Bungee cords have been around for a long time. Their concept is simple: crimp a hook on each end of an elastic cord and use the resistance of the stretched cord to hold an item in place. It’s not rocket science.
Overlooking the inherent danger of any metal hook attached to any elastic cord, perhaps bungee cords might work well enough in the back of a pickup truck or some other stable 4-wheeled vehicle, but when it comes to strapping a load of cargo onto your motorcycle or scooter — whether it be for touring, adventure travel, off-roading, or your daily commute — bungee cords are an inappropriate if not flat out dangerous design.
Fortunately, these days we have better options.
The danger of using bungee cords
So what exactly is it that’s so dangerous and wrong about using bungee cords on a motorcycle? Actually, what’s not dangerous and wrong about it.
Without getting too graphic… statistically speaking bungee cords are one of the most common causes of eye injury. Go ahead and Google it: bungee cord eye injury statistics. Fair warning though, it’s not pretty.
Let’s stop and think about it for a moment — you’ve got these two metal hooks, crimped onto the ends of an elastic band, which is then pulled on hard enough and stretched taught enough for it to hold (hopefully) a heavy load in place.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well to start with, if that stretched bungee cord breaks or in some other way is released, the elastic cord can recoil at upwards of 60 miles per hour. The metal hook attached to the end of that cord can destroy an eye. And they do. Quite literally: you’ll put your eye out with that thing.
Poor quality control
At the risk of stating the obvious, bungee cords are cheaply made. They are mass-produced with the metal hooks quickly crimped onto the cord with minimal, if any, quality control or strength testing. Maybe it’s a strong cord, maybe it’s not. Who knows? What we do know is those hooks come off all the time. And to make matters worse, when that hook is unexpectedly released or does come off the bungee cord there’s a very good chance of it happening while you are leaned in towards your motorcycle, stretching the cord tight, trying to attach the hook on to something. So your face and eyes are target #1. Not good.
All bungee cords will fail. (It’s science.)
Even if you successfully bungee your cargo on to your motorcycle without injury, the inherent shortcomings of bungee cord design remain a problem.
Bungee cords, by design, are destined to fail. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Every time a bungee cord is stretched — whether it’s while you’re attaching it to your motorcycle, or when it’s already attached and your motorcycle and you hit a bump or lean in to a turn (and your cargo shifts) — the elastic fibers of the cord stretch, degrade, and the bungee weakens. Not just throughout the length of the cord but also in the critical areas where the hooks are attached to it. The extreme forces encountered on a moving motorcycle only accelerate this process.
Bungee cords do not need to fail to be dangerous
Another common cause of injury-by-bungee is when the stretched cord slips out of your hand. Snap! Bungees must be stretched extremely tight to make them work. Lose your grip while you are stretching it and in less than the blink of an eye there’s a heavy metal hook speeding toward your face. Not good.
Why bungees are a BAD design for motorcycles, scooters, and even bicycles
Even if bungee cords had magical superpowers that guaranteed they would never break, they are still the wrong choice for use on a motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, or any other 2-wheel transportation.
Think of your cargo as you would a pillion. You want the cargo to move together with you and the motorcycle, not independently. If you lean left, the cargo leans left. You lean right, the cargo leans right. Go up and down over a bump, the cargo goes up and down together with the motorcycle. Whatever you attach to your motorcycle must move in unison with you and the bike and remain firmly attached in the exact place where you fastened it.
By design bungees cords stretch, and if a bungee cord can stretch the cargo can move.
The tighter the bungee, the closer it is to failure
To help avoid any such cargo movement naturally one fastens a bungee cord as tightly as possible by stretching it as far as it can go without breaking. Perfect, right?
Stretching a bungee cord extra-tight may sound like the perfect solution but this stretches the cord to the brink of failure — the tighter a bungee cord is stretched, the closer it is to failure. Add to this the additional stresses exerted by all the bumps and turns one encounters on a moving motorcycle, and snap!
It’s not a risk worth taking.
The dangers of cargo becoming loose while riding
Let’ say you’ve successfully bungeed your cargo to your motorcycle (without injury) and now you are cruising down the road loving life… what’s the worst that can happen when a bungee cord fails (or any tie-down system fails) and your cargo suddenly becomes loose?
It’s nice to think your cargo will simply fall off the rear of the bike and go rolling down the road behind you. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The most likely scenario (also the most dangerous scenario) is that the broken bungee cord setup continues to hold the now loose cargo close enough to the motorcycle that it risks becoming tangled up with the rear wheel, or worse, jammed between the wheel and the frame or the swing arm. This can lock up the rear wheel and have catastrophic consequences. Not good.
TLDR; You don’t want this to happen.
Worst of all, bungees scratch paint
If the risk of personal injury is not reason enough for you to stop using bungee cords, those metal hooks can put deep scratches in the paint of your beautiful motorcycle!! Personally, I think this hurts way more than a bungee hook to the eye.
The safer Solution
Use cargo tie-down straps designed specifically for a motorcycle
There is a safer way to strap cargo to your motorcycle — use cargo straps designed for a motorcycle. They have no metal hooks, they are strength tested, they come in a variety of different weight capacities, different lengths and widths, and they don’t scratch paint.
Securing your cargo using a motorcycle-specific tie-down is a safe process for both you and your bike. First off, no hooks. They attach to your bike with hook-free loop systems designed to never come loose and (bonus) that won’t scratch your paint.
Most notable however is these motorcycle cargo tie-downs are cinched tight AFTER both ends have been attached to your bike. This means no pulling on a rubber band like a bungee cord, and no risk of having it snap back in your face.
Popular brands of motorcycle tie-down straps include:
Rok Straps: hook-free, scratch-free attachment points, Quality controlled, weight-tested stretchability, variety of lengths, widths, and strengths.
Wolfman Universal Tie-Down Straps: No stretch, no scratch, Hook-free attachment to bike
Wolfman Top Rack Straps: Stretch-free, made for use with top-racks.
One bungee-ish exception: the cargo net
One stretchy bungee-like thing that can be helpful when used in conjunction with motorcycle tie-down straps, is a cargo net. A cargo net can help keep items you are carrying gathered together. But do not use a cargo net without tie-down straps as items can still shift around. Continue to use cargo tie-down straps as the primary source of tie-down strength.
Or use motorcycle luggage
Another option to safely stow cargo is motorcycle luggage. How useful this might be for you depends on the size of your cargo. Use a top case, panniers, tail bag, a motorcycle backpack — there are many graet options all of which have the added benefit of protecting cargo from the elements and road debris. In addition, certain luggage (such as panniers) can facilitate placing the cargo weight lower on your motorcycle thus helping to keep the bikes center of gravity low and improve handling.
To Wrap things up…
Bungee cords were once the simplest and most practical option available for securing cargo to a motorcycle or scooter. But they were never a safe option. Make sure both you and your cargo arrive at your destination together and without injury. Invest in a cargo tie-down system specifically designed and tested for use on a motorcycle.
Ride safe. Have fun.
Products mentioned in this article
Bungee cords (Ya right, like we’re gonna to link to these… as if.)