The Grocery Pannier: A Utility Bicyclist’s Best Friend

We review a lot of bags. The fact is, if you’re going to replace a car with a bike, you have to figure out the best way to carry various things in various situations. Having the right mix of bags, and understanding how to best take advantage of their features, makes life a lot simpler for the utility bicyclist.

One of the most useful types of bags, and the one that we almost always keep on every bike around the house, is the ubiquitous “grocery pannier”. Grocery panniers are simple bags designed specifically to hold a normal-sized grocery bag. Most have an open top for easy loading, and they almost always fold flat against the bike when not in use. Many come with carrying handles so they can be taken into the store and used as a shopping bag. We like them because they function well as catch-alls for groceries, books, clothing, etc., but they quickly and completely collapse when not in use.

We’re currently using three grocery panniers, ranging from the most simple nylon bag with a bungee mount, up to a sophisticated model with features rivaling many bike briefcases and touring panniers.

Minnehaha Canvas Grocery Bag Pannier
The Minnehaha is a cotton canvas version of the more common nylon grocery pannier. It has a metal frame, a pair of carrying handles, a bungee-type mount, and it folds flat when not in use. The cotton canvas has a traditional look and feel that goes well with retro bikes. Made in China. Price: $45

Inertia Designs Metro Lite Pannier
The Metro Lite is a simple, distilled down version of the nylon grocery pannier. Like the Minnehaha, it has a metal frame, a pair of carrying handles, a bungee-type mount, and it folds flat when not in use. Inertia Designs uses a heavy-duty Cordura nylon in the construction of this bag and it should last a very long time (we’ve been using one of their older models for years). Made in U.S.A. Price: $55

Rixen & Kaul Klickfix Cargo
The Rixen & Kaul Cargo inhabits a place somewhere between a simple grocery pannier and a full-fledged urban briefcase such as those we’ve reviewed from Arkel and Ortlieb. It meets the basic requirements of a grocery pannier (flat bottom, square sides, folds flat), but it also features internal and external pockets, interior liner, alloy carrying handle, collapsible stiffener panels, rain fly, shoulder strap, and the excellent Klickfix mounting hardware. The Cargo is perhaps the ultimate hybrid grocery pannier/bike briefcase if you have the need for something more than a basic grocery pannier, but you still want to be able to carry a standard bag of groceries in the same bag. Made in Germany. Price: $150

(Note: This bag warrants its own detailed review which we’ll publish once we’ve spent more time using it. —ed.)

Whether we’re talking about a bare bones grocery pannier, or a more full-featured bag that doubles as a briefcase, just about any full-time utility bicyclist will benefit from having a grocery pannier mounted on their bike at all times.

Inertia Designs
Rixen & Kaul

Cloud Commuting

Trek Longtails

Trek is getting into the cargo bike business with their Transport and Transport+ longtails. Both are part of the “Gary Fisher Collection” that was recently rolled out. Specs include aluminum frames, disc brakes, and integrated racks. The “Plus” model comes stock with a 350 watt e-assist rear hub.

More at Trek

Trigger Happy

Lined up on the wire

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting stuck at an on-demand signal and having to wait for a car to come up from behind to trigger the light. In some jurisdictions, if you’re unable to trigger the light, it’s legal to proceed after stopping, but that doesn’t help when you’re at a cross street with heavy traffic moving in both directions. The good news is that in many cases it’s possible to trigger a light with your bicycle.

On-demand signals use what they call “induction loop vehicle detectors” to sense when a vehicle is waiting at a light. These detectors are essentially metal detectors embedded into the pavement. They work by sensing changes in an electromagnetic field and have nothing to do with the weight of the vehicle. You can often see evidence of loop detectors as lines cut into the road surface just behind the crosswalk. Wire sensors are embedded in these cut lines, and it’s possible to trigger a light by placing your bicycle wheels precisely on top of one of the wires to disrupt the magnetic field. Some sensors seem to be more sensitive than others; in those cases where the light isn’t initially triggered, I’ve had some success by leaning my bike over toward the inside of the detector loop. In cases where there are two side-by-side loops, lining up over the center where the two loops meet doubles your chances of triggering the light. Once I understood exactly how loop detectors work, my rate of success at triggering lights considerably improved; I’m currently getting somewhere approaching a 90% success rate on the detectors where I live.

How are the detectors where you ride? Are you able to trigger a majority, or are you stuck running red lights or waiting for cars to help you out?

Worse for the Wear

I replaced the chain and cassette on my commuter today. It’s been around 2 years and I hadn’t checked the chain wear in ages. The chain was at the outer limits and the cassette was starting to show wear as well. I long ago quit keeping track of mileage so I can only guess, but I probably had around 3,000-3,500 miles on the drivetrain.

Checking the wear on your chain is simple. Hold a ruler along the chain and measure from center-to-center between a pair of pins that are one foot apart. If the measurement is exactly 12″ your chain is not worn. Anything over 12 1/16″ and it’s time to replace the chain. If the measurement is at or beyond 12 1/8″, both your chain and cassette are certainly shot.

Some mechanics recommend replacing the cassette each time you replace the chain. Others suggest every other chain replacement. I’ve found that a worn cassette can dramatically accelerate wear on a new chain, and a new chain may skip on an old cassette, so if the cassette is showing any wear at all, I’ll replace it when I replace the chain.

I like doing this stuff at home, but if wrenching isn’t your thing, you can always check your chain wear at home, and if you’re at the point of needing a replacement, your local bike shop can do the work for you. Whatever you do, it’s best to not wait until the chain starts skipping on the rear cogs; once it’s progressed to that point, your worn chain is also damaging your expensive chainrings up front.

National Biking and Walking Study: 15-Year Status Report

The National Biking and Walking Study: 15-Year Status Report is the third status update to the original that was published in 1994. The original report had the stated goals of increasing the percentage of trips made by bicycling and walking, while reducing traffic-related fatalities among this group. From the report:

This report is the third status update to the National Bicycling and Walking Study, originally published in 1994 as an assessment of bicycling and walking as transportation modes in the United States. Following the 5-year status report (1999) and 10-year status report (2004), the 15-year update measures the progress made toward the original goals of lowering the number of fatalities while increasing the percentage of trips made by bicycling and walking. Injury and fatality statistics are presented to measure this progress, as well as results from surveys related to travel habits. The 15-year report, unlike its two predecessors, examines a range of efforts to increase bicycling and walking in the United States. Programs at the Federal, State, and local levels are included, as well as case studies on best practices. Finally, the report makes recommendations for research, policy, and other measures that can be taken to meet the goals of the original study.

The numbers in the report are generally encouraging, with walking and bicycling trips on the rise, while fatalities and injuries are on the decline.

Read the report

Sneak Peek: One-Off Belt Drive Dahon Mu XL Sport

Thor at ThorUSA sent us his *one-off Dahon Mu XL Sport outfitted with a Gates Carbon Drive to play around with for a couple of weeks. We just received the bike, but we’ll have more details once we’ve put in some time…

*NOTE: This is a prototype that Thor built for himself, NOT a Dahon prototype or future model. If you’d like more information about belt drive Dahons, contact Thor at ThorUSA.

© 2011 EcoVelo™