Advice Sought: A Shopping Bike for Carolyn

This morning I was reminded of how useless a bike without carrying capacity is for daily living. I wanted to ride Smurfette to the store, but the Wald basket and Planet Bike rack I ordered have not yet arrived. My backpack and raincoat pockets are not big enough to hold everything I planned to buy. I gave up on the idea and rode Oma instead. When I returned home, there was a message waiting in my inbox on this very topic. Reader and 18-year bike commuter Carolyn seeks advice on the best (and cutest, I assume) carrying system for her new bike.

Carolyn and Pura Vida

Carolyn and Pura Vida

I asked Carolyn whether I could use her email as a post and she graciously agreed. So let’s put our collective knowledge together and give her some advice!

Her letter –>

I’ve been bike commuting for 18 years (bought my first commuting bike in 1991 and just retired it this year). I think I had been wanting a new one for a while as it didn’t take me long to decide to get a new one and I’ve been so excited since I bought it over 2 weeks ago. It’s a Rocky Mountain Hybrid, which is built in Canada, if you can believe!

Anyways, I got a back rack and fenders put on it, but I want to get either panniers or a basket to use on it for shopping. What do you recommend?

carolyn-basket1

I found these quality baskets, made in Holland, but not cheap.

carolyn-pannier1

And by the same company, panniers.

I swear I’ve seen one bike blog where they are using something like this one for panniers. [Dottie’s note: EcoVelo uses the similar brown canvas Basil bag for his Pashley; Righteous Velo-Metal Broad just bought the polka-dotted ones for her Flying Pigeon; Car Free Days has the shiny red ones for the Azor – all Basil, I believe]

But I don’t know, do either of them suit my bike? I want something that stands out from the mainstream, even though I admit, I am not a skirt wearer (but I do wear street clothes while biking, not sporty biking wear, except for the helmet which is still nice as it’s white with flowers on it–giro)

What do either of you recommend for baskets/panniers? And for locking? I have a cable lock, but want to also get a u-lock..as I don’t feel good leaving it locked up with just the cable. So paranoid right now!!!

Carolyn's Bike - Pura Vida

Carolyn's Bike - Pura Vida

Trisha’s Advice: Carolyn, I am not a lot of help here as I’m working on some of the same issues (though I love the Basil panniers and think they would match your helmet while being a great counterpoint to your bike’s sportiness) and never completely resolved them with Pinkie. Le Peug came with a vintage rear rack, but I didn’t think to specify that I’d prefer one with cables so I could actually secure stuff to it. This rack has a little snap-down bar, like a mousetrap, which can hold one small/flat item like my wallet and that’s it. I have to carry anything else in blossombaska backpack, which I hate and will not tolerate once summer steams around the corner. I adore Stylocycle‘s Basil Blossom Basket but am not sure it goes with Le Peug. Have also toyed with the idea of getting Wald folding baskets to attach on either side of the rack (I’d get the silver), making something myself, or thrifting something, but so far have come to no conclusions about what would be best.

And even though I didn’t think I wanted another front basket, I am tempted to get a front rack to carry extra items on now and again.

Of course, any French bike worth its salt can carry some bread (though the French would probably not approve of Kroger Frozen Baguettes)

Of course, any French bike worth its salt can carry some bread (though the French would probably not approve of Kroger Frozen Baguettes)

Dottie’s Advice: Like Trisha, I love the red flowered Basil panniers for the style factor – they would compliment your red bike nicely.  My personal preference is a front basket that I can throw any old bag in (preferably mounted from the stem or front wheel base) and a rear rack with strong bungee cords that I can secure pretty much anything with.  Your bike may not be the best for a front basket, though.  I’m not a huge fan of panniers if you have to take them off at every destination; I first started with black canvas panniers that hung down on each side of my rack like saddlebags, but the putting on and taking off was too much of a hassle and it was unwieldy to carry around. Also, not cute. For some people baskets simply are not an option, like Mr. Dottie who uses an Arkel Commuter one-side pannier with a shoulder strap to carry his laptop. For locks I think a u-lock with a cable lock wrapped through the tires is a good system.

Rear Rack with Straps, Front Basket

Rear Rack with Straps, Front Basket

And…GO!

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18 thoughts on “Advice Sought: A Shopping Bike for Carolyn

  1. Erich says:

    This topic is being discussed on a bike list I’m on right now. The solution I think is cheapest and most elegant for a pannier set that stands out would be a wicker basket set, one on each side of the rear rack. http://is.gd/msm5 On the plus side, made in USA, beautiful, handy. On the downside not weatherproof, but nothing beautiful is.

    The same company makes many beautiful front baskets that would complement the rear well, http://is.gd/msmP.

    As a bonus, they’re doing free shipping right now, and I think they would look gorgeous on a mixte frame especially.

  2. 2whls3spds says:

    I use multiple modes depending on the bike involved. I currently use the front basket/rear folding basket setup on my main grocery getter. On my “city” bike I have the huge Basil Karavan Panniers. Both work well. I would go with the bright coloured rear panniers to start, then add the basket if you need the extra capacity.

    Aaron

  3. 2whls3spds says:

    Ooops..forgot to add, my wife has a wicker basket on the front of her beloved Raleigh Colt, it is mainly used for runs to the video store and to carry the overage from the grocery runs. Typically I do the bulk of the shopping when I am home.

    Aaron

  4. Trisha says:

    So Aaron, are you happy with the Wald folding baskets? Are they difficult to fold/unfold, or do they rattle when folded? Those were the worries I had about buying them.

    Erich, the wicker baskets are lovely, but since they’re not specifically for the bike, I guess you’d have to attach them with cable ties or something? I have been looking for a basket that size at thrift stores, etc., with an eye toward trying that out.

  5. Erich says:

    Trisha, If I were attaching them to the bike, I would cut the leather loops they come with, install snaps, velcro, buckles, or similar in the leather to loop them around the top rail of the rear rack. That way they’d be simple to take on and off.

  6. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for all the responses, I’m really quite flattered!

    I didn’t gear my old bike up (a top of the line Free Spirit from Sears- $600 in 1991) much, except with fenders. It was modified over the years though as parts wore out. It sure served me well though. It survived 2 accidents (one needing new front fork and the other a new front rim). I think using the same bike for that long is amazing.

    So this time around, I decided to fully load it! I bought a light aluminum bike because I have to carry it up 3 flights of stairs, as I live in an apartment. I feel safer leaving it inside my place as I have a spare room for it. LOL!! Great way to get muscles.

    I just need to get myself a good u-lock like one from Kryptonite, as I don’t feel safe leaving it outside much. I can leave it inside at work.

    Like the basket idea, Eric. Those would be neat to use on my bike! Actually, today, I found a picnic basket at second hand store which I think would also neat to use…if I can rig it for bike rack. I will send you a pic of it Dottie and Trisha.

    All your ideas look great! :)

    Trust me, 18 years will pass you all so fast, you will be amazed! And, yes, biking is still so much fun!!

  7. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for all the responses, I’m really quite flattered!

    I didn’t gear my old bike up (a top of the line Free Spirit from Sears- $600 in 1991) much, except with fenders. It was modified over the years though as parts wore out. It sure served me well though. It survived 2 accidents (one needing new front fork and the other a new front rim). I think using the same bike for that long is amazing.

    So this time around, I decided to fully load it! I bought a light aluminum bike because I have to carry it up 3 flights of stairs, as I live in an apartment. I feel safer leaving it inside my place as I have a spare room for it. LOL!! Great way to get muscles.

    I just need to get myself a good u-lock like one from Kryptonite, as I don’t feel safe leaving it outside much. I can leave it inside at work.

    Like the basket idea, Eric. Those would be neat to use on my bike! Actually, today, I found a picnic basket at second hand store which I think would also neat to use…if I can rig it for bike rack. I will send you a pic of it Dottie and Trisha.

    All your ideas look great! :)

    Trust me, 18 years will pass you all so fast, you will be amazed! And, yes, biking is still so much fun!!
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  8. 2whls3spds says:

    Trisha,
    The folding baskets are easy to fold and unfold, there is a little clip at the top. It can be ignored and a bungie cord or velcro strap used if it is difficult to operate. Some people complain about the baskets rattling, I have never noticed it, nor had an issue with it. I installed the baskets using heavy hose clamps at the top and several zip ties further down. Also most of the road I ride on are so rough it is impossible to keep a bike completely rattle free, being partially deaf helps too. ;>)

    One advantage to me of the baskets is a standard shopping bag (the same size as the large brown paper grocery sack) fits right in the basket, so you can pack up your bags at the register, drop them in and go.

    Aaron

  9. susancyclist says:

    REI carries a nice grocery pannier for a reasonable price which I have. They are easy off and on, featuring 2 hard hooks on the top which just fasten on the side of the rack and a spring hook on the bottom. And the newer model has a shoulder strap. Not pretty like the one shown above, but very functional.

  10. Trisha says:

    Oh, Carolyn, I forgot to mention that I’m now locking my bike outside with a combo of a cable and U-Lock and feel pretty safe with that setup. My bike is definitely not the least secure one in the complex anymore. For quick jaunts around town, I just use a cable lock with a combination as I’m usually parking my bike somewhere with lots of people around and for short periods of time. Also, Nashville is not a huge city for bike theft.

    Aaron and Erich, thanks for the info. I’m still saving money for the accessories at the moment so I have a little longer to decide.

  11. Tinker says:

    I usually buy from Amazon, as I can’t be bothered going into town for this sort of thing. Note that Amazon has Wahl baskets in both black and silver, folding non folding deep and not so deep.

    Oh, regarding modifying leather straps to carry things, Velo Orange has Velcro straps (usually used carrying a pump?) that are quite capable of carrying a pannier/basket. Velo Orange is a good source for Bike specific parts and supplies.

    Nothing in the line of Stylish/Urban Funk though.

  12. I think all the options mentioned so far have been pretty good.
    I have used a mesh basket that sits on the rear rack like the Basil model. I found that rear baskets are too high on the bike–packing it with stuff often causes a front end shimmy (and what’s good about a bike basket you can’t pack?).
    There’s a biker I see around my town that uses a steel front basket but lines it with colorful fabric– she looks stylin’ and cool.
    My touring bike used to have panniers, but it became such a hassle to undo them every time (with you there, Dottie) and so I switched to a pair of folding baskets like what Aaron mentioned. I really like that design.

  13. dottie says:

    Tinker, love Velo Orange – that’s where I bought my basket.

    Jolly Crank, do you mean that the kind of basket that sits directly on top of the rack is not stable? And the baskets that sit next to the rack on each side are stable? I want to make sure I know what you’re describing, since I’ve been considering the side rear baskets.

  14. 2whls3spds says:

    dottie,
    The baskets that sit on top of the rack raise the center of gravity, and if heavy items are in them will affect stability, more than a side mounted basket that keeps the weight lower.

    @susancyclist (love the name ;-) ) I have the soft folders too, believe mine came from Performance Bikes. I used those for quite a bit but got frustrated with them popping off on occasion.

    We have extremely rough roads around here. In fact the current joke is when you ride you aim for the shallow pot holes, because there isn’t any solid pavement in between.

    On my city bike the panniers stay installed all the time. I have a thin stainless steel cable that is wrapped through the leather to make removing them difficult. I seldom park a bike unattended for more than an hour if that.

    Aaron

    Aaron

  15. Erich says:

    My current plan is to make a set of these:

    http://www.rei.com/product/784387

    Because $300 is way out of line. they look simple enough for a sewing job.

  16. Dottie: Aaron had it right, that’s what I meant (top rack baskets). It’s weird to me how severe the affect could be on some bikes. I think lower is better with most carrier systems. Of course, it all depends on what a person regularly carries and how heavy it is.
    Aaron: I even used the cable method to secure a nice Jannd pannier, but someone cut the cable and became the proud owner of a muddy saddle bag and some soiled work clothes.

  17. Karen says:

    I couldn’t have committed to bike commuting if we hadn’t found the solution to carrying around all our stuff. My husband found panniers and saddlebags on nashbar.com. Very inexpensive and the panniers came with neon yellow covers to keep our belongings nice and dry. For style, Bob gave me a wicker basket for Christmas. It has a handle so I can easily carry it in to the grocers if I need to do a little shopping afterwork.

  18. I’m sorry, but I’m just too cheaop to buy a Pannier or bike basket; so,I made my own. http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/NRxO2KO0xbwDTFM8iKMW1A?feat=directlink

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