This was by far the biggest, most expensive and time consuming project I took on prior to departure.
It is one of my character traits that I want to make things, and particularly as my job involved so much metal work, I was loathed to spend a fortune on a set of touratech or metal mule panniers when I felt I could have a good crack at making my own.
My aim was to make panniers that were stronger than just about anything else on the market. I reason that a couple of extra kilos is a small price to pay for panniers fabricated from thicker material.
I didn`t want to choose a ready made product, available off the shelf, but instead, to create something that was designed exactly the way I wanted it.
I use computer 3D CAD software as part of my job, and set about modelling panniers. This design process went through about 6 major design variations, before I settled on the design shown here.
Some features I was keen to incorporate were;
- Bevelled finish to all edges than would contact the ground in the event of a fall
- Panniers to be quickly and easily removable from the frame
- Release system that ınvolved no holes in the panniers (that could potentially let water in
- Maximum water-tightness
- Lift off lids
- Fewest possible holes in the pannier (for fasteners etc)
- Some king of document holder
- Loops to allow tent etc. to be strapped to lids
Before putting guillotine to metal, I first made a set of cardboard mock-ups, and offered them up to the bike. I took the dimensions of some existing panniers to start the trial, and then adjusted dimensions to find a solution I was happy with.
I got a cheeky bargain cash price from our local steel stockholder for a sheet (2m x 1m) of 3mm Aluminium. (most panniers made from 1.5 or 2mm).
Using the drawings created from my 3D CAD model, I then guillotined up the sheet, so every face of each pannier was an individual piece of metal. This gave a total of 62 pieces of Aluminium!
Bear in mind I was working withing the resources I had available, namely a couple of generous friends and work colleagues, some truely ancient machinery, and the little spare time I had after each working day.
Welding aluminium, even to a laughably low standard, is far from easy. Fortunately a co-worker agreed to help me out, and over the course of a few evenings in the workshop with a (very elderly and temperamental) TIG welder we turned a pile of aluminium pieces into something that resembled motorcycle panniers.
I spent hours and hours dressing the welds back with a grinder, and took the boxes and lids to a local powder coater to finish them off in attractive and resistant shades of grey.
I added stainless lockable fasteners from Protex, and stainless marine loops for the tent and sleeping bag. I used stainless fasteners (nuts, washers, setscrews etc.) with O-rings under each washer to help with water resistance.
To give a good water-tight seal between each pannier and it`s lid I got expanded Neoprene extrusion from Seals Direct, and struggled with various adhesives that were reluctant to adhere. In the uniıkely event you are going through a similar process, I chose SEN151 for the seal between lid and pannier, and U49 as a secondary panel seal around the pannier 'skirt' (photo here). The only adhesive I found that was any good, was 'Evo-stik Serious Glue'