It looks like the bicycle-basket is making a bit of a comeback in New Zealand as more people start using their bikes for day-to-day tasks. Kiwis have shied away from practical bikes for some decades as the “sport” bikes took over, but the graceful European roadsters the Frocks on Bikes crowd float around on often feature a front basket andÂ prove ‘practical’ and ‘beautiful’ are not mutually exclusive when it comes to cycling.
I thought I’d give this basket lark a try as my commute is a fairly short one and I only carry a small backpack most days. The panniers I had been using were overkill for that task and a bottle of milk or loaf of bread is all I need to carry at other times on this particular bike.
I went for a Wald from Rode in Pt Chev, a utilitarian design from the States that hasn’t changed much in eighty years of production. There are various designs out there that hang off your handlebars on straps or click into quick-release brackets but the wire mesh one I chose has two stays that reach down and bolt onto the front axle. I had to convert my axle from a quick-release (QR) to a solid one to accommodate it, and as most modern road bikes and MTBs have quick-release wheels I’m sure I wasn’t the first.
Carrying the load up front has two immediate advantages. You can see your stuff at all times so you know your apples aren’t abandoning ship one by one as you trundle down the road, and if you need to access something like a wallet or camera (or an apple for that matter) it’s right there in front of you. If you are lucky enough to possess the co-ordination gene you don’t even have to stop riding.
So how is it working-out? Well I love it, so much so that I’ve taken the rear rack off altogether as it was mostly just dead-weight to carry around.Â It did take a little getting used to however, firstly having something in your peripheral vision, but mostly the different “feel” you get through the bars. The more weight you have in the basket the heavier the steering gets. Thats not a bad thing, it just feels different, and although I’ve successfully scratched my bum and nose at the same time it’s preferable to keep one hand on the handlebars and attend to such tasks individually.
The kind of bikes that are designed for carrying heavy loads up-front either have more relaxed geometries than your typical “lightweight” mountainbike or the front rack is attached directly to the frame and therefore doesn’t affect the steering. You pick your weapon to suit your battle. A dozen beers and some cheesy-combustibles? – no problem. Side-of-beef and a flagon of cooking sherry? – buy a trailer.
One thing I have found irritating is the way the front of the bike flops around when you lean it against things. That extra weight causes the handlebars to take on a life of their own and my bike threw itself onto the ground more than once before I got used to this little foible. Because my basket is a shallow one I also had to observe the frightening sight of my camera sailing past my left earlobe as I bumped over an Auckland pothole, or a sinkhole as they are referred to in other parts of the country. This is easily avoided by securing your load properly and I can’t imagine it being a problem on the deeper varieties of basket.
On the plus side you’ll find yourself using your bike more often. Just as a bike with mudguards is the one you’ll grab when the weather is suspect, a basket bike is always ready to pop down to the shops, no backpack required. That’s got to be a good thing.