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The Humble Bike-Basket

February 2, 2011
Schwinn with Wald basket

Increase your mojo with a front basket.

It looks like the bicycle-basket is making a bit of a comeback in New Zealand as more people start using their bikes for day-to-day tasks. Kiwis have shied away from practical bikes for some decades as the “sport” bikes took over, but the graceful European roadsters the Frocks on Bikes crowd float around on often feature a front basket and prove ‘practical’ and ‘beautiful’ are not mutually exclusive when it comes to cycling.

I thought I’d give this basket lark a try as my commute is a fairly short one and I only carry a small backpack most days. The panniers I had been using were overkill for that task and a bottle of milk or loaf of bread is all I need to carry at other times on this particular bike.

Beater/Townie/Getter/Nana-Bike/Kommuter

There's an old Avanti mountainbike under there somewhere.

I went for a Wald from Rode in Pt Chev, a utilitarian design from the States that hasn’t changed much in eighty years of production. There are various designs out there that hang off your handlebars on straps or click into quick-release brackets but the wire mesh one I chose has two stays that reach down and bolt onto the front axle. I had to convert my axle from a quick-release (QR) to a solid one to accommodate it, and as most modern road bikes and MTBs have quick-release wheels I’m sure I wasn’t the first.

Carrying the load up front has two immediate advantages. You can see your stuff at all times so you know your apples aren’t abandoning ship one by one as you trundle down the road, and if you need to access something like a wallet or camera (or an apple for that matter) it’s right there in front of you. If you are lucky enough to possess the co-ordination gene you don’t even have to stop riding.

Nana Panda

Helping my son with his paper round. The perfect job for a front-basket.

So how is it working-out? Well I love it, so much so that I’ve taken the rear rack off altogether as it was mostly just dead-weight to carry around. It did take a little getting used to however, firstly having something in your peripheral vision, but mostly the different “feel” you get through the bars. The more weight you have in the basket the heavier the steering gets. Thats not a bad thing, it just feels different, and although I’ve successfully scratched my bum and nose at the same time it’s preferable to keep one hand on the handlebars and attend to such tasks individually.

The kind of bikes that are designed for carrying heavy loads up-front either have more relaxed geometries than your typical “lightweight” mountainbike or the front rack is attached directly to the frame and therefore doesn’t affect the steering. You pick your weapon to suit your battle. A dozen beers and some cheesy-combustibles? – no problem. Side-of-beef and a flagon of cooking sherry? – buy a trailer.

One thing I have found irritating is the way the front of the bike flops around when you lean it against things. That extra weight causes the handlebars to take on a life of their own and my bike threw itself onto the ground more than once before I got used to this little foible. Because my basket is a shallow one I also had to observe the frightening sight of my camera sailing past my left earlobe as I bumped over an Auckland pothole, or a sinkhole as they are referred to in other parts of the country. This is easily avoided by securing your load properly and I can’t imagine it being a problem on the deeper varieties of basket.

On the plus side you’ll find yourself using your bike more often. Just as a bike with mudguards is the one you’ll grab when the weather is suspect, a basket bike is always ready to pop down to the shops, no backpack required. That’s got to be a good thing.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2011 11:26 am

    Just discovered your blog, and have had a good dig through the archives – it’s ace! I think I must live very close to you on the shore (Mairangi Bay, just off East Coast Road). I commute to town via the Bayswater ferry 2/3 times a week, and take the occasional Sunday ride on me road bike (my only bike). I’m thinking I need to pick something to putter around the suburb.

    You may enjoy this article I wrote for the now defunctish Aucklandista: http://aucklandista.com/2008/03/02/the-lanes-they-are-achanging/

    Thanks for doing the site – I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed now, will keep in touch.

    • February 2, 2011 11:57 am

      @Richard: Yes, I just live over the hill in Campbells Bay. Tall skinny bloke pulling a kiddie-trailer behind or riding a purple snow-bike on the beach… say gidday if you spot me.

      Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. I’m on the cusp of giving up the blog and getting a comment or two is always a motivation to continue.

      I’m very interested in your bike-lane post and the fact it was written 3 years ago. Have the bike numbers on the ferry increased since then?

      – Antoine

  2. February 14, 2011 11:41 am

    I will say g’day if I see you – and definitely keep the site going!

    I’d say cyclist numbers on the ferry have increased by about 50% – but it’s v. weather dependant – more in the summer, less in the winter.

    The big development in my own cycle commuting lately has been the move to a new building, with lockers, showers, a dedicated cycle rack / cage… it’s made a huuuuge difference to be appreciated / welcomed at work. Our previous building was about as cycle friendly as riding on the motorway.

  3. March 1, 2011 3:03 pm

    Great post! I also love my front wheel basket. I have a back rack basket on my Raleigh and a front one on my Peugeot and there is just something about being able to keep an eye on my things that makes me like the front version much more. And in terms of steering, I can’t say that I find there to be a difference in how my handlebars handle with a basket vs. without one.

    Please keep contributing to the basket_case group on Flickr! It’s always so much fun to see what cyclists around the globe are carrying in their bike basket :)

    S.

  4. Jim permalink
    March 3, 2011 3:18 pm

    You left a comment on one of my flickr pix awhile back and found your blog…

    Consider a Pletscher dual-legged kickstand with a steering stabilizer to cure that dreaded wheel flop.

    Keep up the good work,

    Jim

    • March 3, 2011 10:41 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Jim. A home-made steering stabilizer sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately I can’t fit both a kickstand “and” mudguards behind my bottom bracket. I chose mudguards because Auckland is a wet city.

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