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Shad SH38X expanding panniers review | Top-quality motorcycle luggage tested

Consumer Editor of Bennetts BikeSocial



Date reviewed: June 2024 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £487.99 + £165.99 |


Hard luggage is, well, it’s hard, which means that once it’s full, that’s your lot. Throwover panniers have for a long time been available with the ability to zip open wider when you need extra space, but the only hard panniers that could do that were the BMW Varios seen on the GS range.

With the new Shad SH38X panniers though, almost any bike can have the versatility of fairly compact hard panniers that expand quickly to offer a huge amount of storage space. I’ve been using them on a Zontes ZT350-T (you can watch the videos here), to find out whether they’re worth buying…


  • Roomy when compressed

  • Huge when expanded

  • Easy quick-release fitting

  • Comes with spare barrel for a top-box, but only compatible with the premium Shad range

  • Carry handle could be more comfortable

  • Isolated fitting issues on my Chinese bike

Construction and Weight

Despite not being that common a name in the UK, Shad has been making motorcycle luggage in Spain since the early 1970s, including OEM kit for the likes of BMW, Triumph and Yamaha… in fact, Shad makes those Vario panniers seen on GSs.

Coming with a 24 month warranty, the SH38Xs have – as you’d expect – a very high quality build and finish, using highly impact-resistant plastic that should last a lifetime.

As standard, these Shads come with a subtle carbon-fibre effect plastic centre panel that I really like, but a pair of unpainted replacements is £34.99, while white or gloss black are £59.99. Aluminium versions of the SH38X are also available for £576.99.

I’ve noticed no real issues with the handling of the bike when these panniers are fitted, besides perhaps the slightest of shimmy to the bars. It will depend very much on how your bike’s suspension is set up – increasing preload will likely be necessary with some weight in – but the advantage of panniers over a top-box is of course that the weight is carried lower and further forward.

The expansion mechanism of course adds some weight to these Shad panniers, but they still only come in at 5.94kg each. And they have a very impressive capacity…

Storage capacity

Rated for a maximum load of 10kg each, the Shad SH38X panniers can certainly haul a lot of kit. If you need to carry a chain and lock on your trip, tucking it into the bottom of one of these would be ideal.

When compressed, the SH38Xs can hold 27 litres each, and are said to be Shad’s most compact panniers. I measured them to be 23cm deep to the back of the box (so not including the hangers that secure them to the rails), and they certainly don’t have any impact on filtering the little Zontes through traffic.

I’ve found this position to be plenty for most rides, and while I have the SH44 top box as well, which is where I usually store my lid, once expanded the SH38Xs can hold 38 litres each, which is enough to tuck an Arai Tour-X5 in with the peak (that’s a tight fit), a Shoei Neotec 3 or an Arai Quantic. The Nexx X.WST3 fits, but has to go in on its side. The only helmet I tested that wouldn’t fit was the Nexx X.WED3 with the peak fitted. Note that all the helmets were a size medium, but Shad says that an XL modular helmet will fit.

At this fully expanded setting, the SH38Xs are 30cm wide, which means they take a little more considering when cutting through traffic, but I find I most often have them fully opened up when I stop and use them to store my riding kit and head off for the day. As portable lockers, they’re truly exceptional.

The Shad three-point mounting system is very tidy. The over-long bolts here are due to the fitting kit not being spot-on for my Chinese Zontes ZT350-T

Ease of fitting

Fitting kits are available for a massive range of bikes, so investing in these should mean you’ll very likely be able to swap them from one motorcycle to another, just by buying a new fitting kit, which for the Zontes costs £165.99 (the same kit for my BMW R1250GS would be £182.99).

The rack is cleverly designed to not look too conspicuous, being a simple L-shaped rail, rather than the full loop usually seen on aftermarket panniers.

I did have some issues fitting these racks to the Zontes, which appears to be due to the bike having some kind of design change since the ZT310-T that this rack appears to have been developed for. I worked around it by adding more of the supplied spacers, and I’ve let Shad UK know that the fit isn’t as neat as it could be, but hopefully Shad will update the kit shortly. I wouldn’t expect to see any issues on the more common bikes, but at least with an excellent UK arm, if you did have any queries they’re easily sorted.


Beside the obvious (and brilliant) expansion system, the SH38Xs also come with a very useful elasticated net that clips across the opening. This keeps your gear from tumbling out when you open the box, and also – as it’s double sided – creates a handy pocket.

When storing something large like a helmet, the net unclips quickly and easily without getting lost, or three Velcro straps can also be undone to remove it altogether.

The carry handle that pops up when pressing the keyhole down allows you to lug the boxes around, though the ribs in the underside can dig into your hands a little when they’re loaded up.

Expanding the SH38Xs is a simple matter of opening the front, flipping the red lever at the top and another two on either side before pulling the box outwards.

Expanding inner bags are also available at £48.99 each, though I’ve never bothered using them in any luggage over the years.

See the panniers in use from 12:20


I’ve not had any water find its way into the Shad SH38X panniers during use, but I always test luggage with a hose too. Set to a powerful fan pattern, the only way I could get water in was with the panniers opened up and the hose angled into the side of the sliding sections, rather than how the rain would hit while riding. Keeping the hose in line with the panniers, none found its way past the seals.


The Shad SH38X panniers can be locked closed, securely on the bike, and a spare barrel is supplied to key your Shad top-box alike, though this only applies to the premium top-boxes – the SH44 top-box that I have has a different design of key.

Something I particularly love about the Shad luggage is the fact that you don’t have to lock it, which makes getting to your gear so much quicker when you don’t need the security.

My only very minor niggle with the locking system is that the way they work makes one side feel like it’s opposite to the other. The locks operate clockwise from locked closed, to open, then round to a position that allows them to be released from the bike. This means that on one side, the locked position sees the key turned closest to the bike, but on the other it’s turned away from the bike.

Again, it’s a minor complaint, and there are likely technical reasons why one key can’t work clockwise and the other anti-clockwise.

Something I did notice is that one of the keyhole buttons that are pressed to release the handle became stiff and wouldn’t return on its own. A quick spray of silicone around the sides of it fixed the issue.

Three alternatives to the Shad SH38X panniers

If you want hard, expanding panniers, then unless you buy a GS, the SH38Xs are your only choice (so it’s lucky they’re so good). You could go for traditional hard panniers, in which case the main competitors are Givi and Kappa (both the same company). Or you might want to consider a top-box, which can’t carry as much weight, and not everyone likes the style, but they can create a great back-rest for a pillion. Otherwise, here are some different ways to carry your kit…

  • Soft luggage | Oxford Products has long been the big player in soft luggage, with a huge range of panniers, roll bags and more on offer. Also consider brands like Kriega, Enduristan, AltRider and Giant Loop to name a few. Soft luggage isn’t as secure against theft as hard luggage, it’s harder to pack and your gear isn’t as well protected, but off-road riders much prefer it as it’s far less likely to cause you injury if you fall off and get caught beneath it. It’s also less likely to cause damage to the bike in a crash. Oxford has also released its new Atlas range of adventure luggage, which combines with its straps to form a very versatile system.

  • Tank bags | The days of magnetic tanks bags scratching your paintwork, or needing a cover for your tank are long gone, as long as your bike has a fairly standard filler cap. I’m a huge fan of the SW Motech tank bags, which snap quickly and securely to the company’s very stylish tank rings, which are available for a huge range of bikes. Not cheap, but very impressive, like the SW Motech Pro Daypack reviewed here, which I use on my 1999 Kawasaki ZX-6R, and BMW R1250GS.
    Shad has also released a new tank ring system that looks good, with a great range of bags available, while Givi also offers a wide range of tank bags, though I’m not as keen on the styling of the fitting kits, as shown in this review.

  • Ventura luggage | Ventura is a clever system that combines a range of tough yet soft and lightweight bags with a rail fitting kit to carry plenty of gear. They’re available for many different machines, and are often a popular choice with sportsbike riders. You can read our review of a Ventura Evo luggage system here.

These are just three of many alternatives – you can find all the motorcycle luggage we’ve tested here and be sure to regularly check for the discounts available through Bikesocial membership.


Shad SH38X panniers review: Verdict

The Shad SH38X panniers are premium luggage, but considering they’re only about £140 more than Shad’s largest ‘standard’ SH36 panniers, the added versatility and practicality makes them well worth considering.

The build quality is excellent, and given the huge range of bikes the SH38Xs are available for, you could own these a lifetime. In that respect, they’re an excellent value investment that could be the perfect solution for those who need to carry a lot for tours, or simply want somewhere big to store their kit, without affecting the bike’s handling or ability to filter. Highly recommended.

Second opinion: James Frazer

“I regularly go away on bike trips and wanted to be able to store all my motorcycle gear when off the bike. Some top boxes and panniers can fit a helmet, but I struggled to find anything that would take everything. The SH38X panniers are fairly slim as standard but when expanded I can fit helmet, boots, jacket (with back protector), trousers and gloves, all locked away safely. Having previously used Shad luggage I was already a fan of the Shad 3P mounting system for its ease of use and how discrete the frames are when the luggage is not on the bike.

“My only minor criticism is that they don't have the widest interiors due to the thickness of the cases to accommodate the sliding mechanism, and they are certainly on the heavy side.

“I have a habit of buying bike luggage in the search for my perfect setup but after my recent trip away, I honestly can't think of any reason to change these SH38Xs any time soon.”

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