Level Up: Pannier and Toe Clips

Yesterday, in a frenzy of cycling enthusiasm, I stopped by one of my local bike shops to, um, pick up a few things.

For some time now I have been lusting after a good pannier. I have a rack that is always on my bike, and normally I just carry one or two bungee cords on it, in case I need to strap down the unexpected bag or book. But oftentimes when I know I will be doing errands or will potentially need to play sherpa for folks I will be riding with, I carry one basket that hooks on to the rack. I say ‘hooks’ very intentionally. It does not clip or in any other way securely fasten to the bike – it just hangs off the side. Until now this had been all well and good, but there are several serious downsides to this method I am only now beginning to realize, in light of pannier acquisition.

Though the basket was able to fit on the rack of the bike, I get the impression it is meant more for handlebars. Mine, unfortunately, do not support it so it was relegated to the rear. It was also given to me by a friend who treats and rides her bike much differently than I do. Namely that she doesn’t, really, save rides to the farmer’s market in fair weather. I am a bit more rugged than that, often encountering multiple elements in a single ride, and not always in favorable conditions.

I am already having an infinitely better experience of the pannier, and I have only had it for one day. At first I was intimidated by the size of the thing, but its lightweight materials make it no worse than the basket when empty. Having the weight of whatever I’m carrying lower down also seems to make things easier. Most importantly, though, are the contact points it has to the rack – namely the three of them. One lower and two higher. Even turning, or going over extremely bumpy streets, I could feel much more control. The pannier itself is Ortlieb, branded as Civia. I know nothing about Civia bikes, and while in different circumstances I would have liked a more visible color, the branding allows for lower prices at retail for the same bag. I will likely just attach a blinky at night and leave it at that, though the bag itself sports three large reflective dots on each side for better visibility at night.

In conjunction with this purchase, I also, finally, got around to getting pedals with toe clips put on. I know there is much debate between clip pedals and flat, and the unending clip vs. clipless versions of same. I have no experience with clipless pedals (not yet, anyway) so I cannot say anything about them one way or the other. The friends I know who use them swear by them completely, including the Rite of Passage of eating shit the first time they rolled up to a red light and forgot to clip out, or unclipped the wrong foot.

I could never quite get my head around how one got into and out of toe clips while moving, though the technique I use to mount and dismount my bike is favorable to the process, so at least I didn’t need to unlearn anything first. Whats more, I’m really, really good at getting on and off my bike because I do more urban riding than anything else. My biggest issues with my flat pedals were standing up, long distances, and gaining momentum. Often, when I encounter a hill, I feel that if I could get just a little bit more torque, I would not need to change gears, but I never felt comfortable coming very far off the saddle to really dig in, meaning often that my knees took a lot of the abuse. On rides longer than 20 or 25 miles, my legs get tired. Though I spin easily, only the downward pedal stroke actually offers me anything, rendering the pulling up of the other leg nothing but good practice for form – all effort, no payoff. When starting again from a dead stop, particularly at short lights or when making a left turn, the sooner I can regain my previous momentum, the safer everyone involved is. Toe clips have already started making a difference as they basically allow me to double the force of each pedal stroke via the leg coming back up. It’s wonderful, and I feel so much more in control of my bike. I have a feeling that clipless pedals will close the loop completely.

I also picked up my first pair of bike shorts. Like the pedals, they are also Bontranger made, and are amazing. My bike seat is extremely forgiving, which is why despite the distances I regularly ride, I have never felt it dire to pick up proper kit. But I am taking a trip soon where I will be biking almost exclusively, and will be using a road bike (read: road seat), and yoga pants just weren’t going to cut it. My roommate rides a fixed gear road bike, and we gave the chammie a test run on her seat – me balancing precariously in the hallway on a frame far too large for me, her asking me hilariously inappropriate questions and trying to keep the bike upright – which worked well.

While I am excited to take the shorts out for a test run, I am sad to be leaving my newly modified bike behind for the next nine days. I want to ride it all the time now, to play with the new pedals and get myself used to the magic of a stable rear bag. I suppose it just gives me more reason to be excited about coming home.

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