Make Your Own Tank Panniers

By: Lee Freedman <leef@localnet.com>

Always wanted a set of those fancy tank panniers but just couldn't justify spending that much money? There's a way to get yourself a set. They might not be as high-tech, but you'll have the satisfaction and pride of having something on your bike you made yourself and at considerably less cost.

First thing is to collect all the materials you'll need for this project. Go to the nearest Army/Navy surplus store and find the following:

  1. Two Army (OD Green) or Air Force (Blue) daypack bags with shoulder straps. These bags are usually about 11 to 12 inches in width at the side seams and about the same in height. If you can't find a surplus store or don't have one handy, try an outdoor supply store or a Kmart or Walmart and get two inexpensive cloth daypack bags. Cost for the Army/Navy surplus bags generally run about $10 each.

  2. You'll need two lengths of web strapping. These should be the same width as the straps on the bags. It would be best to measure your tank first to determine how much you will need. Use a soft tape measure and measure over the top of the tank, from the approximate top of where the bag will be situated to the top on the other side. Allow a few extra inches for each end for adjustments. The Army/Navy store should also carry the strapping, but if you would prefer some other color, any outdoor camping supply place will have strapping in a choice of colors. You can also check your local fabric store, since you will be stopping there anyway.

  3. Four black plastic quick release buckles -- the kind that have the prongs on the male end and the side releases that you press in to disconnect the buckle. Make sure they are the same width as your straps. You should be able to get these at the Army/Navy store. If not, check out your outdoor supply store or fabric store. Not very expensive, probably not much more than a buck a set.

  4. Now we're at the fabric store. You'll need a yard of material with a width of at least 36 inches. The material you want is the stuff that looks like fleece and you will probably want black. Make sure it is reasonably thick and ask for the material that is fleecy on only one side.

  5. Buy enough self-adhesive Velcro® to make at least eight pieces per side of two inches in length. The strips should be at least one inch in width.

  6. Ask at the fabric store for the non-skid stuff they put on the bottom of throw rugs to keep them from sliding. I don't know what it is called but it is kind of rubbery and knobby. (Non-skid backing. -Ed.) If you can't find it at the fabric store, you can find it at Kmart or Walmart. If neither of these has it, find a place that sells Thermarest® mattresses and accessories; they usually stock it although it might be more expensive than the other places.

  7. Make sure you have some heavy-duty black thread at home. If not, buy a spool while you are at the fabric store.

Now you're ready to go home and do the easy part -- putting it all together.

Cut the shoulder straps on the back of the bags. On the surplus bags, the straps will probably be sewn to the top of the bag and attached at the bottom with a snap connecter and a metal D ring. Make sure you remove the metal ring and any other metal pieces on the back of the bag. Leave enough strap at the top so you can attach one portion of the quick release buckle to each of the two pieces of strap that are still attached to the bag. If you have a bag that has a short strap with metal connecting hardware, and there is not enough strap to attach the quick release buckle, you will have to sew short lengths of the webbing strap to the bag strap, just enough to attach the buckles. (See note below.) If you don't have the skills necessary to do the sewing yourself, ask your wife or SO to sew it for you. Just make sure the straps are securely sewn together with heavy-duty thread. Using a sewing machine should give the best results.

Measure the back of the bag and cut two pieces of the black fleece material to this dimension. Make sure you cut it large enough to cover the back of the bag. Cut at least eight two-inch pieces of the self-adhesive Velcro® and put one side of the fastener on the back of the bag. I would suggest at least three across the top and bottom and at least one on each side of each bag. Do the same to the smooth side of the black fleece, making sure the tabs on the back of the material line up with the tabs on the bags. This will be your protection to keep the bags from scratching your tank.

Measure your web straps and cut to size. Note: After you cut the straps, make sure you burn and seal all ends so they don't unravel. Just hold a match or a lighter to the ends or you can use a candle.

Cut pieces of the non-skid material wide enough to make sleeves for the straps. These can be wrapped around the straps and fastened together with Velcro® or sewn together. This should be a snug fit. Slide the non-skid sleeves on the straps, leaving enough length at the ends to attach the other ends of the plastic quick-release buckles. If you are concerned about the plastic buckles harming your tank finish, cover them with black plastic tape.

And that should do it. Now you have a set of pannier bags that will fit under your tank bag, if you use one, and should not slip off the tank when they are installed. And if you REALLY want to look trick, get two BMW cloth emblems and glue or sew them on the front of the bag. And all for probably not more than fifty bucks total.

Have fun !

Lee Freedman

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Last Update: Monday, January 5, 1998