You don’t have to ride an adventure bike around the world to appreciate sturdy metal panniers, nor does the bike you ride need knobbies and a sky-high seat to take you on an adventure. Triumph’s street-going twins earned their adventure merit badge at the hands of well-known riders like Ted Simon, as well as a host of anonymous travelers over the years. For those who feel like following in their tracks, or just want a secure way to carry their gear, Happy Trails has a pannier kit for the latest version of the Triumph Bonneville.
No matter which model of panniers you want, the Bonneville kit starts with the rack ($279). Called the SU (for “structurally unique”), it’s made of hefty square and round tubing that is powdercoated black. It accepts Happy Trail panniers and many other brands, too, and even acts as a mounting platform for soft luggage. The installation instructions were very clear, and the rack went from box to bike in about an hour, using a few hand tools.
The key was to install all the rack parts before tightening the hardware; once everything was in place, I began torqueing the bolts, working my way around the rack until everything was snug. The resulting structure is extremely strong, and feels like it could support the entire weight of the bike.
I opted for Teton Clif-Cut panniers ($373 each) to keep the overall width of the bike reasonable, and because I pack light when I travel anyway. The exterior dimensions of the panniers are 15 inches high and 18 inches from front to back; they measure 8 inches wide at the lid, and taper down to 6 inches at the bottom, where there’s a small bevel on the outside edge (for more cornering clearance in case I start channeling Valentino Rossi on my way to the coffee shop). The hinged lids come with metal tie-down loops, keyed locks in addition to the cam-lock latches with hasps for your own locks and the same black powdercoat finish as the rack. The lid hinges can be removed to convert the lids to lift-offs.
The panniers came pre-drilled (a service that costs $38 per pannier) with upper holes that lined up with the threaded holes on the rack, and lower holes for attaching the lower lugs that hang over the bottom rack rail. Two large threaded plastic knobs per pannier, accessible only from inside, make it a matter of seconds to take off or replace the pannier.
The panniers haven’t been off the bike since they went on except for removing the right-side one for occasional chain service or when checking rear tire pressure. In more than a thousand miles of riding, neither pannier has come loose, or leaked, or rattled, or done anything to even remind me they’re there. What more can I ask?
Well, there is more, in fact. Happy Trails sent me a set of Givi adapters ($79.95 per pair) to try out. These flat plates bolt to the rack with included hardware, and use included bag-latch hardware to let you mount Givi
With the plates in place, my battered old Givi cases (on their sixth bike and counting…or is it the seventh?) go on and off as easily as they ever did with Givi-made racks. If you already have a set of these you don’t need to get the Happy Trails panniers; just get the SU rack, add the plates and your cases, and you’re set to go.
A few people have remarked that the Happy Trails panniers don’t look right on a “classic” (it’s a 2012 model, hence the quotes) motorcycle. First, you can’t see them from the saddle, and second, what they look like is far less important than how they work. They’re now an integral part of my Bonneville, and to my eyes the bike looks odd without them. Besides, if big metal boxes on a Triumph twin were good enough for Ted Simon, they’re more than good enough for me. Jerry Smith
For more information: Call (800) 444-8770 or visit happy-trail.com
(This Gearlab review was published in the July 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)