The Cadillac Backup Plan

When I returned to bicycle commuting in 2008, my backup plan for handling problems out on the road was pretty simple: I carried a spare tube, a set of tire tools, a multi-tool and a cheap frame pump. If I encountered anything I couldn’t handle with that basic kit, I carried my cell phone to call for rescue. Ted Johnson, in his article The Low-Skill Backup Plan, rightfully suggests that if you have no mechanical talent whatsoever, a cell phone is all the backup plan you need. After all, a lot of people don’t know how to change a tire on their car, and most people don’t know how to fix a car if it dies, so if a cell phone works for your only backup plan on the road when you’re driving your car, what’s the matter with using the same backup plan when you’re out riding your bike?

One morning in 2010, I hopped on my main commuter bike and about two blocks from home I ran over some broken glass which flatted the front tire. As usual, the time allotted for the commute did not allow for the time necessary to change a flat, so I walked the bike back to the house, jumped in the shower, grabbed my car keys and pulled out my empty leather briefcase.

As I transferred my laptop, organizer, cell phone and other work stuff from the bike panniers to the briefcase, I was standing right next to my old Giant Yukon mountain bike, the bike which had been my starting commuter two years before. The tires were soft, almost flat, and I hadn’t serviced it in a number of months, so making it ready to commute –- and transferring all of my gear over to it –- would have taken as much time as changing the flat on the other bike. But as I headed out the door, the idea of having a second bike ready to go, The Cadillac Backup Plan, was born.

A few days later I pumped up the tires on the Giant, washed it and serviced it. I moved my panniers back over to it and rode it to work for a couple days. My only panniers at the time were a set of Jandd Economy bags. Each bag has a set of top hooks which fit onto the top rail of a rear rack, and a vinyl covered metal hook on a bungee cord keeps the bottom of the bag attached to the bottom of the rack. It’s a simple, pretty efficient system, but it takes a little time to carefully detach the bag from the rack and keep the back of your hand from brushing against the chain, or another dirty part of the bike, and winding up with grease all over you. Also, sometimes the bungee hook will slip out of your hand as you’re releasing it, bounce against the bike and snap back up against your hand; leaving a welt.

The Cadillac Plan demanded a better answer, and I discovered one in the Vaude Egger Commuter Pannier. The Vaude has a quick release system called “QMR”: you pull up on a handle at the top of the bag (which doubles as a carrying handle) and a pair of spring-loaded top hooks pop open, releasing the bag from the top rail. You then slide the bag towards the back of the bike, and a fixed hook on the bottom of the bag slides off the bottom or rear rail of the rack. The process takes seconds, and the possibility of soiling or bruising your hand is nil.

QMR System

I separated my set of Jandd panniers, put one on the right side of the rear rack of my main Sun EZ-Sport recumbent commuter, and put the other on the right side of the rack on my Giant. Everything which went into the Jandd bag was first loaded into a large, backpacking stuff sack. If I wished to switch bikes, I just moved the Vaude from one bike to the other, pulled the large stuff sack out of the Jandd bag on the one bike and put it in the Jandd on the other.

Jandd and Vaude Bags on both commuter bikes

Vaude no longer makes the Egger, but their Vaude Reva Single Urban Pannier and Vaude Newport II L Pannier have the QMR quick release system. Ortlieb also makes a series of bags with their own quick release setup, as do some other bag manufacturers.

The only drawback to this combination Jandd/Vaude system is a drawback inherent to all bag systems –- like my Jandds –- which do not have a quick release feature: if you’re going to park and lock your bike somewhere it will not be attended, you’re going to have to go through the trouble of taking the Jandd off, too, because a thief will certainly go through the trouble if it means he gets the contents of your bag, as well as the bag itself.

I solved this problem, and further enhanced The Cadillac Plan, by retiring the Jandds and buying a set of Vaude Roadmaster Back Panniers. This is a two bag set, so I can quick release both bags and take them with me. The top hooks of these bags will fit over the top edge of a shopping cart, and hang down on the outside, so they’re not taking up space you need for groceries.

Another beneficial side effect of The Cadillac Plan is I can set up each bike to address different road conditions. If it is threatening rain, I move the bags from the fast, hard, slick road tired EZ Sport to the softer, better-gripping tired Giant.

When I changed the rear rack on my EZ-Sport to a Zéfal Raider Universal dual rail, I discovered that the QMR hook which holds the bottom of the Roadmaster bags to the bottom rail of the rack did not line up with the bottom rail of the old rack on my backup commuter. I purchased another Raider Universal to put on the backup bike, eliminating the need to adjust the bottom hook when I moved the bag.

Zefal rack loaded with panniers

And if I’m ever out on the road, and I suffer some mechanical failure I can’t fix, and I have to resort to Ted’s Low-Skill cell phone backup plan, and my rescuer doesn’t have room for the bike in their economy car, I can lock the bike up to a tree, quick release my bags and toss them into the car, and come back with my own car to retrieve my bike.

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8 thoughts on “The Cadillac Backup Plan”

  1. How waterproof are these panniers? I find for my ride the Ortleibs are great. They have great little clips and are also quick releases. Most importantly they are waterproof. Stuff has always stayed dry. Give them a try.

  2. ret3 says:

    I recently came to a similar arrangement myself. Even the most reliable bike needs some down time for servicing now and then, and I dislike the interruption in my routine getting dropped off at work by my wife, or even borrowing her Torker trike (a fine machine, but a bit heavy and awkward when you’re not used to it) entail. I got a good deal on a folding bike equipped similarly to my main ride, so when it’s in the shop or otherwise out of service, the ride continues, just on smaller wheels.

  3. Joe Chapline says:

    I also have a second bike, and fortunate to have room at home to keep it. It’s great to have a backup in case my #1 bike has a mechanical problem or is in the shop for maintenance. In addition, my spare bike has often been used by visiting friends. But the best thing about it, for me, is being able to put snow tires on the 2nd bike and leave them on all winter. If the roads are clear, I take my #1 bike. If it’s snowy or icy, I take the one with the snow tires.

  4. BluesCat says:

    bikecommuterhq – The Vaude bags are a water resistant polyester fabric. Each bag comes standard with an elastic necked rain fly (think of a big, orange shower cap). I much prefer this arrangement, because when a waterproof bag carries my dirty socks, undershirt and underwear for any length of time in the 110° Phoenix heat, the inside of the bag will start to acquire a rich stench of WMD potency.

    But in colder, wetter climes, a waterproof bag like the Ortliebs may be just the ticket; and Ortlieb makes a very fine product.

    ret3 – Bike in the shop! Yet another reason to get another bike! I’m going to have to work on Mrs. Cat from that angle (there’s a short wheelbase recumbent I’ve been dreaming of buying).

    Joe – I’m a big fan of keeping our bikes safely indoors: Bikes Belong … In the House.

  5. I have a regular commuter and a bad weather/winter bike. Both are outfitted with Topeak Explorer racks, so I can use a variety of Topeak accessories that just slide on and off. I’ve been quite happy with this setup, though I’m always on the lookout for a combination pannier/backpack or trunk bag/backpack, since I often get off the bike and take the train.

  6. Mark H says:

    There have to be some bike shops that have loaner bikes. It’s probably easier for shops in tourist areas that already have rental bikes, but even places that have sell used bikes can easily implement such a program too.

  7. John M. Hammer says:

    Mark- No bike shop in my area (Queens, NYC) has a loaner program. I’ve had to leave a bike overnight a few times and I’ve asked if I could borrow a bike until the next day (or a few days, whenever my bike is supposed to be ready) so I could get home and then back to the shop. I’ve been told “NO” every time, although in a few cases the shop did rentals and would have been happy to rent me a bike (said rental costing, usually, multiples of the repair cost I was paying for the bike I was leaving at the shop). There are a bunch of shops in my area, but I live in pretty much the exact center of a 4-mile radius dead zone so I have a longish walk or have to plan to take a couple of buses home and then back to the shop.

    But I think the lack of such a loaner program is crazy. If I bring my car in to the dealer for service and I tell them in advance that I can’t wait around or if the service is going to take all day or longer, they always have a loaner car available. They don’t always OFFER it; but whenever I ask, they do it. That’s been true for 30 years and a number of different dealers and brands.

    A couple of beater bikes and a credit card machine to take a deposit against loss or damage, no different than for rentals, would make this possible and cost the shop almost nothing but earn them a ton of goodwill with people like me.

  8. Steve C. says:

    Ok…I don’t know why I never thought to do it myself, but hanging the panniers on the side of the shopping cart like that is a brilliant idea! I like to do the occasional grocery run by bike, and I’ve always had a difficult time of loading up my grocery panniers as I go through the self-check-out lane (not to mention judging just how much stuff I can buy before running out of cargo space). Hanging the dang things on the cart will make that a lot easier!

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