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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Junk in the front: A personal history with the Basket Bike

When I got the Raleigh Crested Butte, it wasn't with the intention that there would be a basket in the front. It's just the way it turned out.

Y'see, if I go too long without a basket bike, I go into withdrawals. I don't realize my need for the basket bike until after I get rid of one, of course.

My first two bikes in Portland, my Giant Rincon and my 70's Schwinn three-speed weren't basket bikes per se, but each of them sported one of those Wald quick release baskets at some point. My first true "Basket Bike" was the Schwinn Collegiate given to me by my old room-mate Chris Larson in spring of 2006. True, it didn't sport a basket until I got one, but something about a vintage Schwinn just calls out "Wald basket".
The Collegiate in action at the Clown Wedding Parade, 2006. Yes, how Portland. Photo J. Maus.
I enjoyed the bike while I had it, but it only lasted me a year before it moved on. I couldn't stand it's primitive sixties rear derailleur, which would only ever get at best four (but sometimes only three) of the five speeds. Also I hated those Schwinn specific 26" x 1 3/8" wheels and all the problems it caused.

It wasn't long, however, until I found another basket bike: the Univega Safari Ten bought for $30 in White River Junction, Vermont (of all places.) I had the bike rebuilt as a three speed with a Sturmey Archer AW hub. And yep, on went a Wald basket! First was the venerable 139, then the uber basket 157. The Giant Delivery Basket hauled lots of groceries and the bike served me well for almost three years, until the bikes started to over-run the stable and I realized I didn't use the bike much.
Pedalpalooza 2009. Photo J. Maus.
And then the Worksman Cycle Truck entered the mix, with its more-basket-than-bike approach. Much has been written about that bike here.

And now, the Raleigh Crested Butte is basket bike number four!

What is it about "junk in the front" of baskets that I like? Well, there's a few reasons:

  • It's nice to be able to see your payload. No worries if something fell off (or is about to fall off) and you can get to things easily in transit.
  • You can carry objects that are too big to be transported in a typical pannier or backpack/shoulder bag. Those same objects can be carried on a rear rack, but can be unwieldy (unless it's a long tail cargo bike.)
  • They look cool.
  • Tres retro Americana. America doesn't have much of a tradition of utility bicycling, except when it comes to front baskets. And WALD baskets are still made in the USA, a rarity for American bike parts.
  • Grant Petersen likes 'em. (Wait, I wasn't supposed to say that out loud.)
While the Crested Butte is Basket Bike Number Four, it's still the first time I've mounted the basket "The Rivendell Way", using a hardware-less basket ziptied to a front rack, versus the typical "bolt to handlebars" method. And I am seeing the advantages to this method. It's versatile, for one; if I don't want to use the basket for some reason, it's removed in a minute without tools or rerouting cables. And the rack sits lower than the typical basket would, meaning a more stable load. The lower basket means I can fit taller items in the basket and not have to worry about conflict with the handlebars. And I can use a handlebar-mounted bottle cage with no problem!
One of the things I've been doing for my recent basket bikes is finding a good lock-top water resistant plastic storage container. I find the largest one that will fit. This way I have something to schlep books, zines, and goods for store orders and various craft shows.

The only problem that remains is what to do with a battery powered headlamp, because I don't want to mount it to the handlebars. How I solved this problem will be talked about in the next post. 


  1. I have plans to mount a basket to my new Cruiser but have not yet made a decision about which one, although I am swinging towards the 139. But I like the front rack/basket combo. Seeing your plastic container in the basket made me wonder why not forego the basket and engineer some mounts for the container? With the rack all manner of containers could be used, from plastic to wood to bamboo or wicker...or even some super box from Pelican. I have one and it is bullet-proof and heavy.

    What rack do you have installed? I am far from clear what will fit my oddball bicycle but I like the one from Sunlite.

    Your previous post concerning the go-anywhere bike is spot-on. As a follower of Gypsy Nick I have completely altered my views about the One Bike. (But don't tell my '81 Schwinn SLT.) Big tires and steel, of course, but now that I am considering all things Intermodal, ship-ability is a consideration. Surly Travellers Check? That is what the Wildcat uses.

    Shawn, you'll have to forgive me for the length of my comments. Feel free to edit/delete/ridicule. I follow over fifty Blogs, all but three of which are cycling related. It is becoming a problem. But having found yours by way of Nicholas I now have fifty-one. It's exhausting, really.

    And finally (for now): Man, I love your comix!


    1. tj, I thought about that, but right now the removable wire bike basket offers the most versatility, and looks classy doing it. The plastic box needs to be transportable, hence it going into the basket and not "hard-wired" to the rack. The box also needs to be waterproof (Portland in winter) and if I start compromising the box, I run into issues of rain and water getting in. Maybe at some point I'll figure out a good way to do it, but right now this system works fine. (Also, I put my backpack in the basket, it wouldn't fit into that plastic box.)

      The rack is a Sunlite and it seems ok so far. Supposedly rated for 40 lbs (?) but I wouldn't push it that far. If I had to buy one, I go for the Soma rack.

      Thanks for your compliments! And if you really want to exaust yourself with all this flickr biz, start following bike related stuff on flickr.

  2. I'm a bit of a front basket lover too, they are possibly the best all round luggage solution for general commuting and shopping. No matter what the bulk, a basket coupled with a cargo net will hold almost anything!

  3. I always loved the look and utility of baskets. Oddly,I don't think I've ever owned one though,the ones in my memory were all someone else's bikes that I was fortunate enough to have used,LOL! And don't worry,we won't tell anyone you said out loud that Grant likes em too :P

    The DC

  4. I'm like this with my CETMA rack. I've had it for years and it's been on many bikes. Every so often, though, the appointed bike will break or be repurposed. I've gone 6 months without it recently, and finally having a CETMA bike again is a revelation.

    I do prefer a rack to a basket: more versatile and higher weight limit.


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