Review / SW
SW-Motech's SysBag WP soft pannier. Photo: Mike Botan
At this year's AIMExpo, we had the opportunity to meet with some of the folks at SW-Motech. During our chat, we talked about some of their new products, and I asked them what they thought the ADV community would like to know about the most. Almost immediately, they suggested their SysBag WP (waterproof) L (large) panniers and said they would give us a set to test and review free of charge. Soon, a complete setup consisting of their pannier rack with locks, adapter plate, and their largest soft panniers arrived, ready for installation on my Norden 901.
The Norden 901 with SW-Motech's large SysBag WP waterproof panniers. Photo: Mike Botan
All shiny and new, the SysBag WP panniers mounted and ready for a 2,000 mile on and off-road journey. Photo: Mike Botan
The TLDNR summary is that the bags are indeed waterproof, are very capable, easy to use, have several nice features, and potentially weigh less than many of the competition's soft panniers. On the other side of the equation is that since they are lighter weight, their crash resistance may be lower than their much heavier competition. Since I didn't crash during the trip, I can't say for sure how much damage the bags can take. But I did do some real-world durability testing which you can read about later in this review.
So let's get to the details, shall we?
During the installation process of SW-Motech's Pro Side Carriers, there were several things that I really liked. First off, the installation of the rack was pretty much a cinch. I wouldn't say the installation instructions were excellent, but the rack was completely installed in less than 45 minutes and ready for the panniers to be attached.
The installation of the pannier rack was completed in less than 45 minutes. If you look to the top of the rack where it mounts to the bike, you can see the locking security knob. You can also see the 1/4 turn fasteners at the top center, bottom left, and center right. Photo: Mike Botan
One thing that made the installation easier is that the fasteners that hold the rack sections together are not standard bolts. Instead, they are quarter-turn fasteners that make putting the rack together (or taking it apart) a breeze. Using a flat-bladed screwdriver, all you have to do is hold the two parts together, insert the fastener, turn it 1/4 of a complete turn, and it locks into place. Easy. However, not all the mounting hardware uses the same fasteners. Instead, the hardware that holds the rack to the bike uses traditional bolts.
I get why SW-Motech named these panniers SysBag WP. The WP stands for waterproof, and indeed, the bag's interior is completely waterproof. The following pictures of the panniers in this review have already been on a 2,000-mile+ on and off-road trip. Two of those days were spent in pouring down rain conditions. And each time I opened the interior of the pannier, everything inside was bone dry.
The pannier is made of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). If you are unfamiliar with TPU, it is a blend of rubber and plastic and is also used in things like rafts, drive belts, and phone protectors. Accordingly, it is flexible, durable, and abrasion resistant.
The exterior of the pannier has several excellent features. At the top of the pannier, a large flap goes over the top of the dry bag and attaches to its side with a large Velcro patch. Another flap is attached to the bottom of the pannier and closes over the top flap using two Hypalon buckles. SW-Motech says they placed the closure buckles there to prevent them from being damaged in a fall.
Each of the flaps also features pockets closed with waterproof zippers. Both can hold small items adding to the volume that the SysBags can carry. I carried a couple of small flasks of adult bevies in each pocket for after the day's riding was over. They stayed dry for the duration of the trip.
Here you can see the top flap folded up. You can also see one of the two waterproof zippers in the flaps that protect the bag. Photo: Mike Botan
This is the second of the flap waterproof zippers. As you can see, water can enter the outside pocket, but everything inside the pannier and the waterproof zippers stayed bone dry. Photo: Mike Botan
Between these two flaps are the SysBag's actual dry bag. It has a typical rolltop closure. But what's different is that the buckle for the closure folds under the top flap to give it additional protection. Both seem like good ideas.
The side panel also acts as an additional pocket for storing items. However, this section is not waterproof, so you will have to make sure that the items you place there can be wet. Lastly, the side flap also features a MOLLE panel to attach other items you may want to carry. The panel has no specified load rating, but you can probably rule out carrying heavy items with it.
The "Sys" portion of the name relates to the "system" side of the pannier. While other soft luggage manufacturers have waterproof soft panniers, in most cases, they are just a container into which you put your gear.
In the case of the SysBag WPs, there's a handled container insert that fits inside the pannier bag. And while it's nice to have a container inside the pannier where you can put your gear, the SysBag WP has another feature that makes retrieving, storing, and sorting your stuff more manageable.
This handled interior container slips easily into and out of the pannier's dry bag. Photo: Mike Botan
The interior walls of the container are covered with velcro. You can place the supplied dividers anywhere inside to make compartment sizes of your choosing. Photo: Mike Botan
As hinted above, the container has handles to help you remove it from the pannier. Its exterior has a smooth texture that helps it easily slide out. In addition, its grey contrasting color helps you see what's inside. There's no "black hole" situation where you feel you need a flashlight to see where everything is.
The container also has stiffeners on all four sides. Once out of the pannier, the bag stands upright so that when you carry it to your tent/hotel, it won't spill your stuff on the ground/floor.
Topping off the container is the fact that its interior side walls are completely lined with Velcro. SW-Motech includes two flexible dividers for each pannier. Those dividers are also equipped with Velcro ends which allows you to place the dividers anywhere you want inside the container. That way, you can design storage compartments in regular or irregular sizes. It is a great feature that lets you choose how large or small you want the storage compartments to be.
I made three similar-sized compartments and used tagged stuff bags to identify and hold my gear. Photo: Mike Botan
For this review, I made three similar-sized compartments into which I placed labeled stuff bags. Then, when I needed an item, all I had to do was open the pannier and pull out a stuff bag.
How you attach the panniers to your bike depends on the SysBag WP setup you choose. The setup used in this review was the full Sysbag WP Large (30 liters), with adapter plates, the straps needed to attach the SysBag to the adapter plate, all necessary hardware, installation instructions, and even a sheet of paint protection film to put on your bike if you are so inclined. That said, with the SysBag WP used in this review installed on a Norden 901, there was no need for the protective film.
You attach this adapter plate to the pannier using the supplied straps. The pannier then locks onto the rack using the four raised panels. The top right panel has a lever that you use to lock and unlock the pannier from the rack. Photo: Mike Botan
To install the panniers for this setup, you must first attach the SysBag WP to the bike's adapter plate. Using the supplied anti-slip straps, you attach the SysBag WP to the adapter plate at the top and both sides. It's a two-minute job for each pannier.
Once the Sysbag WP panniers are secured to the adapter plate, they easily attach to the rack via four round-headed bolts that protrude from the rack. You lower the adapter plate onto the round heads, and it locks into place with a single lever. The complete pannier is removed by pushing the lever down and pulling up on the pannier's built-in handle. Both are simple and quick operations.
The SysBag WP panniers are soft panniers, which by their nature, are less secure than metal ones. But it's nice to have the means to help "keep honest people honest" with an additional layer of security. In the case of the SysBag WPs, there are two ways to lock your panniers and the pannier rack to your bike.
I used this inexpensive cable lock to add a little extra security to the panniers when unattended. Photo: Mike Botan
The first is through the use of two keyed twist knobs which replace one quarter-turn fastener on each side of the pannier rack. Once attached and locked, the knob spins freely, preventing the easy removal of the pannier rack.
The second method is through small loops sewn into the pannier. The thought is that you could loop a small cable through the loops and then through the pannier rack, locking the pannier to the rack.
Although neither method provides a very high level of additional security, it's better than nothing and at least provides a visual clue that there is some security for would-be thieves.
The Sysbags used in this review are SW-Motech's largest. Each pannier is approximately 18.9″ (length) X 8.7 (width) X 16.1 (height). With these dimensions, SW-Motech says the bags provide up to 40 liters of storage.
At the end of the trip, here's what the Norden looked like with the SysBag WP's loaded. On the left the Sysbag is open, and on the right, you can see the bag's profile when it is fully loaded and closed. Photo: Mike Botan
That's a lot of storage and volume. As a result, attached to my Norden 901 and ready to go, the fully stuffed setup was approximately 40 inches wide. That's pretty wide, but you also can carry lots of stuff. However, if you are carrying less, there are cinch straps on the sides of the panniers that you can use to reduce their width.
Interestingly, the width of the panniers allowed me to do some durability testing. I purposely found some narrow two-track in the woods of Georgia and Florida. Since I’m not a stickler for how pretty my bike looks, I purposely rode as far to the edge of the trail as I dared. This allowed me to drag the Sysbag WPs through the brush, sticks, and plants that lined the track.
Dragging a SysBag WP through some two track on the Florida/Georgia state line. Photo: Mike Botan
After about 20 minutes, I stopped the bike and checked the SysBags. They were still attached firmly, and there were no tears or cuts. Although they picked up some grasses and sticks, there was no damage. I didn't have anything attached to the MOLLE panel, so I can't say whether it would tear if something attached to it snagged in the brush.
The Sysbag WP Large is a big pannier. And you would expect that it would weigh a lot. But I was somewhat surprised that each pannier and adapter plate weighed around 9 pounds. I have a different set of well-known soft panniers with less volume (35 liters), and they weigh about 13.5 pounds. So that's about 40 percent less than the other panniers.
A little Georgia clay thrown in for fun. Photo: Mike Botan
SW-Motech offers a two-year warranty when consumers purchase directly from them or their authorized dealers. Their warranty extends to products under normal usage and in the event of material or manufacturing defects, for example, loosened seams, broken welds, and torn handles.
SW-Motech's SysBag WP pricing is somewhat a la carte. Depending on the size of the bags and the features you want, the price of a complete set is variable. However, in the case of the complete setup used in this review, the top-of-the-line SysBag WP L (large) pannier system has an MSRP of about $1050. At that price, the SysBag WP L's price aligns with other quality pannier systems.
In the end, I liked the SW-Motech SysBag WP system. It holds a large amount of gear, is entirely waterproof, and has flexible storage options. After two weeks and two thousand miles of on and off-road riding, the panniers emerged undamaged and watertight. In addition, their pricing is in line with similar high-quality pannier systems. I don't seem to be alone in my opinion. If you are interested, some inmates have posted their thoughts in the forum, including some pictures of the panniers after crashes/falls.