Turning a Peli 1510 into a Motorbike Topbox
I have many loves in my life, two which are bikes, and photography. You would think they go pretty well together, but the reality is that they don’t work so well when it comes to keeping kit safe, or at least they didn’t until now.
The problem is this, my photography kit is expensive and in many ways quite sensitive to water, wind & everything about being in the elements, plus when it is all packed together, not that light either. The range of lenses I carry combined with the lighting, computers, batteries and other stuff can add up. Keeping all this dry and safe on the bike has many challenges. The first hurdle I had to deal was mostly a mental one. When shooting landscape photography, most people have a fully tricked out warm place to prep gear, prep clothing and stay out of the rain & sleep if needed. Being on a bike has downsides, if it rains, you get wet. If it gets cold, you do too. There is no room for backup gear or optional extras – I only carry what I need and I know won’t fail.
When it comes to bikes and storage, often the first question is to go with ‘hard’ storage or ‘soft’. In layman’s terms, hard metal or plastic cases that attach to the frame of the bike or soft luggage like the Karrimor hold-all I took with me. There are upsides and downsides to each and in the end, a combination of the two suited my needs. Soft luggage provides better storage for clothing and things they are not valuable or likely to damage easily. The downsides are they are open to theft and the elements. You can protect from the water pretty well by choosing a good bag and using dry bag liners. Hard luggage such as top boxes and side panniers are great for protection against theft, accident, water and usually can unclip from the bike, however, mine don’t as the design of the bike includes panniers – again… Both good and bad. The downsides of hard luggage is most packing them in a way to make the best of them. For example, you can compress a soft bag to maximize space with things like jackets and sleeping bags. Splitng up my kit into things I can compress and things I can not makes the most logical sense.
I pack my left-hand side pannier with a Billingham Hadley Pro – which works as my day bag when I need it & other times carried my personal items such as wash bag and other things I might want quick access too. The right-hand side of the bike had my crash bag. In this bag is all the stuff I might need in an emergency. Warm socks, gloves, jumpers, emergency GPS, bivi bag, spare phone, medical and tool kits for me and the bike. If something happened – this is the bag I can grab and survive for a couple of days. This is also where I store emergency fuel and the air compressor. On the top of the bike, I have the tripod (3 Legged Thing) and my clothing & food bags. If I am camping, I would also have my tent & camp stove etc (I use the Jetboil range) They all sit under a cargo net which has some waterproofs and anything else I need rapid access too. On my back, I have a small rucksack with a hydro system and some other daily essentials. On the tank, I have an Oxford tank bag. The GPS (Garmin Zumo 350LM) goes in here as well as a paper map and pocket camera (Fujifilm X30) plus a USB battery charger, spare ear plugs, spare headphones, neck scarf, visor de-fogger and relevant cables for the sat nav etc. Other medical and emergency supplies are in two compartments on the bike along with other items such as route planning stuff or things I would need access to while riding.
When it comes to my photography gear, there are no products on the market, aside from the Peli 1510 which could do the job I needed. Traditional top boxes are either too flimsy or not the right size for the nature of the kit it needs to carry. The big touring aluminum boxes are just the wrong shape and size to carry camera equipment, plus, I still question how strong they would be in a crash. Not to mention the costs of such cases. Fitting a Peli 1510 onto the bike seemed cheaper, stronger, and offered better all round protection while, inside of the case is designed to carry my kit with the TrekPak rack and pin system. For example, when I am not carrying my cameras and I have my Tesco shopping, the TrekPak just lifts out leaving an empty storage case on the bike, leaving some stoage in the lid liner for the case too. The Peli cases are airtight, so dusty roads are not a problem nor are super wet downpours (trust me, it rained a lot in Ireland) . They deal with baking hot sun and freezing cold conditions amazingly well and, for me the best bit is when you take them off the bike, you still have a roller case. The only addition I need for the case is a couple of padlocks to lock the case when driving through a city or stopping at the busy location.
Attaching the case was straight forward, but for each bike, you might have to come up with your own process. I have a Honda Deauville and the top box mounting rails were in the perfect place to bolt straight through to the rear handle / rear plate of the 1510. I had to use a shim to ensure the case was level and some logo thread bolts, but this was nothing my local hardware store could not help with. Once the rear plate is attached, the main case is then attached using 8 screws. It only takes about 5 mins to take these on and off – great for turning up and a job and taking the whole case inside with you. If I need to lock the case on to the bike, that is done using a chain though the padlock mounts on the case though the frame of the bike, but never had do to this aside from when I had to park outside a strip club at 3am in Dublin, but that is a totally different story. Normally, if I am worried about my case, I just take it with me. The best way to keep your kit and your bike safe is to never leave it alone & make sure you have a motion sensor alarm on the bike at ALL times. I have a motion sensor padlock that locks the Peli case – it makes a racket if someone tries to play with it. A good point to remember also, is that keeping a padlock when driving on cities might be an idea, if your on the bike and someone opens the case, it’s not going to be very fun, also, a strong carabiner or padlock on the case when traveling at high speed might be a good idea to stop the locks popping open in there is an incident or high level of impact. Peli do test these cases and do test the locking catches too – but for a simple bit of extra protection, it’s not alot of hassle.
For my Ireland trip I took a number of cameras. The only camera I didn’t have much fun with was the Go-Pro, maybe as I have an older model, but, I need to work out a better way to film and ride for sure. The battery on the Go-Pro was not great and due to how the camera mounts, it kept moving when on my helmet. Since the trip I have been looking at the Drift cameras – they seem like a better option as I can charge them and input audio while on the move to the camera. Meaning I can make better videos and have the camera ready to film at any notice. The battery on the Go-Pro was a nightmare. The main cameras for the trip were the Fujifilm GFX 50s (120mm & 32-64mm lenses), the Fujifilm X100F and the Fujifilm X-Pro2 with the 50-140mm, 56mm, 16-55mm and 35mm f1.4 lenses. I also took a laptop, an SSD hard drive and a Cactus RF60 with the V6II trigger and a ton of batteries for everything. Filters such as grads & the Super Stopper from Lee Filters also traveled in the case with the remote trigger SD cards traveled in a Peli SD Card holder too. The only other modification made to the case to turn my case into something suitable for road travel is some highly reflective tape.
The short version of this blog is that keeping my kit safe is the most important element, while on a motorbike this is even more key. In the event of a crash of the bike going over the camera gear needs to be safe. In the worst case, a collision with another car or truck, the cases will need to stand up to massive impacts and protect the electronics from fire – Peli are the only cases I trust. If they are good enough for the Army, they are good enough for me. If you really want to check out the stats behind what makes the cases safe, have a look into the NATO testing and military application that these cases are put through. Lots of info can be found on the Peli UK website.
Putting the case on the bike has been one of the best things I have done so far, I love traveling on my bike and now I can work from my bike too.