Originally I was going to use the freeloading trailer for this post, but then something snapped inside Angel's kid trailer attachment - and freeloading trailer got used for parts. So instead, I decided to try a grocery run using a box. There is a long and noble tradition of using fruit boxes and milk crates for carrying loads on bicycles. I love both the utilitarian look of a milk crate, and the romance of using a vintage wood box; but I wondered, which would be more functional? So Angel and I decided that we'd do a head-to-head comparison.
I started by looking at a couple of old plastic milk crates I had in my basement. (These were inherited from postdocs moving to other cities, and are not from local dairies, so no ratting me out to The Milk Crate Recovery Team!) There are a couple of posts out there that describe methods for attaching a single milk crate to your back rack using a bungee cord or some simple hardware-store finds. If you want to attach two crates, without making mounting a top-bar bike like Bert completely impossible, you can try the simple method at Dinosauropedia to make milk-crate panniers, which looks much more stable than just tying them together with rope. (If you're looking to use other types of plastic bins or buckets for panniers, there's inspiration to be found at EcoMetro.)
I ended up deciding to give Angel a red milk-crate-clone with a Chinatown shop's price sticker, which would be perfect for on the rack on Daisy. Since most people attach them with zip ties, that's how Angel attached hers for our testing. She has already described her first experience hauling groceries using the milk crate. Her load was: 4L jug of milk,
Now for my DIY wooden attachment clamp. Here's what I started with:
I cut two equal lengths of the hemlock door stop, sized to fit diagonally (to help distribute the load across the slatted bottoms) in either of my boxes, and sanded the cut ends, then marked where the holes needed to go, and drilled and sanded again. I won't give measurements since it'll vary with the box and the rack you're using. The 2-inch brass carriage bolts are fine for the fruit box, but just a smidgen too short for the quarter-sawn oak of the egg crate, so I needed to go back and get 2.5-inch ones as well.
Also, the bottom of the egg crate was not attached to the sides, so I predrilled some holes (oak is called hardwood for a reason!) then used 3/4-inch brass wood screws to hold everything securely together.
Here's the finished product installed (some pics with the fruit box and some with the egg crate):
(Clearly the fruit box is too long for this rack,
unless I install it the other way and double my bike's width.)
You'll notice that Mary Poppins has also been fitted with a double kickstand! This one is meant for 26-inch bikes, so it's OK on perfectly level pavement and too wobbly on rough ground - but it will do until I can find one that's the right size. The kickstand Mary came with was also too short, so this is still an improvement to parking stability. It'll move to Bert once I get the right one for Mary.
Something that the process of installing this baby reminded me: I love having a vintage spanner (aka wrench) from the manufacturer of my bike. It makes these sort of jobs so much easier, because it's designed to fit into tight spaces and fit the odd-sized bolts, and it's great as part of my bring-along toolkit for when the bolts holding my fenders on get a little too loose (as happened on the Critical Lass ride). If you have an old bike and you know who made it, I highly recommend checking the old owner manuals that are online to match up to then eBay to see if you can get the right one for your bike. The Raleigh/Phillips ones regularly go for less than $5 before shipping - well worth it.
My 1960s Raleigh spanner. I use the hex-wrench shape on the end all the time.
The first thing I realized when I started riding was that I hadn't left room for my butt! Luckily this attachment system is versatile, too: I just pulled over, loosened the thumbscrews, and slid the box about and inch and a half further from the seat . No problem.
I wore cotton capris and my favorite flat sandals. This reminds me, I need a pedicure.
The ride to two of the closest grocery stores to my place takes me on a multi-use path through this lovely park:
15 minutes door-to-door, including waiting at the lights on 23rd Avenue to cross busy Rabbit Hill Road as a pedestrian. Not bad! It's nearly triple that when I walk it with my kids in a wagon.
Here is what I bought, about two bags' worth of groceries, including all the items that were on Angel's list. This is totally what I would have bought today if I had brought my car.
I took about 5 minutes to repack the groceries into my baskets. In the future I expect it'll take less time since I will have my packing system figured out. The veggie tray, marshmallows, lemon juice, shampoo, and my purse went into the front basket, and everything else (including my lock) fit into the egg crate. Hey Angel, I think the egg crate wins.
I did find that it was pretty top-heavy, and once I had unlocked from the rack I needed to keep a hand on the bike to keep it from falling over (stupid too-short kickstand). Once I was riding it didn't affect my balance much. By the time I got home, a fender-rub noise had developed, and investigating it showed me that all three of the nuts holding the rack in place had loosened and the whole rack had shifted a little bit to one side. Clearly someone with more hand strength than I have needs to retighten them, and DH has suggested that we try using lock-nuts instead of hex-nuts.
All in all: easy-peasy! I can totally see this being my new evening-or-weekend-morning grocery-run routine - which was part of why I wanted to get a bike in the first place.
Update, 22 Oct 2010: there is also a great wooden-bike-box how-to (with attaching a leather handle!) over at Eighteenth Century Agrarian Business.