To BMW or to Touratech? ... That is the question.

So I have been riding my F650GS for a while, without any saddles bags and only crash bars.  For some strange reason, I always have this strange idea in my head that I have saddle bags on.  I know I'm only going insane but my shadow was telling me something.   So I decided ... "WTF, might as well get them since I will probably need the storage anyway."  It came time at last.  What to buy?  The BMW saddle bags or the Touratech Panniers?  Which one would be better?  BMW is a known name... I don't know Touratech...  Plus, the BMW ones are sizable and the Touratech ones are rigid.  The BMW ones are less expensive and the Touratech ones are more expensive (you'd figure that a nerd like me would notice the difference between plastic and aluminum, but NO!! ).

Ok, so I'm a beginner and don't know any better.  Yes I should have checked the forums on  the net but I declare momentary stupidity (That happens a lot lately ).  In retrospect I should have gotten the Touratech Panniers.  Below is an experience I had with the BMW saddle bags while trying to go off-road.  One thing is for sure, I never went off-road again with my F650GS because of the BMW bags.  I don't have a bottomless wallet to keep on fixing those bags every time I drop the bike.

Yes the expandability of the BMW bags are cool (going from 20 liter to 30+ liter) but the bags are really flimsy.  They're great for around town and carrying your take-out lunches and diners but they're really not meant for any type of off-roading.  I would have gone of road more often if I had the Touratech panniers because of their ruggedness.

So one day, after a weeks worth of rain and a weeks worth of drying off the landscape, I decided to take my F650GS out for an off-road excursion.

This is on the 395 heading North to the Mojave desert

I have just broken in my Gaerne motocross boots (SG10) and I'm looking forward to hitting the dirt.

What I didn't know was, I had horrible tires for off-roading.  I later read on some F650 forums and found out why they call the Bridgestone Trailwings .... DEATHWINGS.   This is because they are so incapable of any off-road traversals.

Anyway, the trail I took was a known trail that I have been on for years in the Mojave desert.  It's BLM land so nobody was going to chew my fat for trespassing.  I also know the terrain very well, plenty of sand and gravel.  At first I thought of blazing a trail like a motocross but I quickly realize, the F650GS is really not meant to take that level of punishment.  The bike is more aligned with riding on packed dirt.  Access roads, jeep trails, or mild gravel roads.  I know somebody out there is going to say... "Oh... You just don't know how to ride."   That's alright, I'll just ride the way I know best and within my means.  Plus I had DEATHWINGS on.

So here I am, out in the middle of nowhere plodding along this very loose dirt road.  I find that the front wheel keeps on wanting to drop out from underneath me (e.g. low-side).  I know this would be bad because even though I'm glad to be on "TERRA-FIRMA", I generally don't like the kick backs that she can dish out.  For me that equates that to .... OUCH!!! and money spent on fixing equipment.  So I pick my lines switching back and fourth from side to side finding the best route possible.  The entire time the bike is squirly and is drifting back and forth in the deep sand.  The Gaerne boots are heavy so they are great as counter weights to keep the bike in check when it wants to fall.

As you might guess, lady luck pimpslaps me and says ... "nice try.".  I hit a really deep patch of sand and immediately low-side.  Within a millisecond or less (at least it felt that way), I was on my side looking at the beautiful blue sky thinking ... "WOW!!! that was fast!"  The bike is also pinning my left heal down.  Fortunately the Gaerne boots did what they were suppose to do  (I thanked the almighty buddah for giving some bright engineer somewhere the idea of steel toe boots with hard plastic shells )  I managed to free myself and crawled out from underneath the bike and noticed something most uncool.  My left BMW saddle bag was about 6-10 feet behind me.  .... "Not cool mang!!! Not cool at all!"  I then picked up the bike (it was easier and lighter than I had thought) and put it on it's kickstand.  I then pickup the fallen bag and tried to see what happened to it.  After a quick moment I noticed the top mounting bracket had half sheered off.  At that moment it finally dawned on me ... "I forgot to bring rope, zip-ties, and duct tape!!!" ... it was a major... !!!!

I have learned a long time ago... never leave home without rope.  At a minimum have nothing else but just rope.  This is from all my experiences back-country backpacking and camping.  You leave home without rope and you'll be in the a world of hurt.  Especially when you need it.

Fortunately for me, the path I took is the one not least traveled.  Soon enough a camper came up behind me.  The person noticed I was on the side of the trail tinkering with my left saddle bag.  What I was really trying to do is tie the saddle bag back onto the saddle bag mount with the rope (tie cord) from the top soft case bag.  Calling it rope is a stretch.  It's more like a flimsy twine.

Not pretty but it did the job.

The person in the camper was gracious enough to ask me if everything was OK.  What do you think my first question was? .... "Do you have any duct-tape?"    He then went to the back of his camper and looked about.  He didn't find any Duct-tape but did manage to find a bungee cord.  I offered him thanks and took the cord anyway.  I figure I'd find a way to make this thing work.  I thanked him again and then he rode off into the sunset like the Duke.  well, not really.  He kept on going down the trail.

As you might notice, I also broke the left signal light housing.  Look at the kickstand and
see how deep it is in the dirt.  That was on thepacked side of the trail.

So when I finished, I decided to enjoy a bit of the scenery before heading back out.  This was the only rope and bungee I had so I didn't want to chance smashing up the right side saddle bag too and causing more problems for myself.  Sadly enough, I had to turn around.  I wanted to continue on but couldn't.

This was the time of year when the Mojave desert is blooming.  We had an unusual level of rain in the desert so all the flowers were out in force.  On the way up I noticed fields upon fields of poppy flowers turning the landscape orange and yellow.  This was also the year where Badwater in Death Valley turned into a lake.  Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to make it to Death Valley.  It would have been fun to wade in a couple feet of extremely salty water and maybe launch an egg or two to see if it floats.

Nothing like beautiful scenery to get my mind off of busted saddle bags.

The trip back home was quite uneventful.  120 miles later I was back in Arcadia.  I took the broken bag in and examined it a little closer.

Suffice to say, $60+ later, the bag was repaired.  Knowing how flimsy the bag was, I went ahead and order an extra top mounting bracket in the event one of the two bags broke off again.

Bottom line, go Touratech or something more sturdy if you plan on going off road.  BMW's bags just don't cut it.

Written on: October 1, 2005
Last modified: September 3, 2007