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The Quest for the Perfect Bike Pannier

You might think you’re a messenger bag person through and through, until you discover the un-bridled freedom of riding with a bike pannier. There’s no weight on your back, no sweaty spot and no strap digging into your summer-bare shoulder. At first it may seem like a heavy bag on one side will feel lopsided, but take it from this klutzy rider, you get used to it in no time – whether it’s a single pannier or double.

Not all panniers are created equal, and for the last year I tested three very different, quality panniers. I was rather rough-and-tumble with all of them, stuffing them full, stressing the straps, trudging through mud and rain, daily commuting, etc. I carried a laptop and intentionally rode over rubbled streets and potholes at high speeds.

Here’s what I found.

ORTLIEB CLASSIC

Classic indeed. These bags have stood the test of time and have been on the pannier scene for many years. I have a set of these that just might always be my go-to bike touring bags.

Pros:

  • Durable as all get-out.
  • Because of their superior waterproof material and roll-to-close technology, they can double as water sports bags.
  • Reflective patch on the back side where you need it most.
  • There is a back pack attachment that makes it very easy to pull off the bag and walk in the store.
  • Extremely easy to wipe down, spray out, you name it.
  • Replaceable, adjustable, quick-release mounts, pull the pannier’s strap to release it from the bike. Never going to fall off your bike.

Cons:

  • Without the back pack attachment, they’re very awkward to carry, though they do have a strap.
  • The standard bag is one large cavern. Can you keep your stuff organized in there? There is an optional outer pocket you can add on.
  • The bag does not stand up on its own.
  • They look like gear (they’re ugly).

    WEBSITE >>

    DETOURS FREEMONSTER FLAP PANNIER


    This is a very cool pannier, different from a lot of what’s out there. It is attractive, carries well and performs nicely. As a 15 year bike commuter, I really put this bag to the test and was pleasantly surprised. I’m on a continual quest for gear that offers a balance of style and functionality in Pacific Northwest weather, and I think this bag hits the mark. Off the bike, you can carry this with a shoulder strap or by using the handle. The bags are made in Seattle.

    Pros:

    • The fabric is attractive so the bag doesn’t look like gear. I have the brownish tone, but also comes in the funkier bright fabric pictured here.
    • Very slim though it holds a lot; it is surprising how much you can fit in this bag.
    • Extremely light weight.
    • The bag zips shut, then the flap folds over to close (unless you’ve filled it to the zipper; the flap part is space in the bag). This creates a nice look and a securely closed bag.
    • Exterior pocket is very handy – it fits a u-lock.
    • Padded material on the backside prevents the mounts from digging into your body and conceals the mounts when carrying the bag off the bike.
    • Built in lap top sleeve.

    Pro and Con:

    The mounts seem like they won’t do the trick, but they do. Magically, there is no bottom hook like on most panniers, and it turns out the Detours bags don’t need it. It takes a little use to get the hang of how the mounts slip onto your rack (mine barely fit, but they do). I’m at a loss for words to describe the functionality of the mounts, but trust me they work well and are solid once you get used to the system down.

    Cons:

    • Inside there is a convenient mesh bag at the top for easy access. If you have a few things in there, it’s hard to slot items into the main compartment of the pannier (such as sliding in a laptop). Because the bag doesn’t have any structure, the mesh pouch droops into the bag and you have to pull the bag open wider to slide things in. It’s just another step that can be frustrating, but I wouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker. Once everything is in there, it works nicely.
    • This bag is water resistant, and then fully waterproofed by using a neon cover that tucks neatly under the bag – you’ll forget it is there. But, NEON. No thanks.
    • Because the bag has no structure, your innards are not well protected if you knock over your bag. That just means it is a little more delicate. The bag does not stand up on its own, so you need to be mindful when setting it down.

    WEBSITE >>

    NORTH STREET WOODWARD CONVERTIBLE


    Thought you couldn’t have it all in one? Think again. This fantastic bag blends style, flexibility (built in back pack straps), personal choice (custom order), safety, durability, waterproofing and much more.

    Pros:

    • They’re locally made by Curtis, a skilled craftsman with a workshop in SE Portland.
    • Extremely well made and durable.
    • Perfectly waterproof so long as you close it well and open it carefully (you don’t want pooled-up water running inside).
    • Converts very easily from pannier to back pack – very sleek.
    • Excellent customizable features like a loop to mount a light, lap top sleeve, extra pockets, colors, and much more.
    • Nicely placed default pockets for easy access.
    • The bag stands up on its own! Very solid, not likely to fall over. It’s surprising how often this is a handy feature.

    Cons:

    • Not as low-profile and light weight as the Detours. This is a heavy, big bag. It holds a lot but you’ll pay for it.
    • Doesn’t slim down much when it is empty. You get what you get.
    • Converting to the back pack isn’t hard, but it does take a few motions to get there. It seems like there might be a better method to come in the future.
    • Metal hook and bungee style mounts which are good, but not great. My bag has bounced off more than once. Crimping the metal hooks to be tighter would likely prevent this.

    WEBSITE >>

    What do you want?

    A solid, durable, bag to use on the bike through all conditions. I don’t care about aesthetics. – ORTLIEB
    A light weight bag – DETOURS
    A nice-looking bag I can take to formal meetings – DETOURS
    One bag that does it all – NORTH ST.
    To be able to choose where my pockets and features are – NORTH ST.
    To choose personalized colors – NORTH ST.
    I’m not a mindful person and want the best waterproofing possible – ORTLIEB
    A locally-made bag – NORTH ST. or DETOURS
    To be able to use this for non-bike purposes – ALL OF THEM!
    To be able to use this for water sports – ORTLIEB IS YOUR BEST OPTION
    Something that doesn’t look like gear – DETOURS

    When I set down my bag, I don’t want it to fall over – NORTH ST.
    A durable bag – ALL OF THEM
    A well made bag – ALL OF THEM

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Oh, STOP It!

When it comes down to it, your bike only really needs to do two things.
1) Go.
2) Stop.

The second one, however, is most likely to save your life – so give yourself (and your brakes) a little TLC.

Clean your Rims

The grayish-black “dirt” on your rims is created from the friction of braking wearing down your rim – and can be a big pain. It not only makes a mess, but also significantly decreases your braking power.

Luckily for you it only takes but a moment to wipe down the braking surface every 100 miles or so. This black grime tends to smear if you use a spray cleaner, so a dry rag is usually best.

If your rims are completely covered in grime and in need of a deep cleaning, use a bucket of soapy dishwater, a gentle hose and a big sponge to rinse the grime away. While a small amount of water will make it smear, a sopping sponge will help it run off the rim. Pay special attention to the crease between your rim and your tire where grime can build up and hide.

Clean your Pads

That same nasty grit tends to build up on your brake pads, as well, creating a slick, shiny braking surface that’s terrible for stopping and can cause an outrageous squeal. Remove your wheels and check the pad braking surface. If it looks shiny, buff it with a piece of sand paper or emery cloth until you’re down to the dull rubber.

If you find small flecks of metal imbedded in the pads, it’s best to replace them. The pieces of metal are tiny fragments of your rim. By braking with it in your pad, you’re further damaging the rim braking surface and wearing out your wheel.

The best pad for the Pacific Northwest is a softer, wet weather pad. These softer compounds wear down a little faster, but increase your braking power in wet conditions and help prevent the black stuff from forming. They also increase the life of your wheels, which is a bonus since wheels of the most expensive parts of your bike.

Check your Cables

Most brake cables need to be replaced every year or two, depending on how much you use them and what conditions you ride in. For example, a wet weather commuter – frequently stopping at lights and stop signs – will need new cables more often than a fair weather distance rider who mostly rides on country roads with fewer stops.

Still not sure about your cables? Pull slowly on your brakes and slowly release them. It should feel smooth and release as quickly as it pulls. If your brake lever is slow to retract, you feel a gritty sensation, see any kinks in the housing, or notice that your cable is frayed, it’s time for a new cable and housing .


Tori Bortman is a bike mechanic and the instructor/owner of Gracies Wrench.

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A Doggone Good Ride for a Great Cause

Every September, bikers dress like dogs and ride around Portland for a howling good time on Tour de Lab, a benefit for DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital. The goofy ride on September 9 tours the various locations of the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub, well known for having dog- and bike-friendly watering holes. Due to construction at the Northwest Lucky Lab location, his year the ride will start from the Southeast pub and traverse revised routes.

For a quirky cruise, choose the 19 mile Puppy Dog course that visits three pubs along relatively flat routes. For those of you who want more of a challenge, the 41 mile Big Dog tackles the West Hills on a challenging-but-rewarding route that visit all four Lucky Lab locations.

There is a gigantic costume contest that brings out the tail-wagging best in people – a hilarious spectacle as bikers circle the city in dog-themed attire. Come dressed to impress and get ready to bark at your friends.

Tour de Lab is a casual, fun ride and a welcome departure from the distance rides that have been taking place all summer long. Relax into the last of the dog days of summer with a chance to stretch your costume-clad legs for a good cause. Both routes travel along mostly mellow roads and provide a spectacular tour of Portland – perfect for socializing with friends. Group discounts are available to clubs and teams (boy scouts, rowing teams. etc).

DoveLewis is the area’s only 24-hour non-profit emergency animal hospital. Hopefully you’ll never need their services, but if you do, the staff at DoveLewis make a terrible life experience much more comfortable. They’re friendly, kind and most of all experts in their field. DoveLewis partners with area schools and organizations to learn from the best, share knowledge and make the best use of our local resources.

So yes, of course, well-behaved dogs with biking experience are most welcome on this ride.


9:00am (Big Dog Route) 10:00am (Puppy Route) // New 2012 location! Lucky Lab Brewpub Southeast, 915 SE Hawthorne in Portland.

( Register ) ( Info ) ( Maps + Routes ) ( About DoveLewis )

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It’s not about the doping?

Lance Armstrong has ended his crusade against doping charges. What should we take away from all of this?

There is no denying that the legacy Lance leaves us has many positive aspects. Many people who confront cancer, death from cancer or that of their loved ones have more strength because of the work of Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong foundation. How effective is the Foundation? In terms of the first sentence, extremely impactful. Does the Foundation do much for cancer research? According to Outside Magazine, the answer is no.

Lance Armstrong’s fame and attention brought bike racing more to the mainstream of sports in America. More people started racing and many more people started to watch and appreciate the sport.

Lance Armstrong was a strong racer, there is no denying that. He is also a strong figure that brought awareness to cancer issues and how to fight against cancer with with gusto.

We need to move on beyond “Lance Armstrong doped” and focus on keeping the sport of bike racing a clean sport with integrity we can be proud of, not one that’s known for being tainted with doping scandals.

Bike racing has always been a unique sport for the camaraderie among competitors. There is competition, like any other sport, but at the end of the day competitors tend to support each other. That’s what our sport should be remembered for.

What do you take away from all of this?

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Fresh Fruit Season is Ripe for Cyclists

Fresh fruit season is at its best right now, and that’s good news for cyclists. Fresh fruit can be a beneficial boosting food during a ride or recovery food after a long ride, so make sure your shopping includes a stop to the local farmers market or produce section of your grocer to pick up some of the best fresh fruits.

Blueberries are packed with anthocyanidin, which reduced inflammation. They’re also loaded with bone boosting vitamins A and K and are well known as an antioxidant. Locally we’re at the tail end of Blueberry season, but you can usually find these plump treats year round.

You’ve probably seen watermelon on a lot of rides this summer, and rightly so. Behind all the water of this refreshing summer treat is lycopene, which protects the skin from UV, and vitamin A which aids muscles in delivering power. It is also one of the best food sources of vitamin C, important for maintaining cartilage and join flexibility, with a serving containing about a third of the daily dose.

The seeds of berries like blackberries deliver a good dose of fiber, making them a beneficial mid-meal snack to help suppress hunger.

While it’s well known that bananas can be a cramping cyclist’s best friend for their high levels of potassium, peaches – which are about to come into season locally – also contain a fair dose of potassium. Munch on these sweet treats before and during your ride to refuel on electrolytes and keep your muscles limber and your taste buds tantalized. Strawberries and cantaloupe are also excellent choices with similar benefits.

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First-Ever Cargo Bike Roll Call

On August 20, Eugene hosted the first-ever Cargo Bike Roll Call, a chance for cargo bike aficionados to congregate and swap ideas and share enthusiasm. Organizers report the event was a huge success with a wide variety of bikes represented.

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