jump to navigation

Bag It June 12, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Product Reviews.
Tags: , , ,

Seeing some saddle-bag-purchase discussion in the Twitter-verse, I recalled that when I got mine, there was a lot I wanted to know, and not a lot of “helpful” resources.  Saddle bags can be a pretty difficult buy, especially the first time.  They are generally expensive and it is difficult to know whether you have made a mistake until it is too late to return them.   So without any claim of expertise, here’s my limited experience…  

The Setup: 

  • As you may be aware, I have a Dyna Wideglide.  This was my first limiting factor, since the external shocks on the rear suspension force a bag size and shape, and when we get to mounting, this will pose some unique complications.
  • I wanted AMPLE storage.  I bought mine in anticipation of going on LONG rides, but without any real clue how to pack pack for them.  I was a little at odds with myself, however, since I didn’t want to turn my “sleek cruiser” into a “bagger”.  But I figured the line of the Wideglide, with the meaty 160mm rear tire and long 34-degree rake of the fork to the skinny 70mm front tire, would allow me to “enhance” the back end with big honk’n saddle bags in a way that wouldn’t look too horrible.
  • Given the residual fear that I’d end up with more of a Bagger than I’d want, I wanted them to be detachable so I could revert to a Cruiser-look quickly and easily.  Plus, I was not happy with the the idea of having to unpack my gear in the parking lot of a hotel from a solid mount bag only to carry it in by the armful.  The bags had to be detachable, but not too easily detached, lest my bags not remain my bags.  I looked at throw-over bags, but those still need brackets to prevent them from hitting the wheel.  Securing the throwovers both tightly and detachably was not obvious to me and the need to keep the load balanced to keep them from sliding was an unanswered question.
  • I wanted leather, real leather, not leatherette, not plastic… so I knew I’d be paying a bit.  I wanted a box lid rather than flap lid figuring it offered better water protection and would be more secure in holding the top stuff when over-packing.  Plus I think it just looks better, and provides a relatively flat surface giving me a make-shift table for my maps, GPS, and coffee.  Of course, I’d need also need good thick, rigid leather to prevent sagging.  I know they make plactic tubs to help keep the form of the bag, but I figured they would eat up a lot of usable volume.

The Bags:

So, I ended up with a set of big-honkin’, rigid, black leather, studded, box-lidded bags with a front slant that fit my Wideglide.  And when I say fit, I mean they just fit.  The bags are by Carroll Leather.  I couldn’t find the original purchase information, though I could swear I got them from JP Cycles . While they still have a lot of Carroll Leather bags there, I don’t see the ones I bought.  I do see them at motorcycle-luggage.com for $429.95, which is about what I remember paying.  

I have been really very satisfied, and have no regrets about getting the large ones.  In fact, I am surprised at how whimpy or “purse-like” so many other saddle bags look on other bikes.  It may just be me, but I don’t really think the bags make it look too Bagger-ish.  To me, it is more a long-haul Cruiser, but I am clearly biased.  And I must say that it is great to have a place to put my leather jacket, without having to bungie it to rack or the seat, on those spring and fall rides when the temperatures vary so much.   

I actually like the slant-front shape that was dictated by the Dyna suspension; I think it looks much better than a utilitarian “box”, but it does make inefficient use of the volume.  Planning for packing in layers is always a good thing to do; but it becomes doubly important when the back of the bottom of the bag becomes a small acute corner.  They have maintained their shape prettywell over three years; the mounting surface is heavy, rigid PVC plastic (which is not at all apparent from the front) and the remaining sides are rigid leather.   The inside has some grey flocking on the PVC, which does tend to coat things a little bit after a long time, but not horribly.  


The bags are not completely waterproof (but I don’t know that any leather bag would be).  Things do get a little damp with sustained riding in heavy rain;  but I don’t have any significant problems in “normal” rain, and use zip-locks or trash-bags for the more critical items.  Despite being through some significant down pours, the bags have held up well.  However, they don’t seem to care for soapy water…  If you are still in the honeymoon period with your bags looking new, take them OFF before washing the bike.  I made the mistake of leaving them on when I went in for service (which is followed up by a complimentary wash).   The tech obviously knew enough to not “wash” the bags, but the  blotchy stains from splattered soapy water from the bike wash are still there after three years as a constant reminder.  I do use Doc Bailey’s Leather Black  once or twice a year, which does a reasonable job of hiding the blotches, as does the normal wear.  And after so many miles of adventure, a little wear on the bags is not a bad thing.   

The Brackets: 

I researched two options: Ghost Brackets and Easy Brackets.  I opted for the latter, so can’t give a good review of the Ghost Brackets (though the Easy Bracket site gives quite a “compartive review” ).  It seems to me now, looking at the Ghost Brackets, that they seem a lot more similar to the Easy Brackets than I remember three years ago.  I bought mine at GreatBikeGear.com  I have been satisfied with the Easy Brackets, though there is room for improvement.  

Rear bushing (longer of the two)

  The system consists of two bolts with bushings that replace a couple of stock bolts holding the rail trim on either side of the bike; the bushings have a slot which recieves the key-holed brackets that are bolted to the bags.  The bolts and bushings appear to be stainless, and maintain a clean look on the bike without a lot of excess hardware when the bags are off.  (Unlike the standoff brackets that would have been needed for throw-over bags.)   

I did have a problem right off the bat in that the Dyna Wideglide had apparently made a small change to the form of the trim in the 2006 model, of which the Easy Bracket folks were unaware.  The brackets still worked just fine, but they just barely rubbed on the chrome trim at the leading edge of the bracket.   I contacted the vendor and they were convinced that they must have sent the wrong hardware.  They immediately sent out another set of bolts and bushings at no charge, but the harware was identical to what I had, so of course the bracket still rubbed.  I was sending detailed annotated pictures of the problem, and my assessment of a solution:  The problem would not have occured had the bushing been just 1/8″ longer, maybe even less.  Eventually they did figure out that Harley had in fact made the design change that they didn’t catch, and they promised to send me new hardware for the new design as soon as they got around to changing them.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that they were very eager to be helpful early on, they kind of dropped the ball on the follow-through.  I was putting a few layers of fiber-tape in there to protect the trim while I waited, but that was looking worse than a scratch and I eventually gave up.  The place where the brackets hit the trim is hidden with the bags on, which is 98% of the time.  For the rest of the time, the scratch is just a small, unnoticeable, “beauty mark”.  

Other than that, the design is pretty good.  The brackets themselves are a very heavy gauge of bent sheet-metal.  Structural robustness was a priority for me; when you have big bags, you fill them up, and that gets heavy.  The brackets themselves bolt to the mounting face of the bag (more on that later) and the top of the bracket has a channel with two key-hole slots which slide onto the slots in the bushings.  The bushing slots are deep enough that the bracket is held securely without too much play, though I do think they could tighten up the bushing slot just a little bit. (I understand why they don’t, but still wish they did.  The bracket is coated with a rough black finish, which blends well with my black and chrome color scheme.  However, the coating is not holding up very well  on the hidden bearing surface that goes into the bushing slot.  I am getting a bit of rust there on the bracket (but not the bushings, so they still look fine when the bag is off).  The bolts that hold the bracket to the bag are coated; but they probably should have used stainless steel as they are rusting too.   

Easy Bracket Mounting Plate on Right Bag

The brackets are secured with barrel-key lock.  The lock design very good in that you cannot take the key out unless the lock is fully engaged, and the lock cannot be fully engaged unless the bracket is fully seated on the bushings.  Of course the bags themselves have no lock (in fact the metal buckles have hidden quick-release buckles in series).  However, I don’t know of any leather bag that comes with locks.  I contemplated riveting in a hasp and plate so I could add a padlock on the bags themselves — but for now I have been relying on the unwritten social contract that says: “You don’t mess with a man’s (or woman’s) ride”.  To date I haven’t had any problems, and oddly feel most “theft-safe” when on the road.  I still get nervous about pilfering on the streets of DC, and do a mental inventory of what I “can afford to lose” every time I park there. 


First the easy part: the start of installation was a simple matter of replacing the trim bolts with the Easy-Bracket bolts and bushings.  I worked one at a time so my trim wouldn’t fall off or shift.  Being an engineer at one point in my life, I did use a torquewrench to install the bolts and I used a thread-lock adhesive to secure them.  Those bolts are pretty critical to keeping your valuables attached to the bike as you rumble down the road, so it is definitely not a place to either strip them out or install them too loosely.  

Now the hard part: as indicated before, the brackets bolt onto the mounting face of the bags.  Getting them postitioned correctly is NOT trivial, at least it wasn’t for me… and I managed to screw it up.  

Leatherwork is artisanship, not precision machining (even when machine-cut).  Don’t rely on any edge being straight or at the same angle to anything or at the same distance from anything between the two bags.  Measure for your holes from multiple edges to find the “general location” for the holes, and even then don’t drill on the basis of measurement alone.  Use lots of tape to adhere the bracket to the bag and check the fit, check the fit, check the fit on the bike.  My bags were a little too heavy to prevent the tape from pulling, so I needed extra hands to stabilize while I eye-balled the fit.  Don’t drill all the holes at once; remember the “flat” mounting surface of the bag isn’t, and things will move as you bolt it down.  After you are sure you got it where you want it, drill one hole, insert the bolt with the bracket and loosly tighten the nut on the bolt, stay taped and check the fit, drill the next one using the bracket itself as the guide, insert the bolt (by this time you are really committed to the fit so don’t bother to check it), drill the next, and insert the bolt, then drill the last one.  Wait until all the bolts are in before cinching them down.  I don’t remember if the Easy Brackets came with fender washers; they probably did but a ghost of a memory has me questioning it.  If not, buy them, preferably in stainless steel, and used them on the inside of your bag to distribute the force of the bolt head so it doesn’t break through the PVC or leather.  

Excuse the filth -- rode through thunderstorm this week...

 Clearance is critical (this is where I screwed up).  Fortunately, I had already replaced my stock pipes with a set of Vance-Hines Big Radius, so there was no way for the bags to hit the the exhaust.   The bracket manufacturers claim that the pitch of the brackets will keep your bags clear of the swing arm…. well sort of.  Mine clears the swing arm itself  just fine, but doesn’t clear the rear axle on either side, but particularly the longer threaded end on the left side of the bike.  So if you are not postive the pitch is enough to clear the axle (or pipes, or whatever else) you must account for the amount of play in the rear suspension when hitting those bumpy, pot-hole-laden roads.  And for the record, jumping up and down on your bike is NOT enough of a clearance test (yeah, I tried).  I don’t know what the magic formula is  (it is going to depend on the tension in your shocks and how heavily you load the bike) but I can tell you that 2″ of clearance was not enough for me.  It looked like plenty on first installation, but it didn’t take long to see that the axle nuts were hitting the bottom edge of the bag. I was forced to redrill raising the bag to a 3-5/8″ clearance, which is probably more than necessary, but it works for me and doesn’t look bad.  I was concerned about the top edge of the bag falling down over time without the additional support of the metal brcket, and it has a little bit, but not so much as to be a problem after three years.  Another clearance issue is the shock absorber itself.  When the shock goes into compression, the bottom of it moves both up and back.  I recall that in my first installation, I had signs that my shocks were just hitting the bottom front edges of the rear bag wall.  But in raising the bags, I have 1-3/4 horizontal clearance from the bottom of the bag to the bottom of the shock absorber with no problems.  

The Use:

As I indicated earlier, I let them see the weather.  I put Leather Black on them once or twice a season, and that is about it for maintenance.  Before getting  bags I wondered about the criticality of balancing the load, which turned out to be irrelevant.  I’ll often have the harder-to-access left bag fully loaded, leaving the right almost empty to add stuff I pick up on the trip.  I keep the raingear, bungies, netting, kick-stand pad, and my national park passport, and for long trips a tool kit, in the left side.  On the right I keep the gloves, goggles, atlas, camera, and current year issue of HOG magazine for ABC points, leaving lots of excess room.  With this compliment of “normal” stuff I still have room for my chaps on the left, and my jacket on the right.  Of course the right one tends to get hotter than the left due to its proximity to the pipes, so I do sometimes need to do a little reshuffling when riding home with fresh fruit from a rustic roadside stand at the end of a long ride.  

Before you think they sag too much... Notice the right one is actually parallel to the ground making a decent table when parked.

The saddle bags, as massive as they are, are only part of my trip storage solutions, but that would be another article…


WarmGear Electric Gloves March 1, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Product Reviews.
Tags: , , , ,


Have bailed on the WarmGear gloves.  In all fairness, I didn’t try to negotiate a new pair with Cozy Winters yet.  (The “lifetime guarantee” statement disappeared from their website and the second pair were provided under a “1-year warranty”)  But at one major failure for every year and a half — I can’t in good conscience give a postive rating.  I think I’ll disect (maybe even repair) the dead glove, and try to figure out the fatal design flaw.  It is a shame.  They work great when they work, but…. 

So the new rating is: 


When they are good, they are very very good.  But when they are bad, they are horrid.



Well — I may have to change my recommendation.  The second pair has just crapped out – the left hand heating element has had an open circuit failure.  Fortunately there are fewer 30 degree days this time of year.   Will let you all know how the warranty situation works out (see below),


Thought I’d try a new blog category — especially since winter makes it difficult to make decent trips to chronicle.  Introducing the “Product Review”!  First up: 

WarmGear 12V Heated Gloves



Available from CozyWinters.com for about $130 (plus about $80 for a controller)

Net Recommendation: 

 Thumbs Up 

Well worth it despite some minor “Hmm’s”.

These gloves are the only reason I am able to ride almost year-round in Maryland, enabling my 23-mile commute into DC in temps as low as 28° F (coldest attempted so far…).  My Achilles heel to cold weather riding is my fingers, especially on my left hand in heavy traffic.  The pressure from riding the clutch in stop-and-go traffic doesn’t do much for blood flow to the phalanges.  More often than is healthy, I’d arrive at my destination with my fingers completely numb sporting a cadaver cream color down to the second knuckle, and staying that way for half an hour, or more.   Unfortunately, even with winter-weight gloves, the temperature at which this would occur kept increasing as the vascular damage got worse.    I even made a practice of putting my hands directly on the engine at stop lights, and really pissed myself off when I melted plastic texturization from some cheap gloves onto my chrome.  Finally, I broke down and got the electrics.

They plug into the bike’s battery, so there is no messing around with separate batteries like heated ski gloves.  They come with two harnesses.  The first is a harness that connects directly to the battery terminals that stays on the bike.  I have mine run from the battery to the underside of my seat, hiding the wires, and avoiding snags and abrasions.  I leave the connector end of the harness poking out from the front of the seat for easy connection, and for easy stowage by pulling the connector under the side of the seat.  The glove harness is a V-shaped cable worn under the jacket connecting to the gloves at the wrists. 


Battery harness postitioned for easy connection.


Battery harness tucked out of the way.

The vendor strongly recommends getting the “heat-troller” to regulate the glove temperature; they are absolutely RIGHT.  I was originally wary and tried to be cheap thinking they were just trying to make an extra buck on accessories (Hmmm #1), and I would be so pissed spending the extra money if the gloves weren’t warm enough without the controller.  Big mistake: when plugged directly into the battery harness, these gloves get HOT.  Without the controller, I would start comfortably for a few miles, then be forced to unplug as my hands became searingly hot.   But then my (now sweaty) hands would quickly cool off and start to freeze, which forced me to pull over to plug back in again, get too hot again, unplug again…  Not a good way to ride.  I now have the single portable controller ($70) and the belt clip.  (Hmmm #2 is the fact that they charge an extra $10 for the clip, which ya really kinda need…).  I wear the controller clipped to the inside pocket of my jacket.  It would seem like the knob would be prone to movement, but I have not had problems with it. 

Right out of the box, they are a bit bulky and take some getting used to, but if you give yourself plenty of time and space to react in traffic (reaching your brakes with Michelin-man fingers), the break-in is not too bad.  With time, the insulation on the undersides of your fingers gets crushed and the dexterity improves daramatically.  I now have no issues getting my fingers quickly around the brake and clutch levers, though I do avoid grabbing my hand grips too tightly since they are a bit of a heat sink. 

The performance is generally very good, uniformly heating the backside of the hands and of all fingers and thumbs.  I have to admit however that I am on my second pair.  The first pair suffered a progressively worsening, intermittant open-circuit (in the left hand of course) just into the start of their second season.   However, I sent them back under warranty to CozyWinters.com, who quickly replaced them with new ones.  While I definitely cannot begrudge Cozy Winters much after such customer service, my third “Hmmm” came about from the terms of the “warranty”.  On the website, they advertised a lifetime workmanship guarantee; but when they replaced them, they said they did so under a one-year guarantee.  I even went back at the time and verified that they advertised a lifetime warranty, but was so happy to be getting new gloves that I didn’t rock the boat.  (Now the website doesn’t say anything about a guarantee.)  

As for design — they are quite good (above failure not withstanding).   They have an all-leather shell with Kevlar, and the thumb-side of the index fingers have a chamois like material to help goggle/visor wiping.  (Nice feature detail)  The fingers are pre-curved for riding.  The liner is comfortable and well attached to the inside.   I do take care not to crumple them or over-flex the heating wire to avoid breakage.  I would make a slight change in the routing of the heater wire.  As it loops from finger to finger, it runs right in the crux between the fingers and relies too much on the glove insulation to prevent a hot spot.  As a matter of fact, the previous pair did have some painful finger web hot spots where the insulation had shifted or gotten thin.  The design would be better if the heating wire returned all the way to the main knuckle on the back of the hand before crossing over to the next finger.  I already mentioned the bulkiness — but since they are already insulated with Thinsulate and I wouldn’t want to give up on the leather construction, I don’t see a good (i.e. inexpensive) way around it.  

The controller clip is a bit rigid, which makes it very secure, but a little tough to clip onto anything thick.  The knob has a tick mark so after using it a while one can get acclimated with how much heat to set.  The knob fell off once when its set screw loosen up.  Fortunately, this happened over my garage floor and not by the roadside.  You may consider lock-titing that sucker in there on day one to be safe.  The controller is pulse-width modulated, which means that it turns the power to the gloves off and on and doesn’t dissipate much power itself.  It has an LED light that turns on and off with the power modulation, so you can tell that you have a connection to the battery, and about how much heat to expect.  The harness connections are “standard” allowing the use of competitors products such as Gerbing.  I thought that a connector cap would be a good idea when not in use, but have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of corrosion after three years of exposure.  The battery harness has a replaceable in-line fuse which is great.  When routing the battery harness try to keep the section between the battery and the fuse as protected as possible.  Also note, if you take your bike in for service, it is wise to recheck the harness routing to make sure your tech was as diligent as you in avoiding pinching, and sharp corners.

So all in all — I love ’em because they keep me on the bike all year.  I do still worry a bit, however, about getting another failure mid-season and have thought about buying a second pair as a back up, but haven’t done so yet.   The new pair are well into two heavily-used seasons without any problems.  If I did need to buy replacements, I am about 90% likely to stick with these, unless I find that a competitor has much better dexterity and a lifetime warranty without losing the features of the WarmGear.

If you have used these gloves or comparable ones … leave a comment to let everyone know how they worked out for you.