If I have one complaint about the dry bags that Kriega let me borrow for a two-week, 3,500-mile motorcycle trip, it's that they sent me too many. I'd original asked to try out the Kriega Overlander 60 Pannier system, entranced by the promise of being able to quickly snap off the luggage off the racks at any stop. But when I opened up the box, Kriega had also thrown in a US-10 and US-30 drypack. So like an idiot would, I decided to fill them up with even more junk that I wouldn't need for a trip that would find me staying mostly in cheap hotels and on friends' couches, and set off from New York with more gear than I've ever carried on my bike before.
I didn't have much of a plan. I hadn't visited my sister and her kids in Kansas City for almost nine months. Since I am going to be out of pocket in May when she's due to pop out another kid, I figured I better get to visiting while I could. I had a couple of weeks where I wasn't needed for anything in person in New York, and after months of stress and worry I needed some time on the road to give me time to let my brain breathe. But I was still working from the road, so despite every effort to pack light, I still needed my nerdy basics: a camera, a laptop, and various toys to keep me occupied in my downtime.
My biggest mistake—and I do this all the time on motorcycle trips—was thinking I was going to get in some camping. I'll admit that half the reason I like bringing my camping gear is pure aesthetics: I ride an F800GS, a very capable "adventure" bike, even if it mostly sees the streets and alleys of New York and long stretches of smooth pavement, not the dirt and single-track fire roads on which it is often pictured in advertisements. An enduro kitted up with soft-side panniers and a blaze orange sleeping bag looks ready for anything, even if the most uncomfortable place I ended up sleeping was a Days Inn with a stiff mattress. If I'd have left the camping gear at home, I could have skipped using the Kriega US-30—strapped to the back Touratech luggage plate that my bike's previous owner had installed—and kept the bike lighter and with a lower center of gravity. (It wasn't a lot of weight up top; I used the US-30 to store my sleeping bag and MacBook Air.)
The US-10 was fitted as a tank bag, using an optional attachment kit that uses four tension straps and just enough velcro to stay taut. (The US-10 has a 10-liter capacity; the US-30 a 30-liter capacity.) If I'd wanted, I could have attached the US-10 to the US-30; most of the Kriega drybags include loop attachments for clipping in to each other. I threw an iPad 3, a point-and-shoot, a rolled up micro-loft puffy vest in a compression sack, and various chargers and tchotkes into the two main pockets of the US-10, depending on whether I thought I'd need quick access (in the front, zippered pouch) or could deal with unclipping the roll-down drybag top that had the majority of the storage capacity.
You know how drybags work, right? In general, there are two philosophies employed by various manufacturers, all of whom use some sort of waterproof material in there *somewhere*. One school use Ziploc-type edging or some sort of waterproof zipper; the more hardcore designs, like those from Kriega, simply leave lots of material around the opening that can be rolled in on itself many times and secured in place. (Although Kriega uses a waterproof zipper on its outer pockets.) The idea is that water won't be able to work its way past the many tight rolls of fabric. For most applications short of actually dunking the drybags underwater and leaving them there, the roll-and-secure designs tend to be more foolproof.
Suffice it to say that everything in all six of the Kriega bags attached to my bike—US-10 as a tank bag; the US-30 as a tail bag; and the four US-15 models that together attach to the pannier plates to form the Overlander 60 system—stayed as dry as week-old roadkill. And I was riding into some pretty hairy storms, many of which spun up tornadoes on their leading edge and did a good job of flooding parts of Illinois while I was in Kentucky. I was at a Cracker Barrel when my first storm hit, and I sat out front under the eaves in a rocking chair while the lightning cracked down a hill watching the rain blow every which way onto the bike and bags. I holed up in a hotel that night, and while the outer nylon shell of the Kriega bags was soaked through (and stayed that way until the next day), the white, removable inner bags kept my clothes and electronics dry.
They did just as well the next morning, when I rode out through a light, misty rain and high winds that kept me riding at speeds under 40 MPH while semi-trucks blew by me on ridgetop highways, splashing muddy water onto the bags and my legs. By the time I stopped about four hours later to see if the *really* big storm was going to blow in, the bags were dry inside and out after maybe an hour of riding in dry, windy breeze.
If I have any complaint, it's how the Overlander 60 pannier system worked for a highway traveller. And bear in mind, that's not exactly what the Overlander 60 is designed for. It's right there in the name. "Overlander" implies dirt riding, lots of camping, maybe staying in places so rough and tumble that you have to sleep next to your bike to make sure somebody doesn't walk away with it. It doesn't imply sleeping on the couch at your buddy's house in the suburbs, which is what I ended up doing. The Overlander 60 bags attach to a big, semi-rigid panel—they're not really designed to be removed individually once attached—which clip on to standard racks (I used a Touratech version) with four clamps. Two of the clamps on each panel tighten by hand; two others have a flip-tensioner that locks in place with a lever. If you keep the two leverless clamps at the right tension, you can strip the pannier bags off the rack just by untightening the two kitty-corner lever clamps and popping the whole unit of the racks. I could get the entire bike stripped of luggage, including the US-10 and US-30, which just clip on using four snap-hasps, in under a minute. I could get the luggage back on in probably about two minutes. That's pretty fantastic. Loading and unloading a bike at a hotel was a breeze.
But unfortunately, keeping those leverless clamps loose enough to snap on and off without trying to use the persnickity knurled thumb screws to keep them tight caused one of them to rattle off while I was riding home. (Sorry, Kriega. There's a piece of metal somewhere on I-70 in Indiana or Ohio that belongs to you.) The Overlander 60 with the missing clamp stayed on just fine—I imagine it would be secure with even just the two lever clamps—but it did make me wonder why all four of the clamps don't use the lever system instead.
Still, that's user error. I got lazy about retightening the panniers every time. Hard to fault Kriega for that. Besides, the system is designed so that people taking bikes through bad terrain can easily take off heavy, stuffed bags if they need to push their bike through or around or over an obstacle; they weren't designed for making them easy for a soft, tired man to get inside to watch iPad movies in his underwear as quickly as possible.
One funny thing: even though the Kriega system doesn't have a lock anywhere (and is soft-sided, besides), I actually never really worried about going inside somewhere for a short while. If a nervous thief walked up to a drybag on a bike, I'm not sure they'd quickly grok how to get the damn things open, even if all it takes is a quick unclipping of three hasps to unroll the top.
All in all, I was pleased to ride with the Kriega gear. It's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. The Overlander 60 is $800, and you still need to bring your own rack. But it looks good, works as advertised for keeping your gear safe and dry, and—although I had the good fortune to not fall off my bike this trip—is made of the kind of tough Cordura nylon that resists abrasion in a fall. (I actually did put my bike down on one of the bags when I stupidly started to get off of the bike without putting the kickstand down, but I eased the whole bike to the garage floor once I realized it was falling, so that's not exactly a stress test, except for my heart.) And while I was really happy with having the four 15-liter bags down low but clipped securely to metal racks on the long trip—much better than the big packs I usually strap to the tail of my bike, or the strap-on hanging soft luggage I've used a couple of times that is a pain to detach and reattach—I actually think I'd do just fine with only the US-30 on the bike for dry storage for clothing and electronics if I actually planned properly and packed light as I should have. Most of us don't have the budget to kit out an entire bike with a few dozen liters of high-end, UK-designed dry storage, but even adding just a small capacity bag for essentials is worth consideration. And while my experience with motorcycle luggage is far from encyclopedic, I wouldn't have a moment's hesitation recommending a Kriega bag—they make backpacks and stuff, too—for consideration, with all due caveats of my limited time and scope of testing.
Oh! I almost forgot the coolest part, because I didn't actually get a chance to use it: You can swap one (or all!) of the US-15 bags on the panniers for a post that supports the mounting of smaller Rotopax fuel and water canisters. That could be very handy for longer off-grid treks. Or if you're like me and only go off road a couple of times a year, something that would make you look extra badass in a Cracker Barrel parking lot.