I can do it, you can do it! DIY ‘Do It Yourself’ – for the Bike

Protective Heat Shield

How it started

Fitted heat shield to leather panniers Harley Davidson Street Bob
Fitted heat shield

I have a set of beautiful Harley Davidson panniers [similar to these] and with my former pipes, Vance and Hines ShortShots, which point horizontally backwards, they were all good. However, I decided to upgrade to the new 2-1 UpSweep pipes.

Everything was fine until a few rides in when I realised that my new UpSweep pipes, the clue’s in the name…yup, they point directly at my beautiful panniers! I’d successfully, in just a few trips managed to melt the bottom, thankfully nothing too dramatic, still totally functional and visually perfect from the outside.

But at this point I’m faced with three options;

  1. I either remove my panniers and live with a rucksack
  2. I remove my pipes, or
  3. I figure out a way to protect my panniers from the beastly pipes

Anyone that knows about my accident history will know that I’ve had a full reconstruction of my right shoulder and so carrying a loaded rucksack isn’t an option. Plus anyone attuned to riding will know that carrying a rucksack isn’t very pleasurable anyway, so that’s number one out! Oh and getting rid of the pipes, definitely NOT an option.

Poor melted pannier

It left me with finding a way to deflect the heat from the pannier in a cost-effective and efficient way as re-positioning the pipes or panniers definitely wasn’t an option.

I swiftly came to the conclusion that a metal plate spaced from the surface of the leather to allow air flow cooling was going to be easiest. There are loads of options online for plates but it came to me the everyday random DIY use checker plate would be readily available, and I know the local hardware store, ScrewFix sells aluminium checker plate. Cost effective, easy to source, and when it comes to heat conduction aluminium is a pretty poor conductor compared to many metals. Stainless steel would be the dream but the work intensity would increase due to its rock-hard qualities – hard as steel is a valid statement – plus it’s a pretty good conductor so it would likely end up in a scolding hot shield.

I got my idea; all I needed to do was make it! Here’s how I did it

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Tools Needed

  • Aluminium checker plate
  • Disk Cutter [protective glasses, gloves, mask & ear defenders]
    • Metal cutting blade
    • Metal sanding blade
  • Drill with
    • Screwdriver head [match your bolts]
    • Metal drill bits in 3 sizes [small, medium, and large – large being size required for desired bolts]
  • Nuts and Bolts [I used 3x 8mm]
  • Washers [for use as spacers – I used 4 per bolt]
  • Spanner
  • Vice or Clamp
  • Hammer
  • Wood scrap for use hammering
  • Cardboard and sharpie

The Recipe

Make a cardboard template

  1. While pannier is attached, mark pannier where centre, top and bottom of pipe exhaust hits
  2. Remove pannier and make a template plate using cardboard to ensure the areas marked are covered with excess on either side. At this point think about the look you want to achieve, do you want curves, swooping lines, aggressive edges, or even a funky shape? Get it right in cardboard before you crack on
  3. Cut out cardboard template and mark where the folds will be required
  4. Test template on pannier until you’re completely satisfied with the shape and position, and be aware of where the bolts will go – you might want it to be a fraction larger to align with an existing pot rivet that can be drilled out, you can utilise holes and avoid adding holes that will affect its structural integrity.

Cut Aluminium

  1. Transpose template onto your aluminium plate, be sure you’ve got it the right way up
  2. Use disk cutter to cut out the shape and then the sanding disk to smooth
    and curve the edges to remove any sharp points. Remember to wear your safety gear!
  3. Align plate on panniers and confirm it’s right, then mark where you need your folds – if you must do a curved fold like mine cut a triangle out on the bend to enable the fold to happen in two parts [or more if needed]

Fold aluminium plate

  1. Aluminium is a super soft metal, and so with a firm hand, you can literally manipulate it. Pincer the aluminium in your vice and then, using cardboard to prevent scratches, position a piece of wood on the folding edge. Gradually apply consistent force across the full fold line, using a hammer if needed. The ideal is making the whole fold in one, so it’s a continuous line, avoid doing a bit at a time.
  2. Hold up your new plate to the panniers and continue to adjust the fold until you,re happy with the result
  3. You’re now ready to attach it

Attach your new heat shield

  1. Align your shield and mark where the bolts will go, do one bolt at a time
  2. Drill your first hole. When drilling aluminium always start with a small drill bit to minimises jumping and ensure accuracy, then switch to a medium size head, before finally drilling to the diameter of your chosen bolts – I used 8mm
  3. Align your hole with the pannier and drill your pannier using the same gradual method
  4. Put a bolt through your new holes with washers between the pannier and plate – this will provide the gap needed for heat disbursement. I used 4 washers
  5. Once you’ve got one bolt through you can then mark through the inside of the pannier out to where you need to drill the next aluminium hole. Doing one at a time ensures they’ll always align
  6. Repeat the process until you feel your plate is secured. I used three, top, middle and bottom

Test Heat Shield works

    1. Refit your panniers with their sexy new plate, turn on your bike and check if the exhaust is hitting the centre of your plate if it’s not you probably need to start again
    2. Go for a ride and check the plate and internal pannier temperature afterwards. If it’s cool, then your work is done! Mission success

Mission success

  1. Step back and enjoy, you now have

Time Required

2 hours

Ease of Completion

Simple cutting, shaping and bolting. Low skill set required.

If you’ve used a disk cutter before; then, this is a pretty easy task, no special skills needed. If you’ve not used one; just have a little practice on a scrap first, still a totally manageable DIY job for a newbie.

Crowd Reaction

Amazingly positive! I half anticipated stick for keeping my panniers and not just getting rid. However, it seems my fellow bikers are practical fellows. I’ve had a lot of comments that the panniers even look better on the plate and I should make one for the other side. Definitely a hit with the crowd, nothing fancy but simple and practical, it scores points.


Super cheap! About £15 for the checker plate and I had a few bolts hanging about.


  1. Saves the life of my panniers
  2. Workable solution for protective plates
  3. Looks ace

Tips from Experience

  • Drill your aluminium gradually, small drill bit, medium and finally bolt size to ensure accuracy and prevent jumping
  • Utilise any existing bolts or pot rivets on the panniers, drill them out and reuse where possible
  • The plate could be used to protect other areas of your bike, such as a tank, pannier, heel guard.

Overall Rating

A simple home fix to allow pipes and panniers to live in harmony, and it actually looks sick too. Winner.

Remember, I’m an account director in marketing…not a mechanic or engineer…so if

I can do it. You can do it!

Give it a go and give me a shout if you have any questions.

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