Is there a best way to carry cargo on your motorcycle? Yes… if balance, handling, and safety are important to you.
How to position cargo on a motorcycle
When positioning any cargo on your motorcycle or scooter, strive for two things:
- The lowest COG (Center of Gravity) possible.
- The most neutral balance possible.
The degree to which these can be achieved will vary depending on the size and shape of your cargo and from bike to bike.
The heavier the cargo the more its position matters
The heavier your cargo the more important that it is positioned as low as possible and as much toward the center of the bike as possible.
Place the weight low
The lower the weight of your load is positioned the lower the motorcycle’s center of gravity (COG) will remain and the more stable the bike will be. Place weight high on a motorcycle (or scooter or bicycle or anything 2-wheeled) and the more top heavy the motorcycle becomes; it wants to tip over; balance becomes more of a wrestling match.
It’s the same principle at work when you stand on the footpegs vs sit on the seat — standing on the footpegs places your body weight lower on the motorcycle (the footpegs are lower than the seat) thus lowering the bikes COG and increasing its stability.
Follow this same logic when you are loading motorcycle luggage such as a top case or tail bag or panniers — place heavy items as low in the luggage as possible. e.g. heavy items at the bottom of a pannier or saddlebag rather than in a top case or tail bag. Lower is better.
Center the weight
Ideally you want any added weight on a motorcycle to be centered — centered and balanced from side to side and centered from front to back. In a perfect world this puts the weight roughly over the footpegs. However since that’s where you sit this isn’t exactly practical. So position the weight centered from side to side and then as far forward towards you as comfortably possible.
Obviously if your cargo is very light then positioning it forward is not so critical, but in general, think of any load as you would a pillion. You want the weight snugged up against you.
Why? For the same reason the engine (the heaviest part of the motorcycle) is placed low and in the center of the bike. Neutral balance. Place too much weight at the rear of the bike and the front end becomes overly light. Traction and handling are compromised. Not good.
How to secure cargo on a motorcycle
Once optimum placement is determined your cargo must be secured to the motorcycle in such a way that it stays firmly in place and moves in unison with you and the motorcycle — similar to how a good pillion moves. The load must lean together with the bike, move up and down together with the bike, and hold on to the bike strongly enough to withstand the increased forces exerted on it while in motion.
We strongly recommend using cargo tie-downs designed specifically for use on a motorcycle to do this. For extensive information on why, and on how best to secure cargo to a motorcycle, check out our article on The Riders Blog: Why We Never Use Bungee Cords On A Motorcycle And Neither Should You.
Adjust your shocks
Depending on how much weight you are carrying you may want to stiffen up your rear shock a bit. Adjust it per manufacturers specifications or as you would for carrying a pillion.
Know your limits
Above all, never try to carry too much, either in weight or in bulk. Before transporting any heavy load on your motorcycle or scooter, always check the manufacturers maximum weight capacity specification. No joke. Springs and shock absorbers are only so strong, and motorcycle frames can (and do) break.
Safety first. Always.
The most important consideration when carrying any extra load on your motorcycle — pillion or package — is that you both arrive safely at your destination. Following these few simple guidelines while loading your motorcycle will help ensure that happens.
Have fun. Ride safe.