Goodbye, Tamale Carts: Acme Moto 2 Top-Loading Panniers

I’m a utility rider (and sometime-tourer when I can get away from World Headquarters and the “real work” that pays the bills) so luggage is a pivotal part of motorcycling for me. I often schlep significant amounts of photo gear for CityBike, and I commute to “real work” by motorcycle and need a place to stuff my ‘Stich when I arrive at a client’s office, so I can walk in looking as professional as possible—which is admittedly not very professional at all. Oh well.

Motorcycle luggage, unfortunately, is a morass of mediocrity, between fiddly latches, pain-in-the-ass locks, waterproof seals that are anything but… I could go on, but my point is that there’s a lot of “barely ok” on-bike carrying capacity available, and the more I try to improve my luggage situation, the worse it seems to get. I shoulda stuck with my once-trusty R1200R—the factory bags on that thing were bliss, and I’ve been trying to get back to that level of functional simplicity since I sold that thing.

But everyone’s riding adventure bikes now, and the go-to solution is to bolt on a pair of what Fish calls tamale carts: massive, expensive aluminum boxes. There are roughly 14,000 companies making basically the exact same boxes, though each one would have you believe theirs is the toughest and best. “Check out this picture of our boxes on a bike crossing Africa!”

And that’s just hard luggage—I won’t even go into the world of soft and semi-hard luggage, and the associated fear-inducing claims: “You’ll surely break your leg if you crash with anyone’s luggage but ours!”

Acme Moto 2, a small company based in North Carolina, has taken a refreshingly clean-sheet approach to hard luggage, with new materials and functional changes applied to the archetypal rectangular sidecase.

Acme’s panniers are black, top-loading, long-rectangle sidecases with dual aluminum rods along the top. They have the familiar look of Pelican-type cases, and are made of Polypropylene Impact Copolymer, which Scott Olofson, one of Acme’s founders, tells me was chosen for its toughness and resistance to deformation on impact.

This “toughness” theme is apparent in many aspects of the panniers’ design. The ¾” solid aluminum tie-down bars that run the length of the lids—silicone-bedded and held in place by stainless steel screws—add rigidity to the lid and box. A single stainless steel pin runs through all three hinges on the outside edge of each box, for enhanced strength. My first impression upon unpacking them was, “Damn. These things are beefy!”

That beefiness come with a weight penalty similar to typical aluminum cases—Acme says each case weighs 11.11 pounds. Using the best technology we have here at World Headquarters—a funky old bathroom scale—I compared the 33 liter Acme to a 45 liter Bumot case. The Acme weighed in at 12.4 pounds, and the bigger Bumot was 15.4 pounds—a useful relative comparison even if the numbers aren’t exactly the same as Acme’s.

The Acme boxes mount to almost any existing tubular rack by way of a 5mm, powder-coated aluminum plate. Installation of the plate on my 2009 Buell Ulysses was trivially easy, literally a few minutes of work. The plates are extensively slotted to allow for custom placement, so after testing several positions I mounted them as far forward as possible without interfering with my legs. This required removal of the passenger pegs, but no one else wants to ride on that thing anyway.

The interface between the box and the plate is simple and solid: three Delrin pucks slip into keyholes, and a single hand-bolt snugs everything up. I haven’t crash-tested the panniers (yet) but the whole affair seems as bombproof as any, and better than most.

The cases are long and narrow (10.5” wide x 21.8” long x 11.6” tall), unlike many square-ish aluminum boxes. That may not matter on the road to Fairbanks, but here in the Lane Splitting State, I’m glad for the narrower profile of the cases.

Day-to-day use of the Acmes is a real pleasure. The cases haven’t seen extensive rain duty, but Acme’s knife-edged silicone-rubber gaskets have kept the contents of the cases dry in what passes for rain ‘round here these days. The rubber hold-down straps that secure the lids are easy to use and function independent of the locks, meaning you can leave the cases unlocked and just use the straps, unless you need security—a welcome difference from cases that must be unlocked to open, like the OEM Super Ténéré cases.

Internal width at the top is 8.1” and 7.3” at the bottom, and the shape of the cases is good for a backpack or messenger bag. Acme also offers nice-looking waxed cotton bags that are sized to fit in their panniers, along with some other sizes and shapes.

The lids sit almost perfectly horizontally when open, meaning I have a place to rest my junk while loading up. Well, not my junk, but you know what I mean.

The tie-down bars on the lids make good carrying handles and even better tie-down points, for example if you want to strap a drybag on the seat behind you. Also, they look extra-hardcore, you know, like real adventure.

Complaints? Of course! But they’re minor, especially considering the early-stage status of the company behind this excellent luggage.

First, the mounting plate and its attachment hardware is well thought out, but the bolt arrangement used on the lower part of the plates seems a little “v1,” primarily because of the exposed threads facing outward. It’s not noticeable with the cases on, but when removed, it’s a potential “ouch” waiting to happen, and less importantly, doesn’t look as refined as the rest of the system.

I mentioned this to Scott, and he told me they’ve just finished v2 of the mounting system which resolves this issue and will ship with all new orders. He’s sending us the new setup to check out—we’ll report back once we’ve received it.

Second… hmm… that’s it, I guess. Sure, I could complain about how a full-face helmet doesn’t fit, but that’s a “problem” most sidecases suffer from, and anyway, that’s what topcases are for, right?

The whole setup is $883, shipped to the lower 48, including panniers, plates, all the mounting hardware and a one year crash damage warranty. Yes, you have to provide the racks, but that’s still a good deal.

So what we’ve got here is functionally innovative, handsome new hard luggage from a new American company at a fair price.  If the price—and conformism—of tamale carts has got you down, Acme’s panniers are worth a look.

$883. Learn more and grab a pair of your own at AcmeMoto2.com.

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