Building a Cargo Bike Pannier

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As I’ve written before, I love my Yuba Mundo. It’s a fantastic bike that can do things other bikes can’t, mainly carry a lot more people and cargo. It’s the singular tool that can empower a person, no, even a whole family, to live car free in an urban or small town environment. I’ve waxed poetic about my Mundo here, here and here.

A key component to any cargo bike is its carry system. The Mundo has an integral rear rack with load-bearing running boards, and markets a giant pannier called a Go-Getter Bag. This pannier on steroids is designed to carry a week’s groceries for a small family, or even the small children of that family. That’s a joke, but not really. 85 liters is a LOT of space. I suppose some people use two of these things, one on each side of their Mundos, but they must be smuggling small arms to Tauron or something. Most humans will be fine with one, which leaves the other side loading platform for boxy things or kid’s feet. One of the funny things about using a Go-Getter is that it becomes kind of like a car trunk. You end up putting things in there you normally wouldn’t carry, but might sometimes need, just in case. I mean, you’ve got the space.

Here’s my Go-Getter during a typical run to the Geneva Farmer’s Market. One day I carried 90 pounds of produce home on the Yuba, much of it in the Go-Getter Bag. You can read my bill of lading here. The Go-Getter has carried telescopes and tripods, and it has worked really well.

20130926-120349.jpgWhen I first got the Yuba, however, it took me a while to get used to the requisite slightly-wider cornering and I kept hitting the curb. In retrospect I should have left the bag off until I got a handle on the…handling. Anyway, scraping against a rough-hewn granite curb at 15 miles an hour produces some pretty intense friction, I found out, and the Go-Getter began to succumb.

I thought about what to do for a while. I like to sew. I like to try to reuse things and waste as little as possible. And this intersected with another thing I had been thinking about, which was a way to get my Bicycle Astronomy project branding onto my Yuba. (I also, I must admit, say I’m a bit of a bag fetishist, and am fascinated by different ways of carrying stuff. This must be some kind of paleo holdover.) Anyway, I made a decision: I would salvage what I could of the Go-Getter Bag and build my own.

So I took apart the Go-Getter, carefully measuring each piece, trying to reverse engineer the thing. For the time my Yuba was pannier-less, I suffered. Grocery runs became more frequent. Thank heavens for the Bread Basket on the front.  From the Go-Getter, I saved the webbing, much of the velcro, all of the hardware, the plastic stiffener panels (ie, the skeleton), and the all-important hooks to attach the pannier to the Yuba’s rear rack. I saved the interior vinyl though I did not reuse it for this project. More on that below.

For the exterior, I decided to use waxed canvas. It’s easy to sew, relatively waterproof, and it comes in cool colors that remind me of my days in the French Foreign Legion, like field tan. I also had five yards of Martexin No. 10 Cotton Duck in that very field tan. It’s pretty tough stuff; I’ve used it for tool rolls and a case for my daughter’s plastic trombone. I haven’t tried running it up against any curbs, but given its long use in the forestry industry for outerwear, I figure it will hold up pretty well. Plus, I thought through some design features to allow the bag to be easily repairable.

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One of my redesign goals was to keep my food from contact with vinyl, which is a pretty controversial material (at least in Europe; in the US, it might not be controversial enough!) So for the liner I opted for an acrylic-coated polyester called Top Gun. It’s a pretty stiff fabric and a little slippery when sewing, but it’s warrantied against cracking for five years. It’s meant for things like awnings and boat covers, so I expect it to hold up pretty well on the inside of a bag for even longer. I tried to make that with as few seems as possible, to increase the water resistance. It’s no dry bag, but the Top Gun floating liner is certainly ready to fly into the danger zone.

In general, I went for simplicity. The main compartment is not broken up by pockets or panels, just a single lateral cargo strap across the middle, an excellent feature from the original Go-Getter for helping keep the bag together with unruly cargo, like loose tubers or baby lambs. I did design two pockets on the side panel, one an open “water bottle” type, the other designed to be semi-hidden and waterproof, for my three indispensable cargo straps. The sides also have a discrete reflective strip sewed into the design.

(I should be a more methodical sewer. I should make paper patterns. I tend to wing it a bit. I’m learning. The waxed canvas exterior shell was a bit bigger in opening circumference than the liner, which meant the bag got a few impromptu pleats on one side. I meant to do that, really.)

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For the front closure, I opted against velcro and instead went with classic buckles and straps, and with a relatively limited adjustment on them at that. I did some informal measuring and decided that the range of adjustment from empty to pretty full wasn’t that much. Beyond that I could also use a strap extension (which I have yet to make) or just let the bag stay open. I didn’t want to have lots of loose strappy things to get caught or drag on the ground. I added a bar of webbing under the buckles to hold the short tabs that there were in place.

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The lid was a big deal. I use my Yuba extensively for my Bicycle Astronomy project, which has two goals: bringing stargazing activities to different corners of Geneva in a sustainable way, and to demonstrate to the community the utility of living car free (if your bike is big enough!). So the bike has to advertise that project. I designed a poster on illustrator and had it printed out on vinyl, for under $20. I wish it didn’t have to be vinyl, but that’s what they have. I sewed that to panel of waxed canvas, and went a little OCD on making a thick binding tape from the same waxed canvas to unify the design. The lid attaches to the Better Bag with velcro along the top of the back panel, just above the bag’s clips. Theoretically, I can design another lid at a later date and replace this one. Also, the lid is designed to reach lower on the bag exterior than the original Go-Getter design, so if I do hit a curb the lid will take the brunt of the friction and not the bag’s harder-to-repair body. If I do shred this bag, it’s likely that a new lid, a relatively simple simple thing to make, will be all it needs.

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6 thoughts on “Building a Cargo Bike Pannier

  1. This is the best DIY bicycle gear blog I’ve seen in a long time. I’m sure Yuba will pick it up. They are open to innovation. Steve Bode (sales rep) visited with me here in San Antonio and we rode around together downtown and he was interested in my bike rack on my car and was impressed how stable the V1 Yuba (Heaviest) Mundo did on the rack. He asked all kinds of info and and now they carry it as an accessory.

    Doug, I really like the graphics on the side. I might made it for mine too. Where did you get the vinyl printed?

    I’ve been thinking of making some custom bags for my yuba co hold ham radio gear securely this might just be the inspiration to do this.

    Keep it up I’ve done some astronomy via bicycle here in San Antonio but I need to do more:
    – Matthew (bike4heck.com)

  2. I can’t believe, a year and a half later, there are only two comments. That’s totally whacked, because this is a great project. Thanks so much for sharing!

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