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.
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.
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.
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.