New Options For Hauling Stuff on my bike.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know about some of the issues I've had with my rear wheel and spokes - specifically spokes breaking on me.
It happened again late last fall and I've been busing for a while. And while part of the reason for that is that my bike's just had a lot of miles put on it, what with three solid years of commuting, another reason is that the weight on my bike just isn't managed particularly well.
One of the tenets I have for my bike commuting is the old Keep It Simple, Stupid. In other words, I don't like to have to make lots of changes to my daily lifestyle in order to ride daily. I'd prefer to simply hop on my bike the way other people would hop into a car, and go. I don't want to change clothes if possible. I don't want to have to tie up my pants so that they don't get chain grease on them. I don't want to have a briefcase for every day stuff and one for riding days.
So here's what I was doing for my daily commute, basically, last fall: roll up a pant leg; throw my briefcase into one of my (rear) panniers, my other one always staying on the bike with my bike-specific stuff like rain cape, tools, spare tube, etc.; put on my bright green Pearl Izumi Vagabond jacket, helmet, and riding glasses, and off I go. During the summer I was changing into shorts and a t-shirt but during the fall's cooler weather it wasn't necessary.
I don't ride particularly fast on my commutes so I don't sweat too horribly unless it's hot out. I try not to let my heart rate go any higher than 55-75% of my maximum while I ride (part of the Primal Blueprint diet and exercise plan I follow - you can read more about this at Mark's Daily Apple if you're interested).
When I get to work, I pull out my briefcase, lock my bike (luckily I park in a parking garage at work) and head into my office for the day. And I'm good to go - with as few changes as possible. Very minimal.
Well, my system has encountered a bit of a flaw - all that regular riding with the weight of me and two panniers (frequently full) on the rear wheel of the bike has led to the aforementioned broken spokes. I need to rebuild the wheel, and plan to do so before spring. But I also want to do something to make this situation go away as much as possible (realizing, naturally, that spokes simply break sometimes, with wear).
So, after some discussion back in November with my friend and fellow LCI Ken Cohen, the idea struck me about redistributing the weight on my bike into a front rack and rear rack instead of the two rear panniers. As most of the weight on the bike falls onto the rear wheel (and that weight would be ME), putting as much weight forward as possible might make things more stable. That means putting the briefcase up front.
And my thought went immediately to a couple of products I've seen in the past: a Cetma rack or a Civia Loring front rack.

The Cetma rack is a messenger-type item that is used for heavy duty work. They're really sturdy and carry lots of very heavy items. Like you can see in the picture to the left - this dude is carrying around a cooler on his rack. Very functional piece of hardware.
The Civia Loring front rack is a somewhat classier-looking model. Normally I'm not so much into the look of cycling, but I do like the use of wood/bamboo on it. What can I say, I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. But I also like the "basket"-type nature of it - the rails float my boat. The Cetma can come with rails, too, but it's a LOT more expensive.
So, does anyone else have any ideas? Opinions? Reviews of the products I've mentioned? I'd love to hear them.
People, not speed.


  1. I've been cycling for 20 years, with enough miles to circumnavigate the Earth: I've never broken a spoke.

    From my experience, broken spokes are due to poorly built wheels. And after one breaks more are likely to follow unless the wheel is rebuilt.

  2. I was about to ask who your wheelbuilder is, and then I read Ken's post. Having built wheels for a number of years, I would echo his comments--save for an allowance for a faulty spoke here and there. I've had one break on one of my wheels, but it got dinged in a fall or something.

    Some of my customers have commuter wheels that are in service without any adjustments after five years or more of daily commuting--and one of those wheels is under a guy who is larger than I am (I weigh about 225#).

    I'm in Louisville KY, so it's a bit of a haul, but UPS goes there. Let me know if you want to have me build one for you, or if you want to discuss tactics for building your own.

  3. My wheels were new with my bike when it was purchased in 2006 from BikeSource. It's a Specialized Expedition Sport so it's not like I'm riding a bike-shaped object. Hence my thoughts about putting too much stress (or at least more stress than was intended) on the rear wheels.

    I appreciate the offer, bikeolounger. I have an offer from an experienced bike mechanic to teach me how to rebuild a wheel and true it properly which I plan to take him up on.

  4. Just to echo what's been said already, I think your wheel is the problem, not where you carry your weight. It seems like you travel pretty light, and most of the weight on your rear wheel is probably rider weight. Not every wheel can handle every burden, but it doesn't sound like you're doing anything a well-built, 36-spoke wheel couldn't handle.
    That said, I enjoy having a front rack, and I really love the look of the Civia. I currently use a small Nashbar rack that's only good for a few pounds, but it still comes in handy. I've been looking to upgrade to something sturdier and more functional, though. I'm torn between something basket-like, like the Civia, the Velo Orange Porteur, or the Wald basket VO sells or something that's a standard platform that might also take panniers (Old Man Mountain has a couple). I think handling is supposed to be better if you move the weight lower, but nothing beats the convenience of a basket. I have one occasionally on the rear rack and love being able to grab the bag out of it and go. Lately I've been leaning towards a basket-type rack on the front and using my rear rack for panniers, but I haven't actually bitten the bullet and bought a rack yet.
    So I'd say:
    1) A new, well-built, strong wheel is the only solution to your spoke problem.
    2) Get a front rack anyway, they're fun and convenient.
    3) Consider the basket-style. Platform/pannier racks will require extra attachments and detract from the grab-your-bike-and-go factor.

  5. Hey Jamie- I wouldn't worry about the weight as the reason for the broken spokes. I had some issues with broken spokes on the wheels that came new with my commuter bike too. However, after a good rebuild with good spokes I had no problems.

    I did panniers like your setup for a while and ended up switching to a basket. If, like me, you aren't totally hung up on appearance (but maybe a touch) you might look at getting a Wald made basket. I've got one on my bicycle, on my wife's bicycle and on my motorcycle. I've found that a large basket and cargo net is far superior to anything else. I pack everything I need in a messenger bag which I can just set in the basket and pull the bungee-cargo net over. In the winter when wearing the bag doesn't cause me sweat issues I just wear it.

    I like the Wald baskets because they are made in the USA (Kentucky I think) and they are a very very basic metal cage basket. They weigh next to nothing but are as tough as nails.

    When I ride up to Alum Creek or Mohican for overnights the basket is perfect for throwing my tarp, sleeping bag and fishing gear in without a lot of fussing over how I'm going to pack.

    Hope that's helpful. Ride safe!

  6. All good, Jamie!

    OEM wheels are often machine-built, regardless of whose brand is on the head tube, until you get up over $1000. Doing it yourself builds confidence, for sure.

    Best results!


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