By Tom Bowman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Packing all my gear for a weekend trip or rally always has made me think of some old black-and-white movie with Charles Laughton in a tri-cornered Admiral's hat on a three-masted sailing ship, out on the high seas:
"Avast there, ye landlubbers! What makes ye think ye can lash all that gear to the deck o' our rolling ship and expect it to stay there 'til port?? I'll have ye lashed to the mainmast yourselves afore I'll allow ye to stow yer precious gear with that thar pitiful rigging ... "
Yep, it's true: we've all done it. We've all strapped our gear on the back of our /7's and RS'es and K's, hopeful and at the same time oblivious to the risk we're taking of the whole shootin' match deciding to head for Peoria when we make that big left-hander toward Omaha. Our bungee cords have broken, our straps have un-lashed, and some have occasionally arrived with slightly less than we started. So, enter Helen Twowheels' "Super Packing System", that does away with bungees and rope and packages our stuff in a waterproof, easy-to-pack system of bags with different designs and applications.
I've tried the bungees and nets and straps, kayaking "dry" bags, and more, but with my upcoming Alaska Sojourn this summer, I was on the lookout for something a little more "integrated" and "secure", as well as something to give me an edge in capacity. Sure, there are monster pannier systems out there, but they cost hundreds of dollars or more and represent their own challenges on mounting, packing, and weight. When I ran into Linda Hedden (Helen Twowheels) at Bulow this spring, I realized that the basic concept she's offering covered all my requirements.
Start with this: straps are more secure than bungees. Add to it that whatever you lash onto the back of your scooter can shift sideways underneath the bungees or nets or straps unless there's some mechanism by which the bags are secured laterally. A third angle to things is that some things you don't ever want to get wet (like your underwear and sleeping bag), and other things are likely to be wet regularly (like your tent fly and bike cover after a rain or heavy dew), and you don't want to mix them. Next, how things are packed makes as much difference as what is packed in the use of space. Finally, the way things get attached to the bike determines how secure the whole set-up ultimately is. After having used this system now for several weekend excursions, I'm ready to report that it is simple, it's easy to use, it contains a lot of "stuff", and it stays on the bike securely. I guess I don't need those $1K aluminum boxes after all ... .
The "heart" of the attachment mechanism lies in the twisted-loop straps and d-rings that loop around a convenient frame rail or sub-frame and run through sewn-on locating straps on the bags:
Once all the bags are on, the straps run through the D-rings and are tightened down so that the load can't shift. In the case of the R1100GS and top box combination, there's a happy side effect: "Instant Back Rest" !!
A feature that's specially useful for intrepid travellers is the coated/waterproof heavy Cordura nylon fabric construction Linda uses for the bags. In contrast to rubberized materials or Gore-Tex (exorbitantly expensive!), the coated nylon offers light weight and good packability together with durability enough to last years, and total waterproofness (the only caveat there lies in the closure system – some bags are designed for carrying things that don't necessarily need waterproof, and hence are not totally so). You can be pretty sure that whatever you pack is going to stay dry in the average rain; Alaskan creek crossings ... well, we'll see.
The costs of the various sizes and configurations of bags vary from a little over $25 to about $75 depending on size and features. The attaching strap system is about $20 and would seem to be universal enough to find a home on most anything around. My whole four-bag system amounted to about $150. Bags range from large end-loading waterproof "trekker" bags to top-loading duffels, with special set-ups for camp chairs and tents. The most innovative set-up though is the medium-size end-loader in which a partially-rolled sleeping pad goes, with sleeping bag stuffed inside and odds and ends packed into the extra space. Herka!
Verdict: good, medium-priced "system" of bags and straps that adds mucho extra carrying capacity without the angst and worry of having the whole thing depart from the bike at an inopportune moment. A thoughtful solution to a perennial biker problem. (Probably not so useful for those who travel two-up, tho)
Your faithful servant,
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