Posts tagged ‘hauling stuff’

November 5, 2011

Grocery Run: Impossible!

The “impossible” quantity of groceries I can haul on my bike.

The media jumped all over recent findings about how easily the nation could lose a few pounds, save billions of dollars, live longer, and clean the air, by . . . wait for it . . . riding a bike. NPR, Huffington Post and more all covered this.

Benefits come not just from the light exercise achieved by biking but also from the reduction in air emissions, since your car dirties the air the most in the first few minutes of driving.

The kinds of short urban trips of 2.5 miles or less that they studied include the typical quick run to the grocery store for just a couple of things you forgot on your last trip. These are the very types of trips that a professional engineer pooh-poohed a year or so ago on a National Journal piece about transportation funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure (which also included the laughably wrong statement that drivers primarily self-fund their infrastructure):

“Commuter bike trips are not realistic for people with kids in day care, who have a 10-15+ minute drive at 40-50 mph average speed, or who have to take things such as a laptop and files to/from work.  Bad weather also prevents commuter bike trips even for the most avid bicyclists.  People also cannot accomplish essential tasks such as grocery shopping via bikes.” — D.J. Hughes, a professional engineer from Delaware

Bad weather “prevents” trips? “. . . not realistic for people . . . who have to take things such as a laptop and files to/from work”? “Cannot accomplish” grocery shopping?

The idea that you can’t carry a laptop and some files in a pannier or messenger bag is so laughable I won’t even bother to address that point. Well, maybe just a little bit: If that were impossible we’d have no business air travel, because how could those poor little professionals haul their laptops and files all the way through the big old airport? That’s more work than letting my bike carry the load, I can tell you for sure.

As for his other barriers, I’m done with those daycare days, thank heavens, and chose a house close to work specifically so I could bike and take transit. (“Location, location, location.”) His distance barrier is pretty subjective–10 minutes at 40 mph is about 6-2/3 miles, which is a lovely ride of about 20-25 minutes without breaking a sweat.

So let’s go grocery shopping, which I particularly like as an example because you can plan your trip for times when traffic is quieter and you don’t have time pressure–a perfect starter trip for trying out bike transportation.

I keep a well-stocked pantry and feed anywhere from 3-5 or more people 7 days a week. We like fresh fruit and veggies, which generally means multiple trips a week.

I live 1.6 miles from Rosauers on 29th Avenue. Much of it is straight uphill so it’s not going to be everyone’s favorite ride. Since Spokane Transit‘s #45 and #46 run up the hill I could choose that option (did you know that we were the first city in Washington to have bike racks on every bus in the transit system?).

But there’s a bike lane on a new road surface for the majority of the ride and that uphill climb turns into a downhill “wheeeeee!” with my Donkey Boxx and pannier full of bananas, English muffins, and milk. Oh, and a Lindt orange/dark chocolate bar…. I earned it with that climb.

Another biking bonus: When you bike, as I’ve pointed out before, there’s no time wasted wondering where you parked the car—it’s always in the rack or hitched to a sign post in front of the building.

Believe me, at Rosauers (which has a bike rack near the front door) or any other grocery store I can be in and out much more quickly than someone who circles the parking lot for 10 minutes trying to find the spot closest to the door to minimize that exhausting walk.

Other easy options: I can stop by the URM Cash and Carry on Hamilton—less than half a mile from the Riverpoint Campus where I work and accessible via the Centennial Trail (some of that infrastructure that could get funding if transportation priorities explicitly included active transportation).

There’s the Main Market CoOp on Main—less than half a mile the other direction from work and with a bike rack out front, an awesome deli for lunch, and the amazing Pain de Levain from Bouzie’s Bakery, to which I am currently addicted.

On Thursdays I can stop at the South Perry Farmers’ Market on my way home; Saturday mornings I can ran down to the Spokane Farmers’ Market, load up, and ride home; and Thursday-Friday-Saturday I can easily hit the Spokane Public Market on my way home.

As a bonus, if you chose to ride to the grocery store for that gallon of milk, loaf of bread, and a dozen eggs you’d be getting your recommended 30-60 minutes of activity with no gym fees.

Mr. Professional Engineer’s assumption that we have to be cocooned safely away from a little bit of cold air or dampness doesn’t make sense when you think about all the people who pay good money to go out into recreational settings like ski resorts and outdoor ice rinks. Why we should be willing to bundle up to have fun but not to get ourselves to work I don’t know. And driving doesn’t protect you from wet and cold in any case–remember, you have that long walk from the parking lot while I take my bike to the rack near the door, or even inside. (Since I’m not the Wicked Witch of the West I don’t melt when I get wet, either.)

While you’re thinking about his sweeping generalizations, think about the mindset in public policy–and engineering–that created a world in which it seems “impossible” to someone that you could ride your bike to the grocery store.

Perhaps Mr. Professional Engineer didn’t mean “impossible.” Perhaps he really meant, “Inconceivable!” and it’s like what Inigo Montoya told the Sicilian: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Or perhaps Mr. Professional Engineer needs to be more like the White Queen and believe six impossible things before breakfast every day.

Wait—out of eggs for breakfast? I’ll just hop on my bike. 

Related Reading

October 30, 2011

Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part I: It’s Easy, One Mile at a Time

My early vision of what it meant to dress for a bike ride. (I still dress this way for a ride like this one to Coeur d'Alene and back--84 miles on a sunny day.)

True story: I’m a bicycle commuter because in around 2003, the City of Spokane put a bike path on Cedar, right in front of the house I lived in at the time. After complaining a bit about the lost on-street parking, I realized how convenient it looked.

(Irony alert) I used my car’s odometer to figure out how far it was to work, and started riding my big-box cheapo special, the “Iron Maiden,” a little bit, then a little bit more.

At first my bike commuting took place within strict parameters: very nice weather but not too hot, no meetings outside my office scheduled that day, no after-work events.

Before bike commuting on the selected day, I’d drive the 3.5 miles to work (downhill, then flat) with a couple of outfits and leave them there, and just take my shoes with me in the pannier bag.

Of course, I’d have a little wardrobe agony of the soul figuring out what to leave at work. After all, I wouldn’t be able to change my mind about what I felt like wearing, nor would those outfits be available to me at home on days I planned to drive.

I also underwent the back and forth of moving items such as my wallet with identification, notebook, and other things into and out of the panniers and whatever purse I wanted to carry.

I moved from this “once in a while” commuting to biking “pretty often,” including some slightly longer recreational outings on weekends, when I would amaze myself by going 8 miles or more.

Mind you, this was all on a Costco special: a heavy-duty quasi-mountain bike thing with shocks. It probably weighed 50 pounds before I put on the rack and panniers. So I actually was pushing a fair amount of metal.

And, as I like to point out, it was very definitely uphill on the way home. The first time I tried bike commuting Spokane was experiencing unusually hot weather, 105 degrees or so, in mid-July. Great time to start.

At the time I lived at 13th and Cedar. I hit the steep spot on Maple between 6th and 8th—locals will know exactly what spot I mean—and I had to get off and start pushing the bike uphill.

Some wit (at least, I think I’m half right) said, “Aren’t you supposed to be riding that thing?” I panted, “I have nothing to prove!” and kept pushing.

It became a point of pride to make it just a little farther up that hill each time I rode, until at long last came the day when I actually rode all the way home.

Woohoo! Feel the burn, and the sense of accomplishment.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • What do you remember most about your early days of riding your bike for transportation?
September 6, 2011

Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff

Po Campo Loop Pannier bike bag with Lenovo ThinkPad inside

My small laptop fits fine inside my Po Campo Loop Pannier, with room to spare for files and what-not (although I try not to carry too much what-not).

I’m not a backpack gal. I don’t like the sweat or the weight messing with my center of gravity. I do, however, haul a fair amount some days.

You can find a variety of types of bags with different ways of attaching to the rack or to you. Unfortunately most bike shops carry an assortment that resembles what Henry Ford told early car buyers: You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.

Black is a really stupid color for an item into which you place things. Unless you carry a flashlight you’ll always be rooting around in the bottom of a dark cave.

Another feature of my former Black Uglies that I loathed and detested was the way the mounting hooks dug into my side when I took the bag off the rack and carried it. Some bags are designed with clever flaps to cover the hooks or a different mounting system that doesn’t stick out so far.

When you’re looking at any bag, think not only about how it attaches to the bike, but how it will work for you as a bag you carry around off the bike.

Odds are that you’re not going to leave a bag with your laptop, wallet, and that pretty necklace you just bought for your daughter sitting on the bike while you go check out the sale rack at some of our wonderful local boutiques in Carnegie Square or SoDo.

Hence my love for my pretty Po Campo bags and my oh-so-practical Donkey Boxx that I was able to dress up with custom stickers from Hydra Creations. The Po Campos detach quickly and their flat webbing straps don’t dig in. I drop a fabric grocery box into the Donkey Boxx to hold my dealie-bobs and what-nots and just pull that out.

My 17-year-old daughter, on the other hand, slings a regular bag over her shoulders and pedals away with it swinging back and forth.

It makes me a trifle crazy to watch her because it looks like she’ll spill all that stuff any minute and it also looks as if the changing weight distribution would be scary, but it works for her so I keep my judging little mouth shut. (This is a relatively rare exception to my normal mothering style, which I confess in order to forestall the inevitable comments by my daughters.)

The Donkey Boxx is a practical pannier for your bike that can hold a full bag of groceries.

The Donkey Boxx truly is like having a trunk for your bike. If I fill it to overflowing, the Po Campo Six-Cornered Wristlet sitting on top can just move to my handlebars, where it buckles on.

If you’re fine with backpacks, by all means use one. It doesn’t have to be bike-specific.

Before you start automatically shifting absolutely everything from your purse into the bike carrier, however, stop and take another look. Can you pare down what you carry? I’m betting the answer is yes.


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Experienced commuters, what kind of bag/pannier/box do you have? What do you like/dislike about it?
  • What features do you want in the ideal, perfect, too-good-to-be-true bike bag?
August 14, 2011

A Trunk for Your Bike: Donkey Boxx Review

That moment where you buy more than you can carry and go stow your purchases in the trunk of the car? You can have something similar on your bike with the Donkey Boxx.

Hauling a load on a bike is easy with the Donkey Boxx.

A typical bike shopping load of groceries fits beautifully into the Donkey Boxx. (Yes, those are my pretty Po Campo bags: Six-Corner Wristlet inside the Donkey Boxx ready to move to the handlebars if I need more room, and the Loop Pannier on the other side of the rack.)

I’ve had one on my bike for over three months and now I can’t imagine being without it on a utility/transportation bike. It gives me stow-and-go simplicity: Pop open the lid, drop in a bag of groceries and you’re on your way. At your destination, pull out the bag, leave the box on the bike—it’s zip-tied on—drop your helmet and gloves into the Boxx if you’re the trusting type like me, and go inside.

At the Spokane Farmers’ Market, Spokane Public Market, or South Perry Farmers’ Market, all favorite stops of mine, I carry my cloth grocery bag with me to shop. When it’s full I know I have a little more capacity in the Donkey Boxx to top off the load.

If I had two I’d have some serious hauling capacity. They’re rated for up to 30 pounds apiece and I wouldn’t want to haul more than 60 most days anyway.

The “definitely unprecious” design—made of 80% recycled milk jugs at a  Minnesota facility that employs people with disabilities—provides something of an esthetic balance to the beautiful Po Campo Loop Pannier I carry on the other side for my laptop, cell phone, files, and other work whatnot.

I love it so much I’m selling them at my shopping events. The only thing I’d change would be to swap out the regular zip ties for the reusable kind in case you do want to take it off.

Installation: About five minutes. It comes with a handy heel-strike tool to help you position it correctly, along with reflective stickers for the back and a couple of reinforcement disks for the zip-tie holes.

Cool features that might not strike you at first glance: I customized mine with help from my friends at Hydra Creations; love the space the Boxx provides for self-expression. The flat lid gives me a handy place to write a note or set down a latte for a minute while I organize my things.

Issues? None. Over the three-plus months I’ve ridden with it loaded daily one zip tie has broken, and I completely own up to hauling more than the rated capacity on multiple occasions.

The one thing I’m guessing I might run into is that it could be tricky to load into the inside (toward the bus) spot on a STA bike rack. That’s where the reusable zip ties could come in handy.

Load balance: Riding empty it doesn’t add weight to the bike—probably weighs less than the typical black bike bag with all its metal hardware attachments. Sure, if I load heavy on one side I need to manage it carefully, but that’s true with any bag. I always have a pannier on the other side and that provides a counterweight.

Funniest remark so far: Someone at the South Perry Street Fair looked at it and remarked, “That wouldn’t be very aero” (aerodynamic, that is). Well, no—no it wouldn’t. It’s not as if I have it mounted on a tri bike with flat racing bars. I’m okay with my non-aero configuration; it allows me to shop freely.

June 25, 2011

Losing Weight

No, this isn’t the grapefruit diet, or the all-you-can-eat diet, or the “use this one silly trick to blast stomach flab” diet. It’s the purse diet.

As in, when was the last time you took everything out of your purse and then decided what to put back in? Or—brace yourself—switched to a smaller purse?

That’s essentially what I did to move into panniers for bike commuting, and I took it a step further when I recently switched to my cute Po Campo pannier and Logan tote instead of the Black Ninja Fingernail-Breaking Monsters.

This cleansing process illustrates yet another of my life lessons learned from biking: If you can’t carry it, you don’t need it.

If you’ve ever ridden a heavy bike load up a steep hill, you know that you don’t want to carry excess weight (whether it’s on you or on the bike). I’m not talking about the crazy roadies who obsess over shaving 10 grams off the weight of their pedals—just your average concern for not working any harder than you have to.

When I started commuting, I’m reasonably sure I hauled a lot of extra weight because my instinct was simply to transfer my purse straight into my pannier. That way you get to carry not only the weight of the stuff, but the weight of the purse too.

But honestly, how much of that stuff that you carry do you ever really need? You’re carrying it “just in case.” Just in case what—you find yourself stranded 85 miles from the nearest Rite-Aid or 7-11 and you don’t have an emery board? (My mother always carried at least three.)

Honestly, how long will it be until you can get to a source of whatever it is you’re not carrying right this very second? And can you survive that long? Unless you’re a diabetic and looking at your insulin, I bet you’ll be okay.

Every so often I find that the little detritus has started to creep back in and the pouch of essentials I carry is inching upward. (And if I do carry an actual purse, as I do on the days I ride the bus, all bets are off. I rarely bother to clean out my purses because I use them so seldom.)

The basics? I fit everything into my adorable new Six-Corner Wristlet from Po Campo with the bike fabric (available at Bike Style shopping events). I especially like that I can clip it not only to my handlebars, but also to the D rings on one of my other Po Campo bags.

I carry some “me” stuff:

  • Bike wallet (a small waterproof hard-shell case I got from with ID, debit card, folding money, and a couple of essential cards (bus pass, insurance, library card, Rocket Bakery preloaded card for coffee)
  • Checkbook only on days I actually know I need to write a check
  • Lip balm or lipstick, although I keep those in my desk at work so technically I don’t “need” to carry them
  • Nail clippers (because I obsess about my fingernails in a highly unhealthy fashion and can’t stand it if I can’t immediately deal with a broken nail—and because they make a good emergency pair of scissors)
  • Keys (to get into my house and my office, silly–did you think I meant car keys?!)
  • True confession: Right now I also have wetting drops for my contact lenses and a little travel tube of Aleve, both of which I technically could get at the nearest Rite-Aid or 7-11.

And a little “tech” that I usually put in my Po Campo pannier with my laptop:

  • Smartphone
  • Extra battery for my phone (a work necessity)
  • Patch cable so I can use my phone as a tethered modem if need be
  • Flash drive
  • A couple of my business cards and a couple for Belles and Baskets in case I see a woman riding a bike and can tell her about this fun group
  • Pen

That’s it for the basics. On work days I also carry my lunch, a water bottle, and a laptop with power cable (I bought an ultralight so this only represents about 3-4 pounds total).

Play Our Home Version

  • What excess baggage do you carry?
  • What would it tell me about you if I looked in your purse?
  • What are you afraid of if you don’t carry this stuff?
  • When was the last time you actually used most of the things in your purse?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen? (In my case, if I’m not carrying the nail clippers I will chew on the rough edge in a most unladylike way. This is not a terminal disease but I prefer not to.)

Feel free to extend the meaning of “if you can’t carry it, you don’t need it” metaphorically. I’ve had thoughts that weighed me down and when I finally set them down and rolled away without looking back, I felt light as a feather.

Post inspired by “Instead of Driving . . . I Won a Pack!” on Kent’s Bike Blog. He won a pack and could have received a larger size, but said, “If I have too much space, I tend to take too much stuff.” This piece first appeared on my personal blog, Bike to Work Barb; I’m updating and posting a few items here that fit with Bike Style.

May 17, 2011

The Search for the Perfect Purse: It May Just Be a Bike Bag

Po Campo Logan Tote in Free Bird fabric

Look at this and tell me it's not a purse.

Raise your hand, ladies, if you’re like me in my former life: Always buying another purse in search of the perfect purse.

That’s the one that doesn’t weigh too much totally empty, that has the right dividers and organizers inside, that has a comfy handle or strap, that will fit a file folder or laptop inside—whatever the features are that matter most to you that you can never, ever find all in one purse.

Then I started biking and pretty much gave up that particular quest because I just use my panniers. But I don’t like them.

They do not satisfy the inner Barb, the purse-shopping Barb, the Barb who wants to put her cell phone into the exact same place every time so she can always find it when it’s time to parent her teenage daughter via text.

Purse-shopping Barb is doin’ the happy dance tonight, though. This doesn’t count as a review because I haven’t gotten to ride around with my new bags yet but I just had to show you the before and after pictures.

Axiom Cartier Journey Series Bike PanniersBefore: Utilitarian black bags, purchased in an emergency when my old pannier blew out during a conference. I kinda sorta hate them.


  • The hooks dig into my side if I carry just one with the strap.
  • If I clip the two together (admittedly a handy feature—if you want the entire weight of everything you’re carrying pulling on one shoulder) the hook attachments that hold them to the rack are a total pain! They frequently get snarled together in a fingernail-breaking tangle. Naturally I can’t get the tangled hooks apart when I’m in a hurry and really just need to get the bags on the bike so I can get rolling.
  • Black is a bad color for the inside of a bag. More than once I’ve lost a little black pouch that holds my electronica because it’s swimming around in the bottom of a black bag and I can’t see it, or I managed to drop it into the gap they left between an inside liner and the true outside of the bag.
  • No true organizing possible. Everything just mooshes down to the bottom of the pannier. There’s one outside mesh pocket and one small zipper pocket on each of them but the protected space inside is just a big maw that engulfs my stuff.
  • The outside mesh pockets close with Velcro, which means that any fabric items I stuff in there are guaranteed to get snagged.
  • I had to buy bags that fit my specific rack, which constrained my choices.
  • Plus there’s the whole ninja look.
Po Campo Bike Bags: Logan Tote on top of rack, Pannier hanging below

Pretty in Po Campo! Logan tote strapped on top of rack, pannier hanging on rack, both in Free Bird fabric.

After: Po Campo! Features I really like:

  • Quick attachment with straps that just buckle around the rack—nothing to dig into my side later and this would fit on any rack.
  • Not the slightest hint of ninja.
  • Everything shows up inside against the nice bright lining.
  • Pockets inside and a separator in the pannier that will make it easy to develop consistent packing habits.
  • Big outside pocket on the pannier has a magnetic closure—no more snags.
  • Straps on the bottom of the Logan tote used to fasten it to the top of the rack would also let me hang a yoga mat on there. How many times has Betsy seen me struggle into Spokane Yoga Shala with panniers, mat, water bottle, helmet, everything slip-sliding away?
  • Still have that safety bit that’s important to me: reflective elements on the sides that will show while I’m riding. Plus the light fabric will just show up more.
  • Back in the day before those daughters grew up, I would have appreciated the fact that these can attach to the handles of strollers too!
  • Last but oh, so far from least, they look like purses. Nice finish, nice hardware, protected zippers, pretty fabric (with a water/fade resistant finish).

Granted, I’m giving up some storage space because they’re smaller than the Black Ninja Monsters. But I keep trying to downsize what I carry anyway and this will force some additional decluttering.

I have an ultralight laptop that fits into the pannier along with files and my insulated lunch sack fits into the Logan along with the Po Campo wristlet (not shown here), which will become my new wallet because I can strap it onto my handlebars when I don’t need anything else and ride, ride like the wind.

Want to get hands-on with these beauties? I’ll have a variety of bag sizes and fabrics at the May 21 Bike Style Treats & Shopping Event at Roasthouse Coffee and at future shopping events. Bring your bike and try them on for size! (and for style)

Your Turn

  • What are your must-have features in bike gear and in a purse?
  • Have you found them all in one item yet?
  • Have you cleaned your purse/pannier out lately? What little treasures did you find?
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