26. Problem-Solution: Assorted Musings on Equipment and Home Repairs

This concerns a problem I recently encountered and how I solved it.

Various digressions elucidate the practical and philosophical aspects a bicycle-centered life – at home as well as on the road.

I shall focus especially on a particular brand of equipment.

One of my foibles is that I’m crazy about bags. They must have been one of the very first tools that humans invented – the earliest of bodily extensions – not far behind the stick, in all of its countless variations.

Naturally, I own a great number and variety of bags. I love all of them – some more than others. The bags which attach – inerchangeably – to my four bicycles are among my core possessions, those which I consider most indispensable.

My wife and I share a tiny apartment, with a storage locker downstairs. I haven’t owned a car in 20 years – which is why I’m not broke – and I’ve never owned a house. So by many people’s standards, I don’t own a lot of stuff. If I had to abandon 90% of it, my bicycle bags would surely be among the things I’d keep.

I discovered bicycle touring thirty years ago, when I was still living in San Francisco. This happened by accident. I’ve always been a habitue of bookstores, and one day my eye was caught by an item on display: William Sanders’ Backcountry Bikepacking. It was a combination of the title and the cover photograph that captured my imagination. Life has never been the same for me since.

Born to wander, I stumbled into an ideal modality in bicycle touring. The combination of solitude, independence, low profile, access to natural settings and potentially very low cost were a perfect fit. At first I experimented gingerly, not ranging far from home. Then I spread my wings, and began to see how limitless the possibilities really were. The same applies to the bicycles, gear and numerous adaptations I’ve developed over the years and decades. Through experience and observation, I have gradually improved, extended and enriched the equipment I rely on.

Some things do not bear false economy – like the bicycle itself, and basic gear. For most items, it’s worth investing in quality. But once you’ve put together an outfit, you should be able to travel almost endlessly with only minor upgrades and routine repairs.

The most fundamental equipment that makes bicycle touring possible are the front and rear racks, the bags (or panniers) which mount on them, and your handlebar bag. It’s this final item – the handlebar bag – whose repair and adaptation I shall presently describe.

  • #1621 – But first I digress to praise a pair of panniers that I’ve owned for twenty years. I liked them so much that all of my bicycle bags since I bought these have been made by the same manufacturer in California – Jandd <jandd.com>.


These bags have traveled countless thousands of miles – from Florida to Labrador, from the Ozarks to the Jersey Shore, from Seattle to L.A. They’ve weathered many, many scores of nights at roadside campsites. I’ve hauled groceries in them, tons other things as well, and for years they’ve carried my books and materials, lunches, thermos and raingear to the schools I’ve taught at in California and New Jersey.

Incidentally, though I own the bright yellow raincovers which fit these bags, I prefer to pack my belongings that must stay dry in waterproof bags. Hurricane Stuff Sacks are another quality item that Jandd supplies, though I used to get by with ordinary plastic bags, sometimes inserted in less expensive (and less waterproof) stuff sacks to protect the plastic from tearing.

One of the four zippers on these paniers doesn’t work anymore. Two of the four plastic retainer clips have broken – a minor nuisance; they keep loose ends of the main vertical straps from flapping around. (I have replacement clips but have never troubled to sew them on.) The material is frayed on one of the four top back corners, exposing a bit of the white plastic stiffeners that give shape to the bags. One night in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, a racoon tore through the upper section of one of them – where I’d left some delicious, locally grown blueberries. You can see the patches I sewed on (lower of the two bags; where the black material is not so faded). The mesh has torn on the upper bag – my fault, for carrying aluminum tent pegs in there, whose sharp ends poked through.

All in all, however, these panniers are just as useable as they were brand new. They are extremely rugged and well designed. In fact, despite their rather high intial cost, for the use they’ve given me, these panniers by Jandd are among the very best investments I’ve ever made in personal accoutrements.

Two further notes. Observe how bright the reflective tape is on these panniers. When I’m camping – in one of my intuitively selected roadside harbors, almost inevitably on private or government land – I strive to remain as inconspicuous as I can. I generally drape a poncho, empty stuff bags or similar items over all bright surfaces — reflectors on my wheels, on my racks, fore and aft, and especially the reflective tape on all of my Jandd bags.

For long, these were my main storage compartments, which mounted on the rear rack of my touring bike. But a few years ago I discovered that Jandd was selling an even larger set of bags – the Mountain Expedition Panniers. I thought about it for a while, then popped for a set.

I’ve never been one to travel light. Even when my bags aren’t filled to the brim – which they sometimes are – I see no harm in having the extra carrying capacity.

I rode a Trek 520 for a quarter of a century, until it got totaled when I was struck by a car on my way to teach one morning at the community college in Paterson, NJ. That was a great bike – right up to the very end, when it took the hit for me.

I spent six months researching its replacement, finally settling on a Surly Long Haul Trucker. I’m sure I could not have made a better choice. I would put Surly right up in the very first rank, with Jandd, for my all time preference in equipment. I used to use Jim Blackburn racks on all my bikes. But I took a big step up when I bought my Surly. The racks that came with it are much stronger, and able to accommodate a whole lot more gear (not to mention a fatter wheel and tire, should it ever come to that).


I mention this because the Surly racks have allowed me to mount my old rear panniers on the front, so I can put the big Mountain Expedition Panniers on the rear. I carry lightweight but bulky items in the front panniers – clothing, raingear, cooking pots and miscellaneous items. I put my old left pannier on the right front side, and the right pannier on the left, so the front cutaways on the bags face the rear, keeping them clear of my peddling feet.

  • #1622 – Which brings us to the problem whose solution I am about to describe. The stem on my Surly is both too fat and too short to accommodate the large plastic mounting – “Quick Release Bracket” – that supports my Jandd Touring Handle Bar Pack II. <http://www.jandd.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=FTOR2&gt;


  • #1626 – The Quick Release Bracket works perfectly on an older – thinner and longer – type of stem.


This is my “beater” – a 1970s Japanese Sekai touring bike that I bought used for $75 about twenty years ago. After my Trek 520 was totaled, I cannabalized its better parts and upgraded the Sekai. I’m not too nervous about locking it up in a bad neighborhood, where I’d be worried sick that my Long Haul Trucker might attract unwanted attention.

Notice the liberal use of duct tape. By covering up the mounting straps, I reduce the likelihood of a vandal making off with my Quick Release Bracket. It’s not something I’d want to be constantly removing and putting back on – way too much hassle. The horn (another adaptation I love and use liberally) is held in place by circular, screw-on metal clamps with sharp edges, which the duct tape covers up.

It’s convenient to have Quick Release Brackets on each of my two main bikes. The handle bar bag goes back and forth with no more trouble than pressing the “center tongue” (at the top front of the mounting plate) and lifting it off.

  • #1623 – Here is another view of the problem handle bar stem.


I recently took my Surly in to have it checked by the professional mechanic who customized it for me when I bought it several years ago. One of the issues I wanted to solve was the misfit mounting.

I was told I had no option but to purchase a new handle bar bag, with a more modern type of mounting system. When I got home and looked around Online, I found no bag that I liked even remotely as much as my Touring Handle Bar Pack II.

So I called customer support at Jandd – and got just the answer I was looking for, in the course of a long and friendly chat with one of their reps. It turns out there’s a guy in Portland, OR, who worked out a homemade solution, to the very same problem, and posted his instructions on youtube. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GNapIr852M&gt;

Dave of Portland had a handle bar quite different from mine. His tools and methods were different from the ones I adapted to my own circumstances. But I’ve got to give him credit. It was his initiative and out-of-the-box thinking that opened the way for my own solution.

  • #1629 – My electric jigsaw did the lion’s share of the work.


The biggest chunk of plastic came off the upper right side of the bracket. Compare the sawed-off portion with the (now) non-symmetrical flange on the left. Note also the irregularly shaved-off portions of the lower-most center part of the bracket, which may now sit flush atop the bicycle’s headset.

  • #1632 – The grinder bits in my electric drill were not essential, but they did help in finishing off the rough edges left by my jigsaw.


  • #1634 – Here is a closer look at the finished product. Unlike Dave, I didn’t do much marking, and I only used a pencil. I held the bracket on my handlebars where I wanted it to rest, eyeballed it, did some cutting, then repeated the process several times.


  • #1636 – From another angle.


  • #1638 – Now the bracket’s mounted very snugly on my handlebars.


  • #1640 – The bracket’s just a bit off center – no big deal. There is no interference on the right (facing forward from the saddle). Nearly all the surgery was done on the bracket’s left underbelly. I could just as well have fudged it the other way.


  • #1651 – A bit out of focus, but what’s essential is clear enough – the closer flange has been largely removed, while the farther one remains intact. (Looking up at an angle, from the left front side of the bike.)


  • #1654 – Voila!


Just in case you’re curious, the adaptations on the front right are entirely my own invention. With a section of plastic plumbing pipe, bailing wire and duct tape, I built and mounted a scabbard for my Leki collapsible trekking pole, something I wouldn’t travel without. I put a bottom in the tube by drilling holes in it and fitting a bolt across its diameter.

Hobos and canines are inimical. City dogs are better behaved, but out in the countryside I’ve been chased more times than I can count. When one of the critters gets too close, I swiftly draw my trusty walking stick and whack him on the snout. So far so good. I’ve never had a closer or meaner encounter, or had to escalate my defensive measures, in all my many years of bicycle touring. May it always be so.

  • #1657 – For wild boar hunting in Arizona – the Assegai spear by Cold Steel is just the thing.


The hard plastic sheath is the one I’ve mounted on the bicycle. That’s another advantage of the generously sized Surly front rack – there is room for all of this and more. I pack an extra, leather sheath (on the floor), which is advisable for carrying this spear (with its extremely sharp, 13″ blade) around camp, sleeping with it beside me, or hiking with it in the forest.

  • #1656 – Two modern versions of the primordial stick – man’s first bodily extension – adapted for travel, and ready access, on the world’s finest touring bicycle.



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