by Brandon Jackson for webBikeWorld.com
The Hepco & Becker Royster C-Bow side cases straddle the line between hard cases and soft bags.
The semi-rigid design offers light weight while still being strong enough to maintain the shape.
Capacity is a bit limited but is in line with the intended use for commuters and day-trippers.
The C-Bow system used to mount the Royster bags is secure and easy to use.
It consists of an upside-down "U" shaped mounting bracket on the bike that fits a similarly-shaped slot in the luggage.
It's secure and easy to use and it blends with the overall look of the motorcycle when the side cases are removed.
The C-Bow "Pocket Holder" attachment system fits several different Hepco & Becker C-Bow side cases.
The list currently includes Hepco & Becker Street Soft soft bags, the Royster semi-rigid cases, the Orbit rigid cases (more on those below) and the unique Hepco & Becker "Strayker" side cases with a faux leather and faux metal luggage look.
The C-Bow mounting system fits over 200 motorcycles, so there’s a good chance of finding a setup for your machine.
Hepco & Becker is a well-known name to BMW motorcycle owners.
The company has also become a popular name in motorcycle luggage and accessories for many other brands as well, due in part to the popularity of the adventure riding segment.
One of the company’s most recognizable products are their aluminum luggage cases, which are sought after for their combination of durability and utilitarian or purposeful looks.
But adventure-touring luggage is just a part of what Hepco & Becker offers.
Their product line also includes protective accessories like skid plates and engine guards as well as center stands, headlight grills, and other motorcycle related items.
Among the various luggage carrier systems and configurations offered by Hepco & Becker is the relatively new C-Bow system we’re reviewing today.
The C-Bow carriers are designed to fit a special line of Hepco & Becker C-Bow luggage.
The concept is to have a mounting system that's both secure and easy to use plus has a minimal footprint when the luggage is not attached.
This lower visual impact of the empty C-Bow carrier works well for bikes that don't come with factory luggage: sport bikes, naked bikes, and modern classics like the modern Triumph Bonneville.
Or the bike we used for this review, the Yamaha XSR900 (review).
We first tried to mount the Hepco & Becker Orbit hard shell waterproof side cases to the XSR900, but apparently the U.S. version of the bike has a different tail light system than the European version.
We tried three different mounting solutions recommended by Hepco & Becker but nothing worked, so we switched to the Royster bags, which worked.
The Royster side cases (so-called because they look like an oyster, according to H&B) are closer to hard cases than soft bags because they use a thermoplastic shell that is semi-rigid in nature.
They also have a unique and sporty look and are available with a yellow color accent, which is a perfect match for our yellow-and-black Anniversary Edition of the XSR900.
The Royster "soft" bags are not really. In fact, they are fairly rigid and I’ve seen large “hard” luggage cases that seemed to flex as much as these bags.
Part of this is due to the unique size and shape of the Royster bags but the shell material of course is the key.
The structure is based on EVA which is a thermoplastic material that has a softer, more flexible character than some other plastics; it flexes if pressed but it’s not flimsy.
The flexible, semi-rigid character likely means the Royster bags can take impacts without much damage.
Also, EVA materials can maintain their flexibility in lower temperatures, which make the Royster bags a good choice for year-round riding wherever you may be.
The bags are also light weight at just 1.4 kg each (3 lbs., 1 oz.).
Hepco & Becker rates their maximum load at 5 kg each (11 lbs.), which is very good considering each bag is limited to about 22 liters in volume.
While the front of the bag is covered with the 1200D polyester fabric, the rear section is the EVA thermoplastic. The surface has as soft sheen with the appearance of a hard plastic.
The shape of the Royster case is a bit difficult to describe, but from the front it looks like a horizontally elongated hexagon.
The front cover bulges out towards the center and the rear goes even deeper than the front.
The cases are designed so there is a flat bottom panel that lets the case lay flat while the front leans away from you.
Opening the case lets the lid flip out forward, making it easy to open the case and access the interior while the case remains upright.
I like this design, as I’ve had my share of hard cases that really didn’t sit or stand well on their own. In those situations it makes the cases more difficult to pack or access once they're off the bike.
So the shape and design of the Royster side cases work equally well on or off the bike.
The bags are relatively small; according to Hepco & Becker, they measure 45 cm x 25 cm x 25 cm (17.7” x 9.8” x 9.8”).
I’ll have to take their word for it as the trapezoidal shape of the bags makes them difficult to accurately measure.
The Royster bags are available in black or black with a yellow accent and the black and yellow seemed a natural fit for our Anniversary Edition XSR 900 so that’s what we went with here.
The yellow is only present around the sides and top of the bag and is a very bright, nearly fluorescent yellow color with a hint of green, as is often the case with true high-visibility yellow.
While the yellow color of the XSR900 has more of a red tinge, the overall look on the XSR 900 is still sharp and only color nerds like me will likely notice these subtle differences.
The yellow is actually the seam with the zippered main opening for the bag.
There is also a smaller black zipper on the front cover for easy access to a pocket for items like a wallet or mobile device.
The entire front panel is covered with a 1200D polyester material, which gives it a nice texture and makes it appear as if the cover is fabric. The polyester fabric however is just a covering for the EVA thermoplastic shell.
This covering also helps to reduce damage to other vehicles (and walls) in your garage, as the shell will be less likely to damage other objects it might contact in a crowded space.
On the front panel is a screened Hepco & Becker logo with their Rhinocerous graphic. Other branding is displayed on the integrated carry handle where Hepco & Becker is name is deeply embossed.
The zipper pulls also have the Hepco & Becker text.
And while it may seem a bit like overkill to put these logos on the zipper pulls, the deeply-cut letters in the metal of the pull tab are actually useful because the texture provides better grip.
Attached to the rear section is the C-Bow mounting adapter, held solidly with six fasteners and a fiberglass reinforced plastic.
(Hepco & Becker said that all of their mounting hardware is made in Germany.)
It mates to the C-Bow mounting bracket kit installed on the bike; kits are available for many different motorcycles.
The C-Bow system was designed to hold the luggage securely while also being easy to use.
Drop the C-Bow equipped bag over the C-Bow mount, secure the lock and you're done.
At the top of the “bow” mounted on the bike is the locking mechanism and each bag has key that works with either bag.
The keys have an engraved code so extras and/or replacements can be ordered if necessary.
Just above the lock is a hard plastic carry handle that is molded into the top of the Royster case. The material of the handle is very robust and thick.
The design is simple as there is no articulating grab handle and the simple design means there is one less moving part that could break.
On the main cover are four triangle-shaped cutouts that contain reflective material.
I tested these with a simple pocket LED flashlight and found they lit up very brightly even with a modest amount of light.
Since the main cover is angled towards the front and rear where the reflectors are placed, they should offer very good nighttime conspicuity to the sides of the bike.
When I first opened one of the Royster bags, I was expecting just an empty, black interior.
What I found though is a light gray interior with a roll-top waterproof liner that is integrated (non-removable) with the outer shell of the bag.
I like the light-colored interior, as it makes it easier find small objects in the bag, but the roll-top was even a more pleasant surprise.
The zippers on the Royster bags are of the waterproof type and that goes for the main zipper as well as the smaller pocket on the front.
These types of zippers can work well but the addition of the dry-bag-style closure to the interior is an excellent idea.
Using the waterproof roll-top closure is very easy.
Simply place your items in the bag, then straighten out the roll-top opening seams by grabbing the ends.
Roll the two seams over each other a couple of times and then clip the fasteners together.
It's the same type of closure used across the motorcycle and outdoor gear industry to create waterproof dry bags.
This interior bag on the inside of the Royster, combined with the waterproof zippers on the outside, instills confidence that the interior will remain dry in the rainiest conditions.
Another positive is that you don’t have to carry and deal with an external rain cover for the bags.
The only downside is that the interior bag liner does take up a slight amount of the already limited storage space.
Now the roll-top closure is a fantastic idea, but what if you’re not planning riding in the wet every day?
While it doesn’t take that much time to roll the waterproof top of the inner bag, it might seem a little cumbersome to have to do this every time.
But if you don’t roll it up, the excess material can make it difficult to fasten the zipper on the outside of the bag.
Hepco & Becker apparently thought about this and came up with a clever way to deal with it.
Inside the case, at each corner, is a small yellow loop. I didn’t understand initially what it was for but after a few minutes of head scratching I figured it out.
These small elastic loops mate to small plastic barrels attached to the interior of the bag.
They are placed in a way that allows the excess interior liner material to be gathered and secured, then the bag can be closed without having to fasten the roll-top closure.
This is a small but very effective detail that makes the Royster bags that much more convenient to use.
To test the capacity of the Royster bags I filled one with some random items: a pair of shoes, a T-shirt, jeans, a set of riding underwear, a pair of rolled-up socks and a hat.
This was enough to fill the bag and I'll admit that it doesn’t seem like a lot of stuff, but the Royster bags aren’t really designed to be long-distance touring luggage.
Also, a more thoughtful packing strategy could help get some additional clothing items in there.
For example, the shoes take up quite a bit of space but I could have stored smaller items (like the socks) in the shoes to help.
I think I could easily pack enough gear for a weekend or a three-day trip; it just depends on the need.
The external pocket is also useful for keeping small items within easy reach, like sunglasses, gloves or keys.
It's handy but the catch is that this pocket is part of the interior liner, so when the main compartment is stuffed, there really isn’t much space left for anything in the external pocket.
The external pocket also makes do with just a waterproof zipper on the outside and no extra internal waterproofing like the roll-top waterproof closure.
Attaching and removing the Royster bags from the C-Bow mounts is very easy.
Having dealt with various hard cases over the years, I have to say I’m amazed at how easy it is to use the C-Bow system.
Here's another interesting tip: the Royster bags are symmetrical, so they can be mounted on either side of the bike.
Attaching the bags is easy: simply slide the bag down into place over the C-Bow mounting plate on the bike, then twist the key to lock it in place.
Removal is just the reverse and it's also very easy, especially compared to some motorcycle panniers where you first need to fold the handle and then twist the key and everything has to be in just the right spot to work.
The C-Bow system has none of this extra complexity.
I do have to say that key size and placement is a little unfortunate on the Royster bags however.
The key sits relatively close to the handle and it can be a little difficult to access.
This will vary depending on your hands and maybe the gloves you're wearing.
But during my brief time with the Hepco & Becker Orbit cases, I found that the key was smaller and there seemed to be more space for my hands around it.
Installation of the C-Bow mounting hardware was fairly easy, taking less than thirty minutes on the XSR900.
A significant portion of that time was spent examining the instructions and making sure we understood which fastener or part was being referred to in each graphical depiction.
The instructions are good but more details on assembly would have been welcome.
To install the C-Bow system on the XSR900, we needed to remove the rear fender to access and replace some of the fastening hardware.
There are fasteners near the turn signals that hold the rear pair of brackets in place along with a pair of spacers.
This was the most challenging part to do but having the fender assembly off the bike makes this relatively easy.
The forward pair of brackets mount to the passenger foot peg assemblies, which on this bike are easy to access. Longer replacement hardware is provided for this.
I should point out there are two installation kits available for the XSR900.
One kit installs the bags to allow room for a passenger and this version leaves the passenger pegs in place.
The other kit removes the passenger foot pegs and locates the luggage forward of the turn signals and closer to the bike for a narrower profile.
The latter version is for solo use only and this is the system we used for the XSR900.
I recommend taking the time to study and understand which fasteners are being called out in each step.
Also, be sure to leave the fasteners loosely attached to the bike when attaching the brackets, until the C-Bow plate is installed.
Doing so makes it easier to get all the pieces lined up, as several of the fastener openings in the hardware are slightly slotted to allow some play.
It also helps mitigate differences in tolerances in the mounting points as the pieces are assembled.
Once the hardware was installed, we tightened the fasteners and proceeded to slip the bags onto their mounting points.
The Royster bags fit onto the C-Bow carriers with a little bit of resistance; not too tight as to be difficult, but with enough snugness to keep the bags from moving.
Here's a note for U.S. XSR900 owners.
We first tried to mount the Hepco & Becker Orbit hard cases on the XSR900 with the installation kit that keeps the passenger foot pegs.
But then we discovered that the turn signals on the U.S. version of the XSR900 are different from the European version of this bike and they interfere with mounting the Orbit cases.
Hepco & Becker then sent us the solo rider installation kit, which moves the bags forward, hoping that it would allow the bags to clear the turn signals.
But again, the Orbit side cases would not fit because they contacted the turn signals and deflected them about 1/4 inch (6.3 mm).
We sent the Orbit cases back to Hepco & Becker and they recommended the Royster cases.
So at this point, if U.S. XSR900 owners want to mount the Orbit side cases, you'd have to either replace the turn signals with either the Yamaha European market version or smaller aftermarket versions.
The other option would be to relocate the turn signals. Hepco & Becker makes a kit that works with the factory Yamaha fender eliminator to move the turn signals further back.
But having no experience with this, we're not sure if it would work either.
Hopefully, Hepco & Becker will redesign the kit for use on the U.S. version of the Yamaha XSR900.
The Royster C-Bow bags on the XSR900 are just what was needed for commuting, easily holding lunch and other sundry items that otherwise would have to go in a backpack.
The Royster bags offer lightweight and functional storage that is durable and waterproof.
Being able to lock the bags onto the carrier adds a nice layer of security and the zippers have loops that allow the use of luggage locks for additional security.
As long as the 22 liter capacity isn't a problem, the Royster bags are an excellent way to add storage to your ride.
A pair of these bags combined with a tail bag could help turn a "naked" bike like the XSR900 into a lightweight sport-touring rig.
Hepco & Becker has a good thing going with the Royster bags and the C-Bow system overall.
At $229.95, the cases may be a bit more expensive than traditional fabric saddlebags, but these aren’t your typical soft saddle bags.
The C-Bow mounting hardware for the XSR900 costs $209.60, so it is essentially doubles the cost of the cases for this particular bike.
Out of curiosity, I looked at the C-Bow carrier system for the Kawaski Ninja 1000 (review) and the cost was similar, to within a few dollars.
To compare with other brands, most of the other side case carrier kits from Hepco & Becker and other brands cost nearly $400.00 for just the hardware mounting kits without the luggage.
So the C-Bow system and Royster bags are priced reasonably for what they offer.
And once the C-Bow system is installed on the bike, you can switch to other C-Bow luggage if needed.
|wBW Review: Hepco & Becker Royster C-Bow System|
|Manufacturer: Hepco & Becker||List Price (2016): $229.95 Bags + $209.60 C-Bow|
|U.S. Importer: Moto Machines||Made In: China (Mounting kit Germany)|
|Colors: Black or Black with yellow||Review Date: December 2016|
From "A.S." (December 2016): "I have a question on your review of the Hepco Becker Royster bags: Is it necessary to use the key to secure the bag to the rack?
I'd prefer to snap the bag on and off the rack without messing around with keys most of the time. A pushbutton release would be nice."
Brandon's Reply: While the bag will sit on the rack without locking it, it is not that secure. I bet you could get away it but I wouldn't try it and it isn't designed for that.”