Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kriega's modular motorcycle packs prove to be tough, adaptable ADV riding gear

In gearing up in August 2012 for the inaugural motorcycle ride of Touratech-USA's new 710-mile (1,127 km) Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route, we decided to try something new for storage: a waist pack in place of our KLR 650's tank bag. In the process, we ended up discovering an innovative, modular system for carrying gear that may work well for ADV riders, and riders with more than one bike.

R3 waist pack
A tank bag can interfere with standing on the foot pegs and leaning forward while riding in rough terrain. That wouldn't do for seven days adventuring with TT-USA's COBDR scouting team. A waist pack seemed a practical alternative for the small items we all typically like to have handy in tank bags.

Our search turned up Britain's Kriega line of soft motorcycle bags, including its waist packs. The brand was new to us, and we were impressed by the user comments and reviews. Specifications for Kriega's R-3 waist pack (USD$89) made it seem ideal.

Kriega R3 waistpack in Nevada on the Heart of the West Adventure Route.
The R3's construction and materials--e.g., 1000D Dupont Cordura fabric, heavy-duty padded belt, metal-alloy belt adjuster and more--were described as tough and waterproof. Attention to detail was said to be exceptional. Our experience confirmed those reports.

The three-liter capacity of the R3's main compartment--plus its waterproofed zippered secondary compartment and coated, see-through interior mesh pocket--seemed more than adequate. (If it doesn't for you, an optional "Kube" pocket (USD$25) can be attached to the belt for even more capacity. However, we learned to add only light-weight items to keep the pack from being pulled downward.)

The fact that the pack and its contents go where the rider goes, rather than remaining attached to the bike, appealed as well.

To learn more, we dialed up Michael at BritKit LLC, Kriega's USA distributor. We explained what we were looking for: a waist pack in lieu of a tank bag. (Michael is responsive and helpful on the Kriega thread on the forum

As we talked, the often unused space of the pillion (passenger) area behind the rider came up. Michael recommended putting that space to efficient use with Kriega's UScombo30 Drypack (USD$235), a dry-bag set that consists of a 20-liter waterproof bag topped by a similar 10-liter bag. The 20-liter bag includes removable shoulder and waist straps so it (and, presumably, additional bags that are attached to it) can be carried away from the bike courier style, like a messenger bag.

Below Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride, Colo
We learned as well that if we were to ever want a tank bag again, the Kriega system includes the optional universal US Tank Adapter (USD$35) that will make a 5-, 10-, even a 20-liter dry bag serve as a tank bag. (We've not tried that setup yet.)

Also ruggedly constructed, and waterproof with wide roll-top closures, the bags in the UScombo30 sounded like a good package to supplement the other luggage on the COBDR ride: Ortlieb Dry Bag saddlebags, an Ortlieb tailbag from Touratech-USA, and a Therm-a-Rest Camp N' Carry sack (not waterproof, not designed for moto use, but good for storing a sleeping pad and etc.). (Kriega makes pannier bags and mounts, also modular and adaptable.)

The R3 waistpack and UScombo30 set arrived shortly before the departure date for Colorado, and the meet-up with the other eight members of the COBDR team. It quickly became apparent how much thought (and real-world experience) had gone into making these products adaptable, functional, and seemingly indestructible. The reviews seemed reliable.

To keep contents dry and avoid problems associated with zippers, the R3 (and each of the UScombo30 bags) has a wide, easy-to-use roll-top closure with a lengthwise quick-release buckle. Two external buckles keep the main, rubberized external flap closed.

The bags' main compartments have white interior liners that make it easier to find contents. Being removable, it would be easier to clean as well.

The belt is substantial and well-padded. The quick-release buckle makes it easy to put on and remove. Fine adjustments to the belt's fit required just a quick tug on a metal-alloy slider on the right side, while holding onto a small grab strap on the left. (Easy adjustment is important because I layer my outerwear according to ever-changing mountain weather.)

Bags connect to subframe loops.
The UScombo30 kit includes webbing straps that loop around the bike's subframe (right) or other secure attaching point. Metal-alloy hooks at the ends of a set of webbing straps, fitted with quick-release buckles, connect the bags to loops of the subframe straps. Straps with quick-release buckles connect the bags to each other. The bags also proved quick to attach and detach. With a simple click of the buckles connecting the bottom bag to the subframe straps, both bags can be removed as a single unit.

During the initial installation and attachment, the flexibility of Kriega's modular system became apparent. One can use one bag, or both bags, without any modifications or additional effort. Once mounted, and the webbing straps snugged up, the bags weren't going anywhere.

Kriega also suggests that the bags work well attached to the top of hard aluminum panniers, if hard luggage is your primary storage.

We initially ran the attachment straps from the buckles atop the smaller bag all the way down past the larger bag to the subframe loops (as you can see in the photo below). Not wrong, but not the best way, either. They should have been hooked to the loops on top of the larger bag below it, as designers intended. Even so, the bags were secure.

Simply put, these tough tail packs can be mounted quickly and easily in a variety of ways to suit one's specific requirements and bike.

Seat-mounted UScombo30 in Colorado
The combo's capacity was impressive, particularly when contents were soft, e.g., clothes, a jacket, even the light, supplementary down sleeping bag carried in Colorado and, later, Montana. If the main compartment isn't enough, the bags each have a large zippered (yet waterproof) pocket for small items, and a non-slip mesh external pocket that worked well for stinky socks and damp items. The (very good) instructions showed that one can attach additional Kriega bags to the sides of the bottom bag if still more capacity is needed.

As planned, we used the UScombo30 and R3 on the seven-day COBDR ride, which included dust, rain, mud, stream fordings, rocks, and a couple of crashes.  On stormy nights, the bags stayed handy outside the tent with no worries that contents would get wet. We later used the set on a multiday backcountry ride through Idaho and Montana, camping each night, with's famous "Mobius" adventure-riding team. Finally, the riding season ended in the mountains of the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah, with the Kriega gear in place.

Kriega's UScombo30 on our KLR 650 in Montana.
For waist-pack contents to be accessible, the pack is easily swung 'round to the front. The R3's sliding alloy adjuster makes doing so a snap. A quick tug toward the back loosens the belt. Bring it around to the front, get what you need from the pouch, then swing it to the back again. Give the adjuster a quick pull forward, and the belt snugs back up.

Worn against the rider's back, the waist pack can press against the combo packs on the pillon area, pushing the rider too far forward. The wearer can just loosen the easy adjuster and swing it to the front and wear it that way. But we found that with soft gear stuffed into the combo packs, a solid nudge backwards settled things in just fine, and in fact provided welcomed lower-back support. 

Kriega's anti-bear storage bags.
When camping in the mountains of western Wyoming--black bear country--and later in the Gravelly Range of Montana--grizzly bear habitat)--the 20-liter bag even served well for hanging food in trees, as shown in the photo at left.

Still, with multiple bags it can be difficult to keep track of where one puts things. So it took longer to organize and pack up in the morning, to find things during short stops, and then unpack at day's end. It seemed there were too many places to put things, too many places to search. Fewer Kriega bags, but larger ones packed with non-Kriega colored packing cubes for different categories of gear, seemed simpler.

Kriega's comprehensive luggage system does offer options that we've yet to try. Among them are various combinations of bags that can be attached to each other for as much as 90 liters of capacity.

Kriega's "Kubes"--small supplementary pockets--could help organize things. But like so much motorcycle kit, they're black and gray. That's not helpful when looking for stuff buried deep; they could be colored so categories of gear is more easily located. We did put categories of clothing into clear-plastic baggies, but since motorcycle clothing is typically black and gray, that didn't help much.

Conclusion: To make efficient use of the limited space on a bike, or if you need to quickly move luggage from one bike to another, Kriega's adaptable combo tail bag system may be the ideal choice. And if you want convenient small-item storage that won't interfere when the going gets rough, something that goes where you go, the R3 waist pack is hard to beat.

Recommendation: Buy Kriega luggage with confidence that it will serve you well, and probably for a lifetime of hard use; but develop a packing system that will help you locate items easily.

No comments: