Two Popular U Bags Reviewed

by Stephen Karlan (Dali Meeow) at dalimeeow@comcast.net

Touring and camping with the beemer used to mean that tents, sleeping bags and other gear were bungied, tied and hooked on the pillion. My pyramid of stuff was usually balanced and normally stayed put but, it was piled too high and there were times when the pile leaned or moved, requiring a mid-trip repack.

I checked out top cases because I like the look; this was not the solution for carrying lots of gear. Besides being expensive -- BMW's is more than $550, GIVI approximately $240 -- top cases are not suited for tents and sleeping bags.

A U-shaped bag, stretched from the top of one saddlebag, across the rear of the bike behind the pillion and onto the other saddlebag, seemed ideal. If you already have a top case, you can still use a U bag. U bags can be mounted backward, with the center part sitting on the passenger seat and the legs of the U facing back. I tested two U bags; both had congenial personalities and didn't care which way they traveled, as long as they arrived when the bike did.

If you are going to use a U bag backward, with the ends of the U facing the rear of the bike, have some reflective tape sewn onto the ends. In fact, this is a good option even if you plan to use them in their usual position; it will allow alternative uses later.

After I attached and packed U bags on the R1100RS, I was convinced of their utility. Here's a comparison of the two I tested.


Jo's U- Pac (tm) and the Vermont Canvas Rounder (not made of canvas) both arrived as promised and in good condition. I was initially surprised at their similarity. Both are made of the same cordura/nylon material. Both use the same YKK zippers. Both are basically the same shape and both have the same number of attachment points, eight. Motorcycles are not the same, even though they all have two wheels, a seat and an engine. The same is true of U bags; they look similar but work quite differently.


The Rounder appeared to have a higher quality finish because it was packed square, was nicely pressed and wrinkle-free, and had a zippered pocket on one side for small items and a cup holder. The pocket is 9.5" long by 5" wide by 2" deep and will come in handy. The cup holder can hold a water bottle, the type that clips into bicycles. The Rounder comes in colors, and the red seemed right at home on The Redhead, my Marrakesh red R1100RS.

The U- Pac (tm) was missing some bells and whistles. It only comes in black. No exterior pocket and no cup holder. The Rounder definitely looked better, but first impressions can be wrong, and so I put both of them on the bike and packed them.


The attachment points are well thought out on the U- Pac (tm); loops are sewn to the bottom of the pack and I used a cord to attach these loops it to the passenger foot peg supports in front. This will work on R, RS and GS models. If you ride an RT, the loops can be attached to the front of the saddle bags if Bungie Buddies or a similar item is used on the saddlebags. The U- Pac (tm) also is made to attach to the rear rack of the BMW. The bag's straps (nylon loops) fit into (through) the rear rack slots and can be secured there. The idea is to place something through the strap loop so that the loop cannot be pulled back through the rack slot. After trying various hardware, I eventually settled on stainless steel marine hardware because of its weather resistant properties and superb finish. I also tried a metal loop with a screw fitting on one side, which is intended to fasten two chains together and can be purchased at a hardware store. It worked well in the same location. There are two sets of straps (nylon loops) at the rear of the U- Pac (tm). These attachment loops should work well with most motorcycles, and are perfectly set up for the BMW.

If your BMW has a narrow passenger handle instead of a rack, I think you can use the slits in the passenger handle as a place to secure the nylon loops. Instead of using the passenger handle, you may want to buy the plastic platform used for the top case and secure the U- Pac (tm) or the Rounder to this platform for added support and security. This definitely will provide a better base IF you are using the U- Pac (tm) with the legs pointing forward.

I think the passenger handle looks better than the platform, but for security while touring, consider putting the plastic platform on the rear. It also will protect your plastic rear fender.

The Rounder also has eight attachment points, and also uses loops and D-rings in the loops. You can remove the D-rings easily with a pair of pliers if you are concerned that the metal might damage the body work. Or, if you want D-rings on the U- Pac (tm), they could just as easily be added. The presence or absence of the D-rings was not a factor in rating the bags. However, the fastening loops on the Rounder were on the top surface of the bag, which will make the bag more difficult to secure to a bike but will keep the D-rings away from the body work. Top-mounted D-rings also make it easy to attach additional luggage to the Rounder. This luggage was not designed specifically for the BMW; it will work well with many brands and models but is not nearly as secure on a BMW as is the U- Pac (tm).

Both the U- Pac (tm) and the Rounder created a safe, secure place in the crotch of the U and on top of the passenger seat for delicate stuff, like cameras and cats.

Size & Price

The U- Pac (tm) comes in three sizes. I'll compare the large size here because it most closely matches the Rounder I ordered. The U- Pac (tm) is 12" high by 24" long by 34" across the back of the bike. It is slightly rounded at the rear corners, which results in some lost space but better balance on the bike. Cost, including shipping, is $140.00. The medium size is 12" high by 22" long by 32" across and is $120.00 including shipping. The small is 10" high by 20" long by 30" across and is $100.00 including shipping. Jo (the manufacturer) recommends the medium size for most applications, but talk with her when you order.

I measured the Rounder as 12.5" high by 26" long by 34.5" across the back of the bike. It is square at the rear corners, which resulted in slightly more space but a more difficult course for the zipper to follow. Cost, including shipping to Miami, was $163.10 . You don't have to have it shipped to Miami; they will ship it to your home address if asked <\;-) There is a medium sized Rounder (exact size not available at press time) that costs $100 plus S&H.


Although both use the same size YKK zipper, the U- Pac (tm) has a better system. There are two zippers on the U- Pac (tm); one starts at the end of the bag and ends at the middle or bottom of the U, the other starts at the end on the other side and ends at the middle or bottom of the U. When the bag is loaded and zipped, you can access your cargo from either end or from the middle.

The Rounder has one zipper. It starts 16" from each end of the bag and zips toward the middle. When the bag is loaded and zipped, you can access your cargo from the middle only. Storage at the very end will be difficult to reach.


The U- Pac (tm) comes standard with a 1" by 36" strip of 3M white reflective material that stands out at night. This is the same material used on the Rider Wear House clothing, the Stich and the Darien. It is sewn into the zipper flap so that it does not punch holes in the bag itself.

The Rounder has no reflective material. It does come in 11 colors, some of which might stand out better at night than a black bag.

Zipper Flap

If it can, water will find its way into motorcycle clothing, saddlebags, and U bags. The U- Pac (tm) has incorporated a 3" flap over the zipper, and has added a 1" Velcro (r) strip to keep the flap in place. This also insures that the reflective material on the flap is in position and visible from the rear. After treating the U- Pac (tm) with a can of protective spray, it was tested during 11-hours of heavy rain over two days at speeds averaging 65 mph. The contents in the bag remained bone dry.

The Rounder has a 1.5" flap, half the size of the U- Pac (tm), and there is nothing to secure the flap in place. The Rounder was not put through the same grueling rain test because we decided to return it for credit.


Both bags use the same material. The U- Pac (tm) has the advantage of a larger zipper flap and Velcro(r) to hold the flap down. The Rounder has a possible disadvantage with extra holes in the shell where the exterior pocket and cup holder have been sewn onto the bag. With either one, the application of a waterproof spray or liquid is recommended, and sealing the seams seems prudent. Although neither product claims to be waterproof, the U- Pac (tm) kept contents bone dry after it was treated and then subjected to an 11-hour down pour.

Custom Work

You can add any number of items to the U- Pac (tm). Jo Ann Smithdeal, the creator and manufacturer, helped customize a large one for me. It has exterior pockets at both ends to hold electronics and other items that might otherwise go in a tank bag. It also has additional 3M white reflective material for increased visibility, a handle so that a braided steel cable will secure it to the bike, and four additional webbing attachment to secure small items to the outside of the bag. Adding custom features will increase the cost and delay delivery, so carefully consider options and discuss them with the manufacturer.

The Rounder is not made by the distributor and, when asked, the distributor said it cannot be modified. Check with the manufacturer for any custom features.

Comments & Conclusion

One rider, on a R1100RT, tried a U bag and found that the bag blocked his rearward vision because the mirrors are mounted low. This was not a problem on the R1100RS, which has handle-bar mounted mirrors. You will want to test ride a loaded U bag on your bike to be certain than you're comfortable with the way it works. Both suppliers agreed that their U bag could be returned without a restocking fee if I decided to return it.

This review is based on the findings of about a dozen riders. Because its purpose is to get the best information to all of us, your experience may be helpful and may be included in a future update of this article. Please send your comments to the author at dalimeeow (at) comcast.net.

How to Order

The U- Pac (tm) is sold by Jo's Custom Creations, Jo Smithdeal, 122 Woodland Drive, Newport News, Virginia 23606, telephone (757) 596-5372, and email . They come in three sizes, from $100 to $140 delivered to your door. You must send a check (no credit cards) and the U- Pac (tm) is delivered to your door a week or so later.

The Vermont Canvas Rounder can be purchased from Competition Accessories, 345 West Leffel Lane, Springfield, Ohio 45506, telephone 1-800-543-8208. It was offered in one size and 11 colors, $163.10 ($149.95 plus $13.15 shipping and handling). You also may contact the company directly at: Vermont Canvas Prouducts, 259 Woodstock Avenue, Rutland, Vermont 05701. Telephone 802-773-7311 or 800-477-7110.

Attachment Hardware

Here's how I attach the U- Pac to my bike.

Attach a braided nylon line to the outside front loop of the U Pac using a bowline knot. This knot is easy to tie, tightens up when pulled, will not rub the line being used, and is easy to remove (after you learn how to tie it). At the other end of the line I tie (using a bowline again) a snapshackle. A snapshackle is marine hardware that is opened and closed (locked) using a pin (secured by a spring to prevent opening in bad conditions); it is side opening so that extreme pressure is unlikely to allow it to open. I use two of these, one on each side of front of the U Pac; they are fastened to the passenger foot-peg bike hardware. Ronstan manufactured my snapshackles. I use this marine hardware for quick attachment/removal to the bike, for strength under pressure and for its ability to withstand weather and a salt corrosive environment. The catalogue notes that the small one is rated for a working load of 1,250 pounds and costs $53. Either the price is new (my hardware is old) or I found a helluva sale; I know I didn't spend $106 for these.

On the rear of the bike, two U Pac loops are threaded through slots in the bike's rear rack. I put "quick release pins" (Type R Standard Style with metal ring on the end) through the U Pac loops and this prevents the loops from pulling back through the rear rack. I bought stainless nuts to fit over the "quick release pins" so that the pins cannot fall out. So that I can't lose the stainless nuts, I have them encased in electrical shrink-wrap material with thin braided line (embedded in the shrink-wrap) attached to the metal rings on the end of the "quick release pins". These pins are $10 to $13 each (do not buy the cheaper "detent" pins that allow release with just a sharp pull). The price on these pins is correct; the stainless nuts were less than $1.

There are cheaper ways to attach the U Pac, and cheaper hardware. In fact, it would be difficult to spend more money. I had the snapshackles from my sailboat and, at that price, couldn't resist. Visit your local hardware, marine hardware or tack shop for other possibilities. Good luck.

Copyright(c) 1997 by Stephen N. Karlan (Dali Meeow), Miami, Florida
Dali Meeow <dalimeeow@comcast.net>

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Last Update: Sunday, December 05, 2004