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JC Whitney Top Case

JC Whitney Top Case

JC Whitney "Glossy Motorcycle Trunk"

Owner Report by Bob S. for webBikeWorld.com

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Summary:  Difficult to recommend this product, even if it's on sale.


Background
webBikeWorld is fortunate to have contributors and readers from every aspect of the two-wheeled universe.

Many of them enjoy the ride but also believe that simple economics is a big factor.

My guess is that basic scooters and older motorcycles easily outnumber all of the cool new bikes that many people get to ride and which normally get all the buzz.

For example, the KLR650 used for this article is 20 years old -- the same age, coincidentally, as my son, the 20-year-old college student who rides it. This is a perfect example of motorcycle life in the budget-conscious world -- the target market for JC Whitney.

JC Whitney automotive and motorcycle accessories have been available in the U.S.A. for generations -- literally. As teenagers, we would drool over the paper catalogs containing lists and photos of hop-up parts from who-knows-where and knock-offs made somewhere in the Far East, long before Walmart was a household name.

One thing I'd like to note is that is is important to separate JC Whitney the company from the actual top case product described in this review. JC Whitney has an expansive website that is much easier to search than the websites of many other large accessory providers and they have many good products.

Also, many of the items listed on the JC Whitney website include feedback from owners; in fact, the collective summary at the time my son and I placed the order gave this "Glossy Motorcycle Trunk" (SKU number 1JA 277020) a total of 3.5 stars out of 5. So we knew going in that some customers had difficulties with this product.

But the JC Whitney price was very low (a promotional price of $21.67 from the current list price of $79.99), ordering was easy and delivery was fast. Thus, we give JC Whitney the thumbs-up for this transaction.

JC Whitney Top Case - Holds a Full-Face Helmet
The JC Whitney top case actually holds a full-face helmet.

The JC Whitney "Glossy Motorcycle Trunk" Black Top Case
The "Glossy" black top case in this review was made in China and is a knock-off of a higher-end case, having design features that were apparently copied from Givi. The case was on sale at nearly 75% off, so how bad could it be, we wondered? 

The size of the box is ideal for a commuter or student and it can actually hold a large Shoei full-face helmet or a small laptop and lunch. There is a big red lens for a tail light (lights not included) and a back pad for a passenger.

Motorcycle hard cases have certain criteria that they are expected to meet. For example, a top case should, at a minimum:

  1. Mount with basic tools and without the need for a re-design of key features;

  2. Stay on the bike after it is mounted;

  3. Keep contents secure from the road, weather, and passers-by.

Well, the devil is in the details, because this one was heck to get up to task. Although it looked good at the end of the process, what was shipped accomplished not one of the above three criteria.

The rest of the article explains what it took for my son and I to get the case mounted and functional.

JC Whitney Top Case - Shipping Box
The shipping box was partially opened when it arrived.
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What's in the Box
The top case arrived in a thin cardboard box, wrapped in a layer of thick plastic. Somewhere in the 12,000 miles between its country of manufacture and delivery, the box arrived a bit the worse for wear; the single strip of tape wasn't enough to hold it closed.

Having seen similar cases on scooters in foreign countries, I figured that the supplier packed the top case and not JC Whitney, so this problem can be attributed to the manufacturer. If ordering one of these cases, it's probably best to check it closely for damage as soon as it arrives; we were surprised that the top case just had a couple of scuffs.

Otherwise, the gloss black surface looked good. The case has an odd Maltese cross on the lid that I figured could be hidden with a sticker if necessary. The cast-in plastic hinges don't seem very substantial but do work. The big red lens on the back of the case has been provided for a light that unfortunately doesn't exist.

The box included the top case, a steel mounting plate that gets bolted to the scooter or motorcycle, a rubber pad to go under the steel plate, a couple of stamped steel mounting bars, a sheet of photocopied instructions, and plain steel hardware.

Mounting the JC Whitney Top Case
The top case is a generic design and not specific to any one particular make or model of motorcycle or scooter. To give credit to the designers, the instructions show that the mounting plate should be attached by placing the two stamped steel bars under the luggage rack, which sandwiches the top case on to the rack at the back of the bike.

Of course, this assumes that there is a luggage rack or flat surface that is large enough to hold the mounting plate.

The KLR does have its own flat luggage mounting plate, and I could have used a drill to attach the JC Whitney steel mounting bars. It would have been a crude installation and every way I looked at it, I would either have to trust the thinnest areas of the KLR plastic, or drill through the stiffening webs that gave the plate whatever strength Kawasaki intended it to have.

So my son and I were into the shop right from the start to replace the luggage plate on the KLR, although I'll admit that this is not necessarily a fault of the JC Whitney top case, because the designers donít know what type of motorcycle the case will be used with.

We copied the KLR plate hole pattern onto a longer piece of heavy plastic that would allow us to bolt on the JC Whitney steel mounting plate. We tried attaching the Whitney plate both with and without the provided pad and ultimately left the pad off. It was not needed and added a degree of movement to the top case.

JC Whitney Top Case - Mounting Plate
Modifications to the mounting plate, which must be secured to an existing luggage rack.

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With the mounting plate bolted to the bike, the next shortcoming of the JC Whitney top case as a system became evident. The top case has two plastic fingers that slide into slots at the front of the steel mounting plate. The top case then needs to be pressed down over a post at the rear, until a spring-loaded piece of metal engages a groove in the post (yellow arrow in photo above). This is very similar to the concept used by Givi, but the execution was a dropped ball.

The JC Whitney version has four rubber feet that the plastic case sits on -- they can be seen in the photo above. The rubber feet are part of the steel mounting plate and I just could not get the box to compress the hard rubber enough to allow the rear of the box to engage the groove in the post to secure the box.

Even with the pad under the plate, the box seemed to be in the right spot but never engaged the slot. So for the next mod, I had to use a Dremel tool to shave down the rubber feet.

Success after engagement?  Nope!  I read some reviews of this top case, describing owners watching in their rear-view mirror as the box rolled down the road after falling off. Forewarned, I tried pushing on the case when I thought it was engaged in the groove of the post but the box would occasionally pop free.

At first I thought the red engagement button was simply not working correctly, but after marking it so I could see if it was connecting properly, I could still knock the top case free on occasion, so back to the shop it was.

My cure was to drill a 1/4-inch hole through the base of the top case and the steel mounting plate. After mounting the top case normally, I then installed a clevis pin and a spring clip to hold the case in place as a back-up for the slotted post design.

The reviews on the JC Whitney site indicated that the top case may also have opened unexpectedly for some of the owners while they were riding. Because of this, every time I closed and locked the box with the key, I would firmly shake the lid to make sure it would stay shut. It popped open about half the time.

JC Whitney Top Case - Mounted on Motorcycle
The JC Whitney top case mounted on the KLR650.

Using the JC Whitney Top Case
Once I was sure that it was shut and everything was secure, I set off for some errands. Three miles to town and back, the case worked and I thought we were done. It really looked pretty good!!

But this is when the case really let me down. During my first ride to the office, I threw in a rain suit, a laptop and a cable lock.

We set off for the office, after the now-routine process of shut, lock, pop open, shut again, and lock again, till it stayed shut. After about 10 miles of two-lane roads, we got onto the highway and a half mile later, felt something different about the mightly KLR. Reaching back, the topbox was wide open and the lunch that had been on top of the laptop was gone. The laptop was waiting for the next big bump to launch.
 Fortunately, I also had a roll of black electrical tape, which ended up saving the day. The lid had to be taped down to keep it shut while I rode back home again. Unfortunately, the lid opens up randomly on its own, even when I'm sure that the lid is secured first.

Looking closer at how the lid is secured, the lock pulls down a plastic hook that engages the lid, again very similar to the concept used by Givi. As with the mounting post, this is another aspect that the Chinese clone got wrong. The hook is too narrow and the flexibility of the lid is enough to disengage the hook. Not always, just when you need it to protect whatever valuables you are carrying. Like lunch and a laptop.

I also found that the lid is too flexible, which allows rainwater to get past the sealing lip, so the top case failed the important real-world test of keeping its contents dry. Don't forget to drill your own drain holes!

Also, the lock on the back turns a metal finger that keeps the red mounting button engaged, which keeps the lid locked.  I discovered that the metal finger is pretty loose -- another reason not to trust the latch/lock mechanism.

Here's a photo:

JC Whitney Top Case - Close-up of Key Lock
Close-up of the key and locking system.

So it was back to the shop again. If I lived in an apartment without access to powered tools and a local hardware store, I probably would have taken a sledgehammer to the case long before this point.

Bringing the process to a close, I drilled a nice hole in the handle and secured the lid with a combination Master Lock that ended up costing a quarter of the original price of the top case.

Yes, the lock looks tacky and making sure the latch and lock are shut at the same time takes some practice. But the installation is as basic and functional as the KLR and will hopefully defeat the average campus thief...besides keeping lunch and laptops safe.

JC Whitney Top Case - With added Master Lock
A Master Lock was added for security.

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Kudos to JC Whitney for providing mail-order and internet service to anywhere, and at great prices, with fast delivery.

Conclusion
Unfortunately, the JC Whitney top case just doesn't work for me on most counts. The 32-liter size is great and the gloss surface look nice, but after that, I'm very disappointed.

The tacky Maltese cross on the top is puzzling, but it's there and it does get an occasional chuckle. But the plastic used for the top case itself seems nowhere near as tough or forgiving as "normal" motorcycle luggage (probably ABS) and the mounting system and the latching and locking mechanisms needed modifications to work correctly.

This case leaks and one of the strings that is supposed to keep the lid from tilting back too far when it is opened broke after only a few uses. So even for the deeply discounted price of $21.67 (plus shipping), I'd have a hard time recommending it.

wBW Owner Report:  JC Whitney Top Case

Available From:  JC Whitney

Officially known as the "Glossy Motorcycle Trunk" with part number 1JA 277020.

Suggested Retail Price:  $79.99 USD
Colors:  Black Made In:  China
Review Date: July 2010

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Your Comments and Feedback

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Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details).  Comments may be edited for clarity prior to publication.

From "S.L.B." (7/10):  "It reminded me of a very similar case I bought a year ago that looks just like yours, except mine did not have a Maltese cross on it - it had a blank circle, onto which I glued a BMW logo.

My case is water tight and, while it bounces around a bit, never has come loose by accident."


From "C.Z." (7/10):  "I enjoy your articles and more so the reviews, Iíve purchased several items based on your comments and findings.

Regarding the JC Whitney trunk, Iíve purchased the same one some 3-4 years ago and mounted it onto my Givi rack on a Honda VFR. Iíve had to add a brake light to it, as tall vehicles (trucks) canít see my factory brake light as the trunk hides it from view when the other vehicle is close to the back of the bike.

For the money it works well, not once did it fail to remain open and is leak free. It does squeak when going over rough road, but for the money I donít care."


From "T.G." (7/10):  "I recently purchased the same trunk for the same discounted price. What have I got to lose?

It cost another $20 to ship it standard. So, I'm into it for ~$42 by the time it arrived. The intended bike is a Kawasaki Concours C10.

The included mounting bolts and rails didn't help me in attaching to the Concours built-in mini-rack behind the seat. Fortunately, Murphs carries top box mounting brackets with bolts that fit into the factory rack holes. Another $40. So, I'm into it for ~$82.

I was able to easily install the box mounting plate to the brackets though. I experienced some of the reviewer's same issues with mounting the box to the mounting plate. It is not a precision fit but I was successful without modifying anything. I do double check myself as the reviewer did on the latch to make sure it has latched, but once done it has stayed shut.

Contents of my box stayed dry while I rode in a heavy rain this last weekend. I am able to fit a 2XL full-face helmet in it plus some other stuff when I stop. I also rode with a passenger for about an hour this past weekend and had no problems with the backrest or box mounting stability.

While not exactly plug-n-play, it does work and probably the discounted price reflects that. I don't intend to frequently remove the box from the mounting plate, if I did, this may not be the box for me. However, I recommend buying it if you don't mind a little extra work to mount it."


From "RLD" (7/10):  "I have the exact same case - but I got it through SEARS!  I have the larger size and it works well on my Suzuki Vstrom DL1000K5  It even has the same "Maltese cross" sticker on top.

The latch is not loose on my model - but it's great for less than $50 delivered. I can only think that Givi is worried about charging folks so much for what they deliver. If this goes bad - I'll spend another $50 to replace..."

Editor's Reply:  I've seen Bob's case and this one looks a LOT better!  Congratulations on a good find!

Sears Top Case


From "M.K." (7/10):  "I had a different model Top Box from JC Whitney, SKU Number: 2JA 277021. I bought it for $50 and had it on my DL650 for 3 years with zero complaints. The only reason I replaced it was I needed a larger bag for my fiancťe's stuff.  No, it's not a Givi, but it cost less than just the mount for a Givi bag."

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