Backpacks, racks, and panniers, oh my!

Recent question from reader Rebecca: “At the moment I’m using a backback, but it has limited capacity. So I’m wondering what you do… baskets? panniers? racks? I’d love any advice on that subject.”

Great question.  I used to be a backpack gal, too.

At first, I carried a regular back pack, plus a small gym bag.  I found that carrying two bags was awkward (and sometimes unsafe), so I switched to the internal frame backpack pictured above (yes, I’m in the picture too, hiding behind the pack).  With a volume of 50.5 L (3082 cubic inches), this pack easily handled everything I needed most days, and, with the waist belt and suspension system, felt pretty comfortable, even fully loaded, when riding my hybrid.

Once I switched to a road-style bike, with the bent-over riding position, the huge pack was a) more awkward and less comfortable and b) somewhat dangerous — when I turned to look over my shoulder, I couldn’t really see the road behind me — not good!

I took the plunge and bought a rear rack and panniers.

With a total volume (for the pair) of 20 L (1220 cubic inches), the panniers (Cartier by Axiom) provide much less space than my pack.  Although they come with a detachable over-the-shoulder carrying strap, it is not very comfortable, making these panniers great while on the bike, but not so good when you want to take them off and carry them around.  I hesitate to leave them on the bike, even when empty, because they’re not cheap.    For some errands, I need more volume (or a different configuration) than these provide.

I experimented with adding a milk crate (which is what my husband uses).

I like the milk crate because I can use whatever bag I want — just toss it in the crate.  With the milk crate and panniers, I have lots of carrying capacity, although the panniers are a bit difficult to access and pretty much impossible to remove while the crate is attached (which is good from a theft perspective, not so good when I want to remove them quickly).  For now, I just use bungee cords to secure the crate when I want extra space, but my hubby uses zip ties for a more permanent attachment (just make sure to carry a couple extra, as zip ties eventually wear out and snap).

Cool green tip: Over the weekend, I heard about people using cat litter buckets as make-your-own panniers (see here and here).  I wish I knew about this innovative reuse solution before I sunk $100 into my panniers.

Carrot rack

Room for one

I stopped in to Local Harvest Grocery yesterday, where I snagged the coveted carrot rack parking spot.  A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that they carry bulk (organic) rolled oats.  I eat oatmeal for breakfast pretty much every day.  I recently switched from quick oats to rolled oats — I now strongly prefer the texture and taste of rolled oats.  As part of the switch, I buy the rolled oats from bulk containers (compared to buying the quick oats in the cardboard canisters), so I reap the added benefit of less waste!

Tiny choices success

I frequent the Tiny Choices blog for their green living insights, and as a fairly regular reader, I completed their survey.  Tiny Choices featured my survey last Thursday.  In it, I mentioned my struggle to speak up in a constructive way when I notice others making less than green choices.  In the comments, Nupur of One Hot Stove said, “My suggestion for encouraging others to change their behavior- simply modeling the behavior sometimes triggers others to think about it, more than saying anything about it.”

During a recent work gathering, someone pulled styrofoam plates out for the cake.  Knowing that we had a full cabinet of dishes right behind me, I hesitated for a moment, then grabbed a stack of real plates.  I swapped them for the styrofoam plates on the table, saying that I would take dish duty.  Everyone seemed happy with this arrangement.  I plan to look for opportunities to model greener choices, with a hope that over time they will spread.

Two square

I visited an elementary school recently, and I could not help but notice the sticker on the toilet paper dispenser — the number “2” next to a picture of toilet paper squares.  This reminded me of the “These Come from Trees” stickers, a great cue to action to reduce wasteful use of paper in public restrooms.  I felt fairly certain that was the purpose of the “2” sticker, but as there was also a “Flush” sticker on the wall behind the toilet, I wondered if the number 2 referred not to the numbers of squares of t.p. to use, but rather to a step in a “How to Use the Toilet” sequence:

1. Enter the stall.
2. Lock the door.
3. Pull down your pants.
4. Check the toilet seat to see if a rude “sprinkler” was there before you . . . .

You get the idea.  But I’m already way past #2 on the list, and it’s not time to wipe yet, so I deduced that the “2” sticker must, indeed, refer to the appropriate amount of toilet paper to use.

Confession: Until I started buying my own toilet paper, I was quite profligate in my use of said paper product.  Once I had to flush my own dollars down the toilet, things changed, and I’ve been pretty good about the “two square rule” when I’m at home or other other peoples’ houses since then.  But something changes when I use a public restroom, and I catch myself with a huge wad of t.p. in my hand, so I benefit from some kind of a reminder as much as the next person.