These are some of the things I’ve carried on my bike: two eight-packs of paper towels; a case of wine; a queen-size Ikea comforter; a duvet cover with pillow shams; two 20-inch decorative pillows with inserts; and 2 live four-foot Christmas trees.
If you ride your bike only to get places, you are missing a huge opportunity. Add a pannier (from the French word for “basket“), and your bike becomes more than just personal transportation. It’s a delivery vehicle. For occasional errands, any basket will do, even a DIY milk crate lashed to your back rack. But regular self-powered urban transport requires a safer, sturdier system: panniers that can handle a heavy load yet stay balanced, allowing your bike to remain relatively nimble on trafficked streets.
As someone who has never driven a car and who became a dedicated convert to bicycling after moving from New York to Philadelphia a decade ago, the best cycling investment I’ve made, other than my bike itself, is a pair of Arkel Urban Shopper Panniers, constructed from 1000-Denier USA Cordura — a thick, durable fabric that does not mildew or fade. It has a lightweight internal aluminum frame that makes it easy to pack and stack groceries. For larger loads, there’s an internal nylon sleeve that expands your carrying capacity from 1,525 cubic inches to 1,768, which is huge: big enough to carry 50 apples. There’s even a handy interior zippered pocket to hold stuff — in my case, a removable handlebar-mounted night light, nylon saddle cover and flat pack poncho for rain. When you’re not hauling anything, the frame folds into a vertical position, flat against the bike rack and held in place by reflective Velcro straps. Instead of 8 inches wide, the bag is now closer to two, which is useful for narrow bike lanes.
The pannier hooks to your bike with a very easy-to-use cam-lock hook system made of aluminum, not plastic, so it won’t crack. Just pull up on the carry handle and the rotating cam locks open, letting you lift the bag off the bike-rack rail and carry it inside your house to unload. (You can also attach the shoulder strap and use it in place of a tote bag at the market.) Release the handle and the pannier clamps and locks back on. No matter the size of the bumps I’ve run over, the pannier has never flown off. It doesn’t even jiggle.
I had my first pair of Urban Shoppers for six years. When I replaced them, it wasn’t because they wore out. These things don’t wear out. I just wanted a different color, so I bought a new set and gave the old ones to my neighbor. He’s probably lugging his own Christmas tree around with them now.
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