Denali KLR650 Large Soft Bag Rack Review

Reviewed by The Patman, The KLRWorld.com Forums
May 20, 2007

Today I'll be reviewing the Denali Rack for Large Bags for the KLR650 / 650 Tengai provided by Tom of Turbo City Performance Headquarters.

Information for the Denali Rack is located HERE.

Current Price (as of May 20, 2007) is $229.95


Soft bags or hard bags?

That's been a question we've pondered since the first days that we've had the choice. They both have their advantages...and their following, for various reasons. I've found that riders who fancy themselves off-roaders seem to prefer the soft bags, while the more street oriented folks tend to like the bolt on metal boxes. One is lighter weight and more durable off road, while the other is more secure and may offer more weight carrying capability.




I went with a soft bag. I'm more dirt oriented than street, or at least 50/50 anyway... and I just can't get next to having big metal cans bolted to the side of my dirtbike. I know the soft bag doesn't offer the security of the hard bag, but I like the slightly lessened weight, and ease of removal for those dirt only sections.
On any kind of trip where you'd use the soft bag, but especially off-road, you run up against some challenges.  Mounting position and instability are certainly a couple.

With limited tie down positions, the bags tend to flop around when the going gets rough, and the weight often shifts about, sometimes pulling the bag into an unusual position. This can be caused by not having a convenient tie down point, and the resultant wear and scratches on the bike can be a pain in the butt as well. And all that's not to mention that some soft bag mounting systems call for the straps to cross the seating area, causing seat removal difficulty, and certain backside discomfort on long trips due to the rider having to sit on those very same straps.



These same mounting straps can also impose some slight weight restrictions, as the straps, their buckles, and the fabric they're sewn to, carry a majority, if not all of the weight in a saddlebag.  Sure there are inexpensive side guards that solve the plastic scratching problem and also offer more tie down points to help hold the bags in one place, but still you may be forced to sit on the straps all day, and still the weight is all carried on the fabric and the straps, limiting to some extent what you can carry. 

 A California company called TurboCity.com has recently come up with a handy solution for the entire soft bag mounting issue.

It's called the Denali Soft Bag Rack, and it's designed for the KLR 650 and other popular dual sport bikes. 

Selling on their website for a little more than 200 smackers, this powder coated tubular steel rack is designed to easily replace your standard KLR rack, offering not only more soft bag tie down options, but it also addresses the seating area encroachment issue, and even offers a unique solution to the payload problem - a shelf for the bags to sit on.




That's right. The Denali Soft Bag Rack from TurboCity not only moves the bags to a secure location behind the seat, but takes the weight off of the straps and places it instead on a steel shelf under each of your saddle bags.

Designed with the popular Cortech top and side bags in mind, the Denali rack was meant to offer off road riders who prefer soft bags a more stable and payload capable platform that is carried both out of the rider's way and out of harm's way as well. 

I was fortunate enough to get an early production unit ( it's all one piece ) for my KLR a few weeks back, and have since had the opportunity to test the product in the environment that I like to ride, and with luggage that is actually larger than what the rack was originally designed for. I'm pleased to say that I'm pretty impressed with the way the product performed. 

Often when a product is purchased through the seller's website, one has to worry about whether or not it will survive shipping without damage, and once again I'm happy to say that my Denali rack came in a sturdy container, wrapped in plastic bubble wrap and packed in those stupid Styrofoam peanuts.



Inside the box with your rack, you'll find a few plastic bags, containing the necessary hardware for the fairly straightforward installation, as well as a limited, but adequate sheet of installation instructions. 

The rack weighed in at a little over ten pounds, and since I was removing 4 pounds of stock rack the net gain for all of this luggage carrying capability is only about 6 pounds, about the same as a pair of boots. 

Fitment is good, and mounting is, as I said, pretty easy. Simply remove the two main side bolts and the two top center bolts securing your stock rack, and use your stock side bolts and the supplied replacement top bolts to install the new rack.  You'll have to disconnect and remove your turn signals and install them on the rear mounts of the Denali rack, and wire extensions are supplied for this purpose. The rack is built with enough slack in the bolt holes and bracket positions, to either fit the known sloppy KLR build, or to bias the rack slightly one way or another to allow for an aftermarket exhaust, as was the case with my own installation where I used a couple of washers to mount the rack over to the right enough to clear my Big Gun Silencer. (No guarantees on other pipes though).



A feature I find quite useful is the fact that the rack is symmetrical, unlike so many other luggage options on the market. By this I mean that the load is carried the same distance from the bike's centerline on both sides, where other rack offerings may offset the load as much as 4 inches to the right to allow for the pipe, while the left side hugs the bike's bodywork. There is obviously a balance advantage to the Denali rack, in addition to having a built in cubby hold on the left side for a rolled up rain suit or perhaps your favorite tool tube. Though perhaps unplanned, I see it as a nice feature of the system.



One of the few gripes I had with the rack was with the lack of both locator-pin holes for the turn signal locator-pins, and the lack of a helmet lock bracket. Both items however, should soon be remedied per conversations I had with Tom, the head cheese at Turbocity.



In the meantime, on my unit, I was required to either file off the locator pins on the signal stalk, or install a spacer to hold the pins away from the mount bracket. I chose the latter so as not to incapacitate the pins in the unlikely event that I ever reinstall my original rack.  The spacer also takes up the difference in space between the thin mount bracket and the thick area of non-threaded shank of the turn signal mount bolt.  It'd be nice if this spacer was a supplied part, but it was only a quick trip to the Orange hardware store to fix this.


Once installed, the rack looks pretty nice with a decent (though not show quality) silver powdercoat finish. The bends and jig-work are all nice and straight, and try as I might, I only found one or two tiny voids in otherwise very acceptable welding.



I'd probably shoot some LPS-3 in any holes you find ( if any ) to prevent future rust.  I did notice however, that the stock toolbox is slightly obscured by the new rack's crossbars, maybe in future models they'll be slightly repositioned a quarter inch one way or the other.



In addition to the star feature of the rack ( the luggage shelves ) you'll find gobs of belt loops and tie down areas that should offer plenty of soft luggage mounting options, aside from the Cortech bags that the rack was designed specifically for.   ( TurboCity offers a slightly smaller rack for another model of the Cortech line, and you'll also find that rack reviewed here at KLRWorld in another article ). 

Bag mounting is super easy. You just set the bags on their respective shelves, thread your mounting straps through one of the many options available and boom! You're down the road. 

Now remember that this rack was actually designed to be a perfect match to the Cortech bags and you'll see yet another benefit to this system. Just about any flat-bottomed saddlebag type luggage should fit. I use the Nelson Rigg SB 800 very large array bags and found no problems mounting them that wasn't easily overcome by mounting the bags backward ( they're square, so who cares ) and adding a nylon strap that I bought at the camping store for a couple of greenbacks.



Out on the road the Denali rack is truly as any rack should be, virtually invisible. The rack doesn't rattle or shake. And the bags are held secure without any weight shifting that would cause balance problems in a corner for instance. For a torture test ( and I don't recommend this ) I loaded 16 pounds per side ( two 1 gallon water jugs ) and easily mounted my Cortech top bag with another 15 pounds of tools, parts, and foul weather gear. 85 mph cruise speeds caused no wind buffeting or wobble. And best of all to me, is the bags are held completely out of the way of the rider's compartment to include the passenger area, and seat removal access is actually as good as or better than the stock setup. I just can't say enough about how pleased I was with the ride quality. 

Keep in mind that Kawasaki recommends that you not exceed 20 pounds total weight on the rear rack. The Denali Soft Bag Rack can obviously carry much more than that, but TurboCity says that you should keep Kawasaki's recommendations in mind and use your judgment as to weight and balance issues.



Off road for the KLR's intended purpose, that of fire roads and moderate tails, the racks held their own as well. Again they felt pretty solid and I never hit a boot or bumped my butt into them in normal off-road riding situations. I did notice a bit of side to side flex on the really rough stuff, but again, I was way overloaded, to the point that the entire subframe may have been shaking as well. I wouldn't advise carrying too much weight on any rear rack in an extreme off road situation, both for the balance issue and because we all know that the KLR has had it's subframe overloaded to failure in the past. I would echo TurboCity when I say "Use your judgment." 

Post test inspections noted no cracking, or exhaust heat problems, though I did mount a small plastic heat shield just in case...it turns out that it wasn't needed. 

I'm not in the habit of crashing my motorcycle for anyone, and thus I've not crash tested these racks.  Certainly trail survivability is something that concerns us all who roll in that environment, and to that end the Denali rack was specifically designed of a material that can give and possibly deform in a bad crash, but then be bent back to a serviceable shape, even on the trail, to get you back home. In a bad case of a smashed rack, the unit can be returned to TurboCity and for a very reasonable fee the rack can be re-jigged and returned to it's original shape and functionality.

 After a month or so of living with the Denali Soft Bag Rack from TurboCity.com, I've decided to give the unit a 8 out of 10 KLRWorld rating.


Functionally, it does everything I hoped it would do and more. So much so in fact that I've decided to leave this unit on my bike permanently. I would however like to see some slight adjustments in future issues on the Danali rack.

- I wouldn't mind a flat black option. In silver, without bags, it kinda looks like a long-range space antenna attached to the rear of your bike. Black would help it be invisible, and blend with most black bags.

- A thick rubber spacer to hold the turn signal's locator pins away from the mount brackets would be nice.

- A helmet lock bracket. (As of this writing we expect to the helmet lock mount bracket addressed.)

- Revised access to the stock tool compartment.

And this is just me nit-picking, But I wouldn't mind if the weld point on the center cross brace / mount bar were moved up about a half inch to help the unit clear the pipe and to give the bags a slightly forward cant. All the cool looking rally bikes carry their bags with a slightly forward  or aggressive, lean to them but that's just me I guess.




And for the Patman Personal Rating?

It's simple. Would I use this device on my own scooter? The answer is damned right I would!