A motorcycle doesn't have a trunk therefore when traveling on two-wheels you need to decide between the must-haves and the nice-to-haves.
You can't carry everything!
This lack of cargo space on a motorcycle obviously prevents you from using your ride to haul home a shopping cart full of groceries or a pile of wood from the hardware store. You certainly have to keep it simple when riding but that doesn't mean you can't pack what you need for an overnight stay or even a week long excursion.
You have many options in terms of motorcycle luggage or panniers therefore deciding on what to bring and how much determines the size and scope of the bags and luggage you attach to your ride. You can attach a number of bags made for motorcycle travel on various sections of your bike that safely store smaller items up to a suitcase's worth of clothes.
Not all motorcycles have the bandwidth to carry each style of luggage designed for riding. Sport bikes have far greater limitations and as a result less luggage options than Cruisers and Touring motorcycles. Additionally, some bags work well on a specific make and model motorcycle but don't fit at all on another. When choosing luggage for your motorcycle always have the make, model and year of your ride to narrow down applicable fitment.
This guide covers the available luggage designed for motorcycles and what you can do with each type. Let's tackle the bigger ones first and work from there.
Saddlebags hang off the rear of the motorcycle and represent the largest of available motorcycle luggage as you can safely store large items and even small suitcases. Saddlebags come in different shapes and sizes for a bit of style and/or molding onto the bike's frame. Most require additional mounting hardware. You can buy "soft" saddlebags, those made of fabric or "hard" saddlebags that have an outer shell like a suitcase.
Trunk Boxes / Tail Boxes / Top Boxes
Call them what you will, but trunk boxes rank very close to saddlebags in size allowing you to stuff more of your stuff. These luggage boxes can hold one or two helmets, depending on size, or to put it another way, a 12-pack or a six-pack and a gallon of milk. If going this route, you probably need to attach an adapter plate or rear rack.
Tail Bags generally fit on the passenger seat so no two-up riding when using these. These bags rival some saddlebags in size and sometimes double as a back rest depending on the make and model of your motorcycle. You can also attach tail bags to a luggage rack or sissy bar depending on its configuration.
Sissy Bar Bags
Sissy Bar bags attach, obviously, to the sissy bar on the back of some bikes, primarily Cruisers. If you don't have a sissy bar, as sport bikes generally don't, then you should probably find a different type of bag. Sissy bar bags have one benefit other bags don't in that they stack quite well - as high as your bar goes. Sissy bar bags, like tail bags, also double as a back rest and pad the hardened bar fixture, but mostly for a passenger.
Popular with the sport bike crowd, tank bags strap to the gas tank and conform to the bike without inhibiting your comfort or ability to ride. Some expand for additional room and others double as a backpack when off the bike.
Windshield and Fork Bags
The smallest of the available motorcycle luggage these bags attach to the windshield of cruisers or on the fairings or forks. You have limited space and most riders place items like their wallet, insurance card and spare parts in these bags for easy accessibility.
Not technically considered motorcycle luggage, but you can easily wear a backpack that fits snug and doesn't inhibit your ability to ride nor affect wind resistance.
Installing a luggage rack safely stores many of the bags noted above and even smaller travel style suitcases when strapped down. With a bit of ingenuity, you can load up your motorcycle for the long haul and carry a lot more than you might think.