Luggage on the F650 (pre-Y2K model)

The F650  wasn't really designed as a touring bike. Not that it isn't capable of it, but more, I suspect, because BMW produce a range of expensive tourers and had to make the F650 different. In a review, maybe 1995, I saw a phrase that the rear rack was great to fasten a beach towel to. Despite this the F650 is used as a tourer by a proportion of owners, although to be fair, most are commuter machines.

What I'm going to do here is to describe the evolution of luggage on my F650. I hope this will show you what is available and allow you to make a choice about how to carry your gear.

Stage 1

1996 in Spain

On the front

One of my first purchases was a Baglux Gamma cover/harnmess and tank bag.  The system is made of leather-effect vinyl and seems to be both well-made and weather resistant. It fits quite well, although dirt can get between the tank and cover and scratch the former. The bag attaches via two plastic clips and 2 slip-in buckles. This system is OK in normal use but is strained if the bike falls over. The bag restricts turning circle and for some rider obstructs the instruments. The narrow sidepockets and map case in the top are extremely useful. The bag has a rain cover, but in most weather it is adequately water resistant without the cover. The bag is quite an effective widebreak too.

On the back

Being a newcomer to motorcycles when I bought my F650 some of the implications of load carrying weren't clear to me. I looked through the catalogues and chose the Givi system with E360 cases. I'd heard how the boxes easily hold a helmet, maybe two, were waterproof and transferable to other bikes. At this time the BMW system was far more expensive and no better integrated into the bike.

The Givi fitting kit is quite easy to install, around 90 minutes. The system is basically well made, except that I've now found one of the brackets breaks after some serious use and vibration as the steel has too large a hole in it! I suppose the clearance is to allow imperfect manufacturing tolerances. The pannier rails extend back with the intention that the stock indicators are remounted to clear the boxes - although the cables are too short. This fitment seemed to leave them very exposed so I shortned the arms and left the indicators where they belong. The rails look sort-of-OK. The cases clip on and off nicely, although the catch should be lightly greased and you should listen to make sure it's shot home.

The bike is very unstable on the side stand and only a little better on the centre stand. It looks as though it will topple over at any time (and it does!). On the move the weight is not as much of a problem as I anticipated. The most marked change to my gentle progress is an increased brake force (I suspect there could be insufficient braking for a pillion and luggage), acceleration is noticeably reduced, but still acceptable. There is no obvious/dramatic change in fuel consumption. This and other luggage can set up weave, maybe flex, in the chassis during spirited riding.

However the system fails in 2 ways. First, it is very wide, around 1.2m, and the boxes are so large  (80 litres combined) that they can be overloaded. As there's no bracing between left and right the whole affair then becomes a bit wobbly. Over a 2000 mile journey and a season of camping weekends I found them adequate, but their faults became more apparent.

Stage 2

I wanted something that was narrow, more rigid and yet cheap, to allow a bit of experimentation. I removed the Givi pannier rails, leaving the mountings to the subframe in place. I bought a pair of steel ex-army ammo-tins of a mere 15 litres each. I simply drilled through the sides and bolted on in place of pannier rails. This seemed a good start and was followed by bolting on nylon lashing hoops from a chandlers. These enabled me to attach my tent on top of the boxes. The boxes were small, but with careful rolling of clothes and tight packing of food they could hold a fair bit. After very little use, I realised that a cross brace was needed and botched one together. This setup was really all rather horrible, but took me around Spain and Eire, as well as camping. A picture of AMMO TINS isn't here yet! But you're not missing much.

I'd resisted a topbox until now, but with these small boxes I decided to use one of my Givi boxes. There is a F650-specific mounting plate but I chose to use a Universal, cutting an area out so that it would mount as far forwards as possible, but still allow access under the seat. It's too far forward for a pillion passenger, but the idea was to bring the weight forwards. The topbox does affect handling when it has a heavy load, however I mostly use it for bits of shopping and large light things, such as sleeping bag.

During this stage I bought an Acerbis 27l petrol tank, which forced me to manage without the tankbag. Although I miss the map case and  at-hand storage space I now prefer the freedom to move around the bars.

Since embarking on touring with the F650 I'd been looking at luggage systems from various manufacturers and thinking about the tips in Chris Scott's 'Desert Biking'. I suppose I became a pannier anorak, asking everyone I met about their luggage set-up and looking at as many photos and sketches as I could, for any sort of bike. Here are some of my resources.
Diagonal view of Jesse panniers and top box
The Jesse system is in many ways the ultimate aluminium pannier system. It is narrow due to its precise fitting around curves and exhaust and is beautifully made from quality materials. Al Jesse has developed a mounting system which allows easy removal of the cases. Its drawbacks are the narrow, restricted top openings, the lack of cross brace and the price. In the US however the cost is very competitive in relation to BMW parts.

Users report that the system is very robust and will survive crashes, possibly even protecting the rider.

Rear view of touratech system
Touratech produce a range of aluminium systems for BMW bikes. They use off-the shelf boxes - which means that they do not fit the profile of the F650 (custom versions are made for R-GS bikes) and are thus rather wide. The cases are attached by bolts & handwheels. These do not need a spanner (to avoid TuV regulations) but are fiddly nonetheless. 

A range of straps and inner bags are available. I have heard good reports about their boxes and bags, but on the F650 the width is a real drawback.

Hepco and Becker's small 'exclusive' aluminium box
Carlo's aluminium pannier page is a long-standing resource of box manufacturers for you to look at (but was offline last time I checked).  The Germans seem to be the big adventurers and sell the gear, look at:
An example of a Pelican case
Pelican instrument cases are favoured by some. These are waterproof (air proof actually) until you cut into them. I couldn't see a good way of mounting them and they are too costly to spoil. Lots of suppliers in US found by WWW search engines.

Stage 3

With many ideas and sketches floating around in my head I spent the winter of 1998 planning and constructing a set of panniers. Ideally I wanted to buy a pannier system. However, my favorites, the Jesse system would be too costly by the time it reached UK. Moreover it isn't perfect - I think that the boxes start and extend too far back on the bike.

I suppose I had several goals and even a rough priority of features:

  1. Buildable or readily sourced components - I'm not skilled and don't have a workshop
  2. Affordable
  3. Complete pannier system to be no wider than handle bars
  4. Theft and tamper resistant - nothing will withstand determined attack, but I wanted something which stopped my gear from being 'easy pickings'. If it's locked, my insurance company will cover it in EU (so this excludes anything 'soft').
  5. Centre of gravity as close to rear axle as possible, infront if possible
  6. Allow enough leg movement to paddle the bike
  7. At least 60 litres
  8. Boxes to be readily removable
  9. Easily accesible space
  10. Robust - should withstand a drop
  11. Water resistant - I always wrap everything but I don't want to carry litres of rain water (waterproof is an unrealistic goal)
  12. As few sharp corners as possible to reduce risk of injury to me in a fall
  13. Repairable

Steel frame

The information gathered suggested that a mild steel frame was optimum. It can be welded readily both at home and, in case of emergency on the road. More esoteric materials don't lend themselves to the home workshop. Due to my limited technical skills a few other restrictions were imposed: Given enough skill and equipment I would use 1.5mm circular tube nicely bent and fish-mouth jointed.
The design attempted to spread load across potentially poor welds by adding gussets and making welds all around tubes. The Givi system wasn't so carefully planned. My local steel suppliers roughly cut sheet and strip at rather low cost so I used this to save a lot of hacksawing and facilitate transport home. The minimum cutting list is: Most major steel shops like to sell a 20ft/6m length. I had many extra pieces of 5mm and 3mm sheet cut from the residue to practice welding, check alignment of parts, fabrication of mounting points and to allow for mistakes......
The details of frame construction are here.
the framework on bike

The frames were built using the bike as jig with spare bar and clamps to adjust parallels and find centre lines.

Plastic boxes

Once again I was limited by my lack of skill and workshop. It was evident to me that a compact yet spaceous system  would have to use boxes with cutouts for the bodywork/water reservoir on the right and exhaust on the left. This meant that I gradually discounted the idea of off the shelf boxes as they would need extensive reworking. After a lot of thought I chose to construct from scratch using high density PVC. Why? My original plan was to butt joint the assembly but testing of joints revealed that relatively low forces could break the bond (I had cleaned and aligned syurfaces well). Further experiments showed that 20mm lap joints were sufficiently strong in each plane so at this point I purchased 25x3mm right angle extrusion  and redesigned the boxes so that I predicted the maximum force would be a flat shear action across the joint - I had been unable to cause such joints to fail in my tests.

Cutting list:

As is so often the case, the plans and tests did not take place before buying the PVC. I suggest that 6mm sheet is excessively thick and heavy and that 3mm or 4mm would be adequate.

rear view from low level

The right box is the basis of the design. It is a U shape with the inboard edge folded towards the box so as to form a right angle. This prevents flexure of the mounting side from front to back. (A test piece U of similar dimensions to the box but only 0.2m long was made. When I stood on the open end it deformed elastically inwards a few centimetres. Likewise it withstood attempts to open the U.) End pieces were cut to fit and positioned using offcuts glued inside the box. Right angle section was then fitted around each end in a single strip joined at the extenal 'sharp' corner. I made a pattern for cutting triangular teeth from the strip to allow it to bend. None of this was precision work! Once pieces for both ends were ready the assembly was cleaned in petrol and glued. Due to the lack of precison a lot of glue was applied with a nylon brush. The assembly was taped and strapped together and placed on end under a stack of weights to push joints as close as possible. No attempt was made to remove excess glue as this would have disturbed things. When the box was dry, the front cut out was made using carboard templates and then a patch placed internally with 3mm sheet

The left box was made second and is more complex. The fold in the mounting side had to be made first, but after a cut to give an unbent section. A pair of bends allow an exhaust cut out. It's hard to predict exactly where the bends will occur and this is why the space is so large. Nonetheless, it does give a space for air flow. The unfolded part was then bent obliquely and fitted roughly to suit the midsection  exhaust pipe. Ends were made and fitted as above. The exhuast 'corner' was trimmed with a large-toothed file and fitted and glued as accurately as possible. Small gaps were filed with 'chemical metal' and trimmed again until smooth. The completed joint was covered with self adhesive aluminium foil. The top inboard edge was folded for rigidity, but unlike the rightside, it was folded out of the box to become a mounting point. Ideally this would have continued onto the steel frame but the 1m piece was too short for this. Maybe it would have been too complex to bend?

The lids were difficult to design as I seemed to have introduced difficulties into boxes. In the end I used a lip of angle section around 3 sides of a sheet. The fourth edge lies on top of the box lip and is retained by hooks underneath.

a side view

A future design may well be made by vacuum forming as this permits complex 3D curves to be included. Such structures are rigid even when made of thin sheet.

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