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Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Gear Me Up

Posted by on January 1st, 2020 at 8:16 am

female cyclist standing in wet weather gear with bike

All set for a grocery run.

We’ve established my Ready, Fire, Aim personality and the caveats that may entail. Don’t worry. We are just getting started.

For this one, we have to go back in time. Back when I commuted a very long time to work in a sea of cubicles and wanted a bike for weekend fun. This is five or six years ago, and I got a “road bike.” At the time I didn’t have any beef with REI and didn’t really know what “road bike” meant; it was a previous year’s clearance so price was nice, it would fit my frame, and it was aesthetically pleasing to me. That was truly the extent of my needs at the time.

Is it cool just to stroll into a bike shop and start asking questions?

Back then, which seems like so long ago now, I went into Sellwood Cycle Repair and got a U-lock. Really nice crew, they actually did quite a bit on kids’ bikes for me and the U-lock was just something else I needed. The guy at the time said something about liking the mid-size model because it easily fit around bike stands and it still fit in his back pocket. To be honest, I was only half listening. Momlyfe requires 50% of all brain activity to be working on other issues during any conversation. You want me to remember something? Put it in writing. It’s not a legal request; it’s an efficiency request.

Apparently, I lost the U-lock bracket mount at some point. It didn’t matter back when I got it. I had always thrown the lock (and water bottles and full size air pump and all snacks and blankie and…you get the idea) into the Burley trailer when we had it. We’d do the weekend thing on trails and rarely ever hit a road unless briefly enroute. Now that I can bike around solo and my needs have changed, I tried putting the lock around my bike in various places. Nope. I tried putting it in my back pocket. HAHAHAHA. No. The backpack option isn’t the most ideal in every situation, so I dropped off my youngest at school, and headed over to the closest bike shop expecting to find a bracket, best case scenario, or worst case scenario I’ll have to buy a new lock.

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Ok, first question…

“What’s the protocol here? Is it cool just to stroll into a bike shop and start asking questions? Can I just walk in and get whatever I need done, done?”

ulock laced through bike rack

The Abus and rack.

So far, I feel I have had really good luck in this department, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. I’ve only been snubbed at a few places, one of which, rightly so. I mean, let’s face it, no, I’m not buying a $5,000 Italian bike. That’s totally cool. No hard feelings there at all. This time I went to Kenton Cycle Repair, and Rich literally spent hours helping me right then and there. Which is why I’m asking – is that cool? To just go in, and take up hours of his time without making an appointment first?

I hear you. Hours for a lock bracket? Ok, well, they didn’t have any that fit my Abus. Rich offered to order one; but after hearing my story (I left out the part about the FBI), he asked if I was getting a bike rack at any point and showed me how the lock can thread through a rack. That was so cool. I honestly had no idea. The bike rack and bags was all stuff I was already researching, so when 2-3 hours later I had a bike rack and two panniers, I feel like I came out winning. Time saved, some poor guy had to listen to my 100 questions, even another worker, Claire, got roped into helping at some point. Money well spent, and now I can get groceries!

And that’s my second question.

“How are you getting groceries? Do you get delivery? Shop every 2-3 days? Have fewer children so don’t have to worry about it as much?”

While I respect the possibility the last of those questions may apply to you, I can’t put mine back, so I’m going to have to find some solutions here. I have found the max capacity of my tiny waxed canvas backpack, and I’ve found that my backpack + two panniers can work pretty well for some things. I have managed to fit quite a bit and not lose balance, but I’d love your input and advice. We don’t eat out; I’m an avid cook. I even make our weekly bread from scratch. Like I’ve said, many of you have been at this longer, and there may be more like me out here lurking, or maybe some that are curious and haven’t jumped on board yet.

Note from author: This is not an ad, native advertising, nor paid endorsement. Rich/Kenton really was very helpful, as was Sellwood, Block Bikes, and most other shops I’ve been into; I like to shop local as much as possible.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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70 Comments
  • Avatar
    Amy January 1, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Totally ok to go to a shop and ask a million questions, BUT if you find a shop that is willing to be kind and answer all your questions you have to make it your shop. Finding a good shop is HARD, everyone wants something different in a shop and when you find one that works for you keep going. They need your money, even if something might be cheaper at another shop or online keep going. Keeping them open and having a comfortable shop to come to is worth it.

    As for groceries, this is the biggest challenge. Plan it out. Figure out your meals and go frequently. It sucks, and honestly, this is one of the chores that being able to pick up a car-to-go would be worth it but that is not an option anymore. This is also done best as a team if you can bring your partner with you they can take half a load and you can take half a load. And sometimes you actually can bring more home if the two of you bus it rather than bike.

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      David Hampsten January 1, 2020 at 5:30 pm

      A agree with Amy, you’ll get used to shopping more frequently. You’ll also end up buying more frozen concentrated juices rather than liquid, concentrated 3x detergent and bleach instead of regular, fewer liquids, less pop, etc.

      Put the heavier items (cans, bottles, liquids, milk) at the bottom of the panniers/bike bags. If you use both front and rear bags, put the heavier items up front and bulkier items in the rear, balance the load left versus right so you can steer. Use frozen items to keep refrigerated items cool if you are traveling far (such as from a WINCO on the east side.) Make sure bread flour is not in any bag with liquids or frozen goods.

      Don’t forget to lock your bags if you are leaning them outside; it helps to bring a 7-foot Kryptonite cable with you, the really thick kind, and use your U-lock to lock the cable to the frame, rear wheel, and post.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) January 1, 2020 at 8:40 pm

      Amy & David, thank you! I really do like the two bike shops I’m between, so I guess I’ve lucked out. Kenton in particular has been super on it with us, including fitting my youngest and now she’s getting the hang of riding too. Also, after I wrote this up and just before it posted, I did take the husbeast’s bike in for a tune-up and as a surprise got him fitted with a rack as well, thinking we could take on the groceries together here and there. I’m excited to try it out! I get this weird pang of guilt taking the bus sometimes… you know? Like, when it’s a distance I can bike… I think I’m still feeling all of this out quite a bit, but no regrets whatsoever.

      and yeah – bread flours went into the backpack last time. Juice concentrate! Good one! Also, I intentionally bought the last pack of eggs in this crazy super constructed plastic carton thinking it could be my egg carton for all trips? I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted on that one. I’m unconvinced of transferring a dozen eggs into my reused carrier every 4-6 days. That sounds pretty kooky…but I hate broken eggs…so kooky it may have to be.

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        David Hampsten January 1, 2020 at 9:10 pm

        Personally I leave the eggs in their commercial Styrofoam-like packaging and put them near the top of the bag that has the grapes, leafy veggies, tomatoes, and fresh herbs, or else the bag with my spare clothing, the rain jacket and caps (usually the same bag.) Make sure nothing in put on top of them and that the package is more or less horizontal at all times, and that the bag isn’t too tight on its straps. I’ve never had a broken egg yet from carrying them (any that were broken were broken in the store and I didn’t inspect them very well beforehand – my bad.)

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          osmill January 2, 2020 at 12:52 pm

          As extra insurance, carry or ask for a rubber band to put around the egg carton, in case they shift in the bag. (New Seasons does this automatically – not sure if that’s for everyone, or if it’s because it’s obvious I’m hauling it on a bike.)

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            Middle of the Road Guy January 2, 2020 at 2:53 pm

            Hair bungees or cargo bungees cords work great also. I try to keep one under my saddle for securing an unneeded jersey, extra tube, etc…and they weigh just about nothing.

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        Aaron January 2, 2020 at 11:43 am

        I may be in the minority on this one (at least in the States) but I have a hybrid bike with a front basket. I’m still relatively new at doing grocery shopping by bike, but I basically wear a backpack and bring a reusable bag that I put in the front basket. I’m still open to refining my system, but this has worked well for me so far. Lightweight items go in the front basket in the reusable bag, and heavy items go in the backpack so that my steering isn’t affected. If you’re using rear panniers, then steering probably won’t be an issue for you. I’ve also put eggs in their original packaging in the front basket and rode on pretty rough pavement and never had a single egg break during the trip, which in my case is about five minutes each way. I pretty much assume that I’m shopping every couple of days unlike when I used to live in Southwest and drove to the store. I also have some family in Japan, particularly in Tokyo where car ownership is very low. From what I’ve observed, people there tend to walk or bike to the neighborhood grocery store (they would take the highly efficient train network for longer distances) and pretty much buy only what they can carry, so shopping tends to be a daily activity there, not a weekly activity like it is here. Of course, Tokyo is a much denser city than Portland, so I’m guessing there are more and smaller grocery stores per capita so some lessons from that might not apply here. But the frequent shopping lesson is applicable here I think.

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        turnips January 2, 2020 at 2:54 pm

        for some reason, I always end up being the designated egg carrier on bike tours. the cardboard carton seems to be plenty, though I sometimes break it in half to make fitting eggs inside a bag or basket easier. for normal in town grocery runs, I generally just pile groceries willy-nillily in my front basket and/or saddlebag. inclement weather obviously requires consideration of what can and can’t get wet, but that’s not usually a big deal.

        I won’t say I’ve never broken an egg, but it’s rare. they’ve survived several spills on loose gravel forest roads and my bike tipping over because I wasn’t careful enough leaning it against something.

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    Rudi V January 1, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Sellwood to Kenton, you get around. I wonder about stuff like this as well. Nobody’s getting rich running a bike shop, so how much of their time is it fair to take up on a small purchase?

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      Jim January 1, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      If they’re willing to spend the time when you, then it is OK to use their time. If you really value this service then, when you come to deciding on where to make bigger purchases, show it. Buy the item there instead of for $30 less on Amaz*n. This is when you will pay for their time. Otherwise your local bike shop will close.

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        Let’s Active January 2, 2020 at 2:26 pm

        I can’t second Jim’s advice more. Shopping local at a store you love beats amazon’s likely cheaper prices every time.

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          Middle of the Road Guy January 2, 2020 at 3:00 pm

          Plus, sometimes you see things at a shop you’d never normally think to shop for.

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            Let’s Active January 4, 2020 at 7:46 am

            Yes, so true MOTRG.
            Just read JM’s latest on local store closings. Depressing start to the year.

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      Matt January 2, 2020 at 3:10 pm

      Q: How do you make a small fortune running a bike shop?
      A: Start with a large fortune.

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    Carl January 1, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    I use a child trailer for groceries. The trip takes me through some quiet residential streets, and some busy roads with wide bike lanes. At the store there’s a bike rack away from most of the pedestrian traffic so it’s not in the way.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty January 1, 2020 at 11:10 pm

      I use one of these, which is also nice because I can take it right in the store with me and use it as a shopping cart. It also folds up pretty small if space is at a premium. It comes with a pretty big bag that sits on the lower half of the trailer. The bike still handles remarkably well, even when the trailer is heavily loaded.

      This plus panniers plus a backpack let me carry a huge amount of stuff on a pretty ordinary bike.

      https://www.burley.com/product/travoy/

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      • Becky Jo (Columnist)
        Becky Jo (Columnist) January 2, 2020 at 9:13 am

        Yes HK, thank you! I think you even commented that previously and that’s where I saw it (brain like a sieve, I tell ya.) Putting on short wish list. ^5

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        Dan January 2, 2020 at 11:38 am

        Yes, a trailer for groceries is the way to go! I have a pet trailer (Burley Tail Wagon) which is flat inside (no seats), which makes it really good as a grocery getter. I can put five bags of groceries in there, which is about the max I would buy on a single trip to the store anyway. Toilet paper is the only sticking point because it takes up so much room.

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    axoplasm January 1, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    To a lot of my coworkers and extended friend circle I’m The Bikiest Person We Know so I get asked a lot about “what kind of [X] should I buy” (usually: what kind of bike). My advice is always: “before you shop for [X] you should shop for a shop.”

    The corollary is “if the folks at a shop act like they’re too cool to take your money, they are.”

    We replaced our cheapo burley trailer with a longtail cargo bike & TBH this was not an upgrade. I miss the trailer, it was much more practical.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) January 1, 2020 at 8:29 pm

      I’m super pleased with my local bike shop options, and I think you’re spot on. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t being an oblivious jerk and missing some sort of unknown-to-me etiquette. Thanks for letting me know my instincts aren’t out of whack.

      I’m not super sad I got rid of our Burley as it was overkill, but I may look for a lighter option on Craigslist this summer. We temporarily have the youngest learning to ride, but until then she goes on longer trips on the tandem hitch, and I don’t regret not going cargo. It’s easy to drop the tandem off at the house and head back out, or even leave it locked up at the school until she’s ready to ride on her own… I did see a grocery hitch that looks like it hitches up like the tandem does to the seat post – that might be a good thing too?

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        BrianC January 2, 2020 at 1:16 pm

        Ahh… craigslist! A place where other people store things for you until you need them!

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    Glenn II January 2, 2020 at 9:06 am

    Question 1: Just like in dating or any other part of human life, the person you’re asking is expected to indicate whether they consent, and you then are expected to honor that indication. And if they help you they deserve the usual gratitude and repeat business.

    Question 2: You said you have a rack, so get a pair of these: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=ortlieb+backroller&t=ffab&iax=images&ia=images
    Each one will hold at least a standard grocery bag’s worth. If you’re used to buying more than that at once, plan on making smaller, more frequent trips. Gone for you are the days of infrequent industrial-sized grocery runs enabled by industrial-scale machinery fed by an industrial supply chain. Bonus: Everything you eat will be fresher because you just bought it like a day or two ago.

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      osmill January 2, 2020 at 12:49 pm

      A strong second to Glenn II on the Ortliebs: I take one or both of them to the store, stick them in the bottom of the shopping cart, then ‘bag’ groceries directly into them at the checkout counter. The locking system takes a little practice to learn to attach it smoothly, but then you can lift the bag right off by the handle – yet the bag is positively anchored while riding. (When we first got these bags, I spent some time finessing the position of the adjustable bottom ‘hook’ so that either bag can go on either side of the bike rack, on either of two bikes.) If it’s not raining, you can leave the bags standing open rather than rolling them closed, for some additional capacity. Definitely worth the cost.

      I have a midtail with a deck on the rack, but even without that, think about the top of the rack (with two bags on the sides) as a makeshift platform to strap on something bulky (TP, a case of cans/bottles, a big bag of rice, etc.) or a sturdy bag of non-breakables. I carry a couple different bungee cords wrapped around the rack and frame so they are always available for those unexpected over-purchases…

      And a definite yes! to MonicainPDX on the center stand – it’s an amazing improvement in your ability to manage loads on a bike. You can get so much more … aggressive … in your experiments in hauling things when you’re not trying to balance the bike while you load it. 🙂

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    terryi999 January 2, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Groceries: Many London commuters buy 1-2 days worth of groceries while walking home from the Tube station after work. Works for bike commuting as well. Save the home delivery charges for the once-a-month big bulk items.

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    MonicainPDX January 2, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Something that helps me for two-pannier-full grocery runs is a good center-stand instead of the old kickstand. It reduces the chances the bike will fall over when I’m loading it, which makes all the difference. When I was completely car-free, a trailer was an essential.

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    Jason January 2, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    I was getting groceries with my panniers for a while, tore up my rear hub. I don’t recommend it. Especially if you have the penchant to buy a lot of groceries at one go. Even if you get the weigh distribution perfect, you still may thrash things. The rear wheel takes a lot of wear and tear.

    Trailers are the way to go, you can get something simple like a Burley. Or you can go extreme with Bikes At Work adjustable length trailer and mount some Rubbermaid bins to it.

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      Jason January 2, 2020 at 12:45 pm

      Good idea Jason, but how about a link?

      Okay other Jason, here you go!
      https://www.bikesatwork.com/store/product/32a-bicycle-trailer

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      • Becky Jo (Columnist)
        Becky Jo (Columnist) January 6, 2020 at 10:42 am

        ok Jason 1&2, that trailer is reallllly cool. at almost $800… it might be a bit steep for me at this time… but I’ll def keep it in mind, cuz dang, that’s cool.

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      David Hampsten January 2, 2020 at 3:32 pm

      It’s good to remember that bicycles are nothing like cars – they are more similar to a payloader or forklift, with the pivot in the front steering column and not at the front axle. So if you do choose to use panniers instead of a trailer to carry heavy loads and don’t want to prematurely damage your valuable rear hubs, put the main heavy items in front. Don’t have a compatible fork? Get one – they are not particularly expensive. I personally use cheaper RST spring suspension forks that have all the braze-ons (disc, cantilever, and roller) on all my bikes paired with Minoura MT-4000SF front cromoly racks and a 4-point clamping system. I regularly carry a couple gallons milk, cheese, veggies, meat, and other dense items on the front, often over 40 lbs worth of stuff. Bulky low-weight items like TP and cereal go on the rear with the eggs. My heavy lock is in its own trunk bag with the spare lights and extra bungee cords.

      Full disclosure, I do actually sometimes use a bike trailer, a cheap Sunlight cargo, for carrying stuff needed for public events like folding tables and chairs, maybe 6 times per year. It helps to keep the trailer’s tires fully inflated.

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      Matt January 2, 2020 at 7:11 pm

      I don’t think you can blame the damaged hub on the groceries. I do big grocery runs on my touring bike and often reach 375 lbs total weight of bike, rider, and cargo. My hubs are just fine. I suspect your hub was not properly adjusted in the first place–ALL cup and cone bearing hubs leave the factory adjusted too tight, and it’s the bike shop’s job to adjust them before they hit the road–or it was far overdue for a lube and adjustment.

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        Alan 1.0 January 4, 2020 at 1:54 pm

        Agreed. That hub will carry Becky Jo, all the groceries she can load, and the tag-along trailer with kiddo for tens of thousands of miles. I’d expect broken spokes from too much load way before excessive hub wear or breakage.

        She could increase the cargo capacity of the rear rack with something like the Wald 582 folding rear basket attached to the top of the rack. Between it and the panniers, I think that’s in the range of four old-fashioned grocery bags. Bungie cargo nets work great with baskets.

        Besides the Burley trailer (I like trailers for big loads), the tag-along could also be fitted with a rear rack and panniers to double the capacity of the bike with little further loading of the bike’s rear. The kiddo could still ride along, too. Oh…get a light on the back of the tag-along!

        I bet the steering gets awfully light and skittish with the panniers loaded up (and even more with a rear basket). Standing up on the pedals helps a lot but getting some load weight up front would also be part of my plan. Between the 28-spoke front wheel and the no-eyelets fork, it leaves me looking at a bar bag for maybe 15 pounds of load (two gallons of milk). Lots of bar bag choices, but it would be a good idea to bring the bike to the bike shop to get one that fits best. I’d be looking for capacity and simplicity (big & easy-to-load) over features, pockets, etc.

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          Jason January 4, 2020 at 2:51 pm

          I experienced direct cause and effect; heavily lauden Ortleibs = needed a new whee; and this was over a short – three month period of timel. To be fair, it wasn’t the hub, you’re correct. I had to replace the whole wheel and the hub was OEM. It was cheeper to go pre-built. But regardless, “the tail that wags the dog” will lead to having to get a new wheel. Yes, you can do light grocery loads, but if you go for a “full week for two adults” shop, the load balance has to be perfect. Any discrepancy will cause differential – lateral force. Wheels aren’t built to sustain that kind of energy.

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            Alan 1.0 January 4, 2020 at 6:04 pm

            I don’t doubt your data point, but it has lots of unknowns. You say “OEM” but that covers quite a spectrum, from perfectly serviceable to junk. How much do you weigh? (I’m a Clydesdale, maybe 80 pounds on Becky Jo.) Was the wheel failure due to hubs or something else? If hubs, how new were they? When were they last adjusted, lubed, and by whom? What was the failure mode? (graunchy bearings? snapped axle shaft? ratchet?) What sort of hub? (IGH, cassette, ?) Were any warning signs ignored? Environmental threats?

            Becky Jo’s bike probably has a Shimano Tiagra hub. It has 32-spoke wheels, probably double butted. It’s a very decent, mid-strength wheel, capable of her plus full bags on city streets. She seems to have enough miles on it from pre-car-free use to her last month’s duties that any factory imperfections would have surfaced by now. If she hasn’t done so since she got it, it’s probably time for a tune up including truing, lube, and bearing adjustment. But if it’s maintained, it’s unlikely to fail, witnessed by many, many other riders using similar gear for similar duties, frequently for 10- to 20,000 miles or more.

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              Jason January 4, 2020 at 7:27 pm

              At the time my bike was brand new, it has Shimano 105 drivetrain. If you want to know more, maybe you should ask me for a coffee. It sounds like you want to know my intimates.

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                Alan 1.0 January 4, 2020 at 8:51 pm

                No offense intended, but I remain curious about why a reputable hub or wheel would fail under normal usage, and skeptical that it had anything to due with grocery loads.

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              David Hampsten January 5, 2020 at 4:07 pm

              IMO, if you plan on using wheels for carrying heavy loads (or heavy people like myself), I strongly suggest tensioning up the spokes quite a bit. Low-tensioned spoked wheels work great for light people who want to ride fast and to relieve some of the road bumpiness, and I’m not saying your wheels failed because the spokes weren’t properly tensioned for the loads you were carrying, but I’ve had more than a few wheel failures because the spoke tension was not correct and the wheel spoke tension wasn’t properly balanced between the pull and lee sides.

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                Jason January 5, 2020 at 7:33 pm

                The force of a rider’s mass bears down on the rim as designed. A loaded pamier will cause latteral force, a strain not designed into the rim.

                My wheel failed because the r was splitting. I was mis-remebering when I said the hub.

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                David Hampsten January 5, 2020 at 8:58 pm

                You are of course correct. I have since discovered there are rims designed to take extreme loads, but most rims (even double-walled ones and wider ones) are really designed for about 250 lbs total load, including the rider. The more spokes you have and the stronger they are will help, but only up to a certain point. There’s a smaller selection of rims rated to 300-350 lbs and I’ve come across the Ryde Andra 40 series that are rated to 180 kilos or 396 lbs; I’m sure there are others out there. But by then you are talking about custom wheels and not OEM.

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              • Becky Jo (Columnist)
                Becky Jo (Columnist) January 6, 2020 at 12:11 pm

                Popping in here Jason, David, Alan and all… thank you. I’m reading all these as they come in and didn’t want to interrupt, but am learning from you… so, yeah, thank you. I’m 150lbs, 5’9″… so far I’ve loaded I’d say max an extra 100 lbs between rear panniers & backpack, and it was pushing my ability to still maneuver. I’d say keeping it 50-70 w panniers & backpack is still a safe amount as far as stability/maneuvering goes at this point. I’m not sure what hubs and stuff are (I’ve actually got a post about that coming up), but I do know when I put on/took off the Burley trailer hitch, I over tightened the rear wheels back down… when I took the bikes to Rich/Kenton for a tune up, he mentioned they were too tight… that’s all on me. know better/do better, right? Again – thank you for your candid discussion on here. Much appreciated.

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                Alan 1.0 January 6, 2020 at 8:46 pm

                You’re most welcome, Becky Jo! I’m enjoying the discussion, too.

                Diamond frame style bikes like yours (and mine) distribute weight roughly 60% rear, 40% front. So, calling the bike 25lb, and with your max load, your rig’s total weight is:

                150 + 100 + 25 = 275lb gross weight
                275 x 0.60 = 165lb rear wheel load

                You’re still well within the rated range of 250 pound wheel load that David mentioned (and I agree with). Even with 70lb in the panniers (so, 100% on the rear wheel) you’re still under that design threshold.

                The backpack is a mixed blessing; I don’t care for them on a bike (love ’em when walking). The upside is that the weight is suspended by your legs so that much less shock is transmitted to the wheels and spokes. It also gets more weight on the front wheel. The downside is that, for me at least, I sway side-to-side quite a bit more. Besides looking more wobbly (that may or may not be a good thing on the street), it leads to more lateral load on the wheels. As Jason mentioned, that lateral (side-to-side) load is a bike wheel’s weakest axis.

                It sounds like you’re figuring stuff out really well as you go. 50-70lb is a very respectable load, and reasonable for your bike’s capacity. Keep on biking! Keep on blogging!

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 6, 2020 at 10:41 pm

                Picking this message to reply to for no particular reason; this could go many places in this thread. My advice: Don’t Worry. I’ve had my mediocre city bike for decades, and abused in all manner of ways, including carrying plenty of heavy loads. For most people most of the time, it will be fine. Just as you don’t worry about wearing out your car by filling it with groceries, you shouldn’t worry about your bike.

                Do whatever works for you, and your bike will survive. Don’t sweat it. It will work out. You will be fine.

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                David Hampsten January 7, 2020 at 2:38 pm

                Becky Jo, I agree with Alan & HK, as long as you aren’t either super heavy yourself or carrying an anvil in one bag, you should be fine. But it’s also worth noting that if you are unusually heavy or carrying unusual loads, it’s reasonably possible to find relatively inexpensive solutions for carry such loads without prematurely destroying your bike, using standard bicycles and parts. The lighter you are (and your loads), the more you can get away with less good parts, wider tires, loose spokes, and lower tire pressure. But for both light and heavy use, maintaining the bike in good working order is still necessary.

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    Carrie January 2, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    I’m late to the party, but my life has changed since I started using a trailer for grocery shopping. We got one for free (a Schwinn, FWIW) because the seat part was ripping out, we replaced that part with some plywood and It Is Awesome. I’ve even used it while walking to the grocery store if I know I’m going to buy heavy things and don’t want to carry it all home on foot…..

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    curly January 2, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Great article with many thoughtful responses!
    I’d like to add a couple of suggestions;

    1) More frequent trips to the grocery store is easy if you’re close. Carpool to the store with a friend, or neighbor, for the heavy, cumbersome articles once a month.
    2) Secure your lock to your rack with Velcro straps to reduce the noise and wear from bouncing along Portland streets.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) January 6, 2020 at 12:13 pm

      Velcro tip is genius. why didn’t I think of that? thank you!

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    SD January 3, 2020 at 11:32 am

    My comfort level with bike use for transportation grew a tremendous amount after I had more experiences bike separately riding for recreation and fitness. Long group rides, racing, intervals on an indoor trainer or cyclocross really put my commute into perspective, inspiring me to ride at a relaxed pace where I can see more, ride in work or casual clothes and feel comfortable with all of the other riding styles that are out there.

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    Liz January 4, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Delta Bungee Cord Net + front basket mounted to a front rack=grocery shopping galore. I also immediately recycle cardboard boxes, like those that come with cereal or pizza at the store which helps a bit. I have a frame bag and shove things in my pockets and tend to shop directly into my bike bag (I get some looks, but they it’s less germy and totally common in Europe!) so that helps me stay mindful of what I can pack home.

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    Rain Waters January 4, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Ive tried everything else discussed here. This works best after 35 years . . .

    Suit up for winter ride. Update grocery list into handlebar bag with wallet, U lock etc. Open front door. Roll steel touring bike with full fenders out to patio. Close door. Ride 3 miles to store. U Lock bike to chainlink fence outside garden section. Pull 4 Ortlieb rolltops off bike and place in full size shopping cart. Purchase weeks food. Show, or learn from, a bagger how to load Ortliebs 60rear/40front. (Fear hub crap was nonsense) Roll cart and packed panniers out to bike. Hang the panniers onto bike. Pedal 3 miles past my stored stereo in a metal box to patio. Open front door and roll loaded bike across vinyl runner to kitchen. Undress from winter outfit. Unload Ortliebs directly into fridge and cabinets. Park bike.

    Bike takes 1 hour of smug one upmanship and bliss. Auto takes 55 minutes of stress. BTW, this can be done in Reno where I didnt miss one week.

    I do use that genuine motor vehicle once monthly to haul any and all liquids, canned goods and other heaviness etc, cuz thats what those are for.

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    Jason January 5, 2020 at 8:23 am

    Alan 1.0
    No offense intended, but I remain curious about why a reputable hub or wheel would fail under normal usage, and skeptical that it had anything to due with grocery loads.Recommended 0

    My point is, loading my Ortleibs with four grocery bags worth of food stuffs is not normal use. For me, replacing my car for groceries, meant just that. That’s groceries for two adults for one week. Which, is better handled with a bike trailer.

    OEM does not mean reputable. It means “the cheapest option for the bike manufacturer”. And it is very common for production bikes to have crappy wheels. A good wheelset will set you back as much as the price of that new bike you are buying. Or more.

    Like I said, I was conflating the hub as the issue. In retrospect the rim (WTB) was splitting and at that point it was cheaper to get a prebuilt wheel with a Shimano 105 hub and a DT Swiss rim.

    Fun fact, when this was happening, I called the bike shop to schedule service to get the wheel trued. The mechanic said to check for rim for splitting because they were seeing the WTBs do that alot. Sight unseen, the mechanic diagnosed a problem that I hadn’t noticed. I thought it was just a broken spoke and a slight un-trueness.

    Speaking of mechanics, if you really want to noodle on this subject, go chat up the mechics at your local shop. Ask them, what is the expected outcome of loading up Ortleibs with four grocery bags worth of food stuffs. What if there’s a weight imbalance of 15 lbs, what if the load is perfectly balanced? At what point does an imbalance between the two sides become an issue? For that matter, what payload are bicycle panniers designed to carry?

    Bicycle touring would have you carrying more gear than food. Presumably you’d buy food as you go. So, panniers were not originally designed to carry very dense payload. Camping gear and various clothing options would be most of what you are carrying. Bulky, but relatively light weight. That’s not to say that a touring rig would be light. That’s why touring geometry is longer and the frames are heavier. Just makes for a more stable platform for carrying loads, as well as being comfortable.

    Commuters have latched onto panniers as a go-to resource. But there too, commuter payload is bulky but not dense, with the exception of a laptop and lunch. Shoes and clothing don’t have high density.

    And so, with that, I put it to you, if you don’t believe me, go ask a mechanic.

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      David Hampsten January 5, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      I’m unable to drive, so I’ve always been dependent on my bike for transportation, especially when I’ve lived in communities with lousy public transportation (such as the one I now live in.)

      I concur with much of what you say, though my WTB rims are holding up reasonably well. If the bike is carrying a heavy load, it will be stressed by that load, and it’s best to have a bicycle that is designed to hold up to those stresses for as long as possible. Since it’s impractical (and expensive) to build a bicycle that can handle any stress, one should select the type of bike that minimizes the impacts of their particular stresses.

      Even when empty and free of bags, all my bikes carry a very heavy load, me. I’m a very heavy person, so I tend to have either cro-moly frames or stouter aluminum frames. Since I know I’ll be lucky to have them last 5 years of heavy use (based on 47 years of bicycling), I tend to own a series of inexpensive medium-quality frames that I strip down and rebuild with stouter parts. I know if I’m pulling a loaded trailer, a cro-moly steel frame will generally last longer than aluminum, but also to regularly look for stress cracks on the drop outs and bottom bracket.

      I also know that if I’m carrying heavily laden 1997 Ortlieb bags, as I normally do, that I’m better off putting the heaviest stuff up front like a forklift – it’s easier to steer, but it’s also a lot cheaper to replace a wrecked fork than a wrecked mainframe. I have also learned that at times my load will be uneven and unstable, best as I might try to make it otherwise, and a cheap under-$100 spring-shocked fork works amazingly well for such loads rather than using a rigid fork – it’s not the comfort of a shock as much as isolating the lateral stresses to the fork stanchions rather than the rim or headset, which are relatively expensive to replace.

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      BikeRound January 6, 2020 at 7:26 am

      My opinion is that we are over-complicating things a bit here. I also have four Ortlieb panniers, which I regularly fill up with heavy groceries on the way home from the store. I doubt that this is going to be doing any damage to either the panniers or any part of the wheels. But even if it does in the long term, last time when my bike underwent a major servicing at a reputable bike shop–which included, among other things, a new cassette, new hub, two new wheels, a new chain, and new tape around the handlebars–the total bill was around $350. So bike parts and bike repair is very affordable–and if the new parts last as long as the old ones did, I won’t need to replace them for another eight years.

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      Alan 1.0 January 6, 2020 at 7:57 pm

      Thanks for expounding on your wheel failure; it makes more sense to me now. I consider WTB reputable, OEM or not. Sounds like they had a bad run.

      I talked to the mechanic, who was also the counter guy that day, about loads when I got my bags. He thought I might need stronger wheels (OEM Arraya) but didn’t expect catastrophic failure. They’re still rolling fine after hundreds of short shopping runs by me, and probably 5-10k total miles (unknown history, guessing by rim brake wear). One of my common loads, every few weeks, is 25lbs of dog food. I carry it on one side, no counter-balance load. Looking around, both in real-life and online, so do quite a few other folks (http://lovelybike.blogspot.com/2014/10/is-uneven-pannier-load-problematic.html). I have other bikes, too, mostly older. I’ve only had one wheel failure: I taco’d it at ~1mph when I wobbled and massively over corrected.

      I agree with David’s suggestion of carrying a front load but the more I look at Becky Jo’s bike pictures, the less I think it’s going to work for her (28-spoke wheels, carbon forks, no mounting eyelets, cables where a bar bag could go, etc). Still, moving even 10 pounds from the rear to the front would improve steering. Maybe a LBS could suggest a decaleur that would fit.

      A couple other maintenance ideas to keep her wheels hauling… Also as David mentioned, correct spoke tension is important for strong wheels. Most factory wheels are on the low side of optimal tension. It’s probably a shop job but can be done at home. And softer tires reduce shock that leads to spoke damage, so drop the air pressure a little (5lbs?). I guess those are 28-32mm tires, which is OK and maybe as large as will fit that frame. If a larger size fits, I’d move up a little when it’s time to replace the rear.

      Ultimately, for grocery/utility runs, Becky Jo might want to look for a different bike, but I remain convinced that she can bring home the groceries just fine with what she has. (And yeah, that includes the trailer. 🙂 )

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        Jason January 7, 2020 at 7:08 am

        Yes, I’ve seen loads of people with one pannier. I see it alot. In 1999 I split a rim carrying textbooks in one panier. At the time I was riding to and fro with a retired bike mechanic (owner of CycleBi FWIW). We were both attentnding community college in Eugene. He fixed my bike and told me what I am now sharing here. Bike wheels are not designed to carry excessive loads on one side.

        The physics of a wheel are such that it will stay upright while it spins. https://youtu.be/NeXIV-wMVUk

        Now, if you think about what you see in that video, you can conclude that while angular momentum holds the wheel upright, a lateral force pulls the wheel to one side. You might say it pulls it over. That tension is not optimal for a cyclist’s forward momentum, not is it good for the structural integrity of the wheel. Balance is first and foremost key, followed by total mass. Assume a mother of three shopping for her family and her spouse too. How many days can they eat from x number of grocery bags? How times will she need to go to the grocery store per bag of groceries? Let’s set number of times per week to 1 and solve for number of bags of groceries. Now, consider that volume of groceries on a bicycle.

        So, yes, you can ignore physics, but physics won’t ignore you.

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          El Biciclero January 7, 2020 at 10:57 am

          At the risk of sounding pedantic, gyroscopic forces bear a tiny fraction of the responsibility for keeping a bike upright (it is more of an inverted pendulum than a gyro). A rear wheel is “unbalanced” to begin with on a multi-gear, derailleur bike because of the “dish” of the spokes. To make room for the cluster, the spokes on that side of the wheel have to be pushed toward the center of the axle and are more in line with the plane of the hub flange than are the spokes on the opposite side. As a result, the spokes on the drive side of a typical rear wheel carry significantly more tension than those on the non-drive side. As you ride, your frame is resting on your axles/hubs. What is keeping those hubs off the ground? They are hanging from the upper spokes of your wheels, suspended between the J-bend at the hub and the spoke nipple at the rim. As those spokes rotate to the bottom of the wheel, the weight of the bike is taken completely off of them, so your spokes take turns holding up your hubs. This causes a constant variation in the amount of tension your spokes are holding as the wheel turns. It is this constant loading/unloading of the spokes that causes the majority of the wear. The heavier your load, the greater the difference in tension becomes, and thus increases the wear on the spokes/rims. This happens about 135 times per minute at 10 mph.

          Now, if you are turning, and everything stays in line with the plane of your wheels, you are not really placing any lateral forces on the wheels, you are merely compensating for the centripetal force of the turn. If you keep your body upright and ride straight while you tip your bike sideways, you are putting some pretty bad lateral forces on your wheels. So I would imagine that to the extent a lopsided load forces you to ride with your bike tilted, it would increase the wear on your wheel beyond what would be caused strictly by extra, perfectly-balanced weight. The amount of torque actually being applied by a lopsided load seems like it would be small; the greater risk would be hammering on just one (instead of both) of those little tiny screws that holds up the majority of most bike racks.

          Bottom line is that—in theory—the strongest wheel would be built with lots of spokes and an internal gear or single-speed hub so that the amount of spoke tension and angle are as similar as possible on both sides. I would tend to theorize that the amount of extra weight, and spoke tension adjustment would contribute vastly more to wheel failure than having a lopsided load. I would also guess that if one needed to carry only one pannier on the rear, it would be best to carry it on the non-drive side of the wheel, since pulling the bike into a slight tilt in that direction would keep those spokes at an angle with the vertical that would be less severe than it would be for the spokes on the drive side.

          Please, someone (seriously), correct the flaws in my theory.

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            Jason January 7, 2020 at 11:30 am

            At the risk of sounding pedantic, gyroscopic forces bear a tiny fraction of the responsibility for keeping a bike upright — Try this experiment, go out side and see if your bike stands up on it’s own. Then run with it and let it go, as if you were run-starting a child on a bike. I think we all know what will happen in both cases. First, the bike will fall over. Because it’s too tired. Second, when you let your two wheelie good friend loose, it will go on for some distance. This will depend on several factors such as geometry and rolling resistance. And a bunch of other things.

            A rear wheel is “unbalanced” to begin with on a multi-gear, derailleur bike because of the “dish” of the spokes.— I knew someone was going to say that. We’re talking the difference between a few ounces of the sprocket and mech and 70lbs of blorp in a bag. The default unbalance is there, but it is negligible.

            As those spokes rotate to the bottom of the wheel, the weight of the bike is taken completely off of them, so your spokes take turns holding up your hubs. This causes a constant variation in the amount of tension your spokes are holding as the wheel turns. It is this constant loading/unloading of the spokes that causes the majority of the wear. The heavier your load, the greater the difference in tension becomes, and thus increases the wear on the spokes/rims. This happens about 135 times per minute at 10 mph. — Engineer says “no”. There’s vigorous disagreement over whether a bike in effect hangs from the upper spokes (those above the hub as you view the bike from the side) or rather is being supported by the lower ones, acting like tiny pillars. ‘The latter view, odd as it seems, is definitively the case,’ says Jim Papadopoulos from Northeastern University’s College of Engineering in Boston, USA, and the co-author of Bicycling Science.

            While it’s easy to believe a bicycle spoke would simply collapse under the weight of bike and rider, he goes on to explain that the tension created in a spoke during the wheel building process (called ‘pre-tension’) is what allows the lower spokes to bear the load without buckling, as they would if there was no pre-tension.

            https://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/85/the-science-behind-spokes <– really good reading

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              El Biciclero January 7, 2020 at 12:52 pm

              That is an interesting article, and the only one I’ve ever seen that claims the “pillar” action of lower spokes. The engineer claims that removing the upper spokes and watching the wheel collapse does not prove that the lower spokes aren’t functioning as pillars. What claim can be made if the lower spokes are removed and a bike frame remains suspended from the upper spokes? What of these fabric spokes? It seems a little hand-wavy to say that the the lower spokes act as little pillars…but only if the upper spokes are pulling on them with adequate tension. At best, this implies involvement of both upper and lower spokes in bearing the load. It isn’t mentioned, but are we to assume that tension in the upper spokes of a loaded wheel is the same as that in an unloaded wheel, or does this tension increase? If the tension of the upper spokes increases, what would that mean? Sounds like when I tell my kids, “there’s no such thing as division, only multiplicative inverses!”

              I mean, I’m a total armchair dilettante, so I have to put some faith in the mechanics professor, but I’d sure like more of an explanation than “it’s definitive!”

              Regardless, though, it’s the process of tensioning/detensioning on every revolution, in combination with inappropriate (too high OR too low) or uneven unloaded tension on metal spokes that causes a lot of wheel failure.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 7, 2020 at 1:30 pm

                Since spokes under compression tend to buckle, what if the upper spokes helped keep things aligned to make buckling less likely and increasing the load they carry (like standing on an aluminum can)?

                That said, I too have a degree of skepticism about the “pillar effect” of spokes. I’m sure it contributes something, but probably not a huge amount.

                For most of us, this is of no practical consequence.

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                Jason January 7, 2020 at 1:59 pm

                I don’t know anything about fabric spokes. I can’t speak to that. I’ll see if I can find any hard facts. Meanwhile, here is a review of the gyroscopic effect from Cornell University. https://ezramagazine.cornell.edu/SUMMER11/ResearchSpotlight.html

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                Alan 1.0 January 7, 2020 at 10:14 pm

                Good references, Jason; that video is really fun!

                Regarding spoke compression, Jobst Brandt (The Bicycle Wheel) said the same thing as Papadopoulos in this usenet post from 2000 (he dates that understanding to the 1960’s): https://yarchive.net/bike/wheel_stresses.html . His words that resonated with me are: “You can test this by plucking a front wheel spoke (near the nipple) before and after you put weight on the handlebars. You’ll find that the only spokes to change are those about the tire contact patch on the floor.” I easily verified those results on my bike’s wheels. He also touched on why properly tightened (pre-tensioned) spokes are so important: “If the load is great enough, they will become slack and the wheel can collapse sideways. In any case, a wheel can only bear loads that do not consistently slacken the preload.”.

                In case the idea of balancing on one skinny strand of steel spaghetti is too boggling, Brandt also wrote: “So in fact the hub is hanging from all the spokes in one sense, since they all pull on it in all directions.”

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                Jason January 13, 2020 at 12:39 pm

                Actually, I think you’re right Alan. The hub hangs from the rim, the pillar effect is negligible. I say this for one simple reason, the spoke nipple. The nipple is designed to tension the spoke, but it does not provide any leverage against the inside of the rim. Rather, it provides leverage to the outside of the rim.

                To put it another way, the nipple pulls the rim toward the hub, but it does not push the rim away from the hub. If the pillar effect was the primary load bearing force, there would be nothing in the way of the spoke to puncture the inner-tube.

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                Alan 1.0 January 13, 2020 at 9:32 pm

                That’s a very elegant way to state that idea! Thx.

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              El Biciclero January 14, 2020 at 10:22 am

              “A rear wheel is ‘unbalanced’ to begin with on a multi-gear, derailleur bike because of the ‘dish’ of the spokes.— I knew someone was going to say that. We’re talking the difference between a few ounces of the sprocket and mech and 70lbs of blorp in a bag. The default unbalance is there, but it is negligible.”

              I missed this before, but since you guys are still discussing… I don’t think I was clear in my meaning of “unbalanced”—I meant the spoke angle and tension between the drive and non-drive sides of the wheel, not the weight difference due to having the sprockets on one side.

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    Jason January 6, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Your milage may vary, but the risk is inherent.

    You said you have four panniers, do you use them all at the same time? Or is it two pair of rear bags? How many grocery bags of stuff do you load them up with?

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      BikeRound January 6, 2020 at 8:56 am

      I do have the full set of four Ortlieb panniers; in addition, I also have a basket (which was sold as a CD storage case) on top of the rear rack, which can also hold a fully packed reusable grocery bag. The amount of groceries that I buy at a time certainly can vary, and usually I do not stuff all the panniers and the rear basket full of stuff (there is actually a lot of storage capacity in total), but I would say that I can carry home on my bike the typical amount of groceries that I see families buy at the supermarket.

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    Jason January 6, 2020 at 9:12 am

    Distributing the load across the whole bike is wise. I was just loading my rear paniers to the brim. Sometimes I wasn’t able to close them. My bike is steel but has carbon fork. This limits the load I can put on the front wheel. I suppose I could put *some* weight up there, but I never got a clear answer about how much it can carry. I attribute this to the manufacturer not specifically stating a limit. So, for me, the trailer is best answer. And I am compelled to share my experience as a cautionary tale. I won’t be the least bit offended if my advice goes unheaded though.

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      BikeRound January 6, 2020 at 1:10 pm

      I am not necessarily against a trailer either. In fact, I had a BOB trailer myself for a while–which I bought on craigslist, of course–but I found that it took me much more energy to pull the trailer than to carry the same amount of weight if I distributed the cargo into panniers. Also, maneuvering with a trailer can be a real bear in hotels (although I did find that you could just barely get the bike and the trailer into most hotel elevators if you jackknifed the trailer), around the house, or other confined spaces. I think the biggest benefit of a trailer is that it can carry larger objects, and that it is much quicker to load than awkwardly-shaped panniers.

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      David Hampsten January 7, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      I don’t know of any forks that are tested for carrying loaded bags. Presumably loaded touring bike manufacturers like Surly or Soma do test them, but I’ve never seen any results. I dare say a lot of it is trial and error. I assume that as I add racks to my suspension forks and put up to 80 lbs on them, on top of my already heavy body weight, I’m probably voiding the warranty big time, but I have yet to experience a failure in my 4 years of doing so. Good cro-moly forks rarely go bad under heavy loads. Any fork will fail in a crash. But to be honest I don’t know if a carbon fiber fork can take the same stresses on it as any other fork – I’ve no idea at all.

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    Marco January 9, 2020 at 4:40 am

    What helmet do you wear, Becky? I recently saw this foldable bike helmet (you can actually win one here this month, fingers crossed https://www.bikeride.com/giveaways/) from a company in UK. When I do my grocery ride, I am always worried about leaving helmet outside. What do you do? Do you take it with when you go inside? Do you somehow lock it with the bike or leave unlocked? Or is it even a concern? Cuz people steel all they can in my city; even once I came out and to my surprise … my beloved Brooks saddle was gone 🙁 The helmet above you can just fold and then put it in your purse or shopping bag 😀

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    dan January 9, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    David Hampsten
    Becky Jo, I agree with Alan & HK, as long as you aren’t either super heavy yourself or carrying an anvil in one bag, you should be fine. But it’s also worth noting that if you are unusually heavy or carrying unusual loads, it’s reasonably possible to find relatively inexpensive solutions for carry such loads without prematurely destroying your bike, using standard bicycles and parts. The lighter you are (and your loads), the more you can get away with less good parts, wider tires, loose spokes, and lower tire pressure. But for both light and heavy use, maintaining the bike in good working order is still necessary.Recommended 1

    This whole discussion is very interesting to me because I have commuted for years and years (say 15 years), and typically use just a single pannier. That’s all the space I need on most days: laptop, lunch, and raingear is all that’s really in there. I always felt that carrying 2 panniers just multiplies the number of things to carry on arrival to no purpose. I have some stonking big panniers, and I will sometimes stop at the grocery store for a quick shopping trip on the way home, loading everything into that single pannier. So it’s not a huge load, but I’ve probably had 15 pounds back there on occasion.

    Now, having a single pannier does affect the bike balance noticeably (but not excessively), but it never occurred to me that this would damage the wheel. And in fact, I’ve had the same rear wheel for probably close to 10 years.

    So…is wheel damage from off-center loads really a thing to worry about? Relatedly, does an off-center load really exert lateral force on a wheel that’s different from, say, banking as you go around a turn?

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      Alan 1.0 January 13, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      If it worries you after all the riding you’ve done, and all that’s been written in this thread, then consider changing something so you’re not worried about it. 🙂

      It’s a real, lateral force. Forces add up as vectors, so if it’s pushing against the turn’s lateral load it makes the total lateral load less, or more if it’s with the turn. The difference(s) of force between an eccentric load compared to banking, or hammering hard like a sprinter, or road hazards, etc., will be in magnitude and direction of force. Riding forces are dynamic – highly variable in force and direction – compared to a relatively static lateral force induced by a lop-sided pannier load. I think you’d also need a very heavy pannier and/or mount the load far off-center to equal the force applied by normal cornering or cranking up a hill.

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