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Gear review: Givi UT803

Before I dive into reviewing this 40L waterproof rolltop bag from Givi, I should explain two things. First, I didn't pay for it: it was supplied to me for test on RiDE (and indeed a small review piece was published there last year). A lot of "influencers" don't bother admitting that kind of thing, as if it's somehow shady. It isn't if you do it impartially and properly.

Which brings me to, second, I've spent the past 26-odd years reviewing stuff and in the past 15 years I've been testing and reviewing bike kit – and it's really simple. You just tell the truth about everything: what it is, how it works, what you think about it. Partly because if you don't your readers will find out and you'll look like a chump. But mostly because that's the essence of the job.

The fact that kit comes in with no strings attached from manufacturers doesn't mean any decent reviewer will go "Oh, it's free, it's lovely..." Quite the opposite: if a product that's free isn't good, there's even less of a vested interest in pretending it has any redeeming features: the reviewer hasn't invested their money in it, so never feels the need to defend it (because admitting you'd bought something duff might make them feel or look foolish). It means everything is judged a bit more harshly than would be the case if someone paid for it themselves. If a product is good, great - everyone's happy; but if it's not, there's no need to pretend otherwise. It can simply be slagged off and replaced at no cost with another scrounging phone call...

Sits neatly on the pillion seat, without encroaching on the rider's space

So, then, this Givi UT803 Ultima-T Cargo Bag that I didn't pay for. Yeah, it's lovely...

That's why I want to write about it again on here. Sometimes you do find a great product comes in on a magazine and the available space means you write a 100-150 words about it, drop in one picture and then it's gone. But this bag is so good I want to wax lyrical about it. And on my own website, I can. Sorry...

Let's look at the basics first: it's made of a heavy-duty rubberised tarpaulin, with welded seams. There's silver-reflective print on the outside to stop it being an anonymous black sausage. In fact, it looks pretty classy. The two carrying handles are secured together with a padded loop and there's a clip-on shoulder strap with a decent shoulder pad. There's a single internal zipped pocket – not very large. I don't tend to use it when loading the bag, just for keeping the four straps in when they're not holding the bag on the bike (more of them later).

Air valve makes packing the UT803 a doddle

The UT803 is 50cm long and the entire top opens for loading it - though the "lips" of this rolltop Velcro shut in the centre, which makes it easy to operate. Stick them together and roll them down – it's good practice to get three complete rolls for a watertight seal – while squeezing the air out. Some comes out from the top, but most doesn't. This usually makes rolltop bags quite frustrating, as they bulge out with trapped wind like a granny after too many sprouts with Christmas dinner. Not so this Givi bag: there's an air valve that unscrews to let excess air escape. It's simple to pack it securely around whatever you want to throw inside, then seal the valve not only to keep it watertight but also to stop it inflating again. Your gear isn't quite shrink-wrapped, but it is packed in properly. It's very good.

You can get plenty of gear in there, too. I've just completed a four-day road trip with the bag no more than 75% full – despite the fact that as well as four days' kit (shirts, pants and socks, jeans and baseball boots, and a washbag) I was lugging a spare midlayer, change of base-layers, a laptop and action cameras, chargers and two bottles of wine… I've done a trial how-much-can-I-cram-in run with it and got ten days' worth of kit in there, with a choice of jeans or shorts (though without putting the laptop in there). It has a really good capacity.

Plastic hooks hold the bag securely in place

Now, the straps that fit it to the bike. There are four: one end lashes around something solid (on my Kawasaki Z1000SX, grabrails and pillion-peg hangers). At the other end is a plastic hook, closed by a sprung metal clip, on a swivel. I'll admit, I didn't think they looked very sturdy. These clip through webbing loops welded onto the outside of the bag, then the slack is removed just by pulling on them: simple and very quick. They get the bag firmly in place, they don't seem to work loose – even when riding over very rough, vibe-creating road surfaces – and clearly they're more than strong enough to hold the bag utterly securely in place on the back seat (I'm sure they'd be just as good on a rack - I just don't have one). The only two micro-niggles with the entire bag are: 1) the hooks have a small indent to secure the metal clip, but this tends to snag the webbing when you want to take the bag off, making that a bit fiddly; and 2) you end up with plenty of spare strap flapping around once the bag's secure. I tended to wrap that around another loop of the webbing on the bag – just don't then remove the hook and walk off, or you're jerked back to the bike, having tied this excess bit into a super-tight knot that's hard to undo with cold fingers...

Easy to fit securely. Shame the straps cover some of the reflective silver pattern that's meant to aid visibility at night

Overall, this is the best waterproof tailbags I've used. It's finished to a really high standard, the air-valve system makes it brilliantly easy to pack properly, the straps are as good as any alternative system and much quicker and easier to fit than most, it swallows a huge amount of gear and it is – as the intermittent monsoons I've ridden through demonstrated – completely waterproof. It even has a waterproof window for an identity tag, which reminds me that I need to get some business cards made, so I can replace the RiDE one that's in there at the moment...

Of course, there is one final question that isn't considered when products appear for review without the tester paying for them: is it good value? The Givi UT803 Ultima Cargo Bag had a list price of over £85 – which is pretty salty. You can probably get it online for nearer £75 if you shop around (try Sportsbikeshop) which is more reasonable. The best alternatives are Oxford Aqua 50 (£69.99) or Aqua 30 (£64.99) which are equally rugged, come in a range of colours and offer either more capacity or less excess capacity, depending on which one you go for (direct from Oxford Products) but they don't have the air valve and the fixing system – while potentially more secure, featuring a strap to Velcro under the seat as well as lash straps – is fiddlier and slower to use. For me, though, the air-valve swings it and the Givi is the one I'd recommend.

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Great, useful review Simon, thanks for providing and all the best for your new venture. Pleased to hear you were in Bamburgh, the sausage rolls at the butchers are to die for! 😊

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