Your bike is a workhorse, waiting to take you and your stuff where it needs to go.
Judging from letters to the editor in our local newspaper, many people think of a bicycle as just a play thing, a toy used to get a exercise on the weekends.
That’s true for some, but for a growing number of people,the bike is becoming a method of regular transportation. Which means that people have to figure out how to take their stuff with them. Groceries, school bags, lunch, change of clothing, laptop – they all need to come along. Here are some ways to enjoy the scenery and bring your stuff.
The easiest way to bring your belongings is just put them in a backpack and wear it on your back just as if you were walking. This isn’t the method I prefer, as it requires balancing a heavy bag and making my arms brace on the handlebars to hold the load up.
In the summer having a bag on my back results in my getting even more sweaty and hot because the bag blocks the breeze.
What I prefer is having the bike carry the load so my body can concentrate on moving everything forward. Stopping and starting is much easier without a bag on my bag because I don’t have to worry about its weight throwing off my balance as I move.
If you’re going to have the bike do the carrying, then you need to have a rack on the bike.
You can find them at any bike store, the most common being the rear rack which fits just over the wheel, and screws into the frame at the hub and near the seat post. When you put it on, make sure the top surface is level for better balancing.
Once the rack is on, the methods of carrying are endless.
With a rack, you could just strap your things to the top using a bungee cord or straps. I use straps to avoid bouncing off bungee cords and flying hooks.
Next easiest is using the milk crate. These are easy to find or buy.
Many people opt for a pannier, or bag, which is held on the rack by hooks. These also can be purchased at bike stores. Some are water resistant, and others completely waterproof.
If you go this route, get the best bag you can afford, with thick material like cordura, or waxed cotton duck cloth, and sturdy hooks. Look for the robustness you would expect in any outdoor gear.
I’ve made my own bags out of surplus military type bags by adding my own stiffener of plastic sled sheeting, angle brackets bent down to hook over the top railing of the rack, and bungee cords with an S-hook at the bottom to hold onto the bottom of the rack. [Pictures of this set-up are further down with the bucket panniers.]
Another do-it-yourself way to carry things is the cat litter bucket. If you don’t have a cat, you may be able to find empty buckets a the trash transfer station. I’ve also gotten from cat-loving friends. I use these containers more than any other. One thing I love about my bike buckets is they don’t leak, and they can carry an awful lot. I can get a gallon of milk in them and still have room for lots more. With their lids, I always have a seat and a table!
Here are some close-ups of the construction of my buckets.
I used a nail or awl heated over a candle to push holes through the plastic for the screws. Wide washers are used to support plastic bucket at the screws on the inside and outside, spreading the tension load.
I purchased thick bungee cording from an outdoor store by the yard, and cut it to length, making sure the tension would pull the bucket enough to keep the hooks at the top from bouncing up and off of the rack. An S-hook clasped around the bungee cord hooks onto the bottom of the rack. Washers help keep the bungee from slipping off of the screws, and heavy duty cable ties hold the bungee in place around the screws.
The top of the bucket is held on the rack by angle brackets pounded into a U-shape using a hammer and a stick inside to hold the shape. I cut notches in the plastic for in the top to make room for the angle brackets. The strap is for lifting the bucket on an off of the rack, and for carrying. I did leave the metal handle on the bucket, but make sure to put it on the rack side of the bucket to cut down on rattling racket.
Finally, you’ll notice that I have lots of reflective tape, piping and reflectors on my bags and buckets. I get them at the auto supply shop and the fabric store. Even when I am not carrying anything, I use the buckets on the bike at night to make me more visible to car drivers. They are wide, white, and help drivers know where I am and how much room I take up.
I use my bags an buckets for getting groceries, books at the library, bringing documents to meetings, snacks and jackets for trips to the park, and my favorite, taking bike trips with my sons. They truely move the bike from toy to workhorse, helping me get done what I need to do. I highly recommend using these ways of integrating your bike into your regular transportation methods.
I’d love to hear from you about how you carry your stuff on your bike, and what you carry. Need help figuring out just how to get started? Drop me a line in the comments – I’m glad to help.