Review: Caribou Cases 36L Panniers (updated)

This is an update to a previous review of these panniers.

Update 7 December 2014: It is very important to consider that this review very old. Roger (the owner of Caribou Luggage) has notified me that the mounting system is significantly improved. I have removed from consideration my concerns about the original mounting system and left the rest of the review untouched. I believe these are great cases for the right use and it is my sincere hope that the new mounting system solves the original problems I encountered (referenced elsewhere in my blog but not in this review). Other improvements may have been made as well so please check with Caribou Luggage to discuss any concerns after reading this review.

Caribou Cases has converted Pelican cases to motorcycle luggage with the official blessing of the Pelican company (meaning you still get the famous Pelican warranty). Care has been taken to consider the needs of the motorcycle traveler including these features:

  • Quick release latch system with key lock
  • Lock added to each case with a key that matches the quick release system
  • Wire connects the lid to the case to limit how far the lid opens when mounted on the bike
  • Heat shield between the muffler and the case

Usefulness
 ★★★★★ 


The convenience of these cases is unparalleled. The lock on a hard case means I feel more comfortable leaving the bike unattended while I wander around strange cities and tourist attractions. The quick release system means I can easily remove the cases to work on the bike or to bring all my luggage indoors.


Functionality
 ★★★★☆ 


Packing these cases is easy with the proper preparation. Packing cubes and carefully chosen stuff sacks help enormously. However, the side-load design means it is difficult to squeeze in soft items (sleeping bag, clothes, etc.). The mounting hardware on the back of the case also means that when off the bike, the case cannot be set flat on the ground. These are minor nuisances at worst and quickly fade away into the background.


Durability

The pelican cases themselves are undeniably durable beyond any abuse I can dish out. However, the modifications are less than perfect.

The key lock system on the case comes loose over time (because of the KLR vibration) and must be tightened or the case can be opened even when locked.

The mounting hardware for the original rack was relatively thin metal (NOTE: This has changed in 2014!) and designed such that it can be easily bent and the key lock is designed to pop off in the event of a hard crash. This is designed to protect the luggage, rack, and bike, however field repairs could be difficult. I would prefer a more solid mounting over this pop-off design.

The straps that limit how far the lid opens are easily snapped if too much weight is placed on the lid or if the bike tips over while holding the lid. The solution to this is to use electrical wire which is far stronger than the plastic wire provided with the case, and will slip off at the nut if pulled hard.

I recently talked to the owner of Caribou Cases and he is a fantastic person to work with. He has been improving these cases over the years based on customer feedback. He also provided me with replacement hardware that had been tweaked or is broken, some of it in a better design than the older version I bought a few years ago.


Features
 ★★★☆☆ 


I have examined many other luggage systems in use by other travelers and I’ve found several features I rather like in other systems. Soft bags are lightweight and better suited to off-road conditions. Top-loading boxes can have a removable lid that doubles as a small table. Other box designs provide better lashing locations for extra gear when necessary. Some racks have integrated tool cases (might not be possible on a KLR). A case sitting on a shelf is a lot more sturdy than the system in use on Caribou Cases, but weights considerably more.


Price
 ★★★★★ 


At $800, this luggage system is a fantastic deal. The drawbacks are minor and more than compensated by the inexpensive price tag.

UPDATE: I continue to be absolutely thrilled by the customer service provided by Roger, the owner of Caribou Cases.


Overall Rating:
 ★★★★¼ 

As of 2014, this is no longer accurate!

I originally stated I was happy with this luggage in spite of the drawbacks, but I have been forced to admit that the mounting system was insufficient to the abuse it must withstand on my travels (UPDATE 2014: The mounting system has been improved and this should no longer be a concern). However, I consider this as much my own fault as that of the design of Caribou Cases because I am pushing the bike to its limit on a regular basis, and frequently beyond what should be expected of any hard case. I believe the rack and mount could be improved over the current system, though probably at the cost of some of the convenience of the quick-release setup.

If I were just traveling around the USA or I were the type to stick to well-paved roads I would probably get these cases again, but not for the type of conditions I find myself riding on this RTW trip. I should note that one of the big reasons I still like these cases even after the problems I’ve had is the customer service. Roger at Caribou Cases has always tried hard to help me out and is a fantastic person to work with. I hope someday I have a chance to use your cases again!

I am now hunting around for a new luggage solution and hope to find something sturdy enough to withstand the daily abuse of RTW travel. I am tempted to try out a different set of hard luggage such as Jesse bags, but soft luggage might be more suitable to my actual riding conditions, even if it means less security and convenience.

3 comments to Review: Caribou Cases 36L Panniers (updated)

  • Steve

    I love the internet for reviews. I have now seen 3 reviews blasting the Caribou mounting system. I am going to look harder at some other brands. I get the idea your not pushing an agenda on Caribou just stating how you see it. Thanks for saving me some bucks.

    I’m set on Pelican Cases but want something that can stay working and out of the welders shop.

  • In 2013 Caribou changed the design of the Kawasaki KLR 650 Side Luggage system and now use a German made side rack from Hepco Becker. We have experienced a zero field failure rate on these racks since introduction, and they have proven themselves extremely durable. We now use HB side racks for all of our side case systems.

    Thank you.

    -Roger Pioszak/President Caribou Luggage Systems

  • […] See updated review for a more recent view on these […]

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