Pimp My Bike

With my new bike en route I’ve been investigating cute and functional things to put on it, not only important stuff like a rearview mirror and water bottles, but also fun things like flower garlands and a cutesy bell. There’s not so much available! Oh, there are cute bells everywhere. But that’s about it. Flower garlands are only available from Basil (www.basil.nl), difficult to find affordably in the US. Panniers are almost impossible! Basil makes some, and a few other Netherlands companies do as well (FastRider and New Looxs), but they’re super-duper girly, and you know I’m not that type:

Oh, I suppose I could have gone for them, but I’d probably be pretty irritated every time I rode to the grocery store. Sporting goods shops here in the US only have utilitarian black or dark nylon, which looks like something Wolverine would use on a cross-country bike mission.

So what’s a girl to do?

Hah, well, you know me. I’m going to make my own.

However, I’m not going to start from scratch. My sewing skills aren’t that great, and while I’m able to visualize what needs to be done, bringing it to fruition doesn’t always happen the way it should. If I needed knitted panniers, hey, I’m totally on top of that, but of course, they wouldn’t hold much without stretching out of shape and dropping things through the stitches.

The hunt, therefore, has taken me to some amazing places. The easiest solution I could come up with – and that was almost instantly – was to take two Petunia Pickle Bottom “Boxy Backpacks” (which are a glazed cotton to be waterproof) and use two clips for cross-straps. The next step would be to use one of the spare straps to go between the two lower loops on each bag, behind the rack (to prevent swinging around during movement). Amazingly easy! One might almost suspect PPB had designed them for that. They have a flap to keep the rain out and the items in. They have nice little storage pockets. They’re a good size and they even look like panniers! All in all, this seems like an ideal solution, right?

However, we, or at least Chris, must take into consideration that even on clearance, one PPB backpack is $120. And they’re recognizable, which means I couldn’t leave them on the bike while inside Safeway. Somebody’d be bound to swing by and say, “Hey, look at these conveniently-detachable expensive Petunia bags! I’m going to take them and sell them on ebay.” We can add to this that there is actually not a single current PPB fabric pattern that I like. Certainly not enough to spend $240-360 on the bags. This next picture is one that I really would like – but it’s long discontinued, and it’s from before they started using the waterproof fabric.

Do you see what I mean about the ease, though? Take those two straps off and shorten them, clip them to the other bag’s top attachment points, and hang them on the rack. One of the surplus straps would be used on each side to clip to the lower attachment point, slip behind the legs of the rack, and clip to the other point. Simple! Useful! (Freakishly expensive!)

Back, then, to the drawing board. It seemed, at this point, that cute and sturdy totes would work as well. While needing a little more sewing action, it wouldn’t be “deadly” sewing action, so I thought it manageable.

I’ve occasionally been a fan of Vera Bradley products. I’m not mental for them like so many Virginia girls seemed to be, but every couple of years they put out a design that I really love. So I started with them, and bingo, I got lucky right off the bat. Their current pattern “Marina Paisley” not only has those bright strong Lego colors, but it also has paisley!

Now, which bag silhouette to choose? They have a great big tote called the Get Carried Away, which – while being of an appropriate size – is quilted cotton, meaning it probably wouldn’t be so durable as a bike bag, and certainly not weatherproof in this area.

I then discovered the Cooler Tote. This laminated, insulated bag (good for grocery shopping, which is, after all, the whole reason I need/want panniers) zips shut: good protection against the elements and against random groceries leaping out of the bag as I go over a pothole. It’s a great size: not so wildly huge that it would tilt my bike, but big enough to carry groceries for three. And best yet? It was on sale at verabradley.com for a mere $34.99. Yay!

So I ordered two of them, plus a few matching napkins so I’d have fabric available for the project.

My first step is to make two straps to go over the rack and down the back of the bag, which will keep the bags appropriately together. I’ll need the bike to arrive first, so I can measure them, and the bags too (though I have the listed dimensions here). These straps will be wide and strong – most likely crafted from webbing sandwiched between plain cotton, possibly with a sewn-down strap pad on each (made from one of the napkins). Each of the four ends will have a grommet in it.

When these two straps are made, I’ll simply cut a length of webbing to go inside the bag – as an anchor for the new straps – and line them up and sew through all these layers (inner webbing, bag, and new outer strap) with my industrial strength thread. I’m guessing they will not mirror the blue straps you see above, but rather travel straight up and down the bag. The seaming will stop before I reach the grommet tab, so that the grommet floats free.

Theoretically I will then have two insulated, laminated panniers connected by 2 straps, in much the same way that the rose Basil bag above shows. The grommet tabs are for connecting a bungee and lashing the bag securely to the rack.

I think this should work fine, barring anything unusual like the bags being too big, sewing machine not able to handle the thick layers of straps, or me losing my temper. (Oh. I said unusual, didn’t I?)

On the other hand, I might just go nuts with bungees and connect the unaltered bags to the rack. Might not look so good, but it’s a lot less stressful!

(A little PS: by the time I finished typing this post, I knew this was not going to happen, as a project. The bags will go back to VB, and I will purchase the Nantucket “Cruiser” wicker panniers. Thank you for reading.)