It’s About the Bag(s)

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Read on to see how I turned a $12 tote turned imto a pannier.

There’s always stuff. When you’re on a bike you need to carry stuff. My stuff and your stuff may not be the same sort of stuff but I can guarantee that we both have stuff and it needs to be shleped from point A to B and beyone. Sometimes it amounts to more than a peck and gets closer to a couple bushels especially if you commute to work. Consider that you might need to pack rain gear and by that I mean rain pants. Even if they are packable rainpants they will be about the size of a roll of toilet paper. Wallet related accoutrement and maybe some incidental items like shoes or a jacket are included and then you could have tech stuff like an iPad or a laptop. Don’t get me started on the bike related supplies such as a flat repair kit with a tube and a pump. By the time you add that you might as well just drive.

The Wall of Bags… Still the search continues. No bag is perfect.

Kidding. Commuting is not something to enter into the night before. You should definitely plan for it and prepare your bags with what you really need to make it a go. But that’s a topic for another blog post. I want to talk about the perfert bag. First off, it does not exist. I have been on a quest since the start of my biking life and while there are certainly some that come close there’s almost always something that sours me on one bag and gets me fired up for yet another bag to add to the research project. Our needs change and as a result what we might be hauling with us for a ride to the store is different than the day to day commute.

Pockets, pockets, and more pockets are an essential ingredient to the right bag. However it can’t be just any ol’ pocket. Too small and you’re forever struggling to get the key or wallet or pen out of the pocket. A pocket that’s too big is equally useless because you lose the same stuff and maybe it’s too small for the bigger items.

U-Locks are like the elephant in the bag. No one wants to talk about how much room that take up or how heay they are because they are necessary mitigation to bike theft. I’m not a fan of the U-lock on the bike. It’s like a roof rack on a Porsche. The bike it a beautiful machine and throwing that lock holder is not for me. But that means I need a bag that can accomodate the heft of a U-lock.

I’ve been bothered by this whole perfect bag issue for awhile. I realize that the aethsetic of the bike is important to me. The cuteness of a bike reflect on me and the bike. I want the bag to accessorize the bike. However it also needs to hold all the stuff.

A year ago I found this adorable bag with a sweet bike print and I wished for it to be a pannier. Wishing does not make it so. It’s not a pannier but I thought maybe I could covert it to a bike bag if I could find the right hardware. A few weeks ago I was motivated to try.

The bag has an exterior pocket sleeve for stuff you need quick access to like the garage door opener, phone, keys and snack. Interior pocket is also a sleeve so I don’t have to fuss with a zipper.Then the main compartment is ample and deep but not cavernous like the Ortlieb bucket. I always think about the rain pants first. If those can fit in the bottom then that leaves plenty of room for stashing the other stuff.

The bagrifice.

Truth is the bag has been hanging in the garage for too long. Something had to be done. But I needed hardware which is neither cheap or easy to find. Time to make a sacrifice. A bagrifice. I needed the hardware from another bag to see if I could turn my nonbike bag into a pannier. I chose one that I ruled out of the day-to-day commute because while it cute it fell short in providing what I needed. Also it cheap so I was willing to offer it the the bag muse.

A trip to the hardware store did not prove helpful. I did enjoy the suggestion of velcro, however, that wouldn’t work. I commissioned my husband to see how to get the rivets out of the old hardware to then use the hardware in the tote. He’s very good at listening to my “this thingy should go into this doodad and then there’s these brad deals (rivets) that attach to the rack.”

We opened up the bag and started to work on the rivets.

The hardware was attached with rivets that took about an hour to pound out of the bag. I’ve never done anything like this before so I struggled with how to get under the flat bit and leverage enough to pop it out. Also the hardware is made of plastic and I didn’t want to damage them.

Once the hardware was liberated from the old bag I was free to start considering what we needed to make the “tote-al” conversion. Back to the hardware store to find a rivet gun. The tools necessary amounted to $35. It’s starting to make sense why panniers cost so much. The hardware alone can cost upwards of $35, but then you have to actually attach it to the bag somehow.

Spiked bag. Rivet didn’t break off. Truth is that it needs a little help.

We did several trials with the rivets to be sure it all worked. Using a rivet gun is like holding your breath for 20 seconds and then having someone punch you in the gut. Freaky tool and not a sure thing. Sometimes the shaft of the rivet doesn’t break off and then you’re looking at it like vampire looks at a stake, until it breaks off and then you’re considering opening a bag business because you’re getting pretty good at the whole thing.

That looks good! The five to follow were work times ten.
I’m pretty excited to share my enthusiasm for the perfect bag!

All in all this project was fun. I’d try it again with another bag and if you’re ever in a situation where you think about converting a tote or favorite bag to a pannier I think it would be worth trying out. If it wasn’t for quarantine I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but I’m glad I gave it a go.

Remember Mary Poppins and her carpet bag that she pulls out bottle of perfume, a folding armchair, a packet of lozenges, a large bottle of dark red medicine, seven flannel nightgowns, one pair of boots, a set of dominoes, two bathing caps, one postcard album, one folding camp bedstead, blankets and an quilt? That’s how I approach a bike pannier. It should be able to hold nearly everything you need, still look classy and most of all, compliment the bike.

The TOTE-al makeover. Tote made into a pannier.

That’s a tall order for any bag, but now that I have a rivet gun, well, let’s just say, I feel like it’s all in the bag.

I do have some favorite panniers. I bought a set of Ortleb bags in Germany and I do love them because they say “der Aussteiger” on the side. Also, a great souvenir from a trip.

I also think that Po Campo bags are amazing. They are like the Coach bag of bike bags. Super classy and you want them all. If someone you know loves bags, you should get them a Po Campo. Pretty and practical is always a great combination. I also have a Timbuk2 bag that converts to a backpack and their hardware is indestructable. In the video I show a Timbuk2 tote that converts to a backpack and the hardware is not where the backpack is so kudos on that design. Generally, I’m a fan of a bag that converts to a crossbody or a backpack. The messenger style bag is another favorite however, I’m not big on carrying it, so the two I own I often strap to my front rack. I tend to use the messenger style more in the winter for some reason. Arkel is another spanking good bag brand. Their hardware system is available to purchase too.

The very best bag I ever bought was an Abus bag. I bought it at a bike shop in Potsdam, Germany back in 2009. That bag was about 99% perfect. Pockets in all the right places for me. Not too much of anything and just the right amount of what I need. I wore that bag out. It actually crumbles in my hands. I can’t use it, but I keep it because maybe someday it will be the template for a bag I design.

As long as there is stuff there will be a need to carry it. You have to figure out what works for you. Bags come it all shapes and sizes. Baskets are also an option! Yeah, I have some of those too. Always ask about return policies or start your own bag wall.

I’m happy that I gave this old bag a new life and it’s pretty adorable.

The goal is to ride and making sure you have what you need for each and every mile.

Thanks for reading. What’s in your bag? What are some of your favorite bags? Tell me about them.

Stay safe. Stay well.

Bike Goddess

Flatitudes

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The day is dawning and you’re feeling invincible. You race the birds and you tell the squirrels to scoot and shoo and get up the trees and it seems like you’re the only one on the roads. Two miles, three, five… then you get your sixth flat.

Six flats in five months and two of them were in the garage when the bike was parked. Not a good way to start any day. It’s one of the top three reasons people stop riding a bike. That’s based on pure opinion and informal chitchat with people who claim they stopped riding a bike years ago because they could get a flat. When people start talking about what they hate about bike riding, flat tires are in close proximity to the other classic reason, “Because it makes my butt hurt.” For me, this summer was all about getting under the rim of the whole issue of my flat tires.

I’ve biked for as long as I can recall and I have commuted for 20 years. I ride all the time. What’s the “normal” amount of flats a rider might get? I have no idea. My normal was about twice a year. Usually there was a giant nail involved. Sometimes a staple that didn’t look like much but ends up being a slow leak. Nothing too extreme. I’m a fanatic about checking my tires, so for me this flat issue is out of the ordinary.

Over the summer that changed significantly. Let’s say that I was thinking by the time I had my third flat that I should learn the fine art of fixing a tire. In July, that’s what I did. Good for me, right? I learned and when I had my fourth flat, I fixed it and thought that was it. The bike gods were testing me.

I was gone for three weeks and did not ride the bike experiencing all the flats. Then I started to analyze the number of flats. Six flats in 13 weeks seems out of the norm. Seems extreme and even careless, as if I’m intentionally riding in glass or looking for contruction sites and purposely riding in lanes made of tacks or something. I was flummuxed. Was it the tire? I was thinking my bike hated me and I needed some sort of tire-exorcism. Did someone have a voodoo bike and puncturing the tires?

Two weeks ago, I went on a 30 mile ride and I came home and parked my bike in the garage just like always. I looked over the tires and everything seemed fine. They were inflated. Then it happened again. I went to the garage the next morning and I had another flat. Can you imagine my utter shock and dismay at the whole situation?

Later in the day I drove my bike to the bike shop because something bigger had to be going on. Owning the bike for only 13 weeks, maybe I used the wrong tube or didn’t pay attention to some detail. Let’s go over it all again. We did. The owner, Wake was very helpful and we went through the tire with a little vacuum and he did give me some great tips on getting the tire back on the rim. I was a sponge soaking up all the technical details and thinking I would like to be a bike mechanic. It was very satisfying. He lubed up the chain and I was feeling great about it. I concluded that yes, it was me. I had missed a step and this would be the end of the cycle of flats.

Thanks Wake for all your help!

I came home and went for a ride to clear out the funky feelings I was having about a variety of issues not related to biking. What a great ride. I had a renewed sense of joy. The chain was lubed and not squeaking like a broken swing, and after 10 miles I felt like my bike was healed.

The next morning… yep, flat as a pancake. Again.

At this juncture, I’m done. I’m want my money back. My bike is clearly defective. I couldn’t deliver the bike back to the shop. I had to be somewhere else, so my husband offered to help me out. He took the bike back and this time the tire and rim were replaced on the back and the front tire was also changed. I was happy that the shop could see what I’d been dealing with over the last several weeks. My husband texted me he was on his way home and the bike was in great shape.

I was home when he pulled the car into the garage. I was thrilled to see my bike and filled with certainty that this was the end of the flat period. I’m looking at the bike on the rack and guess what? Another flat! The bike was on the rack and this time the front tire was flat. The flat disease was spreading! I was shocked and dismayed and so frustrated. My husband pulled right out of the garage anddrove back to the bike shop. Come to find out, they were out of the Shrader valve tubes in the size needed, so they resued one of my old tubes with the intent of replacing it when they got more tubes. The old tube split during the drive home. They did have some new Presta valve tubes, so one of those replaced the one in the front tire. My husband reported that there might be some concerns about two different valves on the same bike, but someone said, “This is Bike Goddess you’re talking about.” I love that and I really like that I have two different valves. How cool am I?

It’s been two weeks…

It has been two weeks since my last flat. Flat tires can deflate a person’s confidence about riding a bike. I still go out to the garage just to see with my own eyes that the tires on the bike are fine and fully inflated. It’s reassuring. There could have been something on the rim that was not sitting right with the whole tube and when I think about the slow leaks and the types of flats my bike was getting it does seem like something was happening that was harder to diagnose. I’m grateful that the bike shop techs were asking questions and trying get me to articulate exactly what was happening.

Flats make even the most experienced rider apprehensive about riding. Have you ever had so many episodes of flats? How did you handle it?

Thanks for reading! Get out there and ride!

Bike Goddess