Since I bought my ZX-14, I’ve been puzzling over, and experimenting with, different ways to haul all of the stuff that I can’t seem to go without on a motorcycle ride. Some of the things I take are things every rider ought to carry. A lot of the stuff I take, most people find unnecessary. An air pump and a tire plug kit are things any rider with more than a season or two in the rearview will tell you are must-have’s. A motorcycle is a two-wheeler, and you need both wheels functional. Agreed!
There’s another category of things most riders seem to be able to travel without. These riders, I have determined, are merrily riding their way through charmed lives. They’re the people who always seem to find their way without ever having prepared for the disasters into which I put so much energy thwarting. I, more than any other rider I know, seem to be constantly riding on the perceived precipice of a two-wheeled apocalypse. With every mile bringing me closer to a breakdown at which my available tools, my available repair materials, or my skill set will be put to the test; my best chance for survival is to bolster my bulwark against calamity.
Most bikes come with a small tool kit under the seat, which includes almost everything one might need for a small repair on the roadside. They’re usually tailored for the specific manufacturer’s model. In it, you’ll find the most commonly used Allen wrenches, a wrench capable of removing the rear axle, (but not the front axle), a screwdriver…etc. In the real world, that’s probably all one would ever need. I have it in my mind that the road is frought with perils, where any mechanical part of the bike might fail at any time. While my mind drifts in the ear-plugged, sensory-deprived world that is the open road, I ponder things like – My brake lever could break leaving me to improvise with popsicle sticks and zip-ties. A radiator hose could burst and I am left to fabricate a patch from a pop can and rubber cement. – There is a litany of things conspiring to fail, causing all sorts of distress, both real and imagined. So, with Epimetheus on one shoulder and Metis on the other, I haul with me a nicely-equipped tool roll, and lots of materials for on-the-fly repairs.
During the 2012 season, I started shooting videos of my down-the-road adventures. This brings with it even more paraphernalia to be schlepped from one motel to the next. There are cases, and different mounts allowing me to get just the right angle.
There’s also, of course, a laptop. One can’t be expected to live with only a 3G smart phone for internet access for 24 straight hours, let alone a week. A computer is small-town survival gear.
With this in mind, one can imagine the need for luggage capacity looms large in my world. Another concern for me is security. I like the security of a lockable hard case. I’m fully aware that the reality of the security is someplace between what I consider real, and that which is perceived. Still, I feel better when the three or four thousand dollars worth of cameras and electronics are locked in something more theft-resistant than canvass throw-over saddle bags.
In 2012 I was using either a Nelson-Rigg tail bag which works in most instances in which I don’t need any heavy clothes, or a Cortech Tri-Bag system. One look at one of my rear-facing camera videos will illustrate the problem with the saddle bag portion of the Tri-Bag system. They tend to sag, and often settle onto the exhaust canister. I also found that, if I didn’t insure they were secured longitudinally, they would bounce up, slide forward, and push against my lower back, restricting my movement. The only remedy I found to enable my using these bags, was to secure them with multiple straps and cords, which made them a real hassle to load and unload at the beginning and end of each day.
At one point a few months ago, I was reading a conversation thread on our group’s web site, in which David was casually shopping for a new bike. He came across a Kawasaki ZX-14. This bike had Corbin Beetle Bags on it. He took a real ribbing from a couple of the guys about the looks of the bike, He subsequently didn’t get it. After seeing the way the Beetle Bags looked, I was decided. It wasn’t so un-sporting that I couldn’t live with it. I ordered a set for my bike in monotone silver, to match my bike.
The bike I had before my ZX-14 was a Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird. I bought that bike used, and it had Corbin Beetle bags on it when I bought it. Although it looked better without them, and I was teased because it made the bike look like an old woman with wide hips, I came to rely on them for their utility. Looks be damned; I want functionality. I’m aware that a patriotic Italian would never dismiss aesthetics in such a cavalier way, but my bike is in the U.S. People here do their grocery shopping at Walmart in their pajamas. I can have my Beetle Bags and still be ahead of the curve.
My Beetle Bags arrived on Monday. Saturday, my friend Marv was up to lend a hand installing them. I also needed to get the radar detector on my BMW installed in a sealed, and weather-protected location. It was enough for a two-day project.
We unpacked the bags and, after spending an inordinate amount of time puzzling over the brackets and hardware, we turned to the instructions. They proved to be helpful, and we soon discovered that Corbin had shorted me two bolts. I called their tech-support number then and there, and the support guy said they would ship them right away but, with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it would be at least a week before I would receive them.
We weren’t going to let that get in our way. We turned to my 20-year bin. For those who don’t know, a 20-year bin is a box of mixed nuts, bolts, screws, switches, washers, clips, fasteners, clamps, and other assorted small hardware items one accumulates over the years. Generally, everything is mixed together in one big pile, and you search through it until you find a combination that will work.
I dumped my box on the work bench, and we were rewarded with a matching set of bolts that we subbed-in on the right hand side. Although they are hex-heads instead of Allen-heads, they’re not visible with the bags installed, and were perfectly functional.
When the new bolts arrive from Corbin, I’ll set them aside until the next time I have occasion to remove the bags.
After making some adjustments to align my left-side exhaust canister, the bags installed easily. Corbin did a very nice job of engineering a set of secure mounting brackets and, but for shorting me two bolts, they would have received a perfect score.
Marv brought with him from home, an assortment of cloth bags from which we picked a set that will act as case inserts, providing portability of the things that won’t remain in my cases on overnights.
After looking at the bike from every angle with the bags installed, I’m very happy with them. Sure, they look like a bustle from the rear but, after I put the pillion cover on the seat, they looked a little more low-slung, and the effect was helpful. They look great from the sides; the molded fins on the sides of the cases match the fins on the Ferrari louvres on the side fairings perfectly.
It took most of Saturday to get the Beetle Bags installed on my ZX-14. On Sunday, we went to work on the radar detector installation on the BMW, and found a void in the left fairing where it would mount easily. We also moved my GPS bracket from the center of the handle bars to the left handle bar. We adjusted the handle bars to what Marv termed “geezer-height.” That bike is a little easier to ride with the handle bars higher. I have experimented with different adjustments over the years, and knew that the next time I made an adjustment, I wanted them a bit higher.
That’s this weekend’s motorcycle activities in a nutshell. Now all I need is some good weather, and I’m ready to go.