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Of Panic and Panniers April 25, 2013

It was 16 degrees when I woke up and I have to admit that, for a brief moment, I thought about cancelling the ride.  I had been looking forward to it for weeks, but now sitting there, the warm mug of pumpkin coffee cradled between my hands, the near-tropical bliss of my pickup’s tiny cab seemed a paradise.  Like most years in Idaho, the weather had failed to keep pace with my ambition.  The skies were clear, the sun was shining, but as my mother was wont to point out: this was not sufficient reason to be donning my favorite pair of shorts.  If I was going to ride today, I’d have to do it bundled up like a snowman.

Using this logic, I had managed to postpone my first ride of the season for nearly a month.  Instead, I had curbed my desire for two wheels and fresh air with the purchase of a brand new set of Seattle Sports Rain Rider Panniers.  Bright orange with reflective tape, I had ogled them for most of the previous season.  It doesn’t rain much in Idaho, but a prospective move to a wetter locale had placed them on my radar and, for some reason I couldn’t quite explain, they’d never slipped off… even after the job opportunity had faded away.  So here they were, crisp and fresh, waiting for that inaugural ride and I wasn’t going to let them down.

An hour later, I was appropriately bundled in three layers which included thermal underwear, insulated coveralls, and my favorite Cannondale alpaca helmet liner.  I had taken great care to ensure that the pannier was well attached to my bike rack (something which had proven more challenging than anticipated, since I had no way to keep it away from my rear wheel and had been forced to resort to laying it flat atop the rack and holding it in place with a conspicuous web of mini bungee cords).  The air was brisk, but it wasn’t long before the blood was pumping and, thirty minutes later, I arrived at work with that delightful burn that comes with a few good uphill sprints.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what had led me to believe that the trip home would be shorter and less eventful than the trip to work.  Perhaps it was the success of my initial adventure or the knowledge that most of the big hills were behind me, but I felt compelled to ride just a bit faster… and it was at that high-speed coast down 14th street that it happened: my brand new pannier fell off!

I heard it fall.  The thunk.  The scratching as it slid across the pavement.  The squeak of my brakes as I pulled to an abrupt stop.  Looking back, I realized that my decision to take a different route home had been nothing short of an act of Divine intervention; My pannier now lay in the middle of the road… but not just any road, it was a road that was rarely ever used.

Dismounting, I picked up my new rainproof bag and the bungee cords which had held it in place.  (All the bungee cords, that is, except the one which had neatly wrapped itself around the spokes of my rear wheel.)  To my surprise, the bag, itself, bore little sign of its ordeal.  A minor scuff on the handle was all it had to show and I was reasonably confident that the bike lock and two unread issues of Bicycling magazine housed inside were equally undamaged.

It took several minutes, but I finally settled upon a different method of attaching the cords and set off again – grateful that the mishap hadn’t happened on one of the busier roads or on the bridge as I crossed the river.

For a while, everything went well.  The roads were smooth, the drivers courteous, and nearly every light was in my favor.  In fact, I was nearly home when it happened again.  Thunk.  Scratch.  Squeak.  This time, the pannier had landed in the gutter.  A good call on its part, since this road was a bit busier than the last and it ran a real chance of getting flattened by the line of traffic.  And, again, my pannier showed no sign of damage.  (If asked to review the product, I could honestly say that I recommend it: I have no idea how it holds up in the rain, but it does a dandy job with road rash!)

I thoughtfully examined the bike rack (which was also coming lose) and one of the bungee cords (which was now stretched far beyond its original length) and briefly considered just hand-carrying the pannier the rest of the way.  Such a defeatist attitude could not be stomached however and, once again, I rewove my web of bungee.  This time, I was more creative and the tighter fit did the job.  Both the panniers and I made it home – a testimony to the old adage that, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

What about my next ride?  Well, hopefully by then I’ll have figured out a way to keep the panniers away from that rear tire.  In the meantime, I’ll settle for the knowledge that a little bit of ingenuity can go a long way… or at least part of a long way if you weave it right!


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