toy to tool
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As far as we're concerned, we'd love to never have to drive a car to get around. Obviously, this can't work for everyone all the time. For most trips a bicycle can be just the right vehicle. This edition of Learn Stuff is aimed at helping convert your bike from toy to tool.
A 1995 National Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) found that 40% of automobile trips in America were less than 2 miles in length. That represents a 10 minute bike ride for even the most novice of cyclists. By planning right, and making a few key equipment choices, you can take a step towards cutting down on your automobile usage.
There are several ways to make your bike cargo ready. The easiest and most common step would be to get a hold of a big back pack or messenger bag. This will allow you to keep your essentials with you on and off the bike. The downside is that it can sometimes limit the amount of payload you can carry. Messenger bags are very fashionable, but the one strap design doesn't work for everyone. A decent back pack with a padded belt is pretty easy to come by and can carry a load of groceries just fine. Our favorite around Planet Bike are the Mission Workshop bags - waterproof, expandable, and comfortable.
The second way to haul on two wheels is to add a front or rear rack and a set a "panniers" or saddle bags. Panniers are great because they allow you to carry more weight than would be comfortable on your back. They also drop your center of gravity by placing the weight much lower on the bike. This can help keep you cool in hot weather and free you of the cumbersome weight of a pack, making you less top heavy. Our Eco Rack is a steady work horse that will fit just about any bike. There are a number of companies out there making pannier with all kinds of bells and whistles, but if you can get something that goes on and off easily and is weatherproof, you'll be happy. Arkel and Ortlieb make a great selection of dry, easy to use bags. Some even convert to back packs for off the bike use.
Front racks, or "Porteur" racks, are starting to gain popularity in certain circles, as well. For a pretty reasonable price, CETMA makes a few varieties for those who like to keep an eye on their payload. And our friends at Paul Components make a classy wood decked Flatbed rack.
*It should be noted, that having a bag or pannier set up will allow you to have the ability to always be prepared for things like flat tires and rain, by permanently packing those items in your commuter bag.
For really big loads, another option is a bike trailer. Trailers are great because you can leave them at home when you don't need them, and they are easy to get on and off. There are several companies currently making trailers that fit different needs: Burley is the original and their Nomad trailer is perfect for camping duties. They also make the Travoy which is great for commuting or a grocery trip. B.O.B. makes a single wheeled trailer that is single track worthy. Bikes At Work make trailers that can carry mind boggling amounts of cargo.
A popular mode of cargo transport around Planet Bike HQ is the Xtracycle. The Free Radical is a kit that attaches to your current bike and extends the wheel base by 14 inches. It allows you to carry more than 150 lbs of whatever you desire - kids, groceries, lumber, even another bike. Surly takes things one step further with their Big Dummy which integrates a Free Radical into the frame of the bike. Yuba also has a couple of similarly integrated bikes including their Mundo (available with electric assist) and the new BodaBoda. And check out this sweet ride our very own Chris had built up - here's the Big Dumb Pug in action.
The ultimate grocery getter solution is to get a hold of a European issue cargo bike or trike. There a few companies out there already producing them like Bakfiets (a Dutch cargo bike company), the Christiana cargo trike (based in Copenhagen), and the Bullitt by Larry v. Harry (also out of Copenhagen) comes in every color of the rainbow. There's some US based companies as well including Metrofiets out of Portland, OR and CETMA out of Eugene, OR. Or you can get one custom bike like the "Frontaloadontome" built by someone like Mike Flannigan of Alternative Needs Transportation (A.N.T.) or Bilenky Bike Works.
Everyone's reason for needing to carry stuff is different. Maybe you need to take the kids to school (how about 6 kids? check this out!), get your tools to the garden plot, pick up some firewood, or maybe just grab a 'sixer. Perhaps combining one or more of these suggestions can help rid you of car dependence. If nothing else, being able to use your bike to run a couple of errands a week can, at the very least, get you more time in the saddle, and that's what it's really about.