Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The tentative utility cyclist gift guide: Rear rack and panniers

I could be wrong, but the ability to safely transport cargo is what separates the utility bicycles from, well, the bicycles. Sure, people can carry cargo in backpacks or messenger bags, but that would make them utility humans. Their bikes would remain bikes.

I see a lot of bikes around town equipped with rear racks. I don't see much carried on these racks, however, because a rear rack by itself is of limited usefulness, unless your tentative utility cyclist has a pocket full of bungee cords handy. Mating a rear rack with panniers drastically increases its capacity to haul stuff. But first things first.

There are some really amazing racks out there, but for a person just starting out in the exciting world of utility cycling, I would enthusiastically recommend the Nashbar LDT Rack. Only problem is, I just checked and it seems to have disappeared from the Nashbar Web site. Not wanting to disappoint you and the tentative utility cyclist on your shopping list, I called Nashbar to find out if LDT was gone for good. After about five minutes on hold, I gave up and that's why I hesitantly recommend the Bor Yeuh Urban Rear Rack, currently on sale for $12.99. I selected this rack because of its low price and the fact that it is fully adjustable and should fit a wide variety of aspiring utility bicycles. Also, the words Bor Yeuh sound tantalizingly exotic.

If your cyclist's bicycle does not have fittings designed for accepting the rack, here's the workaround: March into your local hardware store and ask for some insulated "P clamps." With the proper sized clamps, the rack will be secure.

Now you'll need panniers. How do you pronounce "panniers"? I have no idea, so I try not to say the word out loud. There is really beautiful bicycle luggage out there, but for a new utility cyclist, you can't go wrong with the Nashbar Townie Basket. As I type this, they are priced to move at $ 16.99 each. My townies have served me well over the last 18 months. They fold flat against the bike when not in use. The Townie does not feature a carrying strap or an internal frame, like some of the more expensive grocery bag panniers. Still the Townie has a hidden feature that's apparently too secret for Nashbar to publicly reveal: the hi-vis yellow rain hood that stuffs into a zippered compartment on the bottom of the pannier when not in use. Neat!

There is one design flaw to mention. The zippers of the rain cover pouches mentioned above are on the wheel-side of the panniers. This allows the zipper pulls to make contacts with the spokes. The pulls are not long enough to become fully involved in the spokes, but the sound is kind of annoying. Luckily, the situation is easily remedied by tucking the zipper pulls back into the pouch.

I welcome any comments from others who have used these products. Did they work for you? Do you have alternatives to recommend?


Jim said...

The Topeak Explorer rack is a bit more cash, about $30, but I think it is a great value for a sturdy rack with some nice features. Also Banjo Brothers has some terrific panniers in the $30-40 range (per side). Admittedly, these are pricier than the Nashbar products, but they are less money than many more well known bags, and at least as high quality. Plus someone (me) will answer your call when you try to order them.

Brandon said...

Great idea! I'd been thinking about getting a rack for my dad, though I was unsure if it would attach to his racing bike. Now I know about p-clamps! Thanks!

pooks said...

I'd like some panniers that are easy to take on/off so they don't have to be on all the time, just when doing utility cycling. Do such things exist?

OCyclist said...

Do p-clamps work for connecting down below if you don't have braze-ons for it also, or just up top? Been trying to make that Nashbar rack work on my frame, and I'm sure there's got to be a workaround. I know Tubus has some crazy quick release system, but I'm not paying 30 bucks for the adapter and then buying a superexpensive Tubus rack to do it.