MAKING ROOM FOR THE WIFE

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When my wife committed to joining me on our riding groups’ annual adventure to Baker City Oregon, I realized that our bike was not set up or rated to carry us and all the personal items that would be required to keep us in clean clothes and beautified for a week.

Our Suzuki Volusia 800cc has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, GVWR, of about 950 lbs. The bike alone weights 590lbs. This means that my wife and our luggage, tools and miscellaneous items would have to weight 90 lbs. My wife alone weighs close to 90lbs. (You’re welcome babe). I weigh…do the math. Well you get the idea, we would be way over the GVWR. We got out our “Motorcycle Trip Packing List” (see my blog, “Motorcycle Packing List”) and started crossing things off the list that we could live without. When all was said and done we got our stack of essentials to fit into two small pieces of luggage, airplane carry-on style, and our biggest motorcycle trunk. In the past, when I used the Volusia for a trip I would just strap a bag on the passenger seat, cram a bunch of stuff in the hard shell saddlebags and be off. The problem now was that our Volusia was not set up to carry two pieces of luggage, my wife, and I. My V-strom is setup for exactly that scenario, (see my blog, “Panniers Made From Scratch”) but the V-strom isn’t nearly as comfortable as the Volusia to ride, it has Corbin seats.

For the next couple of days I scratched my head and tried to figure out how I was going remove the hard shell saddlebags and replace them with two pieces of carry-on luggage. I finally concluded that I would have to make another set of plastic panniers for the Volusia, exactly like those I made for my V-strom. That’s right, I said “exactly” like those for the V-strom. The panniers for the V-strom attach to the bike using a metal frame work that I designed and made. The Volusia didn’t have that same frame work, but it did have the saddlebag supports and the mounting studs that attach the saddlebags to the bike. Retro-fitting the panniers to the Volusia was as easy as drilling two holes in the back of the plastic panniers so they would slip onto the studs and clip in place just like the saddlebags. To make them extra secure and for added support I added a couple of straps. Now granted, it didn’t look “Harley Cool,” but it worked great.

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Showing plastic panniers on Volusia with studs showing and extra straps for support.

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Showing luggage in place in plastic panniers and covered with bright rain proof bags.

I knew that once we got to Baker City we would be removing the plastic panniers and luggage, which presented two more issues. First, with them removed, the bike is left with two large and ugly, metal ell brackets sticking out on both sides of the bike where the bags mount.

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Showing ugly metal support brackets for saddlebags

And second, the trunk wouldn’t be large enough to pack all the stuff we would need for the long day trips we would be taking from Baker City. My first thought was to pack the saddlebags full of clothes and pack the packed saddlebags in the luggage, but they were too big and too heavy.

When I first started riding dual sport I wanted some small saddle bags I could attach to my Honda XR650L to carry essentials, like tools, rain gear, water and power bars. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on brand named soft saddlebags, so I would stop by Goodwill every now and then to see if I could find pairs of backpacks, duffel bags or small soft sided luggage bags that were identical or very similar in size and appearance. Lucky enough, I was able to collect a few pairs of bags that looked alike or were exactly alike. I found two identical Goodwill bags in our motorcycle stall storage cabinet that would be a good size for day ride purposes. I could have just strapped them on the bike like saddlebags, but after modifying my plastic panniers the idea of making simple plastic supports that would attach just like the saddlebags and panniers seemed like the best plan.

I took one of the plastic barrels that I had and cut off two rectangles that were the same width as the small bags, 11.5”, and that were the same length in height + depth as the bags, 17”. Using a propane torch I heated and bent the plastic rectangles into two large ell shaped brackets. I drilled holes in the brackets to match the mounting studs on the bike so they too would slip onto the studs and clip in place.

Both bags had large open pockets on the back of them. I cut the pockets open along the bottom and reinforced the cut material with Gorilla Duct Tape, love the stuff. Next I slipped the bracket up through the open bottom of the pocket. The modified pocket held the bag to the bracket, the bag was supported by the bottom of the plastic ell and the bracket clipped easily to the motorcycle saddlebag studs.

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Showing plastic ell bracket and small bag.

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Showing ell bracket inserted through cut open back pocket.

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showing small bag mounted on the bike

The small bags were lightweight, could easily be packed with clothes and packed nicely into our luggage. They were large enough to carry what we needed for day trips and were even rain resistant. They did look a little redneck and defiantly not “Harley Cool”, but I’m not what you would call “cool.”

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

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Highway Pegs for Adventure Bikes

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One of the best additions I’ve made to my V-strom is the highway or forward pegs. Having the option of stretching my legs forward and resting them on foot pegs is a real relief when I’ve been riding for hours. Making the forward pegs is also one of the more difficult additions I’ve made. In all honesty I have to admit that the project of making the pegs was made difficult by the fact that I am a cheap bastard and instead of buying square metal tubing I used what I had, round pipe. To make the forward pegs for an “Adventure Bike,” I had to make them hinged so that they would fold up and out of the way in rough riding conditions and so they could easily fold back down when riding on the highways. To make them hinge with round pipe I had to heat the ends of the pipe until it was red hot and then hammer the round pipe into perfectly square ends. It gets even more complicated and difficult when one of the… well never mind, let me just tell you how to do this the easy way.

First you have to have a skid plate on your bike. For my V-strom I bought a skid plate. I had all kinds of ideas of how to make a skid plate, but I got such a great deal on the bike that I convinced myself that I could afford to buy the plate. Without a skid plate you might be able to attach to your crash bars, but you’ll have to buy crash bars. The forward pegs are three separate pieces, a long bar that bolts across the front of the skid plate and two shorter bars that are the foot pegs. The two foot pegs attach to the long bar at both ends with a single bolt that acts as your hinge pin. For my bike the long bar is 16” and the foot pegs are 6.5”. I’ve been pretty happy with those lengths, but you may want to make adjustments for your particular bike or riding style.

To make them out of square tubing you would cut the long bar at 16″, but leave a bottom tongue on both ends sticking out about 1″. The pegs are 6.5″ with the bottom corner rounded so it will hinge up and not drag the bottom corner. Cut four 2″ ears out of flat stock and weld them to the ends of the main bar with 1″ of the ears sticking out past the main bar. The ears will be welded to the tongue and main bar, one on each side. The other option is to buy foot pegs and bolt them to the main bar, but what fun would that be?

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I bolted my long bar to my skid plate with two “U” bolts. To make the foot pegs less slippery and to dress up the pegs I used a pair of rubber handlebar grips and slid them onto the pegs. They worked pretty well, but I failed to glue them on and they had a tendency to slid outward. On a trip to Glacier I lost one outside White Salmon, so I went into a hardware store found a heavy duty black rubber hose that would slide tightly onto the pegs and I’ve use that since. In my shop I found a couple of plastic caps off some kind of aerosal spray cans, probably brake cleaner, to cap the ends of the rubber hose to make the ends of the pegs look a little more finished.

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Like I said, one of the best addition I’ve make to my V-strom. I’m not young, have a little arthritis in both knees and being able to stretch out my legs is so nice.

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Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Motorcycle Helmet Trunk

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There have been a couple of times when I have purchased a motorcycle from a private party and the seller has thrown in an old helmet to boot. Helmets have a half life of only a few years and the older they get, the more likely they will not protect your head in a crash. So when I get an old helmet, of course, I… use them. I use them until I can purchase a new helmet.  Then comes the question of what to do with the old helmet? I have held on to a couple of full face helmets with the idea that I would convert them into a motorcycle trunk. I know what you are thinking, “a helmet isn’t going to hold enough stuff to be of any use.” There is where you are wrong. I did a “stuff-it-full” test and found that a full face helmet will hold three full sized bath towels! I estimate that a person could carry in the full face helmet trunk; a sweat shirt, a pair of gloves, some odds and end tools, water bottle, power bar and a pair of sunglasses.

Today I was working on my GS 850 Suzuki bobber project, but wanted to take some time and consider a few things I was going change, so I decided to work on my helmet trunk idea. Choosing the best one of the two useless full face helmets kicking around in “Motorcycle Stable,” I removed the inside padding and foam. The padding just snaps in and came out very easily, but I had to break the foam loose from the shell with a chisel.

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To make the helmet into a trunk I figured it would have to have a bottom plate in it so my stuff wouldn’t fall through luggage rack onto the road. There are a couple things you could use for a bottom plate, wood, metal, or plastic. I used plastic from a 55 gallon barrel. Wood would have been much easier, but I’m a plastic barrel guy. The top of the barrel is the thickest plastic, so that’s where I cut out the bottom plate. Just set the helmet on the top of the barrel and trace around it.

Most helmets taper inward at the bottom opening.  I cut the plastic slightly larger than the opening, so when I put the bottom plate into the helmet and pushed it down, it would be too large to pass through the narrower bottom opening, It took several trips to the grinder to get the bottom plate just the right size. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I pushed the plate down to the bottom of the helmet shell and stuffed the shell full of towels to hold the plate in place. Using a good epoxy glue, I secured the plate to the helmet shell from the under side and then from the inside after I removed the towels.

The top of the barrel where I cut the plate is slightly concave. When I attached the plastic plate to the helmet, I put the curve so it was bowed up into the shell. I did this because motorcycle trunks are usually secured to the luggage rack with a couple of bolts, a bracket with two holes in it and two nuts. With the bow up, when the nuts were tightened they will pull that bow down, putting constant presser on the nuts so they would be less likely to come loose.

To mount the helmet trunk to the luggage rack, drill two holes through the bottom plate about 4″ apart or so the holes with the bolts through them will fit though the luggage rack with at least two rack bars between the bolts. Drill two holes in a metal bar that match the holes in the truck bottom plate. Put the bracket with two corresponding holes under the luggage rack, drop the bolts through the plate, between the bars on the luggage rack and through the bracket holes and secure with two nuts.

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The helmet was pretty ugly and beat up, but some sanding and a coat of black spray in bed liner dressed it up. I sprayed the face shield too so no one can see my stuff in the helmet trunk. I padded the bottom of the trunk with a cut to shape piece of rubber yoga mat that I picked up at Goodwill one day. So that’s pretty much it. I now have a trunk that I can easily attach to any luggage rack, carry my stuff in and gave an old helmet a second useful life.

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Anyway… for what it’s worth.

PANNIERS MADE FROM SCRATCH

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Luggage Racks For my V-strom

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Like most people, my life has been made easier by computers and yes, better. In my job as a home inspector, WIN Home Inspection Salem, a computer saves me time and corrects my terrible spelling. A computer provides most of our TV viewing pleasure and keeps me in touch with friends and family. I know for a fact that I would have never written a dozen books if I hadn’t had a laptop computer. Most of my life of being a do it yourselfer has been spent in trial and error. I have spent many hours and lots of money making mistakes because I didn’t have the knowledge to do it right the first time. Now I just go to my computer and Google how to do what ever it is I want to do and I can find it on Youtube. Exploring the internet with my computer has kept me learning and growing like nothing else could have done. And even though I curse them sometimes, a computer has opened the world to me and enhanced my life. God bless you mister or misses computer inventor person(s).

Next to the computer, used plastic 55 gallon barrels would have to be #2 in making my live easier.

After I realized how much I enjoyed dual sport motorcycle riding on my Honda XR650L, I decided that I needed an adventure bike. An adventure bike is a step up from a typical dual sport in that it is comfortable enough to ride long distances on the highways, but when you see a dirt or gravel road that looks interesting, off you go. After a lot of study I decided that the Suzuki V-strom 650DR was the ideal bike for me. I couldn’t really justify the expense of an $5000-$7000 bike. Since I like to work on motorcycles I decided that if I could find a wrecked bike that was mechanically sound I could probably fix it up and make it, at the very least, interesting looking. I had just published a book, The Reincarnation of Joe Rocket. In the book the main character had fallen on hard times and his buddy, Two Stroke, bought him a V-strom that had been wrecked. He spent a couple weeks fixing it up and then rode it from Washington State to Maine. It occurred to me that if Joe Rocket could fix one up, I could too. I put an ad on Craigslist and a week later a guy emailed me saying he had a totaled V-strom that he wanted to sell. The bike was a 2010 with 4500 miles on it. Long story short, the bike looked brand new, except for a broken left front turn light and the shifter lever. There were also a few small scratches that I would have never noticed if he hadn’t pointed them out to me. The guy had been rear ended, tapped, at a stop sign and tipped the bike over. Since the bike was virtually new, he wanted everything with even a minor scratch replaced. By the time the insurance company added it all up, the bike was totaled.  I bought it for half the price of a new one and within thirty minutes I had fixed the turn signal light and shifter. So much for a fixer upper project. I love this bike.

I had sold my cruiser, 2002 Honda VTX 1800, the previous winter, so the Vee was going to be my all around bike. I would use for long weekend dual sport trips and my week long road trips. For long trips I needed some kind of  saddlebags, or for a adventure bike like the V-strom, panniers. Panniers are usually aluminum boxes that mount to each side of the back fender area. They are made of aluminum to be almost indestructible and watertight. I never liked the idea of big metal boxes mounted to the back of my motorcycle. I guess I have had too many close encounters with trees and boulders and knew I would end up tearing them off my bike or denting them beyond repair. As I searched the web for something I thought would work for me, I found nothing I liked or could afford. I kept thinking, why don’t they make a flexible plastic holder that you can just slip your luggage onto? Then I though, “Hey, I can make that!”

I needed to make a rack that would withstand crashes and that I could mount my plastic luggage holders onto. During searches on the web I had seen many different racks that would mount on my V-strom, but I felt I could do better or at least, as well. I made a rough sketch of what I wanted, found a 10’X3/4” piece of conduit in my shop, bought some 1/8”X 1” metal flat stock at ACE, got out my conduit bender, fired up the welder and went to work.

Showing complete rack with my stovepipe tool box attached.

Showing complete rack with my stovepipe tool box attached.

The first thing I did was bend the conduit so it would attach to the passenger foot peg frame bracket on one side, bend around the back of the bike just under the tail light and attach to the other passenger peg frame bracket. I carefully flattened the ends of the conduit and drill holes for bolts through the flattened part. The frame brackets for the passenger foot pegs on the Vee are large and there was plenty of room to drill a hole in the bracket to accommodate the conduit, bolt and nut.

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The Vee comes stock with a substantial back rack that sits over the back fender. It’s bolted on in four places, two bolts attach back rack and two more bolts forward about mid seat. In my opinion, it is always a good idea to use the factory bolts and brackets when ever possible to attach something not stock to your bike.

I cut and bent to fit, two pieces of flat metal stock that would bolt under the back rack front brackets and reach down to the conduit. For the back support, I cut and bent one piece of flat stock that ran from the conduit on once side, up and under the back rack and down to the conduit on the other side. Because of where I had to run the flat stock under the back rack, the bolts for the rack didn’t line up with the flat stock. To make the connection to the bolts I welded two small ears to the flat stock that would reach the two bolts.

Showing rack bolted under the bike's rear rack at mid-seat.

Showing rack bolted under the bike’s rear rack at mid-seat.

Showing the two ears I welded on to fit in the two back holes of the bike's rear rack.

Showing the two ears I welded on to fit in the two back holes of the bike’s rear rack.

The next step was to cut two short pieces of flat stock that would attach horizontally between the two vertical flat stock on each side and would give me something to hang my plastic luggage racks on. Once everything was cut, bent and fitted, I welded it all together and sprayed it with black spray in bed liner.

Now with the rack made and mounted, I needed to make luggage racks. After drawing some sketches of what might work, I made a pattern out of cardboard. I had in mind that I was going to use 20” carry-on luggage to fit in the luggage racks.

Now what I needed was a big flat piece of plastic. Here is something that you might not know. If you cut the top and bottom off a plastic 55 gallon barrel, then cut it down one side, heat it up with a weed burner blow torch until it is so soft it will lay flat on a shop floor and put a piece of plywood with some heavy weight on the plywood over the plastic until it cools, you will end up with a large piece of flat plastic.

Showing my pattern with measurements.

Showing my pattern with measurements.

After cutting the plastic to the pattern, heating the plastic and bending it to the proper shape I riveted so it would retain the shape and make it strong. To attach the luggage rack to the metal rack, the luggage rack needed a bracket system that would easily clip onto the metal rack and wouldn’t accidentally come off over rough road. Of course I used plastic barrel to make the brackets. The bracket is a kind of  “Z” shape and the top bracket is a flat piece riveted along the top. They are just wide enough to fit between the two vertical supports on the metal rack and slip over the conduit on the bottom and the horizontal bar at the top. To keep the plastic racks from bouncing off the metal racks, I made a “L” bracket out of plastic, then cut a slot through the back of the luggage rack and “Z” bracket attached on the back. The slot was cut just below the top horizontal cross piece on the metal rack. I attached the “L” bracket with rivets to the luggage rack so that the short part of the “L” bracket will slip through the slot, under the horizontal cross-piece and though the “Z” bracket. The plastic “L” bracket is kind of spring loaded and stays through the slot until you’re ready to remove the luggage rack.

Showing brackets on the back that slide onto rack. Note the slot in the upper bracket for "L" bracket to slide through and secure the luggage rack to the metal rack. Note that everything is riveted and hot glued on.

Showing brackets on the back that slide onto rack. Note the slot in the upper bracket for “L” bracket to slide through and secure the luggage rack to the metal rack. Note that everything is riveted and hot glued on.

Showing "L" bracket that slips through the slot, over the horizontal rack bracket.

Showing “L” bracket that slips through the slot, over the horizontal rack bracket.

20” carry-luggage is pretty typical and I was able to find one at Goodwill for a $5. The other one I bought a matching one at Walmart for $20. I removed the wheels on the bags and they slipped perfectly into the plastic luggage racks. I added two straps on each luggage rack to hold the bags securely in the racks.

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The carry-on’s looked pretty good, but they weren’t waterproof or dust proof. We had acquired some bright yellow material that school crossing flags are made out of when we owned a screen printing business and I had some left over. Using that and some water resistant material I bought at a fabric store, I sewed together some slip on covers for the bags (see top picture). That’s right, I sewed. Gentlemen, if a sewing machine is not part of your power tool assortment, your assortment is not complete.

I have used the racks and panniers for three years now and they have worked great. They are light weight, durable, flexible, inexpensive and not too bad looking. I never remove the metal racks. They act as rear-end crash bars and have saved my bike from damage more than once.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Motorcycle trip check list.

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I try to take three or four long motorcycle trips each year. I got tired of trying to remember everything I might need to pack, so over the years I have developed a packing list for my trips. I don’t pack all this stuff, but I like to use the list to decide what I will need on a particular trip. I hope the list will help to make your trips more carefree.

Most of the things on the list can be purchase in any town, so don’t fret if you forget something. I have a friend I ride with that only packs old worn out jeans. He wears them until they are dirty and then just throws them away. The last couple of years I have gone to wearing mesh riding pants. They save me lot of room because I don’t have to pack more than one pair of jeans and a pair of shorts, depending on how long I’ll be gone and if I’m only riding with guys. If I’m riding with guys, I don’t care if my jeans will stand up by themselves at the end of the week. If I’m riding two up with my wife I have to really pack light so I evaluate each item and decide if I can go without it.

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MOTORCYCLE TRIP PACKING LIST

o    CAMERA, MEMORY CARDS AND BATTERIES

o     GPS AND BATTERIES

o     MONEY, ID, CREDIT CARDS, AARP CARD

o     INSURANCE CARD AND BIKE REGISTRATION

o     HANDKERCHIEFS

o     WATER ABSORBING HANDKERCHIEFS

o     COOLING VEST

o     PHONE, CHARGER &  WORK SCHEDULE

o     GLASSES

o     SUNGLASSES

o     GUN AND PERMIT

o     MAPS

o     DRIED FRUIT

o     WATER

o     HANDI-WIPES, AND HAND SANITIZER CLEANER

o     OIL, TOOLS, AND TIRE GAGE

o      FLASHLIGHT

o     TOW ROPE (TO TOW HARLEYS)

o     GLOVES

o     EAR PLUGS

o     HELMET, DEWRAGS AND FACE SHIELDS

o     LEATHERS AND BOOTS

o     BIKE CLEANER, PLEDGE WIPES AND RAGS

o     DO SAFETY CHECK

o     TEE SHIRTS- ONE PER DAY

o     LONG SLEEVE TEE SHIRTS- ONE PER EVERY 4 DAYS

o     JEANS- ONE FOR EVERY THREE DAYS

o     NICE PANTS/SHORTS

o     UNDERWEAR, SOCKS, AND TEE SHIRTS- ONE SET PER DAY

o     COMPRESSION SHORTS

o     SLEEPING CLOTHES

o     SWIM SUIT

o     WALKING SHOES & SANDALS

o     FIRST AID KIT

o     SUNSCREEN

o     MEDICATIONS

o     TOILETRIES

o     WATER MISTER

o     MP3, EAR PHONES AND CHARGER

o     I.C.E. LIST

o     CARDS, GAMES and BOOK

o     RAIN GEAR

o     EXTRA KEY FOR BIKE