A Case for Baskets, (A Basket Case?)
Baskets! Oh boy, baskets! Let us all cheer for baskets. Let us cheer out loud for all baskets!
For tiny fake rattan baskets for bringing our dolls.
For big ole' wicker baskets for toting our pups!
For milk crates, zip-tied to our bars.
And for butcher's baskets, for to deliver the meats!
Lately, I've been goo-goo for baskets.
Don't get me wrong, I love all racks. Porteur racks in particular are divinely cool, I've said as much before. Rear racks and panniers are perfect for camping (and they are good for commuting and grocery getting, too!) Lowriders, rando bag-supports all racks have got their place but no other carry system has quite the same low barrier for entry. Baskets can make any plain bike just a bit more cargo, and so simply! Most baskets are very cheap and easy to install. You don't need a specialized bag, or any bag at all, to haul your school books home in a basket.
It all started when I finally finished work on Ruby, the Folding Cargo Bike...
Ruby's a bike that is defined by her large basket. Riding that bike regularly brought back a love of baskets in me. And I liked it.
This inspired me to switch some stuff around on my other bikes. I pulled the Velo Orange Porteur Rack off of Wheelio, our Xtracycle mixte, where the rack had looked kinda ostentatious and hadn't really proved all that useful, either.
I had thought a porteur rack would be a great addition to Wheelio because an Xtracycle can actually use another platform for carrying crap. With their capacious slings, longtails are amazing haulers of bags and poles and loose stuff. With their stable, narrow decks they are also excellent at hauling people. What they are not as good at are cakes and fruit platters and other material that needs to be kept flat and can't be crushed by tie-down straps. Take my word for it, my bike still smells like melon juice.
Thing is, even with rails along the side of the rack it simply lacked the depth to hold anything in at all without a couple bungees. I also found that I was constantly tempted to toss stuff onto the rack en route. This never worked, and my apples and gloves would fall right through. I realized that if I was going to use a rack like a basket I needed to just get a basket. I almost tied a crate down to the rack I already had on there but that seemed like overkill, so I hunted around for a basket that'd suit my needs and also live up to my standards of cuteness. What I settled on was the adorable, and adorably named, "Wald Woody."
Wald Woody Mini-Review
I am quite pleased with this basket so far. The look works great. Wald baskets, while wonderfully useful, are not usually the flashiest accessory on a bike but the wooden slats on the Woody class the whole thing up nicely.
The basket's a good size. It's big enough for two grocery bags, but not so so huge as to overwhelm the bike or drag down the front-end handling. I could see myself installing the Woody on a non-cargo bike to add just a enough cargo capacity for to-work and around-town trips.
The one problem I have with this basket has to do with installation, specifically the stays. The word "stays" in this case refers to the rods or flattened bits of steel or aluminum that are bolted to the bike's frame and support or stabilize a rack or fender.
Over the last couple of years Wald has been skimping on their stays. They've made them thinner, more bendy and less adjustable, too. This is aggravating when you are trying to install a rack and it winds up sitting way higher over the wheel than it should. Take a look at EcoVelo's pic above. The basket looks nice from this angle, but if you look closely you'll see that you could fit a large cat between the basket and the front fender. I had the same problem when I installed mine using the included stays, which were much too long for my bike. Having the basket set so far above my wheel looked silly and adversely affected the handling. Lucky for me, I work at a place that is rich in discarded hardware and I have been able to scrounge for something that works. I wish somebody would develop a more robust and adjustable solution and bring it to market. I'd buy it!
Anyhoo, about the utility of baskets in general... There are two uses of a front basket that I would like to highlight for you. Both are of particular interest to the Pedal Parents among us, bless their sweaty, happy hearts!
For a Pedal Parent, a basket can serve as a convenient staging area for our kid's transitional objects: the blankets, gloves and helmets we might need after our Precious Passenger is plugged into her seat, but that always seem to be in the way while we are busy getting her strapped down and comfortable. This is very convenient.
A Desktop for Your Bike's Clutter
A basket totes our extra junk nicely, and within reach.
This is a key feature, and get's to what I really wanna tell you about here. Namely, that a front basket can serve as a kinda holding area for any objects that are discarded or clothing items that are divested mid-journey.
Pedal Parents need a spot to toss forsaken toys, snacks and other items. Little Oil is constantly handing me stuff: the apple she's finished with, the gloves she's removed, the toy she's bored with... Before Wheelio had a basket that stuff all had to fit into my pocket if we didn't want to leave it littering the road behind us.
You don't need to be a Pedal Parent to find utility in this "glove-box of the bike." In a town like Seattle, where a bicycler never can tell when they set out in the morning if they are going to need their rain gear or their sun hat, layers can be a key to comfort. Over the course of any given ride I will almost certainly add or remove at least one piece of clothing. The same goes for Little Oil, and she ain't even pedaling!
You know what else can put a wrench in a well-dressed Seattle cycler's wardrobe? Hills! Uphill, I am all heat and open jackets and pulling off gloves and socks and shaving off my beard. Downhill and flats, I am all bundled up and growing the beard extra bushy and leaning back to rub some life back into Little Oil's nose. It's a whirlwind!
I guess that wearing a high-performance, sweat-wicking skinsuit might be one way to go. But not for me. I wanna ride my bike everywhere and wear the clothes I want to wear while I do it. This freedom from having to make a costume change into my "biking clothes" before I get on my bike means that I might need to make several mini-changes to my outfit en route. And now that I've got a deck to toss that stuff into, it's actually kinda fun!
In one ride home from Bike Works to Capitol Hill, I made the following use of my basket, all over the course of one hill-climb:
Upon departure my basket held: my messenger bag containing some good books and some good tools.
Starting up the hill my body warmed up so I tossed in: my wool gloves...
then my rain coat.
And at the top I added: my cardigan and removed my raincoat. Juuuust right!
If I didn't have the sweet basket, could I have been comfortable in what I was already wearing? Sure! But having a convenient place to toss my crap is so convenient! I'm loving it.
We talk a lot about cargo bikes here at Riding on Roadways. Bakfeitsen, longtails, midtails, trikes, cycle trucks. Those are cargo bikes, right? Specialized pedal conveyances, built extra-tough and extra-heavy. Purpose-built workhorses. Unusual bikes. Special bikes.
I worry that some readers may get the impression that the only way any real utility can be wrung from a bicycle is if that bicycle is one of these bonafide "cargo bikes."
Of course, this is not the case! Any bike, trike or unicycle that carries a passenger for any trip, for fun or for fun/work is a working bike and a useful one. I don't personally get much out of riding a fast or light machine, but I'd never ever want to diminish their quality or their honest to God usefulness.
All Bikes For All People! For Real!
And if you do have one of those "regular" bikes, built for one passenger and with no facility for load-hauling, and if you find yourself wishing things in your life were just a little more "Cargo," you could do much worse than slapping a basket on your bicycle.
Give it a try!