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DIY Milk Crate Pannier

Milk crates are one of the versatile objects around. They’re great at garage sales for storing dozens vinyl records, they are also great for sitting on while busking on the street. A lot of cyclists adorn these plastic boxes on their rear racks as cheap, sturdy and rust proof baskets. Unfortunately, because many of them are bolted or zip-tied onto the rack it prevents riders from using the sides of the racks for panniers or more baskets. My neighbour was throwing out some old trinkets in a milk crate so I managed to get a hold of one (along with an Ikea stool), rather than slapping it on the top of my rack I decided to turn it into a removable pannier. Here’s a quick (and easy) DIY on how to make your own for less than $10.

My Beater Bike ready for some grocery shopping.

What you will need:
-Milk crate
-Pannier clips (I got mine at MEC for $6)
-longer bolts and matching nuts
-zip ties
-power drill
-bungee cord

1. Pannier clips often have about 2 hooks or clips which attach onto the rails of the rear rack. These clips attach onto the pannier using 2~3 bolts. Find a place near the top of the crate where you can attach the clips onto making sure that the clips are parallel. Use the holes on the clips as reference points and drill holes in the crate, make sure these holes line up. The bolts will run through both the clips and the crate.

2. Chances are the bolts provided with the clip are too short to go through the crate so you will need longer ones (I used spare bolts I got from a fender set). Insert the bolts into the holes and tighten them in with a washer and nut. Use a wrench and a screwdriver or allen key (depending on the type of bolt used) to keep everything tight. Make sure there is no play and that everything is tight. If you mess up, don’t worry there are 3 other sides of the crate you can mess with.

3. If your bolts are too long you may need to cut them down using a bolt cutter and grind them down using a file to prevent things from getting caught on them like grocery bags or sleeves.

4. To keep the crate from jumping up and down whenever you hit a pot hole run a bungee cord around the leg of the rack and the crate to keep it in place.

5. Add reflectors for extra visibility, this is important because the width of your bike has now increased and drivers (and cyclists) need to be able to see that while passing.

That’s all there is to it! All you need to do now is slap it on and buy some beer or groceries!

Remember to keep in mind that your bike is now bigger than it is before and probably can’t maneuver its way around traffic like it used to. If the bolts start loosening up you may want to apply Loctite or nail polish to help keep them from loosening.

Posted: December 14th, 2010
Filed under: How to
Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

Stopping at an Intersection

I am now finished my final exams for the semester so I have a lot of free time to kill, so the other day I decided to sit on a patio at a busy downtown street and watch the intersection. Intersections are tricky for riders as it is where various users of the road all interact with each other. Statistically, intersections are also where most cycling collisions occur usually as a result of poor visibility or unpredictable behaviour. Below are a few techniques on approaching and navigating an intersection safely.

Approaching an Intersection:

-When approaching a stop sign or a red light glide to the intersection and slowly/gradually apply the brakes to come to a stop. Slamming on the brakes will wear out your tires, brake pads and rims quickly and may result in skidding which is especially dangerous in rainy/snowy conditions.

-Shift down one or two gears as you approach the intersection that way you are in a lower gear ratio when you begin pedaling again. Far too many cyclists stick to the high gear that they were on which means they will be struggling to bring themselves up to speed or they find themselves weaving around to maintain balance while they attempt to gain speed for momentum. Hammering on your pedals to gain speed is not only a waste of energy but can slow you and others behind you.

-If there is a vehicle waiting at the intersection hang back a bit so that you are not in the driver’s blind spot. There’s no point in squeezing beside the driver unless you are making a right turn and it places you in an uncomfortable position as you are boxed in if the driver is attempting to make a right turn. It’s best to either be slightly ahead or behind a vehicle in the same lane as pictured below rather than be caught in their blind spot.

Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto

Waiting at an Intersection:

-Put your left foot down instead of resting your right foot on the curb. It’s very tempting to rest one’s foot on the curb but doing so places your bike closer to the part of the road where debris such as glass accumulates and where there are sewer grates. By putting your left foot down you not only keep some distance away from the curb but it also gives drivers behind you the perception that there is much less space in the lane so they will not be tempted to squeeze beside you. Squeezing is dangerous since you enter their blind spot and vice versa which increases the chance of getting a right-hook.

-Look around you, especially behind you. Take the time to look at what other road users are doing or preparing to do as the driver behind you may be signaling to make a right turn or gun it when the green light shines. Also watch for pedestrians who may be straggling behind while crossing the street or trying to make a bolt for it as the light changes. You are still operating a vehicle even while stopped at a red light so try to be aware especially at an intersection.

Posted: April 28th, 2010
Filed under: How to
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New or Old?

Every so often a friend, peer, or family member would ask me “I want to buy a bike, should I buy new or used?” The short answer is whichever is a safer investment but how one determines what is a better investment can depend on various factors. I’ll take the opportunity to discuss to pros and cons as well as some helpful tips on buying your first, third or fifth bike.

Buying New:

Maybe it’s time to retire your old clunker in pursuit of something just a bit more road worthy or you’re just getting into commuting, either way buying a new bike may be a better option over purchasing a used one.

-Quality: The bike you buy at an LBS will usually be brand new (unless otherwise mentioned) and built up and inspected by a qualified mechanic before you roll it out the shop. Having a qualified person make sure your bike is mechanically sound avoids costly repairs in the future and any potential accidents that may occur from mechanical failure.

-Variety: Your LBS will have a large assortment of different bikes in different styles to match your needs. Whether you’re investing money in a road bike for charity rides or if you want a hybrid for commuting chances are they will have something for you. If you aren’t sure on what type of bike is appropriate for you or your needs don’t hesitate to ask.

If you found the right brand/model/style of bike you want you can count on your LBS to have it in an assortment of sizes and colours to suit you. An ill fitted bike can lead to discomfort and an unpleasant ride. Sales folks at your LBS can be helpful in identifying what is the ideal size and fit on your bike so you can feel comfortable in the long haul.

-Extras: LBS not only want you to buy a bike from them but to continue shopping there so it’s natural to get some perks in purchasing a bike from them. Usually buying a bike from a LBS will include free tune ups as well as discounts in accessories such as lights, bells and locks. Always be sure to check with the sales person to see if there are any discounts or whether or not the bike comes with any warranty or tune ups.

Buying Used:

For those on a budget or those wanting to buy an older bike such as a vintage cruiser or a classic steel mountain bike then buying used may be the way to go. Deals are to be had in buying used but there is always the risk of buying a stolen bike or a dud. It’s important to inspect the bike thoroughly and shop with diligence to get the most out of your money.

-Price: Arguably the main point in buying a used bike is the price. Used bikes can easily drop 20% of more of the retail value depending on age and condition, but there are risks that should be taken into consideration. Do some homework on the specific bike you are buying beforehand; check what the retail value is and check to see if any changes were made to it such as replacing of parts for better (or worse) ones. If you think the price is too good to be true, maybe it is. The bike may be stolen or may have a major mechanical problem that may not be evident at first glance so be vigilant and don’t hesitate to trust your gut instincts.

-Quality/Condition: Older bikes are great to use since they are usually cheaper and are less attractive to bike thieves. In addition, a lot of them use simple components that are easy to maintain and cheap to replace making these bikes desirable to commuting. On the flip side, these bikes have been sitting around for ages so they may not work as well as they used to. Ask the seller to test ride the bike and take the time to fully inspect what you can. Perform the ABCs on the bike to make sure you can pedal, shift gears and brake safely. Check to see if the seat post can actually be adjusted and hasn’t seized to the frame. Some sellers are upfront about any issues and some may try to hide it so buy with diligence and ask questions.

Personally, I love used bikes. If you know how to haggle and have a hand for wrenching then you can save some money if you are willing to take sometime to do your own handy work. I’ve had good experiences buying old bikes as some just needed very simple work like inflating tires and oiling the chain and I’ve also had some bad experiences with bikes requiring far more extensive work than they are worth.

I bought this bike last year, with the replacement parts I put about $250 on it. It was in great condition right off the bat and I was able to ride all over Ontario with it on charity rides and some light touring.

I bought this bike last winter, with replacement parts it cost me $180 but it has had a LOT of problems with it. The shifter broke so I’ve run it as a single speed bike, the bearings in the hubs and pedals needed to be overhauled and the seat post it came with was the wrong size for the frame.

If you do decide to buy a used bike be sure to bring it into a bike shop for an inspection/tune up just to be safe. Don’t forget to register it with Toronto Police and most importantly, have fun riding it.

Posted: April 18th, 2010
Filed under: How to
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Tools you should ride with


As mentioned in my previous post, doing a pre-ride check is important in preventing any major issues your bike may have, but once in a while something may happen during a commute that may require road-side repairs; it could be a flat tire or a loose bolt falling off. The following post is a simple run-through on must-have items which can save minutes from your commute and prevent costly trips to the bike shop.

For information on how to use any of these tools and do the repairs yourself visit: or

Must haves:
The following are a list of things you should always have on you during your commute or leisurely ride.

The bare necessities for my commute: Multi-tool, CO2 Inflator, levers, wrench, tube and wet-nap

-Multi-tool – these little tools are very light and compact but can do a lot. Use these to tighten any loose bolts, re-align brake pads, tighten brakes or just about anything else that requires a hex-key set or screw drivers. Make sure the multi-tool you get can actually be used with your bike, for example: If your bike uses bolts with a TORX head (some disc brakes use them) then it would be good to have a multi-tool with a TORX wrench.

-Wrench – for those of us riding older bikes or have wheels that use nuts instead of a quick release skewer then having a wrench is also a must (you can’t fix a flat tire if you can’t remove your wheel from the frame). If only your wheels use nuts then you’ll most likely need just a 15mm wrench, but if you have an older bike that uses various sized nuts then an adjustable wrench would be better.

-Spare inner tube or patch kit – in the event of a flat you could just lock up you could bring it into a shop to fix it but that could take hours depending on how busy they are and it will cost you. Fixing the flat yourself can save time and money and gives a good empowering feeling. Make sure the tube matches your tire and also be sure you know how to replace a tube or patch it.

-Tire levers – these are needed to remove the tire from the rim, you will need these to replace a flat unless you want to MacGyver your way through it and use your quick release skewer as a lever.

-Pump / CO2 Inflator – no point in having a spare tube with you if you can’t inflate it. Pumps come in different sizes depending on your needs. They can be big enough to mount to your frame or compact enough to fit in a saddle bag. A CO2 inflator is a much more compact and quicker option to a pump but is costs more in the long run. Be sure your pump/inflator is appropriate for your tube’s valve stem (Schrader or Presta).

-Tire boot – if there is a large gash or tear in your tire you cannot use it or else your inner tube will protrude out of the opening and pop. A tire boot is a good temporary fix until you can reach a bike shop. You can either buy an actual tire boot or just use a folded up Canadian Tire bill as the fabric is thick and strong enough to keep the tube from coming out from the tear.

-Zip-ties – zip-ties make great temporary substitutes for missing bolts or can be used to keep things secured such as bike lights if something were to break. It’s good to keep a few of them just in case something happens.

Should haves:
if you’re planning a ride out of the city or if you know you will be far away from any bike shop then these items are great to keep with you in case you need to do more extensive repairs.

-Chain tool – some multi-tools have these built in but if yours doesn’t you should have one in case your chain breaks and you need to reinstall it or cut a link off.

-Extra chain links – if your chain does break and you do lose a link or two, having a few spare links can help keep you rolling. Ideally, having a quick-link or master link in your tool kit will save space and make installation a snap.

-Moist towelette – it’s a good idea to keep a few of these on you to clean your hands after doing any repairs.

-TTC token or change – in the event that the damage is irreparable it’s always good to have a backup means of getting to where you need to go.

Posted: April 8th, 2010
Filed under: How to
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The ABCs of your bike

Before you leave the house you check to see if the iron is off and you lock the door.

Before you go to work you check to see if you have your wallet and you’re wearing pants.

But before you go ride your bike do you check to see if your tires are inflated properly and that your brakes are in working order?

A pre-ride check only takes a quick 5 minutes but can save you even more time in the event of an emergency such as a flat tire or a broken shifter cable but it’s something a lot of us don’t normally do. So here is my quick tutorial, known as the ABCs, on how to do a quick pre-ride check on your bike (did I mention this is quick?).

A is for Air and tires:

The sidewall of your tires indicate the recommended air pressure (in PSI or Pounds per Square Inch) to ride your tires with. If they are too low you run the risk of getting a pinch flat, if they are too high the inner tube may not be able to hold the pressure before popping. Routinely check that your pressure is adequate and to the recommended PSI (A cheap tire pressure gauge from Canadian Tire or a bike pump with a pressure gauge is a must for this). Do a quick check on your tires to see if there are any bulges, wear or embedded objects in your tires as any of these can result in a flat. If you see any of these things try to re-inflate the tire, boot your tire or replace it, you may need to take your bike in to a shop if you do not know how.

Inner tube bulging out of the tire bead; deflate your tire and fix this ASAP!

B is for Brakes and cables:

Having functioning brakes is very important for safety so make sure your brakes engage properly. Squeeze your levers and feel the brakes stopping your wheels, if they don’t you should check why (it may be a case of a loose/broken cable, worn out pads or improperly set up brake pads). Ensure your pads are lined up with your rims and that they have not passed the wear indicator line. If they have you should replace them immediately. If you have some extra time to spare, routinely clear any gunk build up on your brake pads by sanding it down a bit with sandpaper.

Wear indicator line; if the line is gone replace the pads to increase stopping power

C is for Chain and drive train:

A gunky, kinked or rusty chain can slow down your pedalling efficiency and cause excess wear on your drive train. Lubricating your bike frequently can help keep your chain happy (avoid using WD40 since it leaves your chain dry). For best results, clean your chain, gears, chain rings and derailleurs with degreaser then lubricate.

A rusty bike is an unhappy bike

Check your derailleurs (if you have any) to see that they shift properly and that the cables are not frayed or rusting. Sluggish shifting or damaged cables are a sign that you may need to take it into a shop for repairs.

So for a quick recap:
-Check tires for damage and adequate tire pressure
-Make sure your brakes work and your pads aren’t worn or misaligned
-Check for good shifting and keep your chain oiled up

For easy tips on how to check/fix a lot of these issues visit

Posted: March 28th, 2010
Filed under: How to
Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments »