Getting Loaded

Last Sunday I participated in the Five Boro Bike Tour, but twice a week I undertake a Three Boro Bike Tour that’s just as long (round trip, that is):

To commute on a bicycle as fine as the Homer is to feel as though you’ve arrived–not at your destination, but at your destination, if you know what I mean. It’s like following the host or hostess to your table in a Michelin-starred restaurant, or settling into your first class airline seat, or like bumming a jar of fancy mustard from the back seat of your Rolls:

You don’t mean to look down your nose at those poor schnooks on their old crappy ten-speeds and their Internet fixies and their pie-plated road bikes with the clip-on fenders at a 45-degree angle, but you do anyway, because you can’t help it.

This feeling of luxury isn’t just a simple matter of aesthetics, either; the bike is both comfortable and stable, which is especially noticeable when it’s loaded. Not too long ago–and I’ll be damned if I can remember exactly where–there was some discussion in the comments about how bikes behave when encumbered with panniers. In this exchange, someone noted that while there’s a general assumption that an unevenly-loaded bike will become unstable, in practice this is not the case. As I spend more time in commuter mode I’m inclined to agree, though I do think wheelbase in particular makes a big difference, and it stands to reason that the further back the rear wheel is the more stable the bike will be. For example, I think about my Big Dummy, and how I could load it up all kinds of crazy ways yet it would never feel even remotely wobbly or difficult to control:

That was truly a fantastic bike, by the way.

Similarly, the WorkCycles was also preternaturally stable no matter what it was saddled with, though while the Big Dummy is all about that kicked-out rear end, presumably the WorkCycles keeps the overall length more suited to the city and gets there with rake and trail and other stuff that makes my head hurt:

Conversely, when I used to commute on the Scattante, I did occasionally have pannier-related issues (though obviously I am not using a pannier here):

In one memorable instance I was using a single pannier that was quite heavily loaded–with what I don’t remember, but it was fairly unwieldy. Riding through Brooklyn at a steady clip, I hit a plastic water bottle, which immediately caused the bike to sort of tabletop due to (I assume) the weight of the pannier, and I went down rather suddenly.

Of course, the Scattante’s skinny tires didn’t help matters either, especially when it comes to encountering obstacles. However, on bikes with short wheelbases, there certainly does seem to be a tendency for the front end to become rather wobbly when the rear is heavily loaded, and this manifests itself when you take your hands off the bars or roll over bumps. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all where the weight is–right, left, or center, as in the above photo–and I would have gone down that way no matter what. I’m sure someone who actually designs bikes could speak to it in detail, and I’m happy to admit I don’t know much about it beyond my own rather limited experience. (I’m not a cycle tourer or a bike camper, so all my loaded bike experience is carrying children and stuff around the streets of New York City, though I have done my fair share of that.)

Regardless, based on that limited experience, the Homer is a bicycle with a sporting nature that at the same time feels stable and composed with a rear load–and I loaded it quite a bit more than usual yesterday evening:

As you can see, I’m using the full capacity of the Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack 2.0 PLUS (note how I render the product name ACCURATELY right down to the ALL-CAPS):

The bag registered weighed in at something like 20 American Freedom Pounds on my bathroom scale when I got home, yet impressively the bike still remains upright when I deploy the kickstand:

Granted, I don’t know if a bike with a short wheelbase would also stay up with a kickstand, but bikes with short wheelbases generally can’t accept proper kickstands anyway, so there.

And again, I’ve got more than usual in there. Besides the computer and the U-lock and the cable locks and the mini-pump and the tools and all the usual stuff I carry, I was also portaging 1.75 liters of vodka:

I did not expect to be returning home with 1.75 liters of vodka, but when opportunity knocks I always answer the door and invite it in for cocktails, and in this particular instance both the bike and I were up for the challenge–all 46 centimeters of it–and I was impressed the bag swallowed the entire bottle so readily:

Anyway, as far as panniers go, the biggest challenge with an unevenly-loaded bike is probably when you’re not riding it; if you’ve ever tried to lift one up a flight of stairs or chain one to a pole you know what a huge pain in the ass it can be. It’s what I imagine trying to lead a drunken mule would be like.

Finally, speaking of the Five Boro Bike Tour, Terry Barentsen was there too, though I didn’t run into him:

Between him and me it’s like you were there yourself. You’re welcome.

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