Friday, July 10, 2015

Project report: Installing Viking Lammelar saddlebags on a 2003 Honda Shadow VT750 ACE

Sonja and I purchased the Honda Shadow VT750 ACE so that Sonja, who lives in Germany, could have a bike to tour with in Eastern Canada and the U.S.  You can read about that in a previous article.

When we1 got the bike it was basically stock. The only changes that had been made to the bike were the addition of an SAE power point direct to the battery, a Cobra after-market exhaust, a pillion backrest, and a rear rack. If anything, the Cobra exhaust hindered rather than helped because of the unnecessary noise it made, and it seemed to cause backfiring when slowing on compression.

Although the backrest/sissy bar and the rear rack are excellent touring accessories, for the Shadow to become an acceptable touring option, it needed some additions.

One of those additions was a set of saddlebags.
Sonja and I looked at what was available that would be functional, yet still look good on the bike. We are slaves to fashion.

Our taste leans towards being understated, so neither of us was really looking forward to lots of buckles, rivets and tassles.

After taking our time to see what was available, and after exchanging e-mails and web links, we found saddlebags that seemed like they would fit the bill.

That was step one.

Step two was keeping our costs manageable. This is where blogging pays dividends. This means that I need to digress, just a bit. Please bear with me.

Motorcycle House, an online vendor that owns and sells the Viking line of motorcycle clothing and motorcycle accessories, had approached me in 2014 to see if I would agree to do some product reviews for them. At the time, owning a cruiser-style motorcycle was the furthest thing from my mind. I was a dedicated Vespa man. Viking’s product line leans heavily to the cruiser market.

I was flattered by the offer and I took them up on it, agreeing to review a classic motorcycle jacket that I had always wanted. That style is a stretch on a Vespa, but I figured what the heck, take a chance.

Working with the folks at Motorcycle House and Viking turned out to be mutually advantageous and, frankly, quite enjoyable as well.

Looking back on this adventure, I’m not sure whether the Viking Cycle Angel Fire jacket attracted the Honda Shadow cruiser to me, if the so-called law of attraction did it, or whether there is some other inexorable and universal force of nature at play here. One thing is certain, there is a cruiser in my garage, and it now has some really nice saddlebags.

Here is how those saddlebags came to be.

Sonja and I made a pitch to Motorcycle House and Viking Bags. Sonja and I would agree to feature the saddlebags we wanted prominently on our blogs, covering every aspect from selecting the saddlebags, through the installation process, and eventually how they performed on the road during Sonja’s upcoming Maritime tour. Viking Bags requested a business case which Sonja and I were happy to provide. Viking liked the proposal. No surprise there, because it was patterned on Jim Mandle's pitch to Piaggio North America. Jim is a former advertising and marketing executive and he knows his way around a business case, don't you know.

A few weeks later, the saddlebags showed up on my doorstep.

That was the easy bit. Getting the bags installed is what this article is all about.

Before explaining the installation I should share something about the saddlebags themselves.

They are sold by Viking Bags as Viking Lamellar hard saddlebags. They are fibreglass saddlebags entirely covered in black leather. The bags have dedicated locks and are hinged at the front. They are designed to match the arc of the cruiser’s rear fender. They have a reflector on the side. These saddlebags have elegant flowing lines that complement the Honda Shadow VT750 American Classic Edition.
Courtesy Viking Bags
The saddlebags are slim, provide good clearance from the Honda Shadow’s exhaust and rear shock absorbers, and make excellent use of the space available on the bike, as you will see. They are lined with a soft synthetic fabric with some padding on the bed, or floor, of the saddlebag.

The interior portion of the locking mechanism is shielded to avoid getting snagged by items carried in the saddlebag. That’s a small detail, but it’s very much appreciated. The Vespa top case lacks that feature and as a result is sometimes difficult to lock and unlock.

The Viking Lamellar hard saddlebags are supplied with the necessary mounting hardware. Because the saddlebags are intended to fit more than one type of cruiser-style motorcycle, the bags are supplied without any holes drilled in them for the mounting hardware.

To install the bags, you have to find a way to mount one of them on the bike in a temporary way so that the bag is held in place while you check to see if the placement is appropriate. Because the left and right sides of the Shadow’s backend are symmetrical as far as the mounting points are concerned, it’s only necessary to determine the location of one bag. Once the holes are drilled in one bag, and the bag is mounted, assuming the holes are in the right places, you transpose the holes onto the second bag. That’s the theory.

I wouldn’t say that installing the saddlebags was trivial, because it wasn’t. But I will say that if I managed to do it, then so can you. All you need is a little skill, some patience, some ingenuity, and, in my case, just a little help from a dear friend who is a talented mechanic.

To put this job into its greater context, I have to say that every job I tackled on the Honda Shadow turned out to be significantly more challenging than the jobs I did on the Vespas. I measure the difficulty of jobs in sweat, curses, and the onset of the feeling that the particular job might be beyond my meagre abilities. Jobs on the Vespa rarely rated (on the traditional scale of ten) more than 3 for sweat, 2 for curses and 0 on the feeling of impending doom.

Fortunately, I managed to overcome all the tricky bits for the saddlebag installation, and I am happy to share them here with you. That should make your purchase and installation of these Viking Bags even less challenging than it was for me.

Here we go.

Tools required
  • Electric drill 
  • Set of drill bits
  • Set of socket wrenches
  • Dremmel tool and metal cutting disk (to cut screws to the proper length) 
  • 85 mm M8 fully threaded bolts
  • 20 mm M6 fully threaded machine screws
    NB: Although the mounting kit supplied with the saddlebags comes with the necessary bolts, I found that the supplied bolts were too short to do the job on this particular bike.   The reason the large M8 70 mm bolts supplied in the installation kit didn't fit is that our Honda Shadow has an added rear rack and a sissy bar back rest. Those additions are what required longer bolts. I had to order the bolts as a special order since the local big box hardware stores don’t carry that size of metric bolts.
Installation Steps
  1. The first step is to remove the saddlebags from the shipping box. Find the key for each saddlebag and set that aside. They are only supplied with a single key and the saddlebags are not keyed alike. Eventually you will want to have some additional keys cut. I cut two additional sets so that I have a set, Sonja will have a set, and there is a backup set.

  2. Start the installation process by taking the right side saddlebag and holding it against the right side of the motorcycle to get an approximate idea of how it will fit. Start with the right-side bag because the exhaust is on the right side of the bike and you need to take exhaust clearance into account in positioning the bag.

  3. Unless you have someone helping you, or you’re a mutant with octopus arms, now you need to find a way to hold the saddlebag in place on the bike while you step back to assess whether the saddlebag is properly lined up. I used a length of marine docking line that I keep in the car to fasten loads when the need arises. This turned out to work really well for me. I attached the saddlebag with the docking line so that it was held in position, yet I was able to move the saddlebag around to make sure that was properly positioned.
  4. In determining the proper position for the bag consider the following:
    a) is the bag level?
    b) does the bag clear the bike’s muffler?
    c) is the bag positioned well front to back: does it clear the rear shock absorber, does it clear the rear turn signals?

  5. I was able to position the saddlebag, making small adjustments, using the docking line. I did this over a period of days. I wanted to make very sure that I had nailed the optimal positioning before drilling any holes. Rushing this step is definitely not a good idea. In that way, working solo forced me to come up with the docking line solution and that worked really, really well.

  6. Once you are absolutely confident that the bag is well positioned on the bike, press the bag very firmly against the bike in the hope that the two rearmost fender bolts will leave an impression on the leather of the bag.  If you look very, very closely at the next photo below, you will see a faint mark on the leather right at the tip of the drill bit.  You may be able to spare some effort and gain a little accuracy (although the pressure method suggested by Viking did work for me), if you butter up the fender bolts with a substance that will leave a mark on the bag.  Toothpaste might do the trick.  Plus it's minty fresh.

  7. Select a drill bit that matches the diameter of the Viking mounting bolt and drill the two holes for the two top mounting points.
  8. With the saddlebag on the work surface (in my case on the kitchen counter) assemble the mounting hardware as follows:

    a) first attach the crossbar to the bottom part of the black metal tubular braces. The bottom part is the part with the shorter of the two mounting tubes. The instructions are good on this point, so follow them as indicated. If you’ve done this bit right, you’ll have the mounting hardware interconnected in a kind of sloppy ’U".
    You may find, as I did, that the geometry the bag with its curves, and the rigid geometry of the mounting brackets, makes attaching the mounting hardware a challenge.

    The solution I found is to use the drill to work the holes a little bit larger until everything lines up and fits.

    b) mount the hardware on the bag as follows:

    1. place a large supplied washer on each of the large mounting bolts, and insert the bolts from the inside of the bag.

    2. place a large supplied washer on each bolt from the outside of the bag.

    3. place the mounting hardware on the bolts.

    4. You will see that you can now swing the mounting hardware left and right on the bag. Position the hardware so that the brackets will support the bag well. Too far to one side and the bottom mounting bracket will be too close to the edge of the bag. Too far in the other direction and you’ll be too close to the other edge. Find a spot in the travel of the mounting hardware that’s just right. Trust your judgment and the Goldilocks principle. You’ll know ‘just right’ when you see it.

    c) Mark the two spots on the bag where the bottom holes for the mounting hardware will need to be drilled. Use your wits and perhaps some toothpaste as suggested earlier, or lipstick if you’re feeling kinky (make sure to get prior approval from the lipstick’s owner, otherwise may heaven help you).

  9. Once you are absolutely confident that you’ve found where those holes need to be, select a drill bit that matches the diameter of the screws for the lower part of the mounting hardware. Remove all the mounting hardware from the bag, and drill those holes.

  10. We’re getting close now. Reassemble the mounting hardware on the bag. This time, the cross bar goes on the inside of the bag, not the outside. Place the smaller supplied washer on each of the lower mounting screws, place the supplied black powder-coated crossbar on the screws, and insert the screws in the lower mounting holes. Insert the black powder-coated female bolt into each vertical mounting bar and loosely hand-tigthen the lower mounting screws. Now swing the vertical mounting bars into position and insert the large bolts with washers from the inside of the bag.

  11. It was at this step that it became clear that the supplied screws for the lower part of the mounting bracket were also too short. No problem, I found longer M6 metric screws at the local hardware store. I would later find that the large supplied mounting bolts were also too short, in each case by about 15 mm. The longer lower mounting screws I bought were a little too long, so I cut them to the right length using a Dremel cutting wheel.

  12. Now that the mounting hardware is properly mounted on the right side saddlebag, let’s move from the kitchen to the garage.

  13. Using a socket wrench, remove the two most rearward bolts on the Shadow’s rear fender.

  14. At this point you can save yourself from much sweating, cursing and despair because, if like in my case, there is a rear rack and sissy bar or pillion backrest, they are mounted to the same mounting points on the bike that the saddlebags will use. The effect of those accessories is to link the left and right sides of the bike and transfer stresses and pressure from the left to the right. The result is that when the right side mounting bolts are removed, the metal bits become misaligned, and the result is that mounting the saddlebag, while possible (I know, I did it after much sweat, cursing and despair), is very, very, very difficult.

    My close friend Gino offered some very sage master mechanic’s advice: “When it’s too hard to do, you’re doing it wrong!

    I ended up taking the bike over to Gino’s and he spotted the issue immediately. “Loosen the left side bolts to release the pressure, then install the saddlebag” he said.

    And just like that, everything lined up and the saddlebag installs in a wink.
    Gino tightening things up
  15. Once the right-side saddlebag is installed, and you’re sure that the mounting position is good, remove the bag, remove all the mounting hardware and move back to the kitchen counter.

  16. Place the left-side saddle bag next to the right-side saddlebag. Make sure the bags are perfectly aligned parallel to each other. After trying various means of transposing the mounting holes from the right side to the left-side bag, I settled on using a drywall screw. It is really very pointed and sharp, and I managed to make a tiny mark in the leather on the left-side bag for each of the four holes.

  17. All that’s left to do is to drill the required holes in the left-side bag, install the mounting hardware, and install the saddlebags on the bike. Piece of cake.
Now the Honda Shadow has saddlebags, and the result is one really good looking bike.
The Viking saddlebags easily hold the following touring necessities with room to spare:
  1. Portable electric air pump;
  2. Tool roll;
  3. Tire pressure gauge;
  4. Rain gear;
  5. Sunglasses;
  6. Multi-tool;
  7. Flashlight;
  8. ROK straps;
  9. Miscellaneous Boy Scout stuff (four sets of 25’ paracord and Figure9 tensioners, emergency rescue tool (window breaker, seatbelt cutter), medical kit);
  10. A rag, and a can of Pledge (for cleaning visors and windscreens).

All the other stuff one needs to carry for touring in comfort, mostly clothing and toilettries, will fit in the Viking tail bag.
Yes you are correct, that means there is another product review in the works.
Time will tell how Sonja finds the set up we have put together performs on the road.

1. "We" and "Our" refers to Sonja and I.  Sonja lives in the Black Forest in Germany, and I live on the Island of Montreal in Canada.  We co-own the Honda Shadow that is (or will shortly be) the subject of many posts here on Life on Two Wheels, and on Find me on the Road.  The idea of co-owning the bike came out of a discussion I had with Sonja in early 2015 when she asked me if I could give her advice on how she might purchase a bike in Canada or the US, and use it to tour whenever she came here on vacation.  One thing led to another, and with the consent and support of our spouses, we became co-owners.  It's a very cool and cost effective way that enables riders to tour easily far from home.


SonjaM said...

David, somehow I feel guilty about leaving all the work to you, while I get to reap the benefits. Thank you for all your efforts. Those bags look really awesome, sleek and elegant, and I can't wait to take them on the road. With a little luck in seven weeks time... and I am very happy that Motorcycle House became our partners in crime for this project.

David Masse said...

Sonja, this partnership has opened new experiences for me that otherwise would never have been.

So far all the benefits have been for me.

The pleasures will soon be balanced when you take the bike on its first tour.

This is truly a huge win-win :)

RichardM said...

Looks like a great installation on the Shadow and the fit is great. I really like the idea of top loading bags as stuff doesn't fall out. Though you do have to dig.

I'd be concerned about the height of the tailbag both crosswinds and weight. Is it about as high as a person?

redlegsrides said...

Good write up of the installation, looks like a big wind profile though.

David Masse said...

Richard that's a good question.

Weight-wise once packed, it will be the weight of a comparable suitcase so a lot less than a pillion. As for wind resistance, I'll have to test it on the highway.

David Masse said...

I'll run some tests at speed on the highway and see how it behaves.

Much respect to you Dom, what an amazing vacation you guys had. I still have posts to read.

Tell me that was the best vacation you and your family have had, please. Otherwise I will forever feel like an underachiever :)

redlegsrides said...

David, it was indeed best family vacation we've had....the Uraling was great as well

VStar Lady said...

Awesome job David ... are you going to give it a test run before Sonja gets here?

David Masse said...

I look forward to it Ed.

David Masse said...

Yes I will Karen, that's certain, and I'll cover that in the post on the tail bag.

Dar said...

David and Sonja they look fabulous!!!!

David Masse said...

Thanks Dar!

Coop a.k.a. Coopdway said...

Very impressive David, think the bags AND their installer's accomplishment exceptional. You are encouraging me to broaden a few of my horizons as well.

David Masse said...

You're too kind Doug.

One day we need to meet.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.