By Ed Hiatt
(Click on any photo for a larger image)
The perennial question do I ride with hard or soft luggage! This year I decided to try something a little different. On this trip my camping spot would be a bed in the home of a good friend. Without the need to pack for camping this might be a good time to test Happy Trails' new Sahara Soft Luggage Side Bags. Tim hooked me up with Mojave bags and the new Soft Luggage Rack to match. This was a big step for me—I've been using and selling hard luggage almost as long as I've been riding Dual Sport.
Every year as we head into fall I start planning my October trip to Jarbidge NV, a small mining town on the Nevada - Idaho border. It has a neat history and some really great prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights.
Happy Trails' owner Tim Bernard took me down to Jarbidge five or six years ago. The four of us on that trip learned some valuable lessons about travel in the High Desert. We were relying pretty much on GPS maps for routes we'd never ridden before—we fell short of our destination by about a hundred and thirty miles after riding across cow trails and stretches of "road" that had all the dirt stolen from them leaving nothing but rocks for mile long stretches.
I return every year to ride the Amazing Fall Colors. It is an awesome sight with the Aspen and all other trees in the height of their changes. It's a tricky time of year for this ride because you're traveling 280 miles of high desert in the dry times you have miles of dust and after a rain it becomes a fight for survival as the mud quickly fills the inside of your tread and sticks there.
In fact, on my previous ride to Jarbidge I had a new set up with one of my favorite pannier kit, the Owyhee six inch, pre-mounted for the style of riding I do. The suspension wasn't quite right for me and the load I packed that weekend, so I had a few too many get-offs, one of them sending my bike off the edge of the road. The pannier was the only thing keeping it from a bath in the Bruneau River.
Over the years I have used my panniers for a variety of things... they've been a center stand for roadside tire repair, a container for holding water so I could clean up using warm water—no, I did not heat the water in the pannier, that's what cooking pots are for. On more than one occasion my panniers kept the bike off my leg, preventing injury and helping me get my bike upright again.
Because of my good experience with our aluminum panniers I've never considered soft luggage as an option for travel in the back country. But this year I wanted to pack light and the difference in weight between my hard panniers and our new soft luggage was a good place to lose a few pounds. (Many would suggest my waist is a better place to lose the weight and yes, they're right but that's a much harder approach.)
I try not to make big changes in my bike set up before a long ride, but this one seemed like a pretty safe change. I could get my sleeping bag in one bag and my tools, bike repair gear and clothing in the other. This kept my tail rack free for some extra fuel. Our 280 mile first day was a mix of pavement and dirt, the dirt everything from good dirt road to some gnarly rocky stuff. It was a very dry ride so I wasn't concerned about water, but we had a lot of dust, and no problems with dust getting into the bags.
I tried to see how much punishment they would take, and hit lots of sage brush at a good speed. Other than picking up some nice Owyhee pin striping they held up great. My left side bag carried a good deal of weight with no trouble (tool roll, spare tubes, air pump and miscellaneous gear). I like the fact that you can remove them from either side of the bike, and I like that there is no strap over the seat.
The Sahara bags performed great and were problem-free. Will I change the way I ride and switch to soft luggage all the time? The answer is no. For most of my traveling I will use my aluminum panniers. But when I want to pack light I will turn to the Mojave—it's proven itself to me. It's another great line of luggage for Happy Trails and a reminder of Tim's continuing dedication to offering great luggage at an affordable price.
Click on any photo for a larger image