How to fit a Holan Nomada Pro II pannier system to the AT

If you are only looking for instructions on how to install the pannier system on your bike, scroll down until you find the INSTRUCTIONS section. If you are bored at the office and fancy reading the whole story, read on.

This Polish pannier system costs about 200€ less than the equivalent offering from Touratech and includes a right pannier with an exhaust cut, something that the German manufacturer seems to refuse to make for any bike other than BMWs. They are mostly (more on that later) a match for the German quality, so taking into account the added benefit of the exhaust cut, where does the difference in price come from?

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Instructions, apparently. The Poles do not include a single piece of instructions for their products. You get the panniers, the support hoops, a few metal tubes bent in different shapes and a bag of bolts, nuts, washers and spacers and are left to do your best to guess how it all fits together onto your bike. Not that Holan is trying to save the Amazon by eliminating the need for printed instructions, mind you, there is not even a PDF on their website. Really Holan? Really? Is it that hard?

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Better be a Meccano fan, then.

Holan panniers usually come with the mounting points already fitted at no extra cost, which is another advantage over Touratech, but in my case I got a pair that the Spanish dealer had in stock to avoid the long wait for the panniers to be shipped from Poland, and I was aware that I would have to fit the mountings myself. That was not a problem, though, as I had experience on my old Touratech panniers, the only drawback was that it is a time consuming process.

The first racks that Holan made did not have any mounting points to the back of the subframe to avoid the need to drill through the fender, but they flexed too much and the design was modified to include an extra mounting point. This single picture of the new rack had made its way to the web, but that was all the information I had:

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I assumed that it would require the same process as the Touratech, GIVI and Globescout systems, drilling a couple of holes through the rear fender to attach it to the end of the subframe. Two things did not look quite right, though.

First, looking at the picture above, those two bolts seemed to be too far back to fit through the fender at the end of the subframe, they were more like under the rear light or license plate.

Second, with the bits and pieces already scattered in front of me, the H-shaped plate where those bolts mount was too wide and too flat to fit under the fender, which has a pronounced inverted U shape. Maybe it fit on the other side of it, under the seat?

I decided to loosely mount the hoops on the attachment points on the passenger footpegs and the front of the subframe to try to figure out how the new parts fit together, and after a few minutes of fiddling it dawned on me. They attach under the rear luggage rack, not the subframe! So the good news is, the Holan system still requires no drilling.

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From that moment on, it was only a matter of figuring out where all the bolts, nuts, washers and spacers went. Here is how to fit it:

INSTRUCTIONS

Remove the seat. It is not necessary to remove the pillion seat, although it is advisable to avoid getting it dirty by accident, particularly if you have the red one.

Remove the two bolts that hold the luggage rack and passenger handles to the subframe that are closer to the front of the bike. The Holan rack attaches directly to these points, a solution which I prefer to them hanging from the existing points for the OEM luggage.

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Remove the passenger footpegs. You will need to completely remove them, as one bolt will hold the rack mounting point and the other requires a spacer.

If you have a top case or luggage rack, you will also need to remove it (not my case yet).

Important! If your panniers come with the mounting system already fitted, you can start installing the rack on the bike now. If you need to drill the holes to mount them, do not mount it on the bike yet, you need the hoops to take measurements to mark the drilling points on the panniers. I explain this process further below, so read that now if you need to, then come back here once your mounting system is fitted to the panniers and you are ready to fit the rack on the bike.

The easiest way to make sure that everything lines up as it should before you start tightening bolts is to mount all the parts onto the bike and fit all the bolts and nuts loosely, then start progressively tightening them. More often than not, something will not line up and it will require pulling, pushing or bending.

In my case, and at least one other member of the Spanish forum, the mounting point to the subframe for the exhaust side hoop required extreme force to line up with the hole. Not wanting the bolt’s thread to get damaged later, I put it on a bench vise and bent the mounting point slightly backwards with a precision correction tool (also known as ‘hammer’). After that everthing fit without any problems.

The lower mounting point attaches to the upper bolt of the passenger footpeg. Because this will cause the footpeg to be slightly further outwards than before, you need to use the provided spacers in the lower bolt. Don’t remove the washers that come with the footpegs.

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At the back, mount the lower bracing bar that connects the bottom of the hoops together with a washer on both sides of the bolt. The side with the more open angle is the exhaust side.

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To fit the extra mounting point under the luggage rack you need to use the eight special spacers. Put four on the holes on the luggage rack from the top (narrow side down) and drop the long Allen bolts with the rounded head into them.

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Now comes the tricky part – you need to fit the other four washers (wide side up) up the bolts, fit the H plate without them falling (and with the welded threads facing up) and start screwing the self locking nuts. Do not tighten them completely.

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To finish, attach the L shaped mountings from the top of the hops to the H plate under the luggage rack.

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They fit with the angle facing to the ground so that they clear the indicators. In my case, Holan had not included the two bolts needed to fit them to the H plate, so I had to find a pair from my personal stock.

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The only thing left to do now is to go around the rack and progressively tighten all the bolts and nuts. All the nuts provided are self locking, but it is always advisable to check everything has settled in properly after a few days riding and to put a drop of thread locking glue in them to make sure that nothing comes loose.

FITTING THE PANNIER MOUNTS

For those of you unlucky enough to get the panniers without their mounts already fitted, here is how to do it.

With the old Touratech Zega panniers, or any others that do not have rounded or cut corners, nor an exhaust cut, it was possible to play a bit with the mounting points to find the best position – a bit further back, or closer to the front, higher or lower… in order to do this properly the best method was to mount the racks on the bike, check exactly where you wanted them (usually with a passenger) and then remove the panniers to use the hoops to mark the exact drilling points with the panniers lying on their side on the floor. In this case there is not much room for lateral movement, and you can’t choose the height as that is determined by the exhaust cut, so you can take all the measurements to drill the holes without the need to mount the rack on the bike before.

Take the pannier with the exhaust cut, lay it on its side, place the hoop on it and measure the distance across to both edges.

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There is a bit of room to mount it slightly forward or backward, but not much, and mounting it in the middle means that you minimize the risk of making a mistake then transferring these measurements to the other pannier (see my previous post about that) and that you will be able to swap left and right if in the future you buy a bike with the exhaust on the other side (providing Holan makes a rack for that one, that is).

Then measure the distance from the top of the hoop to the lid. And write all these numbers down.

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With the hoop in the exact position you want, place the plastic pucks on their correct position on the inside of the hoop (you will need a friend to hold it down in position for you to make sure it does not move a millimeter, or alternatively, put some weight on it). Take a long thin pencil or even better, a metal punch, and mark the position of holes of the plastic pucks on the pannier.

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Remove everything and drill the holes (5mm for the small bolts, 8mm for the big ones).

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Clean the metal shavings with a bigger diameter drill and mount everything in the following order: from the inside – the reinforcement plates (small) and the bolts; from the outside – the reinforcement plates (long) the plastic pucks, the metal plates (at the bottom) and the rotating locking plates (at the top). Make sure the 8mm holes at the top are wide enough for the rotating locking plates to turn freely.

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In my case, I had to add a spacer for the locking knobs inside the pannier, as they are too close to the head of the small bolt, and no spacers were included in the kit.

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The hoops have a small metal bump onto which the rotating locking plate fits to make sure they do not turn as you are tightening them. One of them did not fit (the cut on the plate seemed to be too short) so I had to lengthen the cut a bit.

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All in all, two bolts and four spacers missing, a mounting point on the rack that required some “aligning”, a cut on a locking plate that needed lengthening and no instructions. If you like DIY, have access to tools and want panniers with an exhaust cut, these are a very good choice. For 200€ more, and if you forego the exhaust cut, the Touratech ones come with instructions. I don’t know about the latest models, but my old Zega ones (first generation) still required drilling (more holes, actually) and the rack also needed bending. No missing bolts or spacers, though. If you want the full GSA look, try Globescout. Instructions, anodized ,no drilling and supposedly excellent quality. They are 300€ more. Oh, and Holan prices include shipping.

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Time to load up the beast – which luggage system to choose?

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.

IMG_6520Firstly, 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.

IMG_6700Last 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.

2013-09-02 20.40.19It 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.

GIVI instructions

Touratech instructions

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.

IMG_4001-1After 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.

Three countries in one day

Day 4 – Friday 28th of June – Smrjene to Budapest (532km)

What a day! One of the things you hear about trips like this is that it is when you start having problems that the real adventure begins. Well, it must sound like some kind of twisted logic, but it is true – I had my first fall today, and despite this, it has been another wonderful day.

The fall was not serious, but it was quite embarrassing… I had just left Smrjene and went back into the city to cross it and get on the road to the border following the instructions on the GPS. The traffic was quite heavy again, it was the morning rush hour and I was stopped at a red light behind a panel van that blocked most of my view forward. The light changed and traffic started moving when suddenly the van slammed the brakes and so did I to avoid running into its back. I was just starting to move, so the bike was leaning slightly to one side, not having gained enough speed to stand upright by itself, so when I braked it leaned to far to one side and past that angle, the fall was inevitable. It crashed onto its side in the middle of a fully crowded main street in the city center. I got up, made sure I was OK (I was) and quickly tried to lift the bike to get out of the way, but soon discovered it was too heavy fully loaded to be able to lift it myself.  Fortunately, a young guy ran across the street and through the traffic and helped me pick it up. I started it and moved to a bus stop to check for damage. It had landed on the BarkBusters, which did their job very well and protected the clutch handle and on the left pannier, which had a very small scratch. The outer bottle holder had broken free from its lower bolt, but that seemed to be all the damage. I restarted the bike and went on.

I have been told that on such long trips, you need some time to get into the rhythm of the whole thing, and I started to find that to be true today. I had a long way to go again, but this time I was not worried about wasting time if I stopped to take a picture of something I liked or took a rest more often. I knew I had all day to get there, and I had to enjoy the road.

With this new mindset, I stopped for the first time shortly after leaving the city, and discovered that the left pannier was not closed properly. On closer inspection, I saw that the fall had pushed it into the frame, bending it enough for the shape of the opening to be deformed, so it did not line with the lid any more.

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It was quite cloudy and Franci had checked the weather forecast in the morning and told me there was a possibility of rain in Hungary, so I was worried about water getting into my luggage, especially as that pannier contained my camping and sleeping gear. I decided to try to find a repair shop and see if they could bend it back into shape. I got back on the road keeping an eye open and soon spotted what looked like a garage. I rode up to it and when I got off the bike and into it I saw it was a kind of MoT station. As I was already there, I decided to ask where I could find a place to get it fixed, so I approached a man who has coming out with his car documents on his hands. He listened to me and had a looked at the pannier and immediately took his mobile phone out and called a friend who had a body repair shop. Unfortunately, he was not able to reach him, so he took me next door, where there was a car wash.

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The guy at the car wash called his colleague, who had a small workshop behind the building, and he came and gestured me to remove the pannier from the bike and give it to him. I did, and ten minutes later he came back with it, straight enough for the lid to fit and close properly. I thanked them profusely and went on. A couple of hours later I found an old workshop by the road that had these photogenic relics outside and I stopped to take some pictures.

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The roads were great again, and I was wondering whether petrol would be cheaper in Hungary or in Slovenia when suddenly, coming out of a corner and going up a very steep hill, I came upon a sign that took me by surprise.

You can unexpectedly run into people, into trouble, into a lamppost if you are not paying attention, but this was the first time in my life I had run into a country. I had, apparently, come across Austria.

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When I checked on the map, there seemed to be a fairly straight line from Ljubljana to Budapest, but my GPS had apparently decided that I would like the scenic route better, and I did. It had taken me north, to Graz, and then east over the Orségi Nemzeti natural park and into Hungary. I really enjoyed spending some kilometers in Austria and I took the chance to get yet another sticker and fill the bike up, as petrol was cheaper than even Spain. So much for the biking holiday I someday wanted to take in Italy… at those prices I would much rather tour central Europe! The landscape is better, too. Once I crossed the border everything changed.

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The road was still narrow, but in quite bad condition, and everything had an air less taken care of. I stopped at a petrol station right after the border to change some money for the first time and get yet another sticker.

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It had been slightly overcast all day, perfect conditions for riding, no rain, not too hot… but in the afternoon the weather deteriorated and it seemed as if it was going to rain. I kept thinking I should stop and put the waterproof layers on the jacket, but that meant unstrapping the rack pack and my optimistic me kept seeing that the sky was clearer ahead. I had to change from summer to winter gloves, though, because it was getting colder.

In the end I made it to Budapest dry and found the place I am going to be staying at for the next couple of nights without problems. If you come to Budapest by motorbike or bicycle, this is the place to stay! I set up camp, borrowed a set of three precision tools (also known as hammers) and spent the afternoon banging the pannier back into shape.  But more on that tomorrow, it has been a long ride today, about ten hours, and it is getting very late.

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How to carry two tires all the way to Volgograd and other stories

Tires are an important piece of kit for trips like this, and in my case the subject of much thought – not so much about which tires to use, but whether I should take a set with me or not.

I had decided that I would ride Europe in the tires I already have – a set of Michelin Anakee 2, they have plenty of thread left and lots of people have got very hard mileages out of them – and then swap them for a set of Heidenau K60s in Volgograd before starting the roughest part of the trip.

Most people say that it is hard to find the sizes I need for my bike in Russia, let alone Kazakhstan or Mongolia, so I could find a workshop when the moment came to change them and wait for them to order and have a set delivered, I could buy a set myself and send them ahead of me for them to be ready when I got to Volgograd or I could carry them with me from the start.

Waiting for tires to be delivered was not an option, since I do not want to spend any longer than necessary unless there is a problem, and forwarding them required having a contact in Volgograd to pick them up and store them, and they might be made to pay import taxes upon delivery. I imagine I could have arranged that through the HUBB, but it was too much hassle and I liked the idea of having a couple of spares with me if a puncture can not be easily fixed with a repair kit. I could always limp to or arrange to have the bike transported to the nearest workshop and have the tire changed.

So having made the decision to take the tires with me, I spent the weekend studying different ways to secure them to the bike.

I carry my camping/cooking equipment on one pannier;  the tools, repair kit, spares, maintenance kit on the other;  the paperwork, important items,  laptop, camera, etc. on the tank bag and the clothes, first aid kit and sewing kit on a waterproof rack bag.

I quickly discarded the option of hanging the tires on the back of the bike – it pushed the CoG too far back and there are already a jerrycan and oil and grease bottles back there, not to mention that they would partially cover the rear light or the exhaust or the license plate depending on the position.

I have not fitted any tank saddlebags and I had seen pictures of a guy who had slung his tires over the tank and had them hanging on both sides of the bike. I tried that, but they are too big and when strapped tight they interfered with either my legs or the front wheel.

So they would have to share the rack and passenger seat space with my rack bag.

I tried different positions – the bag first and the two tires vertically behind it, the other way round, one tire standing behind me and another at the back, with the bag in between, one tire standing, the other flat and the bag on it, even have the tires standing on the panniers and the bag fitted through them… All positions looked awkward and had several disadvantages – water would accumulate on the inside of the tires, they stood too tall, I would have to remove them every time I wanted to take something from the bag or the bag itself (and that’s every single day)…

I did not want to have to remove them until the moment came to use them, the idea was to strap them securely and then lock them to the rack with a cable and a padlock the make them harder to steal. In the end then, the best position was to lay them flat and put the bag on top of them.

There were two thing I did not like about this option – the whole thing was rather tall (it almost reaches to my shoulders) and there was a big unused space inside the tires. However, after some thinking I found a good compromise.

I was going to carry my provisions inside the rack bag (I got it big because I did not want to carry too many smaller ones), but if I used the space in the tires to carry them the bag would be emptier. Not only that, but the stuff inside would be easily compressible (mostly clothes) so it would flatten more against the tires and enable me to roll the top of the bag more times, thus making it more waterproof. It was decided.

Lying flat on the seat and the rack, the tires took quite a lot of space, and if I sat comfortably without them touching my back, the were a couple of cm too far back, so they did not rest on the rack, which meant I had to do something to support them there. I had removed the top case but I had not fitted a base to the rack, there was only the original one, and I did not want to pay through the nose for a rack extension just to have one end of the tires rest on it, so I decided to make my own tire rack.

I got a couple of L section steel rails – aluminum was lighter, but it was too flexible, and the steel rails are very strong for what they weigh – and started to work on them to make them fit the mounting points on the bike rack.

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I have to say that I had the privilege of having my father’s assistance and advice on this, a natural-born engineer (and one of the best I know, at that) so for the price of a couple of bits of metal and a few hours of work in great company I got a perfect custom-made tire rack. Suck that up, Touratech.

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We cut them to the appropriate length, filed off the edges, shaped the lower side to make it fit flush with the bike rack without losing any structural rigidity and drilled the mounting points and while we were at it, a whole at each end that makes a handy attachment point.

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Apart from that, I also spent some time improving/customizing the Touratech panniers. I had got four padlocks to lock them and they are great – light and they are all opened with the same key, but in only two days riding around they had started to scratch the aluminum, and they rattle as hell between 5 and 6k rpm, which is the usual working range of the bike…

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So I got some adhesive foam and cut four protectors to stick under them. I also got some reflective tape to put at the back of the panniers, I want to make myself well visible, especially in those parts of the world where drivers are not as used to the presence of motorbikes as in Barcelona.

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Finally, I got some cheap bicycle bottles and bottle holders and fitted them to the front of the panniers. I hope the air stream will keep them cool and they will make a nice extra supply of water for the harder parts of the trip.

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Installing the panniers and GPS mount

A couple of weeks ago a huge parcel was delivered to my apartment; I was not there, so the doorwoman picked it up as she usually does in these cases. But this time, when I say “pick up” what I mean is “took delivery”, because it was such a big box that the poor woman could not move it on her own. My flatmate got home before I did and he managed to get it on the elevator and drag it into the flat.

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It was the last big purchase in preparation for the trip: a pair of Touratech Zega panniers, mounting frames for my bike, some accessories for the panniers, a headlight guard, a Garmin GPS and a mount for the GPS.

Now I only needed the time to install everything on the bike, and the perfect moment came last weekend. A rainy weekend meant that my plans to go cycling on Saturday had to be scrapped, so I went to my parent’s and got down to it.

I knew I would need at least a whole day for the panniers and the GPS base, as the latter meant taking appart all the fairings and maybe remove the fuel tank to get the wiring from the battery to the front of the bike, and the former came without the mounting parts installed. I got the panniers without them for two reasons: Firstly, if I did it myself, I could position the panniers exactly where I wanted on the bike, and secondly and most important, it saved quite a lot money. The only drawback? It takes time, because it means that 18 holes have to be drilled on each pannier, and that’s after having taken all the right measurements.

Having learnt from Steve Stallebrass’ blog that it is quite hard to mark the drilling points while holding the panniers against the frames on the bike, I first installed the frames on the bike, had a passenger sit on it to make sure the panniers left room for her legs to rest comfortably on the footpegs and then marked the general position of the pannier in relation to the frame.

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I then removed one side of the frame (no need to remove the other, since the rectangular frame the panniers attach to is identical on both sides) and marked the exact drilling points comfortably with the pannier lying on the floor.

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Once the points had been marked, I punched a small dent to make sure the drill would not slip and scratch the panniers and started drilling the holes, first with a 3mm drill and then with a 5 mm one. The two bigger holes for the rotating brackets were made with a 10mm one. All that was left then was to file any shavings and smooth the holes and screw the mounts in. It sounds quite straightforward, and truth be told, the process is not complicated, but it did take quite a long time to do it on both panniers.

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Now the panniers could be mounted on the bike, it was time to mark and drill the holes for the mounting plates that support the accessories I had bought for them: a holder for a 3-litre jerrycan and another one for a couple of bottles.

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It was now time to install the GPS mount and the wiring that will keep it charged while it is attached to it. I did have to remove all the plastic fairings from both sides of the bike, but luckily I managed to get the wire through the front fairing and under the fuel tank without having to remove these.

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The Garmin Zumo I bought came with a RAM mount kit, but I prefer to use this one, as it is lockable, so I do not need to remove the unit every time I stop. I will recycle the RAM mount  for the SPOT tracker.

Finally, I put everything back together and tested the GPS. It works!

This is how the bike looks now:

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