Hi Umbra,

Love your column. I’m a daily bicycle commuter and coffee achiever. Here’s a cool mug and handlebar mount [for the reader who asked about transporting coffee].

Cheers,
John
Denver, Colo.

Dearest John,

Thank you. Take a look at the Soma coffee mount John suggests, everyone — it got rave reviews from beaucoup readers. Another fun beverage-toting suggestion was a whiskey-flask holder from Ahearne Cycles in Portland (thank you, dearest JP). Looking at the Ahearne site inspired me to rig up my very own juicy bike for some spring riding — and to dedicate this column to the bike-curious, who kinda wanna bike to the store, or work, or the library, but don’t know how to easily hurk all their stuff around.

Photo: Kamyar Adl

I’ll breeze over the diverse ways to bike with burden, and next time we can talk about variants on the traditional bicycle. Later this spring, we’ll return to the perennial bicycling concerns of air quality and road safety.

By way of encouragement, let me say: Once you find the right gear for your particular bike needs, biking becomes a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. Getting out the door becomes less rushed and hectic. The coffee, for example. If you have the right vessel for your coffee, and a carrier on your bike to dock the vessel, then getting on the bike will feel similarly convenient to getting in the car. Just shove the coffee in its place, sit in the seat, and go. It is also feasible to purchase gear that fits your personal aesthetic — hipster, modernist, outdoorsy, industrial, retro, cute — which is more than we can say for the car.

There are a lot of wonderful, funny, inspiring bike resources on the web. One is Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips. Mr. Dorn aptly summarizes gear choices: either you gear up like a bike messenger, with a bag and a coffee mount; or you gear up like a touring cyclist. There are excellent bicycle messenger bags (Timbuk2 being the leading brand), which fasten tightly around the shoulder and torso to retard slippage. I use my messenger bag for small loads or rides followed by pedestrian errands, or visits to friends for dinner. The downside of any back-based bag is it can make your back sweat a bit, and you may not be comfortable carrying heavy weight over the shoulder.

If you’re going to ride any distance carrying significant objects, you’ll likely go the touring-style route, with racks, panniers, saddlebags, and/or baskets. The classic bike rack fits over the rear and/or front wheel, providing a flat surface for saddlebags or bungeed items as well as slender tubes along the sides, from which you can hang panniers or baskets ready to receive more goods. Panniers are very well designed in terms of bicycle physics; they’re balanced and can be weather-proof, they snap on and off and come in many sizes. I’ve used them for commuting to work, and they’re also a good arrangement for grocery runs, farmers markets, picnics, fishing, and of course camping. I don’t enjoy hauling panniers around on foot (either aesthetically or comfort-wise). There are panniers with shoulder straps; I’ve never tried them.

Saddlebags mount atop the rack or behind the seat. Could someone write in about using saddlebags, so I have an excuse to make a whole column about super classy saddlebags?

After researching the state of the funky bike accessory, I’m ready for a basket. I’d like to be able to throw my other, regular bags (shopping, backpack, diaper) quickly on and off the bike, and I have the added problem that my rear rack is taken up with an infant seat. Remember the flowered plastic baskets on the front of girls’ banana-seat bikes? They make those for grownups! Only sturdier. Perfect. Wald offers metal baskets, which fold or not, and mount on the handlebars or wheels (you’ll have to add your own flowers); Nashbar made a giant collapsible pocket to mount on the wheels (it’s currently unavailable, but so handy that we should keep an eye out for its reappearance or look for it used); and various other big, open panniers-cum-baskets can be found at large outdoor stores.

One more intriguing way to carry your stuff: platform racks for the front wheel, made by a two-person operation. It looks like a little porch on the front of the bike. The designer was a messenger looking for a better way to carry boxes; his idea has caught on, and the site includes photos of people carrying kayaks, musical instruments, cases of beer, and other such necessities on the rack.

If you don’t bike, and you skimmed through this entire article and just saw the word FLASK, go back and look at the bicycle flask holder. It’s a little door leading to the entire world of very cool, very useful, healthy, social, exhaust-free bicycling.

Dewarly,
Umbra