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.
Original pics for this post sadly lost in the clouds
In Phoenix the CRF was waiting for me, as were a dozen boxes of accessories to finish off the job the first owner had started before he flogged it with less than 1000 miles.
As a reminder, he fitted a pipe, plate, EJK fuel controller, tail rack, 13T, Shorei battery and the white plastics. Most of the original bits were there too.
Lying on the floor there on the left I had a set of Aussie Barkbusters with the large Storm handguards, a Spitfire screen, some bar risers, a 12V socket, a couple of RAM mounts and some Double Take mirrors along with lube, filters, a Trail Tech Vapor and some maps.
The cheap risers and 12V socket were clearly sourced from the reject bin in some Guandong factory and needed redrilling to fit right – the 12v even had the blue and brown wires the wrong way round which caused a small bang and some smoke! At least there was enough cable on the Honda to get 2 inches out of the risers. The Barks went on easily enough; I refitted the original 14T, replaced the shift lever with a folder, got an AZ plate and some insurance ($28 for half a year!) and then we set about the shock and the side racks.
On the plane over I had a thought that the shock wouldn’t be up to my weight and the load. The L I’d tested in February had been reassuringly firm but when it came to loading the rear spring on my Phoenix bike the collar adjustment rings were factory-set solid. We unbolted the shock (the usual near blind nuts make it easier with two people and the battery out) and Al whacked the collar rings apart. He pointed out a useful trick in turning the loose top sleeve out of it’s notch to give another 5mm of tension, but on bounce testing we decided to go all the way and fabricate an additional half-inch sleeve, splitting a right-diametre tube, fitting it and tacking it in place to rack the preload right up and have a bit more to spare. That required compressing the spring in a press but the shock is otherwise unmodifiable and a decent compression damped unit starts at $600.
Al Jesse was also using my bike to try out the prototype of the new MonoArm rack he’s designed. Jesse mount systems are typically cunning affairs with minimal metal; my version is a bit heftier until the final form is pinned down.
I didn’t know what to expect but what we have here is a q/d platform rack no less (he must have read my mind) onto which I’ve chosen to semi-permanently attach my Magadans (I could as easily remove the pans from the plate, but the whole point is the rack itself is q/d). Each side plate locates into corresponding slots and the mounting system’s special feature you’ll learn about later makes it particularly well suited to slinky sub-framed dual sporters like the L. Removal of the platform with bags attached is with a nut and spacers, but production versions will use the tamper-proof QRDP lock by the time it’s all out.
Sunday Al put a cooler full of water in his KLX 250 S’s top box and we went for a ride up in the Weaver Mountains around Castle Hot Springs to see how my adaptions weighed up and pull off an mpg test. I was concerned the EJK black box might might have affected this as the original owner had intimated. Even then, with the Honda’s tiny tank (I’ll have a 5-litre fuel bag and may need another) it’s going to be stops every two hours to pay out for 8 bucks of fuel at a time.
First impression was a lot of noise and no jaw-dropping gobs of extra power over the Honda test bike I road in February (I do wonder if that press bike had been fine tuned…). With pipe and airbox and EJK, power should have been up some 30% (18 to 24hp supposedly) but the Kawasaki was having no difficultly keeping ahead. We’d already tried to quieten the FMF ‘Q-Pipe’ by fitting a restricting washer up it’s spout and though it made a small difference in the garage, once on the road I couldn’t see myself living with that racket. Acceleration was especially noisy; we hoped the holes that had got drilled into the airbox side might address that but back at Al’s, tapping them up made no difference. Luckily the stock pipe was at hand and easy to refit.
Other than that all was well. By the end of four hour’s riding the old backside was getting warm; that shock is pretty firm now and chattered into bends, but should be on form with a load. Standing up the bars were still two inches too low – Al’s KLX by comparison was just right. Not sure how to get around that without cable issues. Tyres at street pressures were OK and the brakes a bit touchy on the loose gravel inclines, but that will just be me getting used to the bike. The Slipstreamer Spitfire screen too felt a bit close to my face when bashing over ruts but the ‘pressure balancing’ gap at the base caused no turbulence on the highway. I did think it could pull still more gearing but there’s no room in there for a 14T so it will have to be 3 or 4 teeth off the back end. Unfortunately it was the din that left the biggest mark.
As for mpg. Al’s KLX recorded 96 miles on the loop; the Honda 83.5 – an unlikely 15% discrepancy so one odometre was out; tyres and gearing were standard on both our bikes. Assuming the Kawa’s distance reading was correct then the Honda was doing an impressive 62.3 US or 75UK mpg. If the Honda’s 83.5 miles is in the ballpark it’s more like 54.2 US but still 65UK mpg, what I recorded last March on the stock press bike. We were going pretty slowly (no more than 55mph on the KLX or 50 on mine) so I suspect somewhere in between is right.
Back at base I checked the speedo against a Nuvi satnav and up to 30mph it seemed spot on for speed though over a mile the odo was 10% under. A closer test with my Garmin 62 or even the Trail Tech Vapor unit will get to the bottom of it. And it sure was nice to ride the back streets with that quiet stock pipe back on, even if at 12lbs it’s double the weight of the Q Pipe.
Unfortunately the proto side rack doesn’t fit round the fat OE can and needs to be modified a bit. That and the fact that my ‘two-day’ helmet delivery is still with UPS meant I was running out of time to get to South Sound BMW for Saturday. We talked about good routes on the weekend but a 250 is not the best machine when you need to cross a continent in a hurry.
The northwest was never my plan on this trip and my decision to fly up north (about the same price when you add it up) was made easier by today’s weather warnings across the Southwest. Here in Phoenix it’s been baking at over 30 Celcius last few days but today in Flagstaff it was snow and 60mph gusts – undesirable conditions aboard a skimpy 250.
It all gives me more time to get the Honda in shape for a shorter ride for a presentation at Roseville, CA before swing back through Utah’s Canyonlands.
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 2s and used them with a 650 XCountry in Morocco.
Update – May 2013 I finally got a chance to actually use my Magadans for a few weeks’ ride around the Southwest USA. 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 on both trips. 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 compared half a dozen soft bags. Highest score? Magadans.
Adventure Spec Magadans
Bags supplied 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, old Kriega Overlanders from £500 all up, Steel Pony Gascoynes AUD350 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.