Going soft: Magadan MK2s


So, why have we gone soft in our old age?  A few reasons really. Neither of us fancy pumping iron on a gruelling basis to keep up with the muscle mass required in picking up the GSs. Instead–and swopping the bikes for lighter models currently isn’t cost effective–Jase and I agreed that it was high time we shaved a load off—starting at over 200 kilograms per bike laden with luggage. Enough to give anyone a hernia and a joyless endeavour at altitude, in sand, off road generally, and let’s face it, wherever. We were thinking long term as well; when we’re off road, the saddlebags will come into their own. The roads ahead of us from California to Alaska? No doubt now and again.

During extensive research around the best bags on the market for our needs, one can’t help but come across Walter Colebatch, world motorcyclist explorer who designed the Magadan MK2s with Adventure-Spec. Made from an impressive “waterproof, slashproof, abrasion resistant” material, for which the finished article is lockable, checked a lot of boxes from the outset. However, a determined enough thief might still get in them, but I think the right implement in the hands of the wrong person, he or she could with hard panniers too.

The transitional period:

Recently undergoing a huge overhaul of our gear, we replenished and refreshed virtually everything, most of which had become beyond useless after nearly two-year’s constant usage. Not to mention being battered around inside the boxes. Vibrations from uneven road surfaces have all but destroyed a lot of our luggage. Great..! It only took us 21 months to learn those hard lessons on the road: Less is more and size does matter. That said, the Magadans are only three litres less than our former 38-litre aluminum boxes so we haven’t really had to forfeit anything we actually need.

Living on the soft side:

Sure, I’ve had to be strategic in my capsule travel wardrobe—my inner-hoarder was previously carrying excessive clothing, toiletries and books—now a glorious thing of the past. I’ve also had to be mindful in my packing by stowing the valuables / breakables in my tank bag or the 90-litre roll bag on the back; a red wine explosion, toothpaste rupture or cracked laptop when the bike topples would be about as fun as a funeral. Padded, lightweight mesh or thin dry bag organizers (with terrific tear-strength) have proved to be a great help; the alternative being to rummage for the needle-in-the-big-inner-bag haystack.

First impressions:

Are they better? In many respects, yes. We’ve yet to hurl every kind of abuse imaginable at them and truly test their adventure proof characteristics long term. But there’s no denying, they’re significantly lighter, which coupled with a more mindful set of contents, is jubilant for us and even more joyful on the bikes’ suspensions. They make a lot more sense off road, not just because of the shaved weight but anywhere that involves tight spaces, brushing up against something that could fetch you off. The Magadan MK2s are robust, look and feel exceptionally well made, and we’ll see but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that they’re built to last.


Walter Colebatch’s motivations:

“Most of you know the idea…Hard boxes are clearly not suited to the type of travel I am doing. The more off road your travels are, the more you need soft luggage rather than hard luggage.

But existing soft luggage doesn’t do the job. No-one in the soft luggage business seems to know what adventure travellers actually need when it comes to transcontinental or RTW journeys. In my experience, the bags of canvas (AndyStrapz, Steel Ponys) are not water resistant, nor are they abrasion resistant, and they have no security. Plastic roll bags (Wolfman, Ortlieb, Endurostan) are too small, not low enough, have little to no abrasion resistance and no security.

Having tried pretty much everything out there and still frustrated by the shortage of features, I decided to build a set for myself. I wanted bags that were capable of carrying a good 35 litres of stuff. The bigger the bags are, the more weight you can get down low, and the smaller your back bag needs to be. I wanted bags that could keep your stuff dry. In the end I decided a removable waterproof dry bag liner was the best solution as you can take your dry stuff out in a 5 second grab – and take it into your tent – or accommodation – without having to rummage thru the bag in the rain, or take a wet muddy outer bag into a tent or hotel.

Then the bags had to be lockable – a few ideas came and went before I decided to use PacSafe WrapSafe cables. The advantage of these cables is that you can not only lock the bags shut, but you can lock the bags to your luggage rack – by routing the cable through it. The bags have loops front and back for routing the cable and holding it to the bag. So by doing that we had the first motorcycle soft bags that actually offer some sort of security and lockability.

But to complete the security picture we wanted to make the bags slash proof. Not much point locking the bags shut if someone can just slice them open in 2 seconds. Again everything including internal wire mesh was considered, before deciding to sandwich a layer of Kevlar / Twaron in the bag construction. Its extremely difficult to cut and is used in stab proof and bullet proof vests. This puncture resistance further adds to the durability of the bags.

Finally the outer material… ordura has earned a very good reputation as an extremely abrasion resistant fabric. Many riding pants and jackets are made from 600-denier Cordura. To imagine the durability difference between Cordura and canvas, imagine wearing canvas jeans and sliding down an asphalt road on them as compared to the same with normal Cordura riding jacket and pants. To make sure of the durability and ruggedness of the product, we decided to pass on the 600 denier Cordura and go straight for 1000 denier Cordura – almost twice as thick and many times as strong. With a outer bag sandwich of 1000D Cordura AND Kevlar / Twaron fabric, the bag is much much much tougher than anything on the market in terms of durability and survivability.

So that’s the idea, to make the toughest, most durable RTW soft bags that are waterproof, slashproof, abrasion resistant and lockable – since they are the shortcomings have experienced in existing soft bags on the market.”


Adventure Motorcycling Handbook author Chris Scott’s conclusion:

“Having used Zegaflex and Monsoon and Andyz and Oxford in recent years (as well as close inspection of other products and several others in the preceding decades), I’ve just come off a 3000-mile trip using AS Mags …For my sort of riding and prefs they are the best thing out there… Walter really did think it through without any unnecessary flourishes. ‘Security’ is the main reason overland riders give for being put off soft bags, and only Mags attempt to address this, even if actual theft is rare the Pacsafe cables can help secure any soft bag.”