The BMW GS is an amazing bike in more ways than one.  Yes, it is the swiss army knife of motorcycles, but it is also one of the few products that I have come across in life that actually makes you get out and use it more and more. Its very reputation is based on millions of miles traveled, which must include some portion of those miles on pathways, ruts, trails, and other non-paved surfaces. And if you do that, you begin to need upgrades and accessories. The treadmill becomes a clothes hangar, the tennis racket a fly swatter, but the GS gets a lot of use or gets sold to someone who will. GS bikes for sale either have very low or very high mileage. The stock luggage on the bike needed more capacity for any significant 2-up travel. It also had side-opening cases which caused contents to spill out (or seriously test the retaining lanyards) when loaded. This design has its benefits as well (you don’t have to remove items on top to get items in the luggage), and top-load vs side-load is hotly debated on forums.

For me, more capacity + top-loading were the key elements of the next luggage solution. Once you make that decision, there is an array of options to choose from. I sought the counsel of the elders and wise men on the Advrider forum in this thread. Function vs form debates ensued, passionate supporters and opponents opined on related threads, and in the end, people struck their own balance and voted with their dollars accordingly. I selected aluminum panniers from Happy Trails. The balance of form, function, and value worked best for me. The installation went as follows:

The bags arrived after the holidays, but it was like a Christmas morning from childhood. Even though you knew what was inside the packaging, it was finally going to be in your hands! The contents were all carefully packaged and looked great. The instructions looked inadequate with only a couple of pictures and little text, but I need not have worried. I fired up the garage heater and got to work. The stock luggage racks must be removed before starting. The new racks are a typical rectangle with appendages for attachment points. These racks do not “disappear” like the very simple and elegant stock setup, and would probably look better in silver. The longest part of the install was the relocation of the turn signals. It turns out that they are in the path of some of the bracketry by just enough to force the need for an alternate location. I generally hate mucking about with modern BMW wiring. I am under no illusion that I can do it better than the excellent engineers and robots back in Germany. Regardless, this had to be mucked, and I wanted this wiring to be secure and durable, so it took some time to cut/splice/shrinkwrap. I thought about putting some kind of inline connectors on so that the whole assembly could be separated, but decided against it because I had no such connectors, it was 20 degrees out, and the original wiring had none. In the end, it looks ok.

The frame can then be attached to the bike in key places, using the new hardware, and everything can be tightened up. The panniers themselves are so simple that you question why they should cost what they do. Basic aluminum boxes and a good gasket on top. The lids continue the simplistic theme and are a cover with a straightforward articulated pivot. The bag hardware is incredibly simple to attach once you have the holes in the right place. I got mine pre-drilled, so I skipped that part of the fun. Tabs on the outside of the inner surface of the bags swivel and overhang the frame. You can fix the upper or lower tabs in place using bolts and then allow the other two to swivel and be tightened using large knobs. This presented a trouble spot on the left (exhaust side) pannier. The knobs are too large to fit in the upper locations because of the “shelf” needed to clear the exhaust. If you use the knobs on the bottom they significantly reduce the already smaller capacity of the pannier. None of this is an issue if you keep the bags permanently mounted, since you can use the extra supplied bolts and avoid the issue. However, with garage space challenges, those are not my plans. Besides, I siliconed the lower holes so that they would be watertight. I suppose on a trip of any length the knobs might not be needed, but I’d like to keep the option.

With everything buttoned up and cases mounted, things looked good. The latches on the panniers don’t feel like they will last as long as the panniers themselves, but that is one of the few niggles. The lids have tie-down points which make you want to strap down a tent and a duffel bag full of well…something. In that sense, the panniers remain true to the GS mystique and make you want to ride across Siberia…..even when you had no previous desire to do so.

2 Replies to “Pannier Permutations”

  1. I’m jealous. Those are nice looking boxes. Are they powdercoated or raw aluminum? Were they a lot less than the Jesse/Micatech options?

  2. Dear Roadraider,

    Somehow this comment got by me at the time. They are powdercoated, and yes they were a LOT less than the Jesse/Micatech options. I am very happy with them so far. Thanks for commenting.

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