DIY Saddle Bags AKA Panniers

Triumph branded leather saddlebags and brackets for my Rocket III retail for $799.00. I have a set that were purchased and installed new back in January when my bike was being repaired after my infamous high-side event.

For nearly $800 you would think that Velcro strips would be sewn on straight, the stitching would be finished in a manner that it wouldn’t unravel from the ends, and the tops of the bags wouldn’t be collapsing in on themselves less than six months after installation on a garage kept bike. These high dollar Triumph branded Taiwan bags are poorer quality than the pre-wreck Castle bags I had purchased at half the price.

So last weekend I removed the rapidly disintegrating bags so I could fabricate some stiffeners for them and get the stitching repaired at a leather shop. That will take a while, so in the meantime I fashioned an incredibly durable and high-capacity set of panniers courtesy of the United States military.

Did my bike get drafted?
Did my bike get drafted?
It turns out that a 20mm ammunition can from the Army Surplus store is an excellent fit for the factory saddle bag brackets. I positioned the ammo cans on the brackets, marked the position of the five bolt holes, and commenced to drilling them out on the cans. I also drilled out the spot welds to remove the stiffener on one side of each can to allow them to sit flat against the brackets.

Once that was done I mounted the cans and stood back to admire my handy work.


The bulky olive drab ammo cans mounted to the side of the bike made it look as if someone had mounted bulky olive drab ammo cans to the side of the bike.

I could have painted the rest of the bike olive drab to match, but I’m certain that the red and white paint scheme is part of what makes it go so fast, and I definitely don’t want to adversely impact performance (I’m in denial about the 40 extra pounds added by the steel ammo cans).

Never fear, I had additional plans.

A paint job with textured truck bed liner left the cans with a slightly less conspicuous appearance. Now it looked as if someone had adapted a set of old BMW adventure tourer panniers to a Triumph Rocket III.

The flat black coating also created the illusion of a little less bulk, although it did nothing for the squared and blocky shape that just didn’t flow with the rest of the bike.

I’m considering pin striping or a bit of chrome embellishment to break up the straight lines and right angles.

But at that particular moment I was a little more concerned with adding some security, an option that was missing even in the most rudimentary form from the original Triumph bags.

It turns out that those big chrome pick-up truck anchor points they sell at Home Depot are a perfect fit for the center slot of the ammo can latches. Four of those and an identically keyed set of four padlocks and my new steel panniers were well secured.

It’s a work in progress. I’m thinking a bit of cutting and tig/mig welding and I could really make these things flow with the rest of the bike.

Perhaps I’ll have several hours of labor invested in them when it’s all said and done, but it will still be way cheaper than any decent set of hard bags currently on the market for this bike.

P.S. I’ll add some more detailed photos to this article over the next day or so.

P.P.S. The more I looked at it, the more I thought it was a travesty to have such plain rectangular boxes bolted to the side of the mighty beast, despite the amazing functionality, capacity, and security. So I ordered a pair of hard cases depicted on a fellow R3 owner’s bike below today. They should arrive within the next seven business days. They’ll be glossy black…I just have to decide whether I’m going to paint them matte black (it’s getting to be my favorite theme) or have them professionally done in a two-tone blood and bone scheme to match the rest of the bike. Comments are welcome and you may help me decide.

P.P.P.S. Anyone out there want to buy a pair of $799.00 five month old Triumph R3 genuine leather saddlebags (brackets and mounting hardware NOT included) for the low, low price of $200.00? They need some stitching redone at the ends of the seams and I suggest you get a set of Flipmeister’s RIII saddlebag stiffeners as well.

New hips coming for BB
avatar Mark

Mr. Frazier,

I think this idea is absolutely BRILLIANT! I have an 81 Yamaha for whom I’m on the lookout for a decent sent of 2nd hand, or just plain cheap panniers, and you sir, have found them for me. Were you satisfied with the other hard bags that you bought for the bike? Do you still have these ammo-panniers and want to sell them? Please drop me a line. I’d love to get those bolted to my bike!


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