The Art Of Motorcycle Luggage Handling.
There's a very active Yahoo group for TTR250 owners, and a frequent topic of discussion is luggage racks, how to make one, where to find one, how to attach it. There are as many different ideas as there are owners because there are virtually none you can buy ready-made for the TTR. And yes, I think the carriage of luggage on a motorbike truly is an art, witness the outrageous things carried on little mopeds all over Southeast Asia.
And the story once told to me by a close friend's Dad, that I'll never forget, about how us novices made too much fuss about panniers and top boxes and suchlike because in his younger days he'd carried home from work a couple of 'surplus' office armchairs strapped to his back (one at a time) riding his BSA motorbike from Victoria to his home in Fulham, London.
Now, the rack already fitted to my TTR is not strong enough for this journey, I don't think it will last much time, and everyone who sees it agrees. That fact has been very close to my thoughts ever since I bought the bike, in the hope that a solution will present itself.
The issue here is, it is the neatest, most elegant, most well-made, and most ingenious rack I have ever seen. And my engineering training informs me that something that has been constructed neatly, elegantly, ingeniously and well should also be intrinsically strong.
It was made by the previous owner, from 15mm copper water pipe and Yorkshire soldered fittings, and filled with two-part epoxy resin. It's attached to the bike by large cable zip-ties in three places. Even that is an engineering elegance - "four legs bad, three legs good." A three-legged table never wobbles. So it must be possible to make this thing suitable for its journey down the length of Africa, even if it may never look so to conventional eyes.
Two factors have occurred to me when I have stood in the garage, more than once, staring at the rack wondering what to do with it. It’s large and neat and I really don’t want to scrap it, the only alternative being to have a conventional rack specially made. And I’m also sure this rack of copper tube is lighter than a conventional steel rack, a huge advantage in my book.
You may think – "an awful lot of fuss (and words) over a rack!" But, with any luck, for over a year, this rack will carry my whole world. Everything I need, and probably a few things I don't. When I did a year round the world in 1999/2000, the same thought struck me about my rucksack. It would hold my entire material needs for twelve months, it would be my home, so it’s IMPORTANT! And my choice was successful. It still serves me well, and those who still borrow it. The secret for a good long-lasting and abuse-proof rucksack, is - NO zips. I saw many a fellow backpacker, hurriedly stuffing everything into his/her rucksack ready to catch the plane/boat/bus, screech in horror when two foot of zip suddenly became four foot of useless trimming around a large hole. One consolation: in the backpacking world this happens to more than a few people, so everyone around readily wades in with spare bags and carriers and safety pins to help the unfortunate traveller make the flight.
So back to the rack. Two further issues had sprung to mind whilst looking for an answer.
No. 1. Making the rack stronger means also making it heavier, well, usually. And I was determined to keep things light. The rack sits on the rear subframe which on most bikes is not particularly strong, mine included. But Engineering tells you that strength is also about distributing load and stress evenly through the construction. A classic example of this is the lightness of modern steel bicycles achieved through butted tubes, where the strength of the tube is distributed along its length to match the way that the rider’s weight, and road shocks will also be distributed. Thus I decided that if I abandon the zip-ties and attach the rack more strongly to the bike, in a fall the attachments will survive but the rack will break. So best to leave the zip-ties in place. If the rack gets hit in a fall, it’s likely the zip-tie attachments will fail reducing the chance of the rack breaking.
Another thing I want to do somehow is to arrange for the weight of the rack, and the box on it, to be supported by the pillion part of the dual-seat, not the rails of the subframe. The pillion seat has the strength to support a passenger, the rails of the subframe the strength to support the number plate and a piece of wire for the tail light.
No. 2. The French writer, architect, philosopher and WWII pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote: “Perfection is reached, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” (Computer and telephone designers should remember that - and maybe the writer of this blog - are you listening, McCrankpin?!)
Well, the passage of time must have joined up those two sets of thoughts, because the other Saturday morning I awoke with the solution floating around in my head. I'll saw off the front attachments of the rack, held with zip-ties to the two grab-handles, and move the whole thing forward to rest on the rear part of the seat. Simple!! And having sawn off those two attachments, there will definitely “no longer be anything to take away” - there will only be one attachment remaining! So perfection will have been reached. Definitely. It will even be lighter!
I’ll hold the front of the rack to the seat with a suitable strap of some sort. With any luck and a following wind, if the rack gets hit in an accident the front fixing will move, preventing irreparable damage, and the rear attachment, still with zip-ties, may break but can easily be zip-tied together again. On rough terrain, road shocks and jolts should be partially eased by the fact that a lot of the weight of the rack and luggage will be on the padded seat, reducing, I hope, the chance of stress fractures in the copper tubes. These are reinforced internally with the epoxy resin anyway. There’ll also be reduced weight on the subframe, allowing it to support the number plate and piece of wire with less trouble…….
Of course, I don't really know if any of that will actually be the case on this trip, that's in the future and we cannot know it. Only time will tell. And crossed fingers.
When I came to do the work, this idea developed a little. Instead of sawing the attachments off, which I might regret if the idea fails and I need them again, it became obvious when I started the job that it would be far better just to remove the grab handles that the attachments rest on.
That allowed the rack to rest on the pillion seat, with some old 4mm inner tube protecting the seat cover, and I could also move the whole thing forward to get more weight on the seat.
Then there was a bonus of being able to use the front attachments to hold the front of the rack down on the seat.
The whole thing is still held in place with zip ties, and at the front these are quite thin ones. If/when the rack gets hit, if anything's going to break I want it to be the ties, not the rack.
We'll see. This is what it looks like, with a base-plate for a box attached:
(Also, rubber gas hose pop-rivetted in a spiral to the side cover to act as a heat shield for the soft panniers).
And removing the grab handles saved more weight, as they are a lot heavier than the copper rack attachments.
Now, I'm pretty sure there's nothing more that can be removed from the rear of the bike, so according to Saint-Exupery, perfection has been reached.
Posted by Ken Thomas at April 15, 2009 06:02 PM GMT