Craven Saddlebags (Panniers) and Top Cases

by Jeff Dean
Tucson, Arizona & Madison, Wisconsin

“My own incursion into the field of luggage equipment followed my being a motorcyclist in the first place and being dissatisfied with the accessories available at the time. The traditional means was canvas bags that were strapped to a framework over the then unsprung rear wheel. The result was that the contents were churned and chafed and the frames prone to breakage over rough roads.

“My original design consisted of quickly detachable cases, the dimensions of which were determined by what I considered to be right for the motorcycle, rather than the needs of the rider and passenger, and carrying capacity was restricted accordingly. They were well reviewed in the journals and were a commercial success ...”

Ken Craven, “Ride it! The Complete Book of Motorcycle Touring,” Somerset, England, 1977.

Left above: In a photo provided by John Galvin of Australia, here is Ken Craven's own Watsonian-sidecar-equipped BSA with his panniers and top cases. Right above: Craven Golden Arrow pannier, color matched, on a 1967 BMW R60/2

Craven saddlebags, or panniers as the British call them, were made by Craven Equipment, Ltd., in London, England, founded in 1951 by Ken Craven. I do not know when Craven stopped manufacturing motorcycle products, but it was taking orders in a 1997-1998 brochure. I have heard from a couple of correspondents that Craven was still supplying parts in early 2003, but not later, so that may have been the end of the business.

Click on the brochure below, left, to see the entire brochure.

Ken Craven's original saddlebags were the “Silver Arrows” (photo above, right), with a 1954 BMW R68 in the background. They were extremely boxy, perhaps made, as suggested by a correspondent, out of “some sort of resinated fiber sheet, something like Tufnol, Paxolin or what they used to make Trabant bodies out of in the DDR.” Boxy, difficult to open — by unscrewing two 78-inch aluminum clamping knobs — and with limited capacity, you could still order them in Craven's 1997-1998 brochure (which may have been his last)!

Below is a vintage Silver Arrow flier. I have replaced the text — including the original capitalization and British spelling — because much of the original text was too faint to read easily.

I believe the most elegant Cravens were the “Golden Arrow” panniers, shown in the photo below, mounted on a BMW R60/2 motorcycle. Craven called the Golden Arrows “the ultimate in luxury travel equipment,” There were, however, a number of other pannier designs as well as top cases.

The panniers below are mounted so they open at the top; often they were mounted sideways (see photo inset) to open at the rear. Craven literature, however, advised mounting them so they open at the top — which, to me, makes more sense because access is much easier when the panniers are mounted.

The photo below shows Craven's “Golden Arrow” panniers after having been painted Dover white to match the original paint on the R60/2 on which they are mounted.

The racks for mounting panniers and top cases are unique to Craven and sturdy. Craven used very unusual mounting hardware, including clamped rubber bushings on the racks and Dzus quarter-turn fasteners held by crude, bent "L"-shaped bolts to the motorcycle's rear fender brace.

I lost the left Craven Golden Arrow bag shown in the top photo when it bounced off riding over a bump, demonstrating that the Craven hardware was not sufficiently secure. I have since changed my mounting system (details below). I have not lost a bag since.

Above photo — In recent Golden Arrow installations I eschewed Craven's fastening hardware completely, opting instead for a permanent mounting system (details below). Because the bags are no longer usable as luggage, I also removed the handles.

The 1967 Granada red R60/2 above carries color-matched Craven Golden Arrow saddlebags for a very nice looking and functional outfit.

Above: Norm Benedum's 1965 R60/2 is equipped with Golden Arrow panniers and a Clubman top case.

Above: The Craven Golden Arrow panniers are seen here from above, with the narrow “W” rack. I always liked this view of the BMW boxer-engined motorcycle.

Above: In 1970 I purchased this 1969 R60US from a dealer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I outfitted it with Craven's Dolotmie panniers and a Sportsman top case. As was my custom at the time, I chromed the air cleaner housing. The strange looking muffers were made from copper pipes assembled and chromed by Harry Christenson, of Madison, Wisconsin, and were used by many riders from southern Wisconsin in the 1960s and early 1970s. Stock pipes then had a nasty habit of rusting through.

Two Craven top cases, above, mount behind the passenger saddle on top of the rack. The case on the left is the “Spaceman” the case on the right is the “Clubman.” Below is the Clubman top case above now painted Dover white to be mounted in a 1966 R27.

The interesting photo above was sent to me by John Galvin, the former Australian Craven distributor. John wrote me that, in 1958, these were the first fiberglass panniers made by Ken Craven and were called the “Chevrons.” They were, John noted, a commercial disaster. John wrote that Ken told him that the production run was seven[!] sets. Note the revealing British license plate.

John added that although the Chevrons were not successful in their own right, they led to the design of the successful Dolomite panniers.

The pannier above, left, is the relatively inexpensive “Dolomite,” which was very popular but difficult to open because of the three latches and slide-under top. Because it is tall and skinny, it can be hard to access its contents. The drawer-like handle and aluminum trim also make it look somewhat like a kitchen appliance, especially when painted white.

Right, above, are three Craven racks. The top rack is for slash-5 and slash-6 BMW motorcycles. Below, the left rack is the standard "W" rack for slash-2s, while the right rack is the wide "W" for slash-2s with the optional wide dual saddle. These racks can be fitted to a variety of motorcycles other than BMW.

In November 2009, a standard (narrow) Craven "W" rack with hardware sold on Ebay for the amazing sum of $670. I know these racks are scarce, but that amount seems ridiculous to me and is more that a pair of good Golden Arrow bags sell for. A few weeks earlier, another similar rack sold for over $300 — also absurd.

The photo above shows a Craven Dolomite pannier on the left and the similar but smaller Safari on the right. According to the 1997-1998 Craven brochure, The Safari is “A modification of the Dolomite, slightly smaller and developed for the lighter range of motorcycles (say, 250cc and under). Not available in quickly detachable form.”

You have panniers, but do not have or do not trust Craven's mounting hardware? I no longer use it, as I lost a bag by relying Craven's hardware. It is no fun leaving home with two bags and then returning with only one. But all is not lost. The photos above show how the panniers can be mounted.

First, to mount two bags, I used four " by " by 1" U-bolts in vinyl tubing to hold the bags to the carrier (middle photo above). Then I tried several techniques to replace the lower brackets. One was a single bolt fastened to the bag and the fender bracket (middle photo above). That eventually failed and I had to try something stronger. I then used a square U-bolt mounted to the saddle bag and a large clamp on the fender bracket (left photo above). It is inattractive, but much stronger. I am open to other ideas for the lower brackets.

I finished all projecting bolts inside the bags with rounded acorn nuts to protect the contents. These bags are mounted much more securely than had I used Craven's hardware and will not bounce off, but they are no longer quick-detachable. In the interest of keeping my Cravens attached to my motorcycles, however, I readily accept this minor deficiency.

More information on Cravens can be on Duane Ausherman's Craven web page.

Craven Equipment, a new company in England, claims to be on the verge of supplying Craven panniers and parts. Check its web site from time to time.

In the process of restoring my 1967 R60/2, Tim Stafford was not satisfied with the simple mounting system I had used and decided to try something different. The result can be seen below, and it certainly looks to be more professional, sturdy, and secure. He welded a lower mounting bracket on to the Craven rack.

A modern leather bag that looks good on a slash-2 motorcycle is the set of leather bags from Blue Moon Cycle, seen below.