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Nighthawk ST

Modern Bike Rant


My bike's around-town clothes. Visible are hard bags for riding pants and other items, tank rack for things like groceries, seat bungee cord for a daypack, and locks for the helmet (and occasionally the bike). Note that this is a post-crash shot of my so-called Nighthawk ST.

Bikes typically come up more than a little short in certain practical areas, for instance, cargo carrying. But this doesn't have to be so. Below are some photos and descriptions of ways to carry the load, and store it when you're off the bike and doing whatever it is you went to do in the first place. (You're not just out for the ride, are you? ;-) So here's what I've got for hard bags, tank rack, tank trunk, backpacks, locks, and waterbottles.

As you can see, most of my work is with plywood. When I was five years old, my dad took me on a trip across the country in his VW Beetle, with a camper shell built on the back. Later came the '64 Fairlane with wooden station wagon back added, Ford Galaxy 5000 with a camper grafted onto the back, etc. Well I guess the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, and I've followed his lead. Fortunately, bikes are (mostly...) unsuited to camper shells. Therefore, how about some nice luggage?

Plywood is heavy, and though I find it easy to work with, I certainly don't find it fast to work with. (Each saddlebag takes days to build, at least for me.) It's not terribly strong, but neither is it brittle. Weather resistance is poor. But the best part, other than the availability of materials, is that customization is easy. This is a major boon for one-off designs, where you invariably get some parts of the design wrong the first (etc) time.

Bungee cords are the cat's meow, at least with bikes that give you a place to attach them. (See my Modern Bike Rant!) You can tie knots to shorten the cord, or use an adjustable one. Carry extras in your luggage, or beneath the seat, or both, to allow for unforseen requirements. I don't have a good way too carry a helmet yet, but a bungee net or better yet an Aerostich Bungee Buddy might do the trick.

Wow, hard bags are truly revolutionary. And addictive, so be careful! With 'em, you always have a place to lock your riding jacket and pants, or anything else small enough to fit. The problems are additional width, vulnerability to crash damage (unlike a fortunately-packed soft bag which can actually save the bike from damage), and extra weight. But once you've experienced modestly secure storage for your bike, you won't want to go back. Ironically, I find these to be even more useful around town than when touring, which can be done with soft bags.

Wouldn't it be nice to always have the ability to carry an extra bag of groceries, 12-pack, or economy-size package of toilet paper, right up on top of the gas tank? Why, yes, darn tootin'. Interestingly, though you might think having weight up there would make the bike feel top-heavy, I actually like the way it feels. Maybe that's because this weight ends up over the front wheel, not over the back as with most cargo. You can even stow a daypack up there (like when riding two-up), and not have to carry around that silly looking tank bag when off the bike.

Well this sucker doesn't look good, but it works great. (Reminds me of the joke: What looks terrible, but feels great? But never mind that...) It's actually kind of shocking just how useful it is to have a trunk that you can pop open at the first hint of a stop, and there's your hat, waterbottle, snack food, maps, or whatever. Right there at waist level, and without struggling to open a tank-bag zipper.

A narrow map window fits on top, a piece of paper can be taped to the inner lid for recording gas stops or other notes, extra maps stack on the side, extra pockets can be rigged for sunglasses or a pen, etc. And, I lean on this thing when riding long distances, or to get out of the cold/wet wind. What's not to like?!?

I'm surprised how rarely I see this picture on other people's bikes. Sure, the locks bounce around a bit, but the utility value is truly amazing. With one or two of these hanging from your grabrail, you are always seconds away from locking the helmet and gettin' on with life, rather than carrying it with you into the store, restaurant, bar, or whatever. (I even leave the helmet on the bike when visiting friends, at parties, etc. Why cause a scene?) You can also run a cable through an arm of your riding jacket, partially secure a backpack, tennis racket, etc. The possibilities are endless.

This thing is a real gem. The cable is quite thin, but keyless locking means you can ride around with the lock open, hop off, and secure your helmet without using a key. Not really suited to very expensive helmets or neighborhoods/environments with a lot of thieves, but ideal for other occasions. And if you lose or break your key, a couple of minutes with some pliers and you're free again.

My Kryptonite Kryptocable IV is much stronger, but I don't love it. Why? Because it doesn't feature "keyless locking", where you can leave it unlocked and coiled around the grabrail, then pass the end through your helmet eyeport and lock it without using a key. Other than that, a great lock. I leave it unlocked on the bike, which cuts in half the number of times you have to use the key. I'm surprised how few of these I see on bikes around town.

I used to always ride wearing a daypack, and now I never do. Why, when liberation is just a bungee-corded-backpack-on-the-seat away? And once you get off the bike, a backpack is unbeatable for carrying convenience, especially if it has external straps to accommodate whatever you might need to haul. Good daypacks can hold 2000+ cubic inches, which is really a lot. And since it's a backpack, you always have the option to simply wear it if you need to bungee other cargo to the seat, or if you just want to hop on and go. When you're off the bike, you're not saddled with any bike-specific luggage.

For touring, a small internal-frame backpack (my Kelty Moraine is 3200 cubic inches) is tremendously versatile, if a little ponderous. A top-loading pack means that there are long straps securing the lid, allowing tons of external storage, in addition to the cinch straps on the side. Combined with saddlebags and tank storage, you've got some serious load-carrying ability. And should you wish to go backpacking, or hike in somewhere for lunch, or wad the bike and need to ride the Greyhound home, your pack will hold most of your gear. A duffle bag just can't compete, although come to think of it, I don't actually end up wearing the pack very much when touring. Lastly, if you need to carry a passenger, just have him/her put on the backpack, and then ride carefully! Once a load like that starts to go over, there's no stopping it.

I just discovered this possibility, and so far it's worked really well. Water is one of those annoying things to carry on a bike, because it's fairly bulky and very heavy. Having an extra quart or more, not too far from the bike's center of gravity, is great. You'll probably want to cover the tail section to prevent abrasion (weather stripping and black duct tape visible above), attach a single bungee to the turn signal stocks, and keep your eyes open for slim waterbottles with screw-on tops. Aguafina quart bottles, and any 16-24 oz bottles, work well. Bottles that use brittle plastic, like Crystal Geyser, aren't the best.

When touring, I find that 1.5 quarts is a minimum comfortable amount of water to carry, enough to easily get you through the night and the first part of the next day. Two quarts is better, and to get through two nights, four quarts becomes the bare minimum. (One quart per twelve hours, I think.) So this additional storage possibility is very welcome, and easy as pie. Just don't forget to keep drinking!

How about a couple of brewskis? Using this system, I can get one 12- or 18-pack pack on each side, and another twelver on the tank trunk. That's a total capacity of about two cases, in addition to a full touring load. Pretty cool! My friends at the Reno Air Races were impressed. I imagine that all sorts of external loads could be carried this way, allowing for all kinds of whacky contingencies.

My compound bow and a quiver full of arrows, in a soft bag. I've also stowed a bag of golf clubs this way. It's pretty ad hoc, but it works okay, particularly if your local archery range or golf course is half an hour away via twisty roads. Care with the bungee cords is required -- you don't want to lose or damage your load, or to have a loose bungee cord get caught up in you back wheel.

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