid?
I did also wonder if access would be a bit of a faff. If they’re fully locked down you unclip the two lid straps, unclip and unroll the outer bag and unzip it, then unclip and unroll the inner bag and unzip that – and you’re in! Of course you don’t need to use those zips; their protection against waterproofing is minimal and zips can jam or break when dirty or used carelessly. In this respect I prefer the bomb-proof, roll-top simplicity of the Magadans and the Monsoons.
So all up you’re getting a good sized touring pannier that looks well made and is usefully featured. The foam protection sandwich is a nice touch, as is including exhaust guards and several lashing points on under and behind the bags; you get a feeling they took a lead from Enduristan here. But – is this £475 ($700) worth of pannier when in the UK Magadans go for £350 and Monsoons for just £230? I wondered that perhaps if you’re paying for the ‘limited lifetime warranty‘ but that only covers the “original purchaser… against … defective materials and craftsmanship only, and does not include damage due to normal wear and tear or misuse“, so no big deal there; after a year they could just put any failure down to wear or misuse.
The Siskiyou panniers certainly feel like they’re up to the rigours of overland travel and design and features fit the bill without any radical innovation. You just need to ask yourself in turn whether the bill for a set lives up to your expectations.