Thursday, November 17, 2005

Carrying things (part 1, baskets)

American bicycle riders are stuck in a rut when it comes to carrying things. When folks learn we do everything by bike, a common first response is "But how do you carry things?" Our response is "We're glad you asked!"

Carrying things ranks right up there with going places for a cycler. One of the most satisfying feelings is figuring out how to carry something on a bike. With a car trunk or hatch or pickup bed, challenges are rare. But, on a bike, one gets to solve puzzles daily.

For some reason, mountain bikes made popular the "Blackburn-style" rear rack. If you've ridden, you've seen them. Black aluminum with two support arms and a skinny platform on top. A bungee or two is standard in these parts. A bare rack like this is for emergency use only, in my opinion. Any load much over 6 inches wide or 5 pounds or squirmy or round will have you screaming for your car trunk in short order. Unless you're the kind that laughs a lot and takes life easy, and then it may be kind of fun. But, you'll leave a thing or two on the roadside as you laugh your way along, bub.

For "serious" cyclists, the American-style touring scene brings us high tech bag systems called panniers. Think horse saddlebags designed by modern mountaineers. These high tech gems require stout racks and an ability to throw money at things with deadly accuracy. A good rack and pannier setup is a wonder of technology and priced like most wonders.

So, what's a load toting cycler to do? This series will talk about some other ways to move things around on your bike. First up is the lowly wire basket. A fellow who admired our baskets said he wanted to put one on his wife's bike, but "They're just so colloquial." One definition of colloquial is "informal, conversational style" ( That is a first rate description of baskets. A basket is humble, easy, workaday, free of pretension, and extra useful as long as you aren't trying to impress the coat 'n tails crowd, and why would you be?

Rachel and I use our baskets every day, at least twice I'd say. We love our baskets because they're so flexible, in the load carrying sense. We can put bags right in them, even if they don't quite fit. When we get where we're going, we can take said bags right back out again, leaving only an empty basket for thieves to see. And, we have our stuff with us. Rachel carries a waterproof shoulderbag in hers everyday with her purse, food, water, extra clothes, things like that. We also grocery shop with them, and I use mine on long rides to quickly stash and retrieve clothes as the weather changes (I always keep some on, don't worry).

A couple of posts down, I described a fun shopping trip in the snow. On that trip, I had a 3/4 full grocery bag in my rear basket and could have done more, easy. In heavy rain, I would have used a garbage bag to keep things sogfree, but light snow is nothing to a paper sack. What can you fit in a 3/4 full grocery bag? I'm glad you asked!

(*note: we aren't vegetarian, we're opportunistic)
1 lb Tofu
2 lb Broccoli
1 lb cornstarch
3 lb rice
3 lb granola
ginger root
1/2 lb broth powder
big mushroom
green pepper
tortilla chips
1 lb stuff to spread on toast
1 lb greens
(wine went in bottle cage, but I didn't sip as a rode)

It took about 10 seconds to put the grocery bag in the basket and 5.3 seconds to take it out at home. If you find a pannier that will beat that, then it's the kind that your ginger root can bounce out of!

Here's the comparison chart. It would be fit for Bicycling magazine 'cept I don't think they do baskets. But we do!

Wald rear basket + net + cheap rack
Cost: $18 + $8 for the net (+$15 for the rack, if you don't have it already)
Size: 15" x 10" x 5" at the top, tapering a little to the bottom
Weight: Not enough to notice
What'll it carry: Anything up to three times it's size, and more if you're clever. As long as you can get one corner of the thing into the basket, it'll go! This basket is "in its element" with a full paper grocery sack, a bundle of heavy clothes, fishing waders and boots, a large shoulderbag or medium backpack, or a large pot of food for a potluck. If you're clever, you can carry up to a full sized guitar (this requires extra straps).
Compared to just-a-rack: Things stay in it. You'll love it!
Compared to panniers: more aerodynamic, almost impossible to hit your heel on while pedaling, tougher, no need for expensive rack, quicker to load/unload, more room for creativity, UV light OK, will not absorb water, things dry in it; requires a garbage sack for waterproofness, really small things need their own bag (marbles), hard lonely things will rattle, one basket doesn't have the capacity of two big panniers, and people with panniers may think you're a hobo, or worse, colloquial!
Max per bike: 2, one rear, one front
Where to get it: Rivendell Bicycle Works or maybe your local shop
Attachment: 4-6 big zipties or something cleverer, but it's hard to outclever a ziptie, even if they are plastic
Made in China?: Nope, Kentucky, way different! (The net is not made in Kentucky)

Happy basketeering, cyclers! Let me know how it works out for you.

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Blogger Cellarrat said...

Plastic milk crates are great to lash to blackburn type racks... Can sometimes find them if dumpster dive a bit.

4:57 AM  

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