How To: Motorcycle Accessory Installs Done Right

Since this is the December issue, it means that Christmas is just around the corner and if you've been a good little boy or girl, it might also mean that Santa's planning to leave a few new ornaments for your two-wheeled sled under the tree. Of course, if you've been a naughty, it might mean you're in line for a new sled altogether, but let's not debase the spirit of the season.

Of course, once you've got the shiny new whatever, it'll have to be installed-either by you or the dealer, which is no big deal, especially if you know your way around a toolbox (or don't mind paying someone who does). If it's the former, you're good to go, and if it's the latter all you need do is pick up the phone and make the appointment. But what if you'd like to do it yourself but aren't quite sure what the job entails?

The Big Picture
While most accessories can be installed by anyone with the sense to pour water out of a boot, there are always a few tips that'll make things easier. For starters, instructions are your friend, so invite them in and offer them a drink before you start spinning wrenches. If none are included, don't panic; most manufacturers also have an online version that you can print out without much effort. Once you have an understanding of what the project will entail, take the time to lay out all the pieces and compare them to the parts list. If there's a lot of hardware present, find yourself a ruler. I'm pretty good at determining the diameter of a bolt but not so good at determining its length, and that can be an issue, especially when a 45mm bolt goes on one side, and a crash bar and a 50mm on the other. When I ran a dealership service department, I once witnessed a very good tech winding a crash bar bolt right through a new crankcase because the bolt was 1/4 of an inch longer than it was supposed to be. That little episode cost over a grand to repair, and nearly had the mechanic, as well as the bike's owner and myself, in tears.

After the hardware has been accounted for, make sure you've got what tools and supplies you'll need on hand. Few things are more frustrating than reaching a crucial juncture and finding out you're short the one tool you need to complete the install (especially if it's the night before a big ride). The same goes for any grease, anti-seize or thread locking compound. If the manufacturer recommends using Loctite on a bolt, then do yourself a favor and use it. Trust me, nothing takes the bloom off a ride like a losing a crucial fastener.

As for equipment, what you'll generally need are common hand tools like wrenches, sockets and screwdrivers, but for some installations, you may also need Allen wrenches or Torx bits, and it never hurts to have a torque wrench handy. Most accessories fit accurately but every so often, you'll run into an undersized bolt hole, or something that needs a slight trim to fit perfectly, so having a file at your disposal is never a bad idea. I'd recommend having at least one half round and one round or rattail file in the toolbox. An alignment drift-which is little more than a tapered punch used to align two holes so a bolt can be slid through-is also useful, especially when you work alone and sometimes need a third hand. Alignment drifts can be found at any hardware store.

Lastly, have a shop manual handy. Though it's not a strict necessity, a manual is always worth having, especially when the accessory instructions start with something like "remove the fuel tank," and you don't have a clue as to what it will take to do that. Even something as simple as side cover can be damaged if you ham fist the thing off, so if nothing else, consider a shop manual as an insurance policy.

Think ahead
All right, so you've read the instructions, all the bits are accounted for, and you've got tools and supplies at the ready. It's time to start wrenching right? Not quite yet, Hoss. Before you start, take a minute to formulate a game plan. Very often, the installation of one accessory impinges on another. For example, if you're planning to install a luggage rack today and a backrest next week, take a minute to do the math. Will the luggage rack have to come off to install the backrest, or can the backrest go on after the rack is in place? Case in point; because I badly needed the saddlebags, they were the first thing I installed on my Thunderbird long term test bike. Unfortunately, when it was time to install the luggage rack, I had to completely remove the bags and mounting brackets to install the rack mount. A little forethought on my part would have saved a bunch of extra work.

Installation 101

Crash Bars
Short of sticking some chrome geegaw in place with double-sided tape, the easiest accessories to install are crash-er, excuse me-roll-over protection bars. In most cases, these will clamp, or more commonly, bolt, directly to the frame. Typically the manufacturer will provide a mounting point, normally filled at the factory with a plastic plug. The plugs are usually a tight fit, so most guys pry them out of the hole with a small screwdriver. If you're careful that's fine, but if you're not, it's easy to scratch the paint. Triumph provides a small notch that accepts a pick or other small tool so you can pry the plug out of the hole without marring your frame, so before you start sawing away take a quick look to see if your frame offers the same convenience.

If the mounting hole is rusty, as ours was, run a tap or well-lubricated bolt through it to clear the threads before installing the crash bar or any other accessory. Relocate anything in the way of the bars. On the Triumph, the stock horn fouled the bars, but the kit included a new (and louder) horn and mounting bracket. Which brings up a salient point: per the instructions, the tank had to be lifted to install the horn, and this involved removing the tank top instruments and appropriate hardware. It's not a hard task, but it was one that would have added at least 45 minutes to the job. Instead, I used a 1/4 inch drive ratchet and socket to reach under the tank and five minutes later the job was done. The moral is that the instruction sheet may not be wrong, but it's not always 100% right either, so don't be afraid to experiment. If the instructions don't call for the use of a locking compound, lubricate the bolts with a little light oil and torque them to the manufacturers recommendations. Remember-crash bars may compromise ground clearance, but that's not why they're called crash bars, so make the first test ride an easy one.

Saddlebags/Luggage Racks
As a rule, hard or semi rigid-style bags will require a separate mounting bracket, and that bracket may or may not incorporate a luggage rack mount. If you're planning to add both, do a little research first. Our Triumph saddlebag mounts incorporate mounting points for the quick-disconnect luggage rack, and they work great, provided you use the Triumph-supplied rack, but maybe not so well if you use someone else's. As mentioned earlier, had I known the rack mount was to go on before bolting on the bags, I could have avoided some duplicated effort.

Luggage mounting brackets, be they saddlebags or a simple rack, generally incorporate at least one fixing point that hangs from the upper shock mount. When replacing that particular fastener, use some locking compound and a torque wrench to get it tight. Should a shock come adrift (as unlikely as that may seem), you'll instantly find yourself piloting the world's fastest shopping cart. Of course if you ride a soft-tail style bike that shouldn't be a problem.

All the usual warnings are in effect here; that is, make sure the nuts and bolts are properly torqued, and that thread locking compound is used where appropriate. I'll also add that some bags-our Triumph's being one of them-use insulators to suspend the bags on the mounts to cushion any stored items inside. These mounts need to be assembled in the correct order or the bags won't float, so give them a shake to make sure the bags won't interfere with suspension movement and that they have adequate tire and ground clearance.

In my experience, most luggage racks need a little tweaking before they'll fit nice-nice. Generally speaking, racks tend to be constructed of tubing or flat stock welded together, meaning minor misalignments are common so don't be afraid to show the thing who's boss. You shouldn't need to hammer the thing into place, but don't be shy about using a little muscle or your file to open up the mounting holes.

Finally, recheck the mounting hardware from time to time, as most people tend to overload bags and racks so things loosen and sometimes fracture due to stress.

Floor Boards, Alternate Pegs And Controls
For aesthetic and ergonomic reasons, lots of cruiser guys like to replace the stock foot controls. For instance, the Thunderbird came with forward pegs and controls that forced you into a clamshell riding posture, which is fine for a power cruiser, but not so hot on a bike used primarily for light touring.

Converting from pegs to boards can get a little involved, primarily because you'll also be dealing with the shifter and brake pedal linkages, and their adjustment. An improperly adjusted shifter makes changing gears a chore, and one that binds can make you nuts. Typically, the shift peg is connected to the transmission via an adjustable rod. The normal practice is to thread the rod into clevises with one end having a reverse thread so that spinning the rod clockwise will raise the shifter and vice-versa. Make certain that both clevises are threaded evenly onto their respective ends and use a little anti-seize on the threads to prevent them from rusting in place.

Relocating the brake pedal may involve draining, refilling and bleeding the rear master cylinder; in itself that's no big deal, (you can find the process on our website), but make sure you use new crush washers on all the fittings and only use fresh brake fluid to refill the system. In some instances, despite the manufacturer's instructions to the contrary, you may be able to relocate the master cylinder intact. It may take a homemade tool to do it, however; I used a cut-down Allen wrench to sneak in and remove the Thunderbird's master cylinder which saved me the trouble of bleeding the thing, but that's never a sure bet.

The nuts and bolts of the installation should be straightforward, so remember to grease any pivot points and make sure the fasteners securing the controls to the frame are good and tight. Obviously, any modified foot controls will impact ground clearance so take it easy until you figure out what's going on down there, and don't be afraid to experiment with alternative shift lever and brake pedal adjustments.

Windshields
Next to pipes and seats, windshields are probably the most popular installed cruiser accessory. I prefer shields that mount to the fork as opposed to those that clamp to the bars, since I find that fork-mounted versions are a bit sturdier and don't have quite the impact on steering that a handlebar-mounted shield has. I also prefer to have handlebars clean and uncluttered, and there's enough stuff hanging off them already without adding windshield clamps.

Nonetheless, handlebar-mounted windshields remain popular for good reason; they're relatively inexpensive and easy to mount, and they offer good protection. Installing one is simple: position the clamps so the shield will be located where you want it, tighten them and the shield and you're done. The only real caution is to make sure the hardware is tight, and watch your control cable and wire routings-you don't want them to bind or become pinched in the brackets.

Fork-mounted windshields become a bit more involved, and you may need to remove the headlight and cable control guides to install the brackets, but neither is problematic (though the headlight will need to be re-aimed). Most owner's manuals explain the procedure and we've addressed it in these pages (again, check the website's Tech section), or you could do what I always end up doing-riding the bike down a dark road while yanking on the headlight until I can see where I'm going. I'd recommend using a dab of Loctite on bracket bolts, especially if they're in an out-of-the-way location and you never plan on seeing them again.

You're done
Essentially, installing any accessory boils down to the following points: use them as a guide and you can't go wrong.

In every case, read the instructions and familiarize yourself with the parts and procedures you'll need to bolt that new widget on before you pick up a single tool.

Protect painted parts with an old towel or blanket-a single slip or dropped bracket can turn a simple job into an expensive pain in the butt.

Check and double check all mounting hardware before moving on. There may be a lot of hardware to tighten and it's easy to slip up.

Lastly, and most importantly, keep your eye on the prize and remember the next best thing to riding your bike is working on it, especially when you're working on installing some cool accessory.