Motorcycle Luggage Racks

Originally written 2012, overhauled Summer 2020
There are 24 pages on luggage and racks in AMH8
See also MYO racks on this sticky HUBB thread

The problem with off the shelf pannier racks like the classic ‘racktangle’, above left and right, is that they:

• may not make them for your bike
• may cost more than you’d like
• are too wide
• are often too far back

Those are some of the reasons I made my own rack for my first travel bike, an XT 500 (below), way back in 1982. It was rubbish but it did the job.

On the next couple of trips I used no rack. People do manage – usually on smaller bikes with lighter loads – but for overland travel, classic, strap-over throwovers are a throwback to a twin-shock era. The problem is usually with the high pipe of a trail bike. The bag presses on the panel which melts and – on a hot day on the south side of the Sahara (below) – the plastic catches fire soon followed by the ex-army canvas panniers and your favourite pyjamas.

Small baggage fire near Arlit, Niger.

What is wanted is a rear rack that attaches to the subframe and other key points as low, forward and close to the bike as possible so the mass follows suit, while allowing for those instinctive corrective dabs when losing control, as well as paddling in soft terrain.

I first saw a ventura rack in the early 1990s on the Tanami Track in northern Australia (left) and was so staggered that dirt touring bikes (admittedly, possibly two-up?) could be loaded like this that that I put a picture in the first AMHandbook and nearly every edition since. Ventura’s idea is that you can reverse the upright bar to point forward to load your sack forward to improve ‘weight distribution’. Tell me about it.

In a nutshell the mass wants to be as close to the bike’s supposed centre of gravity as possible which, with a load and rider aboard, is in the region of the injectors (right).
‘Mass centralisation’ became a buzz word with Honda bike design a few years ago, and was a concept applied by bike makers like Buell. 

It makes sense, especially on a loaded motorcycle traversing less than perfect roads. The more central the mass the more predictably the overland-loaded machine responds to the forces of its own inertia as the suspension moves the sprung weight up and down over rough terrain. That adds up to better control, no freaky handling vagaries like tank-slappers, smoother riding and so less fatigue. All up, the key to surviving a long day on the road in the AM Zone.
Above left: mass decentralisation. Think of the leverage!

Platform racks

As mentioned, when it came to making a rack for my XT500, the idea was fairly obvious: make platforms (left).
Even though I’d been despatching for a few years with throwovers or more commonly just a big top box, when it came to carrying a big load to the desert, a low platform down on the sides made intuitive sense.

The execution using Dexion shelving was poor, although that slack-rack did carry the load to the desert and back – albeit with a radically reduced once I came to my senses. It probably survived because there was so much jelly-like flex it was unable to summon up the tension to snap outright. The mld steel ‘L’ platform element was bolted onto a Craven rack – the ‘Jesse Luggage’ of its day, with plywood planks screwed on and sharp corners trimmed

Platform racks have been around for years, among other places used on army BSAs in the 50s and 60s (left). I’ve always liked the principle but these tinny, hinged trays were designed to take a specific panniers or to swivel up out of the way when not in use. It’s a logical and effective form of support. Within limits you can securely load anything on there; box, bag, sickly calf, bulging sack, except the sliding support arms get in the way of bigger loads.

Same goes for the solid (unhinging) version, left (notice the nifty mini inner platforms too). A secure placement for alloy boxes which would need next to nothing to stay in place.
I had similar racks made for the Sahara, but using soft bags (below), but you can’t help worrying about that hard front edge on your lower legs. This never occurred to me until Desert Riders when we added big metal boxes to remind us how they might hurt.

When using a rigid container like an alloy box there’s no need to have a full-width shelf; an inch-wide ledge will support a metal box, as it did on our Desert Riders XRL racks (below). The welding was superb but that rack was over-built, slapping metal over metal in search of strength but actually blinding the function by adding excessive weight. We did carry very heavy loads at times (left), but two of the XRLs cracked their subframes.

The reason platforms are not used these days is that sticking out looks inelegant, injury inducing and damage-prone in a fall. But when overlanding, your gear is on there all the time and so a fixed platform rack is no different from the angular edge of an ally box, except when it comes to removing baggage and wheeling a bike indoors overnight.
Below, Sean F’s very neat fixed platform rack addressing some of the issues for his soft-bagged DR650. if you get platform racks, this would be an idea to copy.

I still like the idea a platform rack with a hinged element so as to carry anything that fits while being slim when unloaded. The problem is without using the BSA sliding struts requires some sort of unsupported platform or cantilever. As always, you need to visualise how it will respond to slides down the road or hours of corrugations with maximum loads

There are various ways of arranging this cantilever, but the only one I’ve seen was on these Chinese 125s (left) pictured in Angola. If you look closely you’ll see the pivoting platform swings out to rest on a shallow ‘L’ bar. Providing it’s chunky enough, the leverage on the pivot and load on the bar ought to be met. A wider ‘L’ rest bar means less stress but you don’t want the fixed part being too wide.

A search on Google Images most probably identified that ‘Angolan’ rack (right) as one produced by none other than The Chongqing Meihuan Machine Manufacturing Company.
With a closer look you can see the pivot/support works by lowering on a spring to rest horizontally on the pillion footplate. Note the sub-racklets at the back, too.

And here is another hinged plat-rack made for this lightweight utility bike by former Italian custom bike maker, Borile. Like the Angolan rack, it’s a bit on the wide side for overlanding duties rather than transporting your goods to market, but the principle is the same.

There loads more on racks and baggage in the book.

2 thoughts on “Motorcycle Luggage Racks

  1. Pingback: A Frame Weight Rack Xr650l - John Oliver Fitness Blog

  2. Pingback: Making your own luggage rack - Any tips? - Page 6 - The HUBB

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