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Motorcycle Tank Bag Padding

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Tank bags are great for carrying just about anything you’ll need on a short or long motorcycle trip.  There are many different styles and sizes available to fit a variety of needs.

But one thing they all have in common is their notorious ability to scratch the paint on a motorcycle’s fuel tank or tail section.

Most tank bags come with some type of special coating or padding underneath, which is supposed to prevent damage to the motorcycle’s finish and paint, but all it takes is one tiny particle of dust or dirt between the tank and the liner to cause a scratch.  No matter how scrupulous the owner is about cleaning the underside of the tank bag, some damage will occur.

Now this may not be an issue on an old rat bike, but many owners are fanatical about keeping their pride and joy looking showroom new.

This is especially true for motorcycles with custom paintwork.  I’m sure there are many motorcycle owners who will read this article and think we’re way too obsessed with this issue, and if you’re one of them, please click away and visit the other webBikeWorld pages.  The rest of us obsessive compulsive neatniks who are possessed with keeping the bike in perfect condition will know just what I’m talking about!

Even if the underside of the tank bag is kept clean, frequent use can cause premature paint wear.  I’ve seen fuel tanks that were worn right down to bare metal, caused by the constant rubbing of a tank bag (or a tank bag strap) against the surface.

There’s actually not much that can be done to protect a painted surface from frequent tank bag use, because anything that touches the surface, even a fuel tank “bra”, will eventually cause some damage.  Wear damage is also a problem on the rear of a motorcycle when using removable soft saddlebags.  These will almost certainly rub up and down on the motorcycle’s fenders or painted surfaces when they’re mounted behind the seat.

I used a tank bag once that scratched the paint within the first 5 seconds after it was mounted.  Magnetic tank bags can attract tiny metal flakes or chips which can quickly cause serious damage.

However, there are a few precautions that can help mitigate damage, so let’s take a look.  If you have other tips that you’d like to share, drop us a line.

Good quality tank bags usually have some type of rubber-like padding underneath to help protect painted surfaces.  When you’re purchasing a tank bag, make sure there are no exposed stitches or sharp edges where the fabric comes together in a corner or any loose trim that could scratch the paint.

Cheap tank bags are usually made to sell at a low price and the manufacturer usually doesn’t spend a lot of time either thinking about or designing costly protective features.  There are some manufacturers who specialize in tank bags and have spent a lot of time and effort perfecting their designs.  It doesn’t make sense to try and save $30.00 on a tank bag, only to end up with $500.00 worth of paint damage.

Magnetic tank bags are great (if you have a metal fuel tank), but make sure that the bottom of the bag is clean before mounting it on the painted surface.

I keep a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of non-ammonia window/all-purpose cleaner (Glass Plus) in the garage, and it only takes a few seconds to spray and wipe the bottom of the tank bag.  Even if the bag has been stored in a clean drawer in the garage, it will most likely have picked up some dust or dirt that can cause immediate damage.

Tank bag padding protector on motorcycle fuel tankBe very careful when mounting a magnetic (or other style) tank bag.

The magnets are usually very powerful and will snap on to the metal tank as the get close to the surface.  Never adjust the tank bag by moving it around after it’s been mounted, because this will almost certainly damage the paint.

If the bag must be repositioned, carefully pick it up and try again.  The best method of installing a magnetic tank bag is to hold the “ears” or flaps up on the sides of the bag, locate the body of the bag over the correct mounting location, then slowly and gently lay the flaps down on the side of the tank.  Reverse the process to remove the bag.

Refueling a motorcycle with a tank bag attached is also problematic.  Every time you remove and replace the tank bag, there’s another opportunity for dirt or road grime to get lodged underneath.  Sometimes there’s not much that can be done about this, but at the very least, do a quick check or wipe the bottom of the bag before it’s replaced.

There are several tank bag padding products that can be used between the bag and the mounting surface.  I’ve seen a product called Wonder Web, which is a mesh-like padding sold in some motorcycle shops (mostly in the U.K.) and which can be found online.

Oxford, the company that makes a huge line of good-quality motorcycle accessories, also sells a tank bag “bed”, which is also a mesh rubber-like padding material.  These products can cost $20.00 or more.

We’ve found two substitutes that work really well and can be found in most hardware or home supply stores.  The roll of toolbox padding shown in these photos is sold by Kobalt, a manufacturer of good-quality hand tools.  Kobalt products can be found at the Lowe’s chain of hardware stores in the U.S.A.  This roll is 22.5″ wide by 118″ long (2655 square inches or 17,129 square centimeters) and it’s about 3 mm (1/8″) thick.

It’s a mesh design, with holes and “bubbles” of soft foam-like padding in between.  We bought this roll for $14.98, and there’s enough material there to make probably 15-20 pads for tank bag (by the way, the stuff also works great as a toolbox drawer liner!).  It can also be doubled up and used on a motorcycle seat for some extra cushioning.

A pad cut to the shape of the bottom of a tank bag can usually be stored inside the bag as a liner on the floor of the bag, taking up almost no space at all.

Here’s a tip:  the magnets on most tank bags are powerful enough to grip the tank even with a layer of this material between the tank and the magnet.  Cut the pad to match the outline of the entire tank bag with the flaps extended.  The padding will be almost unnoticeable and will offer maximum protection.

The other product we’ve tried is a roll of carpet padding that is used as an underlay for carpets or throw rugs.  This material is thicker and we’ve only found it in a sickening shade of brown, but it’s relatively inexpensive.  The problem is that it usually comes in huge rolls, so even though the price per square foot may be lower, you may have to buy a large quantity, which will cost more.

I’ve also seen a roll of soft mesh padding sold in Wal-Mart and other discount accessory stores that’s designed to be used as a drawer liner.

Smaller rolls of this material can usually be found for under $10.00.  But this material is usually not as robust as the Kobalt padding, which is nicely made and we think it makes one of the best motorcycle tank bag pads that can be found anywhere.

Now after reading all this, you may think we’re being too obsessive about this subject, and those of you who look at your motorcycle’s battle scars as a source of pride will probably be howling with derision.  But for the obsessive compulsive neat freaks, take it from us – if you use a tank bag, you owe it to yourself and to your bike to protect the paint!

Product Review: Motorcycle Tank Bag Padding Protector
Available From:  Lowe’s Suggested Retail Price:  $14.98, 22.5″ x 118″ (2655 in. sq.)
Colors:  Black Made in:  U.S.A.
Product Comments:  Soft rubber-like mesh padding is designed to be used in toolboxes but works great as a protective padding for tank bags or throw-over soft saddlebags.  Available at the Lowe’s hardware chain in the U.S. or via the Lowe’s website.  Item #176755, Model: 73010-KB.
More:  Review Index (lists tank bag reviews)  |  Motorcycle Luggage Page

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From “LJ” (10/08):  “I was reading through your Tank Bag padding page and realized that here in India a few of us actually use a very cheap alternative that saves enough moolah for the gas at the next pit stop.

We carry a box of saran wrap in the tank-bag, and every time we are mounting the bag onto the tank, we wipe the tank clean and cover it with 2-3 generous coats of the saran wrap before actually putting the bag on…

The number of scratches reduced greatly.  I wouldn’t say that we don’t get scratches any more, but the scratches are more like spider-webs so a coat of some cheap scratch out usually does the job…

Try it and see if this works for you as well!”