Soft luggage or hard luggage? The debate has been going on and on forever, and I am not going to further it here. To cut to the chase – both.
The AT is supposed to be a decent offroad machine, so the choice should have been clear – soft luggage, but I will also use mine as a long distance, 2 up, touring machine with the occasional excursion into unpaved roads, which requires the extra capacity and added security of hard cases. So the decision was made to buy a set of aluminum panniers for the upcoming trip this summer and use my Ortlieb bag for solo excursions into the dirt. If I do another long solo trip I might buy a pair of saddlebags and strap them to the racks of the aluminum panniers.
With that settled, the question was – which ones?
I had a Touratech system on the V-Strom and was very happy with it – those boxes had withstood countless falls and drops and I had always been able to bang them into shape. The V-Strom and the AT have the exhaust on the same side, which means that I could simply buy the rack and keep using the old boxes, but a few things stopped me from doing so.
Firstly, when drilling the holes for the mounting points on the panniers for the old bike I made a measuring mistake that meant that one of them was mounted further back than the other. Not by a big margin, mind you, but it is noticeable and something that still annoys me to this day.
Secondly, having the exhaust on one side only meant that one of the boxes had to be smaller than the other, and the rather fat ass of the V-Strom meant that I had to go for the smallest combo that Touratech sold to keep things as narrow as possible. For the AT I wanted a system with a cut on the exhaust side, GS-style, to maximize luggage space and keep the boxes close to the bike.
Last but not least, the old boxes had all the ‘medals’ (i.e. country stickers) that the other bike had rightfully earned, and it seemed plain wrong to have them on the new, yet unproven bike. I know this sounds stupid to a lot of people, but I believe that the AT has to earn its wings.
It was time to do some market research, then.
The only two companies I found that manufactured a system with an exhaust side cut were Holan, based in Poland, and Globescout, from Turkey.
Both offer excellent products of the best quality, but I went for Holan because they are a bit cheaper and have a dealer near Barcelona. Unfortunately, things were not going to be so easy.
The moment I got my new bike I ordered a top case from them because I need a minimum of luggage capacity to go to work every day, and I thought I would save the money for the panniers and buy them a month or so before the summer trip. However, it seems that Holan, having been one of the very first companies to put luggage systems for the new AT in the market, have been flooded with orders and have a huge backlog. At the time of writing these lines I still have not received the top case or the crash bars I ordered. This made me fear that the panniers would not make it in time for the summer.
To make things worse, another AT owner and member of the Spanish forum who had placed an order earlier than me received his luggage system and his impressions were not good at all.
The AT is a tricky bike to mount luggage racks on. It is designed for the OEM plastic cases and that’s it, no easily accessible mounting points have been designed for anything else, meaning that luggage manufacturers have had to get creative. It is easy to attach a rack to classic points on the passenger footpegs and the front of the subframe, but not to the back of it. The solution that Touratech and GIVI have found is to drill through the plastic fender to access two mounting points at the end of the subframe and attach the back of the rack there from below.
Holan decided to add a reinforcement bar from the top of the loops to the passenger footpeg and forego the rear mounting points. According to them they had tested the system with the technical department of a Polish university and it worked fine. However, with the system on his bike, the forum member I mentioned above was far from happy. He reported that the setup had a lot of flex, even unloaded, and that he would not dare take his bike offroad for fear of the whole thing coming off the bike.
That was not looking good, so I started looking into the Globescout option. I got on the phone with them and they confirmed that their system also required drilling to access the subframe, which was reassuring, but it was noticeably more expensive than Holan, and if I wanted to have a matching top box I would have to cancel my order and get one from them, which was twice the price of a Holan one.
I was starting to consider forgetting about the exhaust cut and get a GIVI system when I saw a link posted on the forum to a French blog that said that Holan had admitted the design flaw and modified the system with an additional mounting point at the back and posted a picture of the supposedly new system. The people on the forum said that they had got in touch with Holan’s dealer in Spain, but they could not confirm whether or when that modification would be available.
After a lot of unanswered phone calls to Twin Trails, the Spanish dealer, I finally managed to get someone on the phone who told me that the racks were already shipping with the additional mounting point. Not only that, he already had some in stock, and if I wanted the 45L panniers with black lids, he also had a pair. It was the size I wanted and I did not mind the black lids instead of aluminum ones, so I jumped at the chance. A week later, they were delivered to my doorstep.
More on fitting the system to the bike soon.