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Top Loading or Side Loading Saddlebags?

Last Sunday I went out to enjoy a nice leisurely ride through the beautiful Utah mountains. At one of my first stops, a lookout over the large Jordanelle Reservoir, just south of Park City, I had someone walk up to me and say "They sure screwed up on those bikes, didn't they?" Being a huge fan of the Nomad I was a bit confused about what he was referring to. Was it the lack of ground clearance? Or possibly the underpowered engine? Or maybe the unimpressive fuel economy? No, none of the thing that I had felt the bike may have lacked was what he was referring to. I asked him, what he was referring to and he said, "those side loading saddlebag".

I always thought that the Nomad's 9.6 gallon each (only outsized by Victory's Cross Country bags, which hold 10.5) saddlebags were what made the bike stand out and I consider them one of the best looking bags. Harley's hard saddlebags are top loading, as are most cruiser-type motorcycles, but hold a gallon less. Larger, sport touring type bikes, such as the Goldwing, Concours, etc are all side loading.

What makes more since top or side loading bags? What are some of the pros and cons you have observed? Why would Kawasaki go to top loading bags and then 2 years later go back to the old side loading with the Vaquero? Would you ever consider side loading bag the result of a screwed up design?

Jared M. Gant


  1. Well I ride a 'Wing and lust after a Cross Country. The bag design is only part of the bike.Everything is reachable when I open the bags on the 'Wing, and everything has a chance to fall out and have to be repacked.If I could talk my wife into keeping the 'Wing and adding the Victory I could do a long term comparison...

  2. Hey Dave,

    That red Victory CC Tourer sure is a beautiful bike! I also think it is the only bike with larger saddlebag than the Nomad.

    If the Misses ever lets you get one, make sure you share your impressions!



  3. I have an FJR w/ side loading bags. I have had a Venture and VStar with top loading bags. I like the top loading bags. Sometimes thinks fall out of the side opening bags. I do LOVE the fact that I can take my FJR bags off with just the turn of the key. It is easy to unpack for the night on the road. If I had to choose side load removeble or top load stationary I would go with side load removable.

  4. Very good point! A lot of sport touring bags that are side loading easily come off which I'm sure is awesome! With the Venture and Vstar does it take tools to take the bags off?

  5. Looks. The original nomad bags look better than the bags on the voyager. From a functional standpoint, it's a toss up. I could fit a 17" Mac Book Pro in a bag on the Nomad, but not a helmet. With my BMW, I can fir a helmet, but not my 13" Mac Book. Depends on what you need and like. I like the quick detachable feature of BMW bags too, but the shape makes packing interesting. The nice thing is that they seal well enough to float.

    I think Kawasaki wanted a bag for the voyager that had a lot of capacity, fit the style of the bike and possible be reasonable to manufacture. Having ridden a Voyager, it seems to be Kawasaki's version of an EG Ultra. The problem is it is a value based execution. I think they need to go back to the drawing board and redo a few things: More power, ABS standard on all models above 900cc, a larger gas tank of about 6 gallons, sturdier trunk and bags, and different gear ratios. Even if they went back to the old Nomad style bag, I would want it to be at least an inch or two deeper, like here: . Those are more than a couple inches deeper. Looks nice. I remember sending someone in Kawasaki's marketing department a link to this website. I guess it didn't take hold. Too bad.

  6. I ride a Nomad, too. I like the side-load bags, but they're not 100% side-load. Mine have shaped inner liners, OEM items, that have top zippers, top quarter zippers, outside pockets, handles, and removable shoulder straps. I've rented Harleys, and don't care for the top load bags.