Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Luggage Rack for Good Measure

One of the first modifications I ever made to a motorcycle was to add a luggage rack.  I was 22 years old, and among my very few tools was a hacksaw.  So when I noticed some angle iron in a local shop, I figured out a way to attach it to the bike.  When I say angle iron, I am actually referring to "Slotted" angle iron, which is actually steel, perforated with holes along its entire length, and is bent at 90 degrees along its length.  With a hacksaw, it can easily be cut to a required length, and because I didn't have a power drill, the precut holes were perfect.

The angle iron was very strong, and I ended up putting quite a heavy load on my luggage rack, which taught me at least three things.  First,  if your rack is stronger than what you attach it to on the bike, the bike breaks before the rack does.  Second, the longer your rack, the greater the leverage on the rack's support structure, and third, weight placed far back on the bike has a greater pounding effect over bumps than weight in the middle.

Now back to the present, where I have lots of tools, including an electric drill, and I also have money to buy a nice new chrome rack from Kawasaki's "Fire and Steel" accessory collection.  But after looking at their design, which is over $200, I noticed a structural flaw in the design.  Structural flaws are easy to spot in luggage racks if you just imagine that they are made of cardboard, then think of where they will bend if you put a little bit of weight on them.  It seems to me the Kawasaki rack was made narrow for a typical bike frame, but my Vulcan has a chrome sissy bar frame about 8" wider than that.  So the luggage rack people simply added two little tabs of metal to widen the mounting point, and declared that it was specially made for the Vulcan 900.  I checked an aftermarket rack from Cobra, for about $140, and they had done the same thing: a universal rack welded to some tabs to widen it for the Vulcan 900.  No wonder both designs said "Max 5 lb Load".  Then I discovered a luggage rack on eBAY also claimed to be made for the Vulcan 900 LT, where the rack itself was the full width, meaning no weak mickey mouse ear brackets had to be welded on, for $65 (plus shipping from Hong Kong).  But the mounting width was given as 13.5", while I measured my frame at 13.75".  A quarter inch is a big discrepancy when everything is welded and very strong, so I looked carefully at the photo of their rack mounted on my bike, and saw that they had mounted one side inside the frame and the other outside the frame, and somehow was was close enough to call it a fit.

It was after looking over the "custom fit" racks for my bike that my memories came back of how easy it was to fit an angle iron rack to my first bike (I mean version 2.0, not 1.0).  I went out to look at what bolt holes were available on my saddlebag frame, and a plan started to form for an unusual rack that would extend forward and back from the sissy bar.  I am actually carrying my heaviest duffel bag on the passenger seat, where I assume loads up to 170 lb. can be carried safely.  So to help stabilize the duffel bag, my custom rack will have two side rails.  The same side rails will extend about 12" behind the sissy bar where I can strap on a 30 L bag.

The angle iron is very strong, I am not worried about it breaking.  But I am a little concerned about the spindly Kawasaki Vulcan frame that the rack is bolted to, so I maybe I should stick to the 5 lb max rule.

To make it look a bit nicer, I got some wooden strips to bolt to the top of the angle iron.  The whole thing comes to $35, about half the cost of the lowest cost chrome custom rack.  And it has about twice the weight capacity (maybe), and the fun of designing and making the thing myself.  I have bought a lot of fancy high tech gizmos for this trip, it's only fair to balance it out with a cheap home made angle iron luggage rack.

Picture: This is my partly complete luggage rack, the picture is taken with my Nexus "S" Android Smartphone with built in VCR, GPS, cellphone, weather radar, compass, email checker, altimeter, thermometer, and Field Guide to the Birds of North America all in one. I guess I forgot to mention that in my blog, I got it a few days ago and still figuring out what it will do.  Well, for one, I can take a picture and post it to my Picasa album with just a couple of finger taps while I'm on the road, driving with my throttle lock set to 100 kph. Not that I would ever do that.


  1. Really? Those factory-made racks claimed a 'Max 5 lb Load'?!

    Sheesh! A two-four weighs well over 30 pounds, so what good are those?!

    1. Which weighs more? 30 lb of beer or 30 lb of down filled sleeping bag? Ans. the down filled sleeping bag, judging from the number of people willing to carry the beer.

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