ideal bike basket for carrying laptop bag and other stuff
July 24, 2007 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Seeking: lightweight, deep "pannier"-style bike baskets that will keep my bike's center of gravity low and protect my laptop in case of a spill.

I've been looking for the perfect bike baskets and having no luck. What I believe I want is a rigid but lightweight pair of baskets to go on either side of my bicycle's rear wheel. I want each basket be deep (vertically) so that I can nestle a laptop, in a laptop bag, down in there with no fear of it falling out, and also fit other tallish items in there (picture wrapping paper on a cardboard tube, if it helps, or large flattened corrugated cardboard boxes on the way to the recycling bin).

I don't think I want the cloth pannier bags I'm seeing everywhere, because I want the basket contents to be protected from squashing in case of a wreck. Also, I really like the idea of using my own bag(s) and just setting them into the baskets, quickly and easily, rather than going through the time of buckling them onto a rack. I also picture just dropping my helmet into a basket when I park at home - no fuss.

I would prefer very deep and/or low baskets because I imagine a) it would lower the center of gravity, which would make riding safer and easier, and b) the basket contents would move less, side to side, relative to the ground.

I've found pretty generic basket assemblies which all seem to be made of heavy metal wire with the same length/width/depth ratios; the largest is 12" deep (I think I want at least 18" top to bottom, maybe more). This largest basket also is 7" wide (outside to inside) which seems like more than I need. It's also very heavy, as it's made entirely of galvanized steel, I think. I went ahead an ordered one, it's on my bike now. The bike is definitely weighed down, even with nothing in the baskets.

Is there some European or Japanese supplier that might help me?

Also: I've thought about somehow making my own, but am having no luck thinking of how.

I've seen willow basket makers who will custom make baskets, but that's too expensive for me, and I think I'd prefer a design that would allow air to pass through easily when the basket isn't full.

I've also seen plastic bucket-derived basket systems; these are a bit wide (outside to inside) for my needs, and also a bit too clunky-looking, I'm afraid.

If this _isn't_ a good idea for some reason, I'd love to have that explained.
posted by amtho to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really happy with my Janco panniers, which are wire and mesh construction, capable of being folded flat against the bike frame and the same width and length dimensions as a brown grocery bag. Thus, if I have something tall I need secure, I can use a brown bag as a cap over it and bungee it down to the pannier for even greater security.

Also, I use a laptop backpack. That might save you some trouble. It's very sturdy and well-padded.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2007

Oh, I forgot to mention: I'd really prefer not to use a backpack. I hate the whole wet, sweaty shirt feeling, and I think my shoulders are still recovering from college.

I'm in North Carolina.

Ambrosia: Thanks for the suggestion. I have seen those brown-paper-bag-sized baskets, and they look OK for grocery shopping, but I really want something lower, taller, and suitable for hauling my laptop in a padded bag.
posted by amtho at 12:23 PM on July 24, 2007

So what are this bag's dimensions?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2007

I really like the oyster bucket panniers I have, but you've already ruled them out as too wide and clunky. Perhaps you could cut down and epoxy together a narrower version?
posted by hades at 12:35 PM on July 24, 2007

Ortlieb may have what you are looking for.
posted by Dr.Pill at 12:39 PM on July 24, 2007

What's the make of the basket you currently have - Wald? I came across this basket, which looks to be 18 inches deep. There's a customer review if you scroll down, and another one here. The first review mentions that it's a bit heavy.
posted by iconomy at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2007

Seconding Ortlieb. My partner has a pair and they are great (I got the cheaper own brand ones from our local bike shop). He has this variety and regularly just sticks a laptop bag in. Ortliebs are deep, waterproof, have an efficient closing mechanism and a carry strap for when you're leaving the bike. They are also proper sturdy - I can tell his Ortliebs will outlast mine by years.

I borrow these when I'm going places with lots of luggage because of their improved "off bike" and "waterproof" features, and when I have to replace my panniers I'll get them.
posted by handee at 2:05 PM on July 24, 2007

Arkel also makes some good panniers. I have one that I have hauled my laptop and a change of clothes in without incident.
posted by jtfowl0 at 2:35 PM on July 24, 2007

That Wald one looks like what I have. 18" is the front-to-back measurement, the top-to-bottom is 12". It is significantly heavy.

Argh! I can't see the Ortlieb pictures. Are those rigid? Would they protect the laptop from something (like a bike) falling on top of it?

The laptop itself is small, the bag is larger, but I'm not interested in a *precise* fit, just something about the right size, not too huge.
posted by amtho at 2:53 PM on July 24, 2007

I think that, short of a custom job, you're going to have a lot of trouble finding something that meets these specs. I say this because you mention that you want the baskets to be significantly narrower than, say, an 8" oyster bucket, but wide enough to fit a bike helmet or a stuffed messenger bag. My helmet's about 6" tall, and my commuting bag (with clothes) easily works out to the same or wider. You've also mentioned that you want to lower the center of gravity. I might suggest that the items you've mentioned riding with -- a wrapping paper tube and folded cardboard -- are not heavy, but rather awkward due to their length. Something tall enough to really work with these kind of items would have to push out pretty wide from the read wheel to clear the chain and gears, which doesn't really jive with your desire that the whole thing be pretty compact.

If your primary desire is a rugged, crash-proof container for a valuable laptop, I'd really suggest something like this Ortlieb hardshell case. If you plan to primarily be hauling a lot of ungainly items like cardboard and tubes, maybe what you're really looking for is a light bike trailer (like this)?
posted by JohnFredra at 3:05 PM on July 24, 2007

Do you want crash-proof, or do you want light? The Ortlieb hardshell case weighs 6.5 pounds, but looks like it could survive being run over by a car, or at least jumped on a few times. The oyster buckets I use would protect against some squashing--I could probably sit on them with them tipped on their side, but not as much as a dedicated case. They weigh 5.5 pounds for a pair, though--half as much as the Ortlieb.

You could buy some Lexan plates at a hardware store and put together something custom-fit to your laptop bag, and then use anything else on the other side for cardboard/helmet/wrapping paper storage.

Or you could get a trailer or Xtracycle. Honestly, if you really want to use your bike as a utility vehicle, I highly recommend the Xtracycle over any kind of panniers or trailer. I haven't owned a car for over a year now, and use my Xtracycle for 90% of the tasks I used to use the car for. Before I got it, I used the oyster buckets. The oyster buckets are waterproof and somewhat crash-proof, but I have a couple of dry bags for the X and I haven't crashed in years (knock on wood).
posted by hades at 5:07 PM on July 24, 2007

Good point on the Xtracyle, hades!
posted by JohnFredra at 5:44 PM on July 24, 2007

Doesn't have to be absolutely crash-proof, but should provide enough protection that I won't worry too much if the bike falls over, with or without me on it. If there's a car involved, I'm not going to worry about it.

I realize that the helmet is too wide for the narrow width I envision; the depth is more important. Ideally, I guess, I'd have a slim basket on one side for the laptop in its case, and a wider one on the other side for the helmet and other things. And they'd balance near enough.
posted by amtho at 6:05 PM on July 24, 2007

The Ortleib I link to are sturdy canvas with some sort of plastic coating. They're stiff, but not rigid, if you know what I mean. If my laptop was in a laptop bag in one and the bike fell over I wouldn't blink. If I'd been on the bike myself, I'd probably check it, and it would probably be OK.
posted by handee at 2:29 AM on July 25, 2007

Ortlieb's Office-Bag 2 fits your needs. They are really high quality...unlike the website. Try clicking on the grey or black rectangles inset into the photograph of the road on the Office-Bag 2 page. The product photo and details are then revealed.
posted by Dr.Pill at 4:01 AM on July 25, 2007

Not pretty, but these make-your-own jobs seem to fit most of your criteria. I'd improve on the design by adding grommets to the holes and then attaching them to your rack with carabiners (also makes them easy to attach/remove).
posted by mikepop at 6:16 AM on July 25, 2007

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