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September 13, 2020

Do I need pannier, or spacer rails to install saddlebags?

Quick  answer: probably. I will explain why in the second section of this guide. 
But let's be fair and explore all the options, because in some cases, you can live happily without.

To know if you can mount saddlebags without rails, you need to answer the following question:

Can I install a saddlebag securely on my motorcycle? So let's define, securely.
The saddlebag must never touch the rear wheel, and always stay about 3 inches away from the exhausts. It has to be attached from the top, and also anchored somewhere on the lower end so the saddlebag cannot flap around.
As you can imagine, pannier rails are helpful when it comes to ticking all the boxes.

With some motorcycles, it's just not possible.

For example on the Ducati Scrambler below, you can't mount saddlebags without some kind of luggage rack.

Can you mount panniers bags on Ducati Scrambler.

This Scrambler does not provide any support for a saddlebag. There is no place to anchor the lower end of your bags either. If it looks empty below the seat, like it does on this Ducati Scrambler, then you need spacer rails.

Another problem would be high exhausts too close to where the saddlebags would be. If you have less than 3 inches between your saddlebag and the exhausts, in some case, the exhaust could burn a hole through your saddlebag, or damage its content.

Sometimes it works out.

We offer two universal mounting systems that can work without spacer rails.
The LOXX system, and the SADDLEBACK system.

However, the motorcycle must be suitable. If the frame offers anchor points, prevents any contact with the rear wheel, and the motorcycle doesn't have upswept pipes, then mounting a saddlebag without rails is an option.
Sometimes, all it takes is to choose a smaller saddlebag for it to work.

We've seen it working with Royal Enfield, vintage BMW's, classic Triumph's etc.
In some cases, it works just well, in others it's far from ideal. It could mean having the saddlebags positioned in a way that doesn't leave much room for a passenger, just because you have to align your bag with the suspension for example. Sometimes, having the bag rubbing against the suspension is an issue, as it can be very abrasive.
So be thorough and test your setup.

When mounting a single saddlebag without spacer rail, often the only option is to support the back of the bag with the suspension.
With the LOXX system, the top end will be locked to the separate leather flap, which can be secured under your seat for example. 
With the SADDLEBACK system, you have two straps that you can loop around the seat's frame, or a grab rail for example.
The lower end of you bag can be tied to the suspension or anywhere on the frame.

If you are mounting a set of two saddlebags, it gets a bit easier as you can tie them together and balance them out on the seat.
The following video illustrates a method that you can try out.

Here's another example, where the rider adds a tail bag on top. A setup that works well on the Royal Enfield Classic.

To conclude on this topic, here's one example where mounting a set of saddlebags without spacers works perfectly well.
This customer followed the method illustrated in the videos above. The saddle belts are tucked below his seat.

Now let's move on to the second part of the answer.

Why you should favour spacer rails to mount your saddlebags.

In many cases, having saddlebags directly mounted to the motorcycle frame isn't the best option. It might be doable, but it doesn't mean it's the most secure, or even better aesthetically.
On spacer rails, you will find the setup more secure, more practical, and often better-looking.

On the custom T120 below, thanks to the rails, the saddlebags don't rub against the suspension. Access to the backside (so you can reach the straps and unmount the bag) is easier, and the spacer rails give adequate room for the repositioned blinkers.

Saddlebags for Bonneville T120 with pannier rails.

It's more secure that way because the rails offer a dedicated support for the bags. There is no room for the unexpected. They allow you to lock the saddlebag easily from top to bottom. Often they also enable more distance between bags and exhausts.

It's also faster because this extra piece of frame adds a further dimension to your motorcycle that's easy to interact with. You don't need to rely on a tube tucked away below your seat, or deal with knots on your motorcycle's frame.

Finally, it even looks better in some cases because the position of the saddlebag is optimal. Let's not forget that it leaves more room for a passenger too.
Without proper support, you will be tempted to bring the saddlebag forward so it rests fully against the suspension. It works fine with some motorcycles, but on others, it looks odd.

In other words, spacer rails, or pannier rails only have advantages.

So how can I find spacer rails for my motorcycle?

1. Check out our spacer rails section.
Maybe we have exactly what you need. If you own, or plan on ordering Longride saddlebags, it's a good idea to choose Longride supports as well. This means that your rails will likely be compatible with all our mounting systems. This is particularly important for the SIDEKICK system that requires specific frames.

2. Do an internet research.
Our LOXX and SADDLEBACK mounting systems are universal, so they'll work with any rails. 

3. Ask a garage to build you custom luggage rails. This could be your only option if your motorcycle is customised and no stock parts can be used anymore. Building a spacer frame isn't rocket science, we even have handy customers who built them themselves. Of course you need the right tools and experience.

4. Ask us to build them.
When enough of you guys come to us with the same request, we get to work and design what you need. That's how we decided to develop the Moto Guzzi spacer rails for example. We developed them and had them tested by real customers.

Large saddlebags on custom Yamaha XJR.

Above, a custom Yamaha XJR with custom-made side racks. 
It looks great with the saddlebags on, it's secure and practical.