“Don’t go and spoil it by putting a rack and bag on it!” Shane, a young riding-acquaintance, had just bought a Suzuki GSXR750. A friend of his was used to seeing his previous bike adorned with this accessory and was imploring him not to similarly ruin (in his view!) the look of the new bike. “I use it for work and need to carry things,” Shane replied, “So it’s got to have a bag!” In my article “A Bag On The Back” I wrote about the practicalities of having some luggage or carrying-capability on your bike. And in the article “Unusual But Useful Things We Carry” many readers provided extensive lists of items they considered indispensable for journeying around on their bike. The down-side to luggage though, which Shane’s friend was referring to, is that it rarely enhances the appearance of a bike. And the more sporting the bike’s style, the more that style is compromised by having a great lump of luggage sticking up over the back mudguard. But if you don’t need to carry too much, there is an alternative. Yes, you can go for the low rack and “sports-bag”, which is much less bulky than a top-box or full-size bag, but it still detracts from the sporty style of the rear. Another alternative is to fit a small tank-bag. You still have something in which to carry those little essentials you need to have with you – like your wallet, phone, ear-plugs, medications (for us old blokes), and so on – but without detracting too much from the svelte lines of your sporty steed. But a small tank bag can also be useful for touring; providing somewhere to store the afore-mentioned incidentals, leaving the big capacity items – panniers, top-box etc – free for the bulky stuff. And having these items in a bag in front of you on the tank can also be more convenient than having everything packed in the panniers on the back. Over the past couple of months I’ve been reviewing one of the new SPA tank bags from Ventura. That’s it pictured above, and on the left. These bags fit the bill exactly for the sort of use I referred to above. They have a capacity of 7 litres when fully expanded, there’s an external wallet or keys pocket, an external mobile-phone pocket with clear window, and an internal pocket accessed from the top of the bag. There are pull-tags on all the zippers for easy use with gloved hands, and you also get a shoulder strap to carry it around off the bike. Like all Ventura products, this is a top-quality unit, made from 100% waterproof fabric, with internally bound seams and double-fold bound external seams. It’s a quality product! There is a very significant difference between this and most other tank bags though; this one doesn’t use magnets. With an increasing use of plastic in the construction of motorbikes – including petrol tanks – there is a need for an alternative means of attaching luggage like this; because magnets don’t work too well on plastic! What does work is suction-cups; and the SPA bag has four of them, one on each side, the front and the back. And just in case the suction cups fail – all four of them, which is pretty unlikely! – there is a safety strap which you loop around some solid part of the bike (like the steering-head) and clip to the bag. As I mentioned above, the bag is adorned with several pockets. I like having separate pockets or compartments; you can put things in particular places and they stay there and are easy to retrieve. It’s what I don’t like about top-boxes and panniers – with those you just chuck it all in and three bumps and two corners later everything gets mixed up. Although with all the zippers and pockets it’s a bit like a lady’s handbag. Women will love this; us blokes will probably just get confused! The main zip you can see as you sit on the bike is a big one across the bottom. That’s not the main compartment though. It’s a very handy flat pocket for keeping maps, and other non-bulky items in. There are two main zippers that run from the left side around the front and down the right side. One of these opens up the main storage area of the bag and the other one allows the bag to be expanded. This is where us blokes will get confused; remembering which one is which. For the record, the top one opens it up, the bottom one allows it to expand. It took me a while to remember this. For some reason my logic told me that the top one would be the one that would allow it to stretch higher, so I was always going for the bottom one to open it up. (I’m a bloke, I’m hopeless with handbags too. If my wife asks me to get something out of her handbag I usually take a packed lunch with me!). The phone pocket will easily hold older (smaller) style phones, but it’s not really designed for today’s larger models. I tried a couple. I did get an iPhone in, and the zipper closed, but it was a very tight fit and involved a bit of shoving. A smaller touch-screen smart-phone fitted a little better, although it was still tight. The pocket really needs to be a bit larger to keep up with current technology phones. It’s a similar situation with the other external pocket, which is intended for your wallet or keys. It’s fine for keys, but a standard size wallet is a very tight fit. See the photo below. I got mine in – just – and the zipper closed, but it was an effort. (And no, it wasn’t because my wallet was bulging with money!). The problem is the shape of the pocket, which, as you can see, is rounded at the top. If it was square it’d be fine. Personally, I still carry my phone and wallet in my jacket, so for me it isn’t a concern; but the fact remains that both of these pockets can present problems accommodating the items for which they are intended. Speaking of intended functions, I said that this bag is ideal for carrying smaller items; it’s obviously not intended to carry large stuff. But what if you didn’t have big-capacity luggage? You couldn’t use this to tour with, could you. Could you? I decided to try. I thought I’d see just how much touring-type stuff I could get in. The result you can see in the photo below. Yes, all that did fit in! It was a bit squashed (better hope the motel has an iron!), but it fitted. What I’ve got here is 2 T-shirts, 1 pair of light-weight trousers, 2 pairs of undies, 2 pairs of socks, 1 map, 1 book, 4 lots of medication, 1 phone and 1 wallet. The clothes I put in the main compartment (with socks and undies at the narrower front end), and all the other stuff in the top pocket. (The phone and wallet went in their special pockets). With the medications I just shoved the packets in. If you were doing it for real you’d just take a few pills out of each. (You don’t really want a whole pack of 48 Panadol for a couple of days do you!). The book was 15mm thick. (If you were reading “War & Peace” you’d be leaving that at home!). Okay, there’s none of the other stuff I carry with me (such as wet-weather gear, wet-ones, tissues, cap, camera, etc etc), but you get the picture of just what this bag can hold if you really try! (And if you did use it for a trip, you could put some of that stuff under the seat and in your jacket pockets). So it’s a lot more useful than you might think from its relatively diminutive size. There are, of course, some down-sides to a tank-bag. Unless you own something like a BMW F-series (which has the fuel tank under the seat), one of the disadvantages of a tank-bag is that it will more than likely cover the fuel-filler. If the tank is long enough, you might be able to position it towards the back so that it leaves the filler free, but more than likely it will end up covering the filler. You’ll just have to move it out of the way to fill up. (Of course you could cut a hole in the bottom of the bag to poke the pump nozzle through, but I wouldn’t recommend it!). One thing that might determine exactly where you position the bag is the shape of the tank. The tank on my bike is quite wide, with a ridge running along each side of the top of the tank. When I tried positioning the bag right down the back of the tank the suction-cups on the sides were right on the sharpest part of the ridge, and of course wouldn’t stick. Moving it forwards a bit helped, but the cups were still on the ridge. However I found that by positioning it slightly off-centre, the cups on each side were on a flat surface and stuck well. So, as I said, depending on the shape of your tank, you might need to move it around a bit to find the best spot. Apparently some people get confused at how to fit the front strap. What happens is you unclip it from the bag and feed the buckle end around the headstock (or similar attachment point), then poke it through the loop on the other end of the strap. Then just attach the clip to the bag and adjust the strap so that it is held tight. With the four suction-cups holding it firmly in place it doesn’t move much, if at all. But I still prefer to put a piece of soft cloth underneath the bag to prevent any scuffing of the tank surface. In fact they recommend you do this in the accompanying leaflet. There is a separate padded layer on the bottom to stop items inside from pummelling the tank, but a soft cloth under that is still a good idea. There’s a carry-handle on the front of it, and also the shoulder-strap I mentioned that clips to D-rings on the carry handle. Although the fabric is totally waterproof, the instructions say not to use the bag in the rain, because the suction-cups might slide off. That might be a bit difficult if it starts to rain while you’re already out on a ride! But the distributors, (Kenma Australia), say not to worry too much about that; they say it won’t fall off. They do say that water can seep in through stitches and zippers though; as with pretty much all soft luggage. So far I haven’t had it in the rain, so I can’t really comment. I suppose the bottom line is that if it’s pouring rain when you leave maybe it’s best not to use it. This is a great little item, and hugely practical! You can use it instead of fitting “unsightly” (as Shane’s friend would describe it!) luggage on the back, or you can use it as a convenient addition to those larger capacity items. Also, your tank doesn’t have to be made of steel for it to work. And as I demonstrated, it’s a lot more useful than it might seem! Personally, I like having my top-box on the back. So I'll be using the tank-bag for "extra" luggage; or times when I want particular things in particular pockets and have it all conveniently placed on the tank in front of me. And it's great for that. But if you are more concerned about style and prefer to keep the rear of your bike free of encumbrances like bags and boxes, then this little number could be an ideal alternative to those more permanent fixtures. And of course it is easily removed if you want to have the whole bike looking sleek and svelte again. It’s available from all good motorbike and accessory shops (and even some of the bad ones could probably still order it in!) for $99. For more information and details of stockists, contact Kenma Australia.
P.S. Kenma say they have already made Ventura aware of the problem with the size of the phone and wallet pockets. Ventura have said that the next batch of bags will have a larger phone pocket.
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