Gregory Bender

Saddlebags - US Army Surplus ammo cans

Moto Guzzi V700, V7 Special, Ambassador, 850 GT, 850 GT California, Eldorado, and 850 California Police models


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My Dad brought me a set of Bates saddlebags (including a trunk) from his stash in Texas. But, for some reason or another, I didn't exactly like the way they looked on the bike. I wanted something a little more square. So I racked my brain for something I could use. I really didn't want to use soft-sided luggage and finding a set of LAPD saddlebags was going to result in less than instant gratification. What to do?

In what I thought was a stroke of great genius and originality, I decided to use US Army Surplus 20 mm ammo boxes. Only after I made this decision did I realize that others have had the same idea and have used the exact same boxes. So much for my genius and originality! At least I'm in good company.

US Army Surplus ammunition cans as saddlebags
US Army Surplus ammunition cans as saddlebags

Photo courtesy of Jason Telford.

I was able to pick up two 20 mm ammo boxes. These boxes are 8 inch wide × 14.5 inch high × 17 inch long and have a removable lid. The lid has a rubber seal that creates a very tight seal once closed. On either side of the box is a diagonal strip of steel that is spot welded to the ammo box.

In order to mount the bags closer to the bike (I am using the stock saddlebag mounting rack. I removed the diagonal strip from the inside side of each saddlebag. I found a 12 inch drill bit worked well to remove the spot welds. I chose not to remove the strip from the outside side of each bag, because the removal process tends to leave small dents and marks (and paying for body work on ammo boxes seems ridiculous to me).

Careful tape measure and eyeball alignment by my wife and I, and I was ready to mark and drill the holes. A few nuts and bolts and the saddlebags were firmly secure.

If I had a military machine, I would have left these painted olive drab (or perhaps re-painted them olive-drab). But since my Ambassador is black, I wanted to spruce them up a little to match the rest of the bike. Because I wanted the paint to be very durable and not cost too much, I decided a gloss black powder coat was the way to go. A local company took care of heat striping (they were afraid that sand blasting would deform the metal) and powder coating the boxes and lids.

I am very happy with the results. The bags are certainly heavier than fiberglass or leather bags, but the bike and the rack handle the extra weight just fine (especially since I don't ride two-up very often, especially on touring trips). If you would like to see photos of the finished bags mounted on my Ambassador, check out My Ambassador page.

Gregory Bender's thoughts:

After using the ammo cans for numerous trips, I finally took them off. There are pros and cons with the ammo cans, and I guess the cons finally outweighed the pros.