The debate about hard versus soft luggage (panniers or side cases) on bikes is an eternal one picked over on a zillion adventure bike forums so I’m not even going there. I use a combination of soft and hard luggage depending on the bike and where I’m going.

IMHO the two big advantages of hard panniers is all your stuff doesn’t get crushed when your bike tips over and they protect your bike when you fall even if they rip off ie. they are the best crash bars ever. I’ve dropped the Beema lots of times (nothing at high speed) and combined with great stock engine and handlebar protection the bike has been totally unscathed. 

Long and short of it is we reckon hard cases are the go. I’ve belted Touratech panniers all over the place and apart from the crappy locking mechanism they are a great product tho pricey. For the Honda and Suzuki we are going with Hepco and Becker cases. There are quite a few options to pick (plastic vs aluminium, composite cases, different features) we went the stock Alu Standard cases as they are simple and robust for touring purposes. Plus we have a lot of modifications to do to them to have them ready for the trip.

Weight distribution on the bikes is critical and as Sonja is a petite 5’3” and 55kg we were concerned getting panniers that are too big for her Honda CB550x could over load it and make it unstable. Plus they could stick out too far when in traffic and act as ‘sails’ in high winds. Also her exhaust is down near the swing arm so the panniers have to sit above it making the weight distribution quite high which can lead to instability. So we got her two 35 litre panniers which, when combined with a bag thrown across the seat and a tank bag, gives plenty of carrying capacity – despite many good humoured moans of ‘where am I going to fit all my toiletries…’ Sheesh, women …😉

The Suzuki DL650 has a high set exhaust so I got a 40lt left side pannier and a 35lt right (exhaust) side one. I’m used to this set up so no big deal. We sourced them from Motorcycle Adventure Products in Queensland and Judy had them to us in no time. 

Follows is fitting the panniers on the Suzuki. I’ll describe fitting them to the Honda in a separate post.

The panniers are beautifully made (German engineering of course) but maybe too elegant – more on this later. The fitting instructions are reasonably clear – some of the Germ-English is rather hilarious – but some parts of fitting the mounting rails are a lot trickier than you are lead to believe. By far the trickiest part (for me anyway) was remounting the rear indicators.

This is usually a drama when installing pannier mounting racks as the indicators are almost always relocated further away from their original location and the wires connecting them to the bikes electrics are too short or a really tight fit making the install super fiddly. This is exactly the case for the H&B racks.

The indicator wires run above the stop / rear light unit and under the rear fender panel. To do this job easily you need:

  • Have someone help you (preferably with small hands) as this is fiddly
  • Unbolt the rear fender panel from bike frame so it is loose
  • Unbolt the stop / rear light unit from the rear panel – this is a single small bolt under the unit inside the panel

The wires from the indicators can’t easily reach the connectors from the main electrical loom as they are now much further back so make a small careful cut to the rubber hose surrounding the bunch of wires coming out of the loom (DO NOT cut the cables themselves).

Make a split down the length of the hose for about an inch. This gives you some additional space to spread the indicator wires and the connectors will now reach.

That’s the worst part of the job. The rest is pretty easy provided you take you time and look at the pictures a lot. The fit was tight and getting the pannier frames to sit right took a bit of muscling in places.

A good trick (which you can read in Germ-English) is to leave all the bolts from the pannier frames loose to start with then once you have them all in place then tighten them up gradually. The left hand frame took a lot of wiggling to get it into place but it came good in the end

The right hand pannier sticks out over the high set exhaust. Those locks look pretty fragile …

I stuffed around for hours getting the pannier to connect with the frame locking mechanisms right. Note : the thick end of the packers is at the TOP and the thin end is at the BOTTOM (doh)!

In my opinion the frames are not as rock solid as the Touratech ones ie. they wobble around a bit. No great drama but being used to the ones on my Beema it is quite noticeable. The panniers clip on and off the frames easily and feel solid when they are on, but …