Leather Motorcycle Saddlebags, Tool Bags and Fork Bag

Semper Fi

Five Things You Need to Know Before Buying Saddlebags Online

Dear Fellow Rider,

After 20 plus years of hard riding, I've learned a thing or two about what I sell - and that's mostly fine leather saddlebags and motorcycle accessories. If you're like me, you want to be informed about what you're buying, so here's some stuff that I'd like to share:

It's all about the leather quality and the workmanship. The best leather is the kind you'll find in all my American Made bags - It's called "full grain" or "whole grain" cowhide, which is the whole hide. If you are purchasing leather motorcycle luggage, you want full grain leather. Drum dyed American Full Grain Leather is expensive. The leather alone in a pair of larger bags would cost about $200-$250 before any sewing or cutting begins. Then you want your bags built to last, by experienced artisans.

The word "Leather" can be very misleading: Almost anything that has even ONE PERCENT leather in it can be called "genuine leather." Here are some common types of leather:

* FULL GRAIN or WHOLE GRAIN LEATHER is a whole piece of hide, unsliced and thick - it is the very best! Still, there is great variation within this class of leather because hides differ and tanning processes differ.

* TOP GRAIN LEATHER is the top piece of cowhide that has been split. The top part is the more expensive part if you are splitting the hide because it has the real leather grain showing. (This is what they use to make fine clothing. The full grain would be too heavy for comfort.)

* SPLIT LEATHER is what's left after the top grain is sheared off. It will not have real leather graining on it, so it may be processed with a stamping process that creates a faux-grain. Leather can be split into 2,3,4, and more slices so some split leather is very thin.

* BONDED LEATHER is a composite product made from a combination of slices of leather and/or, vinyl, and other materials bonded together. If not properly bonded, it can bubble and tear. It can be done well, but it's really hard to know. Some people call rather shabby bonded products "leather when there's just a sliver...so know your seller. Some vendors refer to this bonded leather product as "10 ounce leather" It's not!

* HARNESS LEATHER COVER HARD BODY - That's like cheap luggage with a skimcoat of leather over a padded hard surface like fiberboard or plastic. It's junk! One scrape and the thin cosmetic layer of leather is gone. It will bubble within months, maybe weeks.

Do not be fooled - If you are spending serious money you want your leather saddlebags to be crafted from a whole natural piece of cowhide. So ask before you buy: Are these saddlebags made in the USA? Am I buying full whole grain leather? Am I buying a product made from bonded leather?

Leather is measured by weight. Heavier leather weighs more and is thicker. There's a big difference between 8 oz and 12 oz...the saddlebags at the higher weight will weigh in on a scale at almost twice the shipping weight! But there's another parameter to leather and that is the "TEMPER," which is a hardness measurement. A low temper is harder. Fine Italian leather gloves will have a high temper and will be soft. Saddlebags should have a low temper. Mine do!

If the ad does not say "Made in USA" (and, sadly, sometimes even if it does) then the saddlebags you are purchasing are imported from Pakistan or China. They are made from thin-grade vinyl or cheap split leather scraps which have been cured in urine. The skins come from pig or water buffalo (or both) even though they may be called "cowhide." The end product is a kind of leather paper maché with a thick coat of topping to make it look like leather. It won't hold up. It buckles and blisters when wet. The metal is cheap and will rust. The dyes leach out and fade rapidly. Many Ebay and Internet sellers sell products from Pakistani and Chinese importers. You just don't want this stuff. The animals are different; the hides are scraps; the tanning process is primitive; the dyes are unstable; most importantly, the workmanship is not there.

The Internet is like anything else. Some venders are honest, reliable and sell quality products. Then there are the rest. How can you tell the difference? Chat rooms and message boards can help. A personal reference is worth a lot. Most of all, email and/or call the seller yourself to see how responsive they are to specific questions. Reputable sellers respond to your questions and are eager to help. Ask about customer service before you establish a relationship.

YES! Whether you choose throwover or bolt-on saddlebags, every saddlebag needs support brackets for safety, shape retention and durability. Choose from brackets made by the bike manufacturer or aftermarket brackets. Allow at least 1" - 1 1/2" airflow space above the pipe. If you are looking for the latest in quick release technology, then check out EasyBrackets listed right here.So, whether you're looking for affordable saddlebags or for top-of-the-line American Leather Saddlebags at prices that are about half what the dealerships are asking, this should be your guide. I believe you should know exactly what you are buying before you make your purchase.

Thanks & Ride Safe,