All about winter commuting

You might have heard that we’ve been getting quite a bit of snow here in the Boston area. Snow can be tons of fun to play in and ride in, on the road and off. Especially with the recent popularity of fatbikes, “gravel grinders”, etc, there have never been so many ways to go out and play in the snow on a bicycle. 

But with the havoc all this snow has wrought on Boston’s transit system, I thought this would be a good time to write about how and why to just go about your regular business around town on your regular commuting bike. 

The first question people always ask me when I tell them I get around entirely by bike is always, “but what do you do when it snows?” The answer is that I mostly do the same things I usually do. And that actually, the worse the snow gets, the greater the advantages of getting around by bike! 

snow piles with bike

How could this be true? For starters, you don’t have to dig a bicycle out of its parking space. Even when bike racks get buried, you can usually find something to lock up to, whereas finding a clear parking space for a car can be a real problem. If the snow gets worse while you’re out, at the very worst you might have to walk your bike some of the way, but you won’t actually get stuck. You won’t be stuck behind someone else who’s stuck, and if the traffic gets completely blocked you can carry your bike around it if you have to. When traffic slows to a halt, it will still slow you down substantially if you’re on a bike, but not the way it will stop you in your tracks if you’re in a car. 

Walking is difficult because sidewalks may not be cleared well, or you might not be able to reach the corners. Buses are slowed down right along with the rest of the traffic, and standing still at a bus stop or train station in the freezing cold for long periods of time is way, way worse than riding or walking where at least you’re moving enough to stay a bit warmer. 

And all that’s without even mentioning the disastrous mess that the neglected, antiquated public transit system around here has become because it just couldn’t cope with the barrage of winter storms we’ve had. The entire system has shut down completely a number of times, it has been running on badly curtailed schedules, and looks like it isn’t going to be able to restore normal service for another MONTH. Needless to say, a bicycle is much more reliable. 

But… is it safe? My own opinion (and this is just my opinion based on personal experience, not a scientific study and your mileage may vary as always) is that for the most part, when there’s snow on the ground it’s probably no more or less dangerous than riding around town any other time. 

The exception to that is actually during and immediately after a big storm. I’ve heard a number of people say they’ll mostly ride around town in the winter, but don’t during those times for safety reasons. To me, this is backwards. Those are the times when I really do think that it’s actually SAFER than normal, because there’s no traffic. There are snow plows and you have to watch out for them and stay out of their way, but if you’re paying attention that isn’t too hard. It’s certainly easier than staying out of the way of every road-enraged nutcase on a cell phone during normal rush hour. Your risk of a minor spill at a low speed onto a relatively soft or smooth surface is certainly higher, but your risk of getting doored, right-hooked, t-boned, sideswiped, etc, by someone going fast is much, much lower. 

Case in point: This road is normally full of enough traffic to make it the bane of my existence on a normal day. These photos were taken right after snow storms, at times that would usually have a fair amount of traffic.

boston ave no traffic 1 boston ave no traffic 2 evening rush hour 

In fact, I find that the worst driver behavior happens when the roads are getting clearer and things are starting to get a bit more back to normal; that’s when people are losing their patience with the road conditions and want to drive just as fast as in good weather, but there’s still enough potential for snow on the road that they can get into trouble because of it. 

One other thing to point out that has become a big issue this year (although it usually isn’t to this extent): At this point, the snow piles in many places are taller than an adult, especially at corners and next to driveways that have gotten shoveled out. So that means that you can’t see what’s coming out of corners, driveways, side streets, and in some cases even parking spaces. People have to advance way past the normal stop line in order to see if the coast is clear. This makes it a really, REALLY bad time to hug the right side of the road. At least on a bicycle you’re up a little higher and can see a little better than most drivers can, but with a lot of these piles, you’d need an extra-tall tallbike to be able to see over them. So take the lane and be alert.

But what about the road surface? Don’t you slip?

This is my street. It's been awhile since we've seen much of the pavement surface!

This is my street. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen much of the pavement surface!

Road treatment for snow varies widely from city to city. In the Boston area where I live, they’re generally pretty good at keeping the roads plowed. It’s fairly rare that I find myself actually floundering in deep powder.  That said, they’ve been pretty overwhelmed this year, so while the roads are generally perfectly passable by bike, they’re down to a fraction of their normal capacity, so there’s not a lot of room. See above about why you do not want to have to drive around here right now.

They’re even doing a better job than they used to of keeping bike paths clear and passable. Bike paths are often more likely to have slippery and icy patches than roads because they don’t get as much sand and salt, and they don’t have cars to melt ice and sweep snow to the side. But on the flip side, they aren’t crowded and the only other people you see using them are the experienced riders who are out all year and are generally reasonably polite. No rollerbladers, strollers, kids, or crowds.

Neatly plowed Minuteman Bikeway

Neatly plowed Minuteman Bikeway. In this photo, there’s still enough of a thin coating of snow over whatever ice is underneath to have good traction. You wouldn’t want to race a crit over it, but for cruising on a deserted bike path it’s just fine.

Edit: What do you do if the entrance to your bike path has been plowed in?

But yes, it can be slippery. Studded tires help quite a bit, and are a good idea. But they’re not required. If you need to go somewhere and don’t have studs on your bike, or you just never get around to putting them on, that doesn’t have to stop you. My own strategy with my commuter bike is to use parts that can take a beating, and never bother with cleaning or adjusting anything except when it wears out. I’m far too lazy to change my tires for the winter so I never bother with studs, and I’ve been out riding and getting where I need to go every day, including during every single snowstorm we’ve had this winter. I’m not necessarily recommending this strategy – studded tires are made for a reason and they do what they’re supposed to do. They aren’t a panacea, but they help.
For what it’s worth, my commuter bike is a fixed gear, and I really do think that if you’re used to riding one, it really does help give you more control over the back wheel when traction is iffy. It could be just me, but I feel way more secure riding on iffy surfaces with a fixed gear than with a freewheel. (I do use a front brake… don’t be one of those brakeless idiot people!)
Also, skinny tires aren’t the end of the world. In some cases they even sink through more than wider ones. I’m not recommending them; just saying that they aren’t an excuse. ;)

riding in snow

In any case, here are some tips for riding on snowy city streets:

• First and foremost, realize that it’s going to take you longer than usual, and slow down. Actually, this is good advice if you’re driving in the snow, too. On top of that, sometimes it’s just a slow, hard slog to push your way through snow, kind of like how running on sand is hard work. And it gets harder when snow gets packed up under fenders and brakes and so on, too. Just relax and be patient, and you’ll get there.

• Let your forward momentum keep you going forward. The wheels can slip around a little without taking you down as long as you don’t freak out and overcompensate. Stay loose, pedal smoothly, and don’t lock your elbows.

• If you have to ride over a patch of actual ice, do not try to slow down, speed up, or steer while you’re actually on top of it. Keep going at a steady speed in a straight line and you can make it over just fine. That means that if you are going fast, slow down BEFORE you get to the icy patch, not while you’re on it.

• On uneven/unpredictable surfaces like packed ice and snow, it’s helpful to get more weight onto the front wheel. This helps keep traction in the front, and helps it cut a little farther in. You can do this by leaning farther forward, or by getting out of the saddle. Incidentally, it does not necessarily mean putting more weight on your hands; if you lean forward your center of gravity moves forward and puts more weight on the front wheel, regardless of whether your upper body is being supported by your hands or whether it’s being cantilevered against your pedaling force. 

• Just like a car can drive up a slippery hill as long as the wheels are turning slowly and steadily but will slip and slide back down if you get impatient and try to accelerate, the rear wheel of your bike can spin out if you stomp on the pedals. Apply force evenly and slowly, depending on how much traction you have. 

• But in some cases, your best bet is to just use your momentum to plow through. In particular, when a snowplow or someone digging out their car has left a big pile of snow across the road, you can usually just shove through it, even if sometimes it looks like you can’t.

• Take the lane. Take the space that you need. Light yourself up like a Christmas tree, especially when visibility is bad. But be polite, and do your best to stay out of the way of plows, road crews, utility workers, etc, so they can do their jobs.

• Lower than normal tire pressure might help, as long as you can ride gingerly over hidden bumps and holes.

• Watch for potholes! They get worse and worse in the winter, and they’re often hidden under the snow or slush so they’re hard to see and new ones pop up all the time. Here is a picture of old trolley tracks and cobblestones under the road surface; these tracks have not been used in nearly 80 years:

Hoo boy, do we have a bumper crop of giant potholes this year!

Hoo boy, do we have a bumper crop of giant potholes this year!

 The next question is what to wear. I won’t say too much on the topic because especially where transportation riding is concerned, you’ll get a different answer from everyone you ask. But in general, layers are good. My personal approach is as follows: In the winter, my normal everyday outfit is black cargo pants with a flannel button-front shirt, sometimes a vest or sweater or fleece, and insulated/waterproof work boots. I wear a non-insulated jacket and add layers under it as needed. For temperatures below around 20°F, I like to wear some variety of long underwear. On the bottoms I prefer something along the lines of cotton or flannel pajama bottoms rather than tights or leggings, because they move with my pants better than a tight layer against my skin that tugs at my pants. On the tops I wear technical undershirts (which I always look for on sale) or T-shirts, or sometimes both. For gloves, I’m a bit weird – my hands generally get warm when I’m riding as long as my core is warm; I usually wear a pair of those stretchy one-size-fits-all acrylic knit gloves they have at pharmacies for $2 down to around 30°; down to around 10-20° I wear two pairs of them. When it’s colder than that, I either wear three pairs or resort to “regular” winter gloves. I like the knit cheapo ones because they make it easier to do things like get my keys out of my pocket, and because they let sweat evaporate.

I wear a hat with earflaps and a good brim under my helmet (like you can make from this free pattern, or from this kit). When it’s below, I dunno, 10°F I like a very thin balaclava in addition. I usually wear clear glasses, especially if there’s a lot of driving/blowing snow. Although one day, I was leaving the Dill Pickle shop during a blizzard and had forgotten my glasses, so I cut out a piece of the clear vinyl normally used for cuesheet windows and shoved it under my hat. It worked so well I’ve used it a few more times since:

vinyl glasses 
For most people, figuring out what to wear takes some trial and error. And it depends on how clean and polished you need to look when you get where you’re going. But you can probably put together enough layers from what you already have to get yourself around, between regular “street” clothes, bike clothes, ski or other activewear or whatever. And at least you don’t have to dress quite as warmly to bike around town as you do to wait for a bus that might be 45 minutes late.

So, now that you’ve figured out how to ride and what to wear, what do you do about the mess? Winter riding is really sloppy. There’s no way around that. There’s sand and salt all over everything. 

slushy mess

That stuff gets caked on like cement and makes a big mess when it melts. Aside from trying to knock off as best you can before bringing the bike inside and putting down a tarp to park on, one way to clean off some more of it is to use a pesticide sprayer. Keep a sprayer full of water inside the front door and use it to hose off the worst of what doesn’t come of just by bouncing the bike or kicking at the crank arm. A word to the wise, though: don’t do the spraying on the front porch, unless you want to go ice skating down the stairs!

The conscientious mechanic in me would tell you that of course sand and salt are terrible for components and frames and that you should meticulously clean your bike after every ride. Well, that’s fine for a nice bike that you ride for fun on the weekends. But when you just got home after a long day at work, you’ve got emails to answer, groceries to put away, boots to take off, etc? Umm, no. You do your best to not make a mess, maybe squirt some lube on the chain from time to time, and maybe give it a good cleaning when spring comes. Or not. This is another good reason to choose simpler, more robust drivetrains for commuter bikes. You can get away with all kinds of neglect on a fixed gear, singlespeed, internally geared hub (depending on the model and its seals and so forth), 6-speed freewheel with friction shifters, etc. Go for sturdy, inexpensive parts and figure you can just replace them at the end of the season if you need to, although you’ll also find that those drivetrains can tolerate a lot more wear before becoming unrideable than 9, 10, or 11-speed ones. Grime and corrosion maybe don’t exactly make for a smooth, whisper-quiet drivetrain. But remember about how no one’s going anywhere fast anyway. 

So, to make a long story short: You can get around town by bike in the snow. It has its annoyances, but in many ways it’s still better than any alternative, and it helps stave off cabin fever. Be patient, be careful, be polite, be persistent. Sometimes it’s a slow, messy slog, but it beats the heck out of waiting for the bus or digging out a plowed-in car. 

P.S. As an aside, you may have noticed the yellow panniers in all of these photos. This is a new city pannier model that’s in the works, and will be available this spring. Stay tuned for more on that!

P.P.S. Folks keep asking me why my front fender is so stubby and doesn’t have a mudflap. It’s only because the fender broke awhile ago and I never got around to fixing it. So, not for any good reason. ;)

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Extreme Commuting: Combining Touring with Transportation – the nuts and bolts

As I mentioned in the previous post, in the summers I usually travel to a handful of week-long summer programs where I either play for dancing or teach music. I don’t have a car (or a drivers license, actually), and I like bike rides. So whenever I can, I load up everything I need on my touring bike and ride there. 

The first question: Why do this? It makes for some long days on a VERY heavy bike. In some cases, I might be able to find a ride, or a shuttle from somewhere, or a train, or whatever. There are economic justifications I could make, in that even if you added up all the extra money I spend on crappy food and the occasional motel on trips like this, it would never add up to the cost of owning a car or even the cost of renting one for an entire week or two in order to drive it there, park it, and drive it home. But the real reason is that I like bike rides. If I were to get a ride there or drive there or whatever, it would still take a big chunk out of a day and I wouldn’t get a weekend ride in at all. Last summer I did four of these weeks, which means there were seven weekends out of the summer that abutted one at one end or the other, and that’s a lot of summer weekends to give up. Riding there lets me have my cake and eat it too, and even work it off. ;)

The bicycle I use is the one I have set up as a touring bike, even though that isn’t what the frame was originally intended for. It’s a 1972 Raleigh Pro (yes, I do seem to have a thing for old Raleigh Pro’s!). I used it for several years set up like this: 

Bike to Pinewoods 2013 Bike to New London 2013 Bike to lubec 2012

That’s the prototype of the Dill Pickle handlebar bag in front, with pretty much all the rest of the weight in back. The two panniers contain a week’s worth of regular clothes, plus concert clothes, street shoes, toiletries, a laptop, around two inches of sheet music and books, towel, swimsuit, and assorted other odds and ends like a tuner and metronome, etc. And of course, lots of instruments. Recorders, actually, of assorted sizes and styles, ranging from sopranino to bass. Different trips require different combinations – in the photo against the glass window, my whole gig bag is strapped over top of another roll containing my bass, and that’s just what’s on top of the rack. The photo next to that one was on the way to a camp in the woods, where the box fan is often a real necessity. The details of each trip vary slightly, but in the end, they all require a whole lot of stuff and I’m already pretty much packing as light as I can and still have everything I need for the week. 

Those panniers are huge, and I can carry a pretty heavy load quite effectively that way. And actually, the bike still handles well like that! If I’m careful I can even ride with no hands with that load, as long as it’s evenly distributed between both sides. BUT it is very hard on rear racks. Lots of them specify a 40-lb weight limit, and that isn’t nearly enough. What with occasional dirt roads and bad pavement, I’ve broken two of them that way. 

So this year I made some changes. My birthday present from Jake was to have Peter Weigle install S&S couplers in my frame. He also spruced it up quite a bit, re-painted it, added a new fork with low-rider mounts, added braze-on’s for bottle cages, braze-on’s on the seatstays for the rear rack, and studs for shifters so that I could used indexed downtube shifters (I prefer downtube to bar end, but wanted indexed 9sp; the clamp-on studs for friction shifters are round, and the indexed shifters require a stud with a flat side). I fitted it with stainless steel Tubus racks front and rear, and new fenders to replace the kludgy old ones. So it also needed new panniers, to make use of the new racks. 

Bike to pinewoods 2014

The new rear panniers are much more compact than the old ones. They’re noticeably more aero, since they don’t stick out nearly so far to the sides. It’s OK that they’re smaller because they’re supplemented by the front panniers. I also added a matching handlebar bag, medium saddlebag, and tool canister. I didn’t need to bring my bass this time, although on one of the trips I still did strap my gig bag to the top of the panniers: 

Bike to New London 2014


The new fork has a bit more rake than the old one, and the bike handles quite well loaded like this. Again, as long as I load both sides equally, I can take my hands off the bars. In any case, the whole thing fully loaded still weighs in at around 90 lbs.

Other bits of equipment that may be of interest: I like a narrow q-factor, so I use T/A cranks with 30t and 46t chainrings, and a Shimano long cage MTB derailleur with an 11-34t cassette. That makes for wide-ish gear spacing, but that’s fine since with downtube shifters you don’t necessarily reach down to shift quite as often as you might be inclined to shift with “brifters” where your shifters are at your fingertips. On a racing bike that would be a substantial compromise, but for a touring bike I prefer the simplicity (and field repairability) of downtube shifters. Plus I like the shape of the non-shifting Shimano brake levers, and I find bar end shifters annoying. I’m using a B&M Lumotec Eyc headlight with a Shimano dyno hub, and a battery-powered tail light. Both wheels have Mavic Open Sport rims, and were built by me. Aside from the touring gear and the geared drivetrain, the bike is set up a lot like my brevet bike: same saddle, bars, cranks, pedals, position, etc.

The way I select my route is pretty simple: I’m generally under time constraints and need to be reasonably functional the evening I arrive, so I go by the most direct reasonably cycle-able route. This is not always the most scenic route, and often has more traffic than any route I’d choose or expect for any organized event, recreational ride, etc. But I don’t mind it as much when I’m alone because it doesn’t matter that you can’t carry on a conversation when there’s no one to talk to anyway. If there’s a reasonable way to avoid big hills I take it, but generally there isn’t. The most direct route is still fastest, and hilly areas have hills no matter how you go.

When it’s possible and helpful, I make my trip multi-modal. When going from home to Pinewoods Camp, it’s nice to take the MBTA commuter ferry between downtown Boston and the shipyard in Hingham. This lets me skip most of the worst traffic on the route. It only reduces the distance by a small amount and only saves a little bit of time if any. The really useful train is the Amtrak Downeaster, which runs from Boston up into Maine and has a bike car. It’s a bit of a pain to unload all the bags and bring them into the train, but the train is totally worth it. It makes what would be three very hefty days of riding into two hefty days. And the train and ferry are fun, too! 

Pit stops are a bit of a complication, though. In general, I’m inclined to think that most of the time, no one messes with a 90-lb loaded touring bike. On brevets I leave my bike outside convenience stores while I use the facility, and if I’m worried, I carry a tiny cable lock that I call my “bullshit lock” that would at least require someone to find a pair of scissors to cut through. But on these trips, my bike is loaded not with camping gear, but with musical instruments that would be expensive and difficult to replace, and fairly disastrous to lose on the way to a gig. There are some areas where I just don’t even try to stop. Sometimes I can just stop at places like ice cream stands, where I don’t have to leave my bike at all to get something to eat. When nature calls and I have to actually go inside, I’ve found that lots of places will let me bring my bike inside, too. They often give me weird looks, but I explain that I’m traveling alone and don’t want to leave my stuff unattended. If they say no, I politely say thank you and go somewhere else. I’ve also stopped at restaurants where I could both sit near the door and keep an eye on my bike at all times, and used the bullshit lock to lock the wheels down low so I’d hopefully at least have a chance of running out if someone tried anything. 

For the most part though, people are quite polite and understanding. They usually assume I must be on a really long cross-country trip to be carrying so much, even though I’d actually carry less if it were a regular bike trip. 

These trips aren’t commutes in the daily sense, but they are in the sense of using a bicycle to get to work. Using a bike for transportation over occasional longer distances is perfectly viable, and it’s a fun way to get in a ride where you otherwise wouldn’t. The usual “your mileage may vary” advice applies of course, but I hope my descriptions of how I do it encourage you to try it yourself!

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“Extreme Commuting” – combining touring with transportation – the long version

It was 1AM. The train station in Brunswick, ME wasn’t open yet and the next train back to Boston from Brunswick that allowed bicycles wasn’t for another 17 hours. I found an ATM booth and hauled my 90-lb bike in with me, and slid down to the floor. I’d been riding more or less since around 10AM, although with a good number of stops, some of which were long-ish. I was tired of being on the road, tired of being on the bike, and most of all, just wanted to go home. I’d planned on finding a motel and doing half the trip on Saturday and half on Sunday, but it was late August on the Maine coast and there wasn’t a vacancy to be found.

Which brought me to my ATM booth by the train station. I had two choices: I could try and get comfortable on the floor by the ATM and get some sleep, then once morning came and things started to open up, find a diner and have a very lengthy breakfast, then find a cafe with WiFi and spend the rest of the day killing time in it until it was time for the train. The other choice was to just keep riding another 40 mi or so to Portland, where there was a train leaving for Boston that allowed bikes, at 5:30AM. 

How did I end up in an ATM booth in the middle of the night with a 90-lb bike? Well, when I’m not making bike bags, in my other life I’m a musician. So in the summers, I travel to a number of summer workshops where I either teach music classes or play for dancing. These things vary in distance, but they’re generally within striking distance by bicycle. That means a lot of riding with a LOT of load: instruments, music, clothes for a week, etc. It adds up to more weight than bike touring gear, and it’s not stuff you can just do without or buy a lighter version of the way you can leave behind the second cooking pot or buy a lighter tent. This is the long version of the story. If you just want the details on how I get around this way, click here.

In the past, this has been my ride: 

The frame is a 1972 Raleigh Pro, set up with a 9sp 11-34 cassette and a T/A crank with 46t and 30t chainrings. I bought the frame because I like my 1974 Raleigh Pro (the light blue fixie brevet bike) so much. The panniers are ones I made for touring a few years ago, and everything plus the kitchen sink is strapped all over the back. The bike actually handles surprisingly well that way, but it’s hard on rear racks!

But my birthday/Christmas present from Jake this year was to have Peter Weigle put S&S couplers in that frame, add some more braze-on’s, add a new fork with lowrider mounts, and repaint it. I got a bunch of new parts for it, too. The bike was something of an ugly duckling before, but now it is GORGEOUS. So of course, it had to have new bags, to make use of the front rack and redistribute the weight. 

Here’s the bike “before” on several of these trips:

Bike to Pinewoods 2013

Yeah, that’s a box fan on top. This was for the shortest trip, which was to a camp where one stays in cabins that can get very uncomfortable without a fan!

Bike to lubec 2012 Bike to New London 2013


And here is “after”:

 Bike to pinewoods 2014

It looks like a new bike! And actually, the fork is new. In addition to redistributing the load, I actually did manage to save a little weight in a few places. You’ll notice there’s no box fan this time, although that part’s really because the itinerary changed; it’s one thing to ride 50 mi with a box fan, but another thing to ride more than twice that with one. 

The first trip was to Pinewoods Camp, to play for English-Scottish Session (English country dance as well as Scottish). It’s actually only about 60 mi from home, but I wasn’t going straight there. My first stop was a rehearsal with a friend on Cape Cod, which is another 35 or 40 mi past the camp. The ride down to the Cape from the northwest side of Boston isn’t a particularly nice one; it’s congested and built up, and any more scenic route one might take makes it substantially longer. When one is time-constrained and riding a very heavily laden bike, taking the scenic route isn’t really an option. But one nice option is taking a ferry to cut off some of the most congested areas. Practically speaking, it only reduces the distance and the trip time by a little, but it does mean I only have to ride into downtown Boston proper instead of all the way through it. 

Plus, the ferry is cheap, convenient, and fun, and allows bikes. It’s run by the MBTA and goes from Long Wharf in Boston down to Hingham, bypassing some of the worst traffic of the trip. 

bike on ferry 2014


After that, the ride was uneventful, if long and hot. One problem with traveling this way is that it’s kind of difficult to make pit stops. Generally, no one bothers a loaded touring bike and it’s normal to just leave the bike outside a convenience store while you go in. But I feel a lot less comfortable doing that when my panniers are full of expensive musical instruments than if they were just full of camping gear (although don’t get me wrong – having your camping stuff stolen while on a tour would really suck, too), particularly in the busy suburban South Shore and when using the bathroom means my stuff will be totally out of sight.  But I’ve found that a lot of convenience stores, Dunkin Donuts, etc, will actually let me bring my bike inside if I ask politely and explain that it’s because I have so much stuff and don’t want to leave it outside. Not all of them are willing, and if they aren’t, I just move on. And on that trip, I only made one stop at an ice cream stand where I didn’t need to leave my stuff.

Unfortunately, I forgot both the sun sleeves and the sunscreen. This was just after the Fourth of July, so there was lots of sun; there’s not much shade on that route, and I didn’t have a good opportunity to buy any en route. When I arrived in Chatham, I was well and truly toasted to a crisp. We rehearsed in the evening and the next morning, and then I left to go to the camp. I really should have left more time – I’d forgotten about how I’d be trying to get off of Cape Cod at the end of the Fourth of July weekend, probably the single busiest vacation weekend of the season. There was no place to stop for so much as a snack, let alone sunscreen, and between the load and the traffic, I was going nowhere fast. It was under 40 mi, but I spent quite a lot of it in stop and go traffic. By the time I finally turned down the dirt road that leads to the camp, I’d barely have time to shower and change and grab a snack in time for the staff meeting. 

Then I got passed by a pickup truck going a bit too fast, which kicked up a stick behind it. The stick went straight into the spokes of my front wheel and took my front pannier with it, and down I went. I scraped up my elbow and hip, knocked my helmet, and taco’ed my front wheel. So now I was sunburned, running late, bonking, bleeding, and on a dirt road with a 90-lb bike that wouldn’t roll. The best I could do was remove the front panniers and hook them onto the sides of the rear ones, and stumble awkwardly down the road while lugging the front end of the bike a few inches off the ground and letting it roll on the rear. I was actually passed by a number of people heading the same way I was, but it wasn’t anyone I knew, and they didn’t stop. After all, why should it occur to them that the sweaty, spandex-clad weirdo hauling a bike covered with bags was the same person who was going to spend the week playing for their dances? 

Finally one did stop and I was able to at least unload my luggage into his car, which made it much easier to carry the bike and walk the rest of the way. I arrived at the staff meeting still dirty, sweaty, bloody, spandex-clad, and un-showered, but I did make it just in time. I got cleaned and bandaged up afterward, and was ready to go when it came time to play for that evening’s dance. And in the end, had a fantastic week of making music.

I called Harris Cyclery, and my friend Elton shipped me a new rim for my front wheel and a spoke wrench, directly to camp. Miraculously, the panniers and front rack seemed to have protected my new paint from damage, so aside from the trashed rim and a somewhat bent (but fixable) fender, everything else was fine. I rebuilt the wheel on the porch of my cabin, with the front portion of the front rack as a truing stand. I used a piece of electrical tape with pine needles stuck to it as feelers, and made sure the wheel was centered by flipping it back and forth. This method actually made for a surprisingly precise (if delicate) truing stand, and I think the wheel came out just about as well as if I’d done it at home.

Pinewoods truing stand


That first week was actually a short one, and we all went home on a Friday. I had an uneventful ride back to the ferry in Hingham. Total summer “extreme commute” distance so far: ~180, over three days of travel. 

I had one day at home to do laundry, rest, and re-pack, then left for the next workshop. This one was in New London, CT where I’d be playing for an English Country Dance workshop attached to an early music festival. This one is 100 mi from home, and it’s a constantly hilly 100 mi with a whole lot of pretty steep grades. And the bike was loaded more heavily too, since I needed more clothing (for a longer week), plus concert clothes and shoes, plus a few more instruments, plus my tablet. I didn’t weigh the bike before or after this trip, so I’m not sure how much heavier it was, but here’s the photo:

Bike to New London 2014

In order to make it for the staff meeting, I left the house before 6AM. On top of the hills, there was a stiff headwind. Maintaining a 10mph rolling average was a real challenge. The whole trip took a bit over 11 hours, and this time I was able to shower and change and look like a regular person at the staff meeting. I’ll admit that I was tired that evening while playing for the dance! 

Dance Band

The week in New London was musically intense because in addition to playing for three dance classes per day plus an evening dance every night, the pianist and I played a recital together on the last fully day, and we spent all our free time practicing for it individually or rehearsing together. Actually, that was what the rehearsal on the Cape was for, too. 

So when I left to go home on the last morning, I was feeling pretty tired and a bit stiff, since I hadn’t ridden the bike since arriving. But I managed to keep my rolling average over 10mph and made it home by 9PM. Total “long commute” mileage: 380, over five travel days.

root beer float

Root beer floats make great bike fuel!

I had barely two weeks at home before the next trip. Well, mostly at home. They also included a short family reunion and a 600k on that middle weekend! It was a hard 600k, actually. Well, the route was familiar, but I was feeling pretty tired when I started it, and I felt like it took me 15 hours to warm up. And I rode my usual fixie in a 42×16. So it wasn’t what you’d call a “recovery” ride! I think I basically made it through the 600k by force of habit – if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s keep slogging away on a bicycle.

The next trip was back to Pinewoods for CDSS’s English Dance Week. So the trip down was my easy weekend. It was pouring down rain, but at least it was under 10 mi to the ferry and then 40 mi to camp.

Back on the ferry. Note the rain, and also the greater necessity of Starbucks this time!

Back on the ferry. Note the greater necessity of Starbucks this time!

But this time, I wasn’t just going for a week. The following week, I’d be teaching a private recorder workshop in Lubec, ME, and I’d be going directly from one to the other. So I had a few more clothes, plus all my music, photocopies, teaching materials, etc, for the Lubec week as well as my instruments and music for the dance week.  But this time, I had plenty of time. I road gingerly down the dirt road, met with no mishaps, and this time made it to the staff meeting clean and presentable and not oozing blood. 

English Week was also an amazing week of music and dance. I played with fabulous musicians all day every day. But these things are exhausting, too. The days are packed, the nights are long, the mornings are early, and they go by quickly!

I spent my days like this: 

playing in c-sharp


And a little of this:

playing two recorders

Before I knew it, I was saying my goodbyes at the last night party, since I’d be leaving before breakfast. The good part about traveling light is that packing is quick!

I left Pinewoods at 6AM on Saturday headed for the commuter rail station in Middleboro, MA. There isn’t a particularly direct route, so I did the best I could which ended up being a bit over 20 mi, including a couple of fairly rough dirt roads. Some of those started to really make me nervous because there were just too many giant holes to be able to go fast with so much luggage. With the limited train schedule, that meant I was really booking it to reach the only train that would get me into Boston in time to catch another train up to Maine. I was riding pretty hard, but I made it maybe five or ten minutes before the train arrived. The platform had an arrow pointing one way that said “outbound” and the other way that said “inbound”. The train arrived headed in the “outbound” direction; I even asked a couple of passengers who were getting on if this train was going in or out, and they said it was going out, so I ignored it and figured that the one to Boston must be the next one, and didn’t get on. As it rolled away I heard the conductor say something and and said, “Wait, is this the train to Boston?” and as the train rolled off he answered, “Yeah, what did you think it was?” 

I stood there sort of stunned. I was tired and I’d gotten up early and booked it to make the train, and then stood right there and missed it. Of course, I did know that Middleborough was the end of the line, so of course it would have to be a Boston-bound train. Of course, I should have asked the conductor. Or something. But I’d just paid attention to the arrows and the passengers (what did they think I was asking about??) and had stood there while the train left. 

 So I sat down and freaked out and wondered what to do. My schedule had been tight and demanding to start with. The next train wouldn’t get me into town in time to catch my train to Maine; the next train to Maine wouldn’t get me there until evening, which would mean riding all night with no sleep…. Finally, I called my better half Jake and asked him to search for cab companies in Middleborough that could take me into town. There wasn’t much to be found and in the end, Jake (saint that he is) rented a zip car and drove down to pick me up and drop me off at North Station. He should be canonized. 

So I just made the train at 11:30 and was back on track. The Downeaster is the Amtrak route that runs from Boston up to Maine. It has a bike car, and it actually goes as far as Brunswick, but not every train does. The 11:30 train stops in Portland, ME. My final destination was Lubec, ME, about 230 mi up the coast from there. 

The train got in, I got my bike, and was finally on the road for the lion’s share of the day’s miles. I’ve made a tradition of staying at the Yardarm Motel on this trip for the last few years; it’s a nice little mom-and-pop motel in Searsport, almost halfway between Portland and Lubec. It has a nice breakfast room with basics like bagels and cereal. If I let them know I’ll be in late, they just leave the door to my room open and check me in in the morning. 

You don't do this for the cuisine.

You don’t do this for the cuisine.


By the time I got off the train and got my bike all loaded up again, it was 2:30. That’s fairly late in the day to start a fully loaded 110 miles. For a lot of the route, I basically follow Rt. 1 and 1A up the coast. But in a couple of places, the coast curves out and Rt. 1 isn’t the shortest, so I take a short cut. This time I decided to get creative with my short cut, between my Garmin and Google Maps. Even with panniers, I enjoy dirt roads and if there’s a shorter way that’s dirt that’s fine with me. Well, it turned out that one of the roads that Garmin and Google both think goes all the way through actually doesn’t; it dead ends in a driveway. And of course I found that out after going a couple of miles down the road. At that point I was way behind schedule; I was up in the hinterlands outside of Belfast or somewhere down a dead end dirt road; it was maybe 1AM and the only sound was the buzzing of mosquitoes, I was exhausted and wanted a shower and a bed, and I was switching back and forth between electronic devices trying to find a road that was an actual road. So much for short cuts. 
But I did get myself straightened out and found my way back down through Belfast and Searsport and collapsed into bed after 3AM. 

I got myself off to a sow, sluggish start; it was still another 120 miles to Lubec. The bike felt heavier and heavier, and every hill just made me feel slower and slower. By midday I was dragging my feet about eating my snacks and getting back on the road at a convenience store at the corner of where I turn off of Rt. 1, since Rt. 1 curves around following the coast. My snack breaks were getting longer and longer. I was feeling the beginnings of a cold, too – dance camp is a great place to pick one up! I finally made it into Lubec at around 9PM, about two hours later than I’d have preferred. But then I was there, to a homey house, a shower, a warm bed, and a fridge full of all the assorted leftovers I could want. I was hoarse and sniffly when it came time to teach the next morning, but steady doses of hot coffee kept me functioning. 

The Lubec week was much more relaxing than the previous week. It’s just a small private workshop where I work with one self-selected group in the mornings, and then everyone has free time for the rest of the day. Some of the participants stay in the same house (the hosts play in the group too), and there’s often more informal playing in the afternoons. So I’m able to relax, take naps, clean my instruments, practice, walk around, etc. Campobello Island is right across the bridge and makes a nice afternoon trip (but not this time because I forgot my passport). And the group I teach are enthusiastic, musical people who work hard and play well together.  

Lubec has lots of fog

Lubec has lots of fog


That's Canada on the other end of the bridge.

That’s Canada on the other end of the bridge.

By the end of the week in Lubec, my cold was mostly cleared up, I’d mostly caught up on lost sleep, and I was more than ready to go home after two weeks away. In previous years, I’ve made the trip over two days and have stayed with Jake’s brother, a ways outside of Belfast. That makes the first day about 140 mi, but the second only 90, which is nice when I have a train to catch. But this year, between one thing and another, I hadn’t gotten it together to contact them. My host was driving a couple hours down Rt. 1 to visit someone on the Saturday I left, so she put my bike in the car and dropped me off before turning off. That meant it was only 150 mi to Portland, and I had two whole days to do it and catch the evening train; even less if I caught the train in Brunswick. I could find a motel, have a good dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and take it easy the next day heading into Portland. 

bike from lubec

Somewhat recovered I might have been, but I was still slow and kinda tired. But that was OK, I had plenty of time. I stopped and took a few photos in places I’ve never wanted to take the time to stop before. I was pretty ready to be home, but at least I finally had the time to take it easy. I even stopped at an actual restaurant for an actual large and lengthy meal in Ellsworth. While stopped there, a lady told me she LOVED my bike, and that it looked like an advertisement for a bag company. Heehee. 

penobscot narrows

But I really should have thought harder about the “I’ll just find a motel” plan. This was, after all, Downeast Maine, aka “Vacationland”, on one of the last weekends of August at the peak of the season. There wasn’t a vacancy to be found for love or money, anywhere near my route. I tried asking in person, I tried Google, I tried asking locals I saw at gas stations if they knew of anything. Everything was full. With no other option, I kept riding. If nothing else, I figured, there was bound to be something in Bath, which would be a very short ride to Brunswick the next day. Nope, nothing in Bath. I kept going. I figured I’d surely find something in Brunswick. It would be a late night, but I could get cleaned up, sleep in, and then find a cafe to hang out in until it was time to catch the train the next day. There was nothing in Brunswick either. So I rode over to the train station, and thought maybe I could at least go inside and sleep on a bench. It was August, but it was still chilly and damp outside. This is still Maine, after all. The train station was closed, but there was an ATM nearby. I dragged my bike into the ATM booth with me, and lay down on the ground. It was 1AM.

And that’s how I got to that ATM booth, wishing for a shower and a bed and maybe a cold beer, a big breakfast, and some hot coffee before I rode another yard. 

But I couldn’t have those things. The closest place to get them was home. If I waited in Brunswick for the evening train, I’d be bumping around town all day with my stinky, sweaty, sleep-deprived self and a bicycle I couldn’t practically leave anywhere even just to take a leak, for 17 hours. But there was a 5:30AM train from Portland that accepted bicycles, and I did have plenty of time to get there. The fastest way to get what I really, really wanted was to be on that train, which would have the added bonus of getting me home 12 hours ahead of schedule. So I got up off the floor and back onto the bike. 

In the end, that worked out actually really well. Having caught up on sleep in Lubec, I actually didn’t have any trouble staying awake. Aside from a motorcyclist outside a bar who yelled out to me “Wow, you’re loaded for bear!” as I rode by, I saw practically no one. There was no traffic to speak of, which made getting through Freeport (shopping destination and home of the LL Bean flagship store) into town actually much faster and easier than it usually is during the day. I had Rt. 1 completely to myself and didn’t even bother with taking the bike routes around some parts of it that I’d have taken during the day. It’s more downhill than up, and the wind was still. So in little more than three hours, I was at the train station. I’d gone 150 mi more or less straight through except for food/bathroom stops. I waited in the vestibule, chatting with a couple of other passengers, until they opened up the station. The oddest comment was from a guy who asked if I was a bike cop or something, because of my reflective sash. 

Before boarding the train, I started chatting with a couple from Germany who had been bike touring in Maine and Nova Scotia. They’d spent the night in an ATM booth because they couldn’t find a vacancy anywhere, either. I finally got on the train, drank a beer, and took a nap.

The fuzzy photo is pretty illustrative of how I was feeling about the world in general at that point! ;)

The fuzzy photo is pretty illustrative of how I was feeling about the world in general at that point! ;)

The train got into North Station, and rather than ride home, I rode with the German couple to South station by way of a cafe in the financial district. At South Station we went our separate ways, and I took the T to Alewife, and a mile and a half later, I was HOME. 

Aside from the issue of lodging though, I do think this “extreme commuting” strategy is actual a viable, useful part of the transportation mix, especially if you are car-free or car-lite (as in a one-car household where one person will be gone awhile and the other might need the car in the interim). Since this post is so long, I’ll do another one dedicated to just the nuts and bolts of it.

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Closed for the Holidays!

Please note that Dill Pickle Gear will be closed for the holidays from December 21-31. Orders for in-stock items placed before 4PM on Sunday, December 21st will be shipped on Monday the 22nd; orders placed after that will be shipped in the New Year. Have a wonderful holiday!


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And the new color is….

***First of all, come visit the Dill Pickle Gear shop in person at Vernon Street Open Studios on December 6-7 from noon-6PM.

The address is 6 Vernon Street, Somerville, MA. We’re on the third floor in Studio 54. And you can check out Bikeyface in the same room! More details at***

We’ll also have kits including all the materials you need to make our free sewing patterns. They contain printed-out instructions and pattern pieces, specially selected fabrics, plus binding material, zippers, stiffening material for hat brims, etc. They’ll be on the website after the weekend, but you get first dibs if you come to Open Studios.

And the survey’s in, and we have a new stock color. Actually, there are two new colors! Khaki and Stormy Blue were neck and neck with Olive coming in third. Stormy Blue won out, but since the top two were so close and we like both of them, we’re going to turn them both into stock colors. Don’t worry if you voted for olive or wine, though! they’ll still be available as “custom” colors. And all the other stock colors (red, navy, gray, and black) are sticking around too.

The new colors aren’t up on the website yet, but they will be very soon. In the meantime, here’s a preview:
small saddlebag stormy and khaki
Although the supplier calls the new color Khaki, we’re going to call it Sand instead. Khaki encompasses a wide range of colors with the most common being lighter than this shade, so we’re changing the name to something less confusing. 
Hope to see you this weekend!
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Pickle Project – Cycling Wallet


*** This pattern is now also available as a kit! The kit includes everything you need to make any of the options for pockets in the pattern, and an assortment of fabrics and colors. Check them out on the “Accessories” page!***

For the last couple of years, I’ve been making a tradition of putting up a free sewing pattern every year around the holidays. I think that making a gift yourself is much more personal than just buying another generic gift set, and it’s always nice to give the recipient something special and unique that they can actually use and enjoy. 

three finished wallets

This year, the pattern is for a cycling wallet that will carry your small essentials and fit neatly into a jersey pocket. As with the others, the instructions are hopefully comprehensive enough that someone with little or no sewing experience (or even without a sewing machine, if you are patient!) should be able to manage it; but if you are more ambitious there is no end of possible ways to vary it. It could also be a fun project for kids or craft parties. 

The Cycling Wallet requires under two square feet of material, which can be new, scraps, or reclaimed/recycled. I made the demo wallets mostly out of scraps, since I have them. The navy and khaki one is even pieced together out of smaller pieces. The smiley-faced one is made of four plastic shopping bags ironed together, just for something a little different. The denim one is made with a “sandwich” of three materials: denim outside, tyvek in between for waterproofness, and quilting cotton inside for the stripes. The solid blue one is made of scraps of basic vinyl-coated polyester, similar to many banners and tarps. At the end of the instructions there is a list of places where you can order supplies online.

All Options

There are several options for the pockets inside the wallet. To make the main backing piece, you select the type of pockets for each half and join the applicable backing pieces at the fold line. Option A is the most basic – the fabric folds back on itself to create one lengthwise pocket, that can alternatively be divided into two card pockets with a seam down the middle. Option B is a pleated pocket, with extra depth to accommodate a bulkier cell phone or other item. Option C is a zippered lengthwise pocket with a full-length slot pocket behind it. 

The instructions are long, but don’t worry! The process is really not complicated. They’re long because they have lots of pictures of the process, hopefully lots of other helpful information, and because I might just possibly have a mild tendency toward long-winded verbosity, so don’t let the number of pages scare you off! Just in case though, the pattern pieces an the instructions are in separate documents.

Click Here for Pattern Pieces

Click Here for Instructions

Click Here for Instructions with photos removed (fewer pages, smaller file size)

Have at it, and have fun!

wallet b and c open                wallet b and c closedWallet A Closed                Option B pleated pocketplastic bag wallet inside                Plastic bag wallet outsideWallet option A both                Wallet Option A and C

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A few new things

It’s been awhile since the last news item! Where did the time all go?!? 

For the first order of business, we’ve got a couple of new things up on the website: SOLAS Reflective Ankle Bands and the Commuter Combo Pack (more on those below).

Also, the shade of tan that has been one of our stock colors has been discontinued, so we’re phasing it out. We’ll replace it with a new stock color, and we want your input! Please click here and fill out this very, very quick survey and let us know what you think:

The color choices are here in this image. The top is gray and the bottom is navy, just for reference. The first on the left is the tan that’s on its way out. The rest, from left to right, are khaki, stormy blue, wine, and olive. If there’s another color you’d like instead, there’s a place for that in the survey, too!

color choices dill pickle

So, now that you’ve taken the survey (which only took you about a minute, so if you haven’t taken it, you should!), here’s the scoop on the new stuff. The SOLAS ankle bands are made of what we think is just about the greatest stuff there is for this application. It’s sturdy and soft against your skin, and it’s REALLY bright even when it’s wet. Ours are 2″ wide with velcro that’s only 1″ wide, which means that there’s a good amount of reflective area visible all the way around even if some of the velcro is showing. And the hook side is shorter than the loop side so they won’t snag your socks. Reflective ankle bands are required at night for RUSA events and many other endurance events, plus they’re a must for commuting in street clothes to keep your pants out of your drivetrain. SOLAS stands for “Safety Of Life At Sea”, because this material is approved by the Coast Guard for marine applications. So it holds up really well against the salt, sand, and slush one encounters in the city in the winter!

commuter combo pack 2014-11-20 16.15.01-1 2014-11-20 16.15.36-1

And speaking of commuting, we’re also introducing the Commuter Combo Pack. It makes a practical gift for anyone you’re trying to encourage to commute by bike, or for someone who’s been commuting forever. It includes a U-Lock Tote, the SOLAS ankle bands, and the new mini-comic book “Bike There” by Dill Pickle’s neighbor Bikeyface. It’s a cute, fun how-to guide for getting started riding around town. But even if you already know what you’re doing, you can still pass on the book to someone who needs encouragement. Or leave it on your coffee table and show your non-cycling friends the parts that show why cyclists shouldn’t ride in the door zone, how to take the lane, how to make left turns, etc. Our ulterior motive in offering the booklet in the combo pack is that we think educating the public about safe cycling is good for everyone, even those who don’t live in the city or ride for transportation. We hope that you’ll be able to use the booklet to help spread the word to your family and friends (so of course, we’re also offering the booklet by itself, for $10).

Speaking of gifts, it’s getting down to the wire if you want any “design-your-own” orders before Dec. 24th, so if you’re thinking of getting customized bike bags as gifts, get your orders in by the end of this week. Although if you don’t, there will still be stuff in stock that’s ready to go out, not to mention gift certificates.

Happy riding, and keep the rubber side down when the ice hits!

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New Today!! The Dill Pickle Gear SuperMini Saddlebag!

All new just for today, Dill Pickle Gear makes an unbelievable breakthrough in lightweight gear. The price is unbelievable, because the bag is just that amazing!

The all-new, ground-breaking Dill Pickle Gear SuperMini Saddlebag is designed just for the discerning minimalist weight weenie. 


It has the same great features as its larger cousins, such as mesh side pockets and reflective trim, but weighs in at an ASTOUNDING 0.5 oz! 

It is perfect for credit card touring, in that it has enough room for a credit card. And some cash, a convenience store discount card, and your keys. Well, one key. 


The SuperMini is available only in hot pink, because if you are not man enough for a hot pink saddlebag, you should really get something bigger to carry your baggage. You know, like spare tubes and tire levers and tools and stuff. 

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April Fool’s: The joke’s on us!

As you presumably figured out, yesterday’s cute lil’ saddlebag was just for April Fool’s Day, but it turned out that the joke’s on me, because it was unexpectedly popular! 

Now it’s got me inspired and thinking… so stay tuned for more news on that front! 

SuperMini handlebar

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So, how much can I carry?

You can click here to find out a comparison of each bag’s weight and capacity. But what does that really mean for what you can actually carry? To give you some idea, I filled up each size with an assortment of stuff you might have with you on a ride. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what you should bring on a brevet; for example, you’ll notice that while I packed a full change of on-bike clothes as well as a full change of off-bike clothes in the Large, I neglected to pack a toothbrush or clean socks. 

I tried to fill the bags so they were pretty much all the way full, but if you were so inclined you could still strap in some more stuff under the lids and have it stay put; so this is not really the *absolute maximum* you could carry, either.

I also weighed each bag as it was loaded, just to give some idea. For the sake of argument, although I showed the bags (except for the handlebar bag) with a water bottle in a side pocket, I weighed them with the bottle empty; if it were full, it would add a pound. The yellow rain jacket is also very bulky for its weight, but since it’s a great jacket and it weighs next to nothing, I almost always have it in my bag, so it’s in the photos.

The small saddlebag, filled: 

1Small Saddlebag Stuffed


And here’s what was in it. The water bottle was in one side pocket, the arm warmers were in the other, and the wind vest was in the lid pocket. There should have been a pump on the lid too, but I forgot. Wallet and cell phone were in the brevet card pocket. Inside were a pair of gloves, a rain jacket, a reflective sash, a tire lever, a multi-tool, a y-wrench, and a patch kit. The total weight, with no pump and with an empty bottle, was 3 lbs 10 oz.

1Small Saddlebag Open



Here’s the handlebar bag, full. Total weight loaded like this was 3 lb 1 oz. Actually the lid closes no problem, but I positioned the sunglasses to hold it open for the picture: 

1Handlebar Bag Stuffed

The cuesheet was in the cuesheet window. There were a couple of bars in the exterior side pockets as well as a small minimal cable lock, plus more bars and gels in a ziploc bag inside. Also inside were a cell phone (in the cell phone pocket), reflective sash, arm warmers, gloves, rain jacket, spare tail light, sunglasses, and lip balm. Personally, I don’t usually have my jacket in my handlebar bag, which leaves plenty of room for a sandwich or a bottled beverage, etc. 

1Handlebar Bag Open

Or even a loaf of bread!

A Handlebar Bag is just the size for a loaf of bread. This one has yellow lining.



When it comes to the Medium and the Large, there are more variables to what you can pack where, depending on whether you lash things to the lid or use a lid pocket, whether you use rear pockets, etc. So I packed the Medium just lashing the jacket to the lid, and the Large using the lid pocket. Here’s the Medium, packed: 

1Medium Saddlebag Stuffed 

And here’s what’s inside. The side pocket you can see in the picture has a wind vest and arm warmers in it; the side pocket on the other side has the water bottle. Lashed to the lid are the rain jacket and a pump, and there is a tail light on the loop on the back. In the rear zippered pocket are two spare tubes, multi-tool, patch kit, Y-wrench, and tire lever. Wallet and cell phone are in the brevet card pocket. Inside are a winter thermal jacket, long sleeved jersey, bib shorts, knee warmers, reflective sash, gloves, and a cycling cap. You could easily lash something larger or heavier, such as a stuff sack or drybag to the lid instead of the jacket. With the bottle still empty, the total weight was 6 lb 13 oz.

1Medium Saddlebag Open



For the Large, I chose one with a mesh lid pocket and mesh side pockets. Although the example in the picture does have a flap extension, I didn’t use it. By using it, you can stuff quite a lot more in where the shoes are if you are so inclined. 

1Large Saddlebag Stuffed Front 1Large Saddlebag Stuffed Back

And here is what’s in it. One side pocket has the water bottle; the other has the wind vest, cycling cap, and arm warmers. The lid pocket has the rain jacket and the reflective sash, with the pump attached. The rear zippered pocket contains two spare tubes, multi-tool, tire lever, small cable lock, Y-wrench, two patch kits, and a couple of bars, with room to spare. Wallet and cell phone are in the brevet card pocket. Inside the bag are a full change of bike clothes, including a winter thermal jacket, bib shorts, long sleeved jersey, and knee warmers; a change of off-bike clothes, including a long-sleeved T-shirt, cotton cargo pants, and a heavy flannel shirt; plus a spare folding tire, pair of gloves, and tail light. The sandals are strapped under the lid so that they don’t get the clean clothes dirty. This all weighed in at 12 lbs even, with the bottle empty. 

1Large Saddlebag Open


On my own rides, I often use the side pockets of my saddlebag to carry a bottled beverage or two, or a spare water bottle, or my arm warmers or vest. Particularly on the large, they are easily accessible while riding, so they are good for things I don’t want to have to stop to access. Like I said, this is not at all a recommendation of how to pack for a trip; just a representation of what will fit that you might carry.

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