Hardshell saddlebags on my Ninja. Doing what they said couldn’t be done.

Posted: November 7, 2015 in motorcycles
Tags: , , , , ,

When I bought my brand new 2013 ninja 650, I asked about getting hard shell saddlebags for it and was told it was possible with some minor modifications. The cost was prohibitive so I put it on the back burner.  Fast forward a couple of years and when I finally go about the process of actually getting the parts, I’m told it isn’t actually possible. (insert expletives here) These are the same guys that told me it WAS originally. As you can imagine I was pissed. I went to the other Kawasaki dealer in town and was told the same thing. Even the parts guy there told me if it was possible he would have the same bike I have. (insert more expletives here)

Anyone who knows me knows I like a challenge. So once I cooled down from my initial rant to everyone within earshot, I decided there had to be a way to do it and I was going to find it myself.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite motivational quotes…”Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are correct. – Henry Ford

So I took to the interweb and did a little digging.  Surely I couldn’t be the only person who ran into this problem.  I found a user group forum for Kawasaki bikes (http://www.riderforums.com) and more than a few posts about exactly my problem. Thankfully there were pretty detailed descriptions about how to do it and what rack system actually fits my bike, with a few modifications.

Turns out the other model of my bike, the stripped down no-fairing model ER-6N, shares the same frame as mine as well as a bunch of other components and as such the necessary threaded holes in the frame already exist but are hidden behind the cowling around the seat.  This is good news.  To break it down into the simplest of points, I need to remove the cowling around the seat, drill a few holes in the plastic and then move the indicator lights and install the rack frame. As I said before I like a challenge and really how tough could it be?

I ordered the Givi rack from Twisted Throttle/A Vicious cycle, and it was in my hands within 2 business days.  Gotta love that turn around.  I lucked out and they had it in stock.

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make and model of rack system

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shining a light thru to locate hole

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one hole drilled.  point of no return

As it turns out drilling the holes through the cowling around the back of the seat was only a little scary and not very difficult. The fear of not quite getting them in the right location is the only worry.  As mentioned in the forum post I found, the shining the flashlight through the hole from one side to the other was a good idea, and I took it one step further by putting a piece of painter’s tape on the inside of the foam covering the plastic so it was easy to mark where that hole should be.  The forum post I found goes into good detail about the process of mounting the rack, which was very helpful, especially once you start taking the bike apart and have the parts in your hand.

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test fitting the rack. so far so good.

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this is the metal plate under the fender that will need removing.  it hides the wiring for the indicators.

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the tough part.  getting this off bike

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damn phillips head screws

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mounting to new metal bracket

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re-installed indicators & new bracket

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you’ll need to extend the wiring about 6″

The tricky part was taking apart the whole back fender and tail light and signal light assembly that took a lot longer than anything else. And it needs to be done before you finish mounting the saddle bar rack system since a couple of the screws are located behind where you just installed the rack crossbar.  I figured this out the hard way of course.  I had already mounted the cross-brace when I realized I would need to rework the wiring for the indicators lights and that there were 4 little screws holding a panel on that the cross-brace was now obscuring partially.  sigh.

It takes a bit of finessing to get the indicators off the old bracket and mounted onto the new one.  Especially when the screws they used to install it are so stuck in place they end up no longer being phillips heads (they got chewed up trying to get a grip on them).  Careful drilling out of the screw head enough to make them robertson-esque heads and I managed to get them out.  There is a 3 part fastening system that holds them in place nicely, but is a bugger to take apart and reassemble.

Without getting into too much detail, basically the rubber part of the indicator support gets forced into the hole and then metal pieces fit in on the inside to keep it locked in place.  A couple of new screws later and we are back together and ready to remount on the bike.

If I can remember how everything came apart that is.

its alive

its alive, and i got the left and right reinstalled on the correct sides.

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extended wiring runs behind metal plate.

The wiring for the indicator lights is too short for the new location.  I decided to take the easy route and cut the wires in the middle and extend them rather than trying to get the connectors off and re-terminate them on extended wires.  It is easier to just cut and splice the wires.  I added about 6″ to each wire since I didn’t want too much extra, and it turned out to be just about perfect.  Fishing them back thru the hole under the seat is not easy so be patient and use a fish wire to guide them thru.  A little tidying up and a zip tie to keep it all neat, then install the metal plate again and the rack cross brace (again), and that is it.

complete... ish

complete… ish

I say “complete…ish” because I didn’t have the right size bolts when I started.  The rack comes with 50mm bolts, which is fine for the ER-6N version of my bike, but longer are needed for the Ninja 650 that I have due to the cowling around the seat.  There is a small gap between where the bolt fastens into and the side of the cowling.  You’ll need 70mm bolts.  I wanted to use good quality bolts with high tensile strength and the typical ones you can buy at your local home depot or lowes are all just standard/general grade class 2.  I wanted something that wouldn’t sheer off easily, so opted for class 12.9 which are about the strongest you can get, but not available in your typical weekend-handyman stores.

I put it all together with the shorter bolts barely threaded in just until I had the proper ones.  The 50mm will kinda work if you don’t use the spacers provided with the rack kit, but if you tighten the bolts too much it starts to bend the cowling and brake light cover so be careful.  Once I had the right bolts I replaced the 50mm ones, and promptly cross threaded one of the bolts in my haste.  sigh.  isn’t that always the way?  Thankfully my car mechanic is close by after bungie cording everything together for the short trip to his shop, we managed to rethread the hole in the bike frame where the bolt goes.   As my mechanic says… “anyone who says they have never cross threaded a bolt is lying“.  New longer bolt in place, and the entire system feels rock solid and looks like it was made for this bike, which I suppose it kinda was.

not quite detailed enough

not quite detailed enough

I’m hoping that this will act as a guide for anyone else in the same boat as I and wanting a hard shell luggage system on their ninja 650. The two-page instructions that come with the rack just aren’t quite enough to get it done properly, and don’t give you a real indication as to the amount of work involved.  It’s not that tough, but set aside about 3 or 4 hours to do it properly.

And don’t let anyone tell you something can’t be done just because they don’t know how to do it.  I’m going to make it a point of visiting both bike shops that said it wasn’t possible just to show them with a little help from the inter web and a little MacGyvering it is in fact quite possible.

ride on,



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