Written by Cycling

A Shopping Failure – Stuck in Drafts #1

Note: This was written several months ago, but for some reason I never published it at the time. Hence the “Stuck in Drafts” label.

I recently visited The Cycle Show at the Birmingham. It was an entertaining – if slightly tiring day. Obviously it’s a bit of a trek from my part of North London, heading into Euston and then out again on a Virgin train.

At the NEC itself, it’s always a healthy walk up and down escalators, staircases, and past closed food outlets, before finally reaching the venue. Let’s put it this way: I factored in 15 minutes to make my return train from the venue.

The show itself was pretty good. I headed straight to the interview stage where Vincenzo Nibali was being interviewed on stage by Ned Boulting, with occasional translation help from Matt Rendell. In fact Nibali’s English is pretty decent, but for the finer nuances, he obviously prefers to answer in Italian. And he wasn’t given a completely easy ride with questions about when you should have to wait for a leader who has a mechanical, or his notorious dismissal from the Vuelta when he got a tow. But overall, he was charming, dressed in a very dapper suit, and making a few gags.

He obviously wasn’t at the World Championships in Bergen, preferring to wait for next year’s Innsbruck event. But the show’s proximity to Birmingham International almost certainly helps in getting these big names into the event, as they can do a day return flight, make an appearance, and keep some sponsors happy.

After the interview, Nibali was to be found on the FSA stand signing posters and posing for selfies. I’m now the proud owner of such a poster.

Many – but not all – big brands appear at The Cycle Show. But not all. I was disappointed that Tacx weren’t in evidence, since I’m currently in the market for the quietest cycle trainer I can find, so that I can use one in my second floor flat without sounding like a cement mixer to my downstairs neighbours.

There are a few deals here and there to be had at the exhibition, and I busily snapped a few things that I might be interested in, in the future. Inevitably I came away with several bags worth of stuff, including a cleverly worked out way to protect my signed poster!

My only real complaint is that there is never any obvious coverage of the World Championships which always seem to clash with The Cycle Show. The Tour of Britain takes out a large area, which includes a place to sit down and have a cup of tea or a beer. They have a large screen on which they show… highlights of The Tour of Britain which had taken place weeks earlier. So no, you couldn’t see the women’s World Championship race. I watched highlights when I got in.

At the Madison stand I was intrigued by a shopping bag they were selling – the bikezac. Essentially a bag-for-life with hooks for a pannier rack, this seemed to be exactly what I need to do larger shops, as I’m not a car owner. I bought a pair for £10, being told that they will carry up to 10kg each. The next day I would put them to the test.

I cycled over to Sainsbury’s on my self-built bike, grabbed a trolley and went shopping. Now I do quite a lot of shopping with my bike. Mostly, however, it’s my Brompton being wheeled around in a shopping trolley. The key thing is to not buy more than you are able to carry home.

Each Bikezac is rated for 10kg as I mentioned, and I made sure not to buy too heavy products. They’re made of a material that feels similar to that which Ikea bags are made from, and have decent cloth handles. I packed the bags successfully, although a couple of additional items had to go into a regular carrier which I strapped to the top of my rack.

Sadly within 400m of Sainsbury’s, as I slowly cycled along a shared footpath (the A10 being no fun on a bike), a bag had fallen off. I retrieved it, and checked to make sure that it was securely fastened. On I travelled. Yet only another 100m or so further, and the same bag had fallen off once more.

This was annoying. Fortunately the bag that was slipping did not carry my eggs. As far as I could see, everything was still intact.

I walked the bike off the main road and onto a smaller road, where I gingerly set off again. The surface was smoother, and I cycled slowly to ensure that no bumps in the road would cause any problems.

You can guess what happened next.

Yes – it came off again. This time into the road with traffic swerving to avoid my quickly retrieved shopping. And now I seemed to have a leak. Closer examination revealed that the one litre orange juice carton was a bit beaten up and now no longer contained a litre of juice. Furthermore, it looked like I was planning to “shotgun” a can of Cherry Coke Zero. Those items ended up in the bin, and both the carriers came off the pannier.

I did manage to cycle home, but with both bags hanging off my handlebars.

The bikezacs ended up in the bin within less than 24 hours of me buying them.

So what went wrong? Well a number of things:

  • Open Hooks. The two hooks you use to attach the bag to the bike are open, meaning that any shake can judder the bag off. If you have smooth roads, this might not be a problem, but I found it was for me. Most decent panniers have a system that grabs hold of the pannier and closes things up. These didn’t.
  • Plastic hooks. The plastic used for the plastic used for the hooks bends a bit too much. Therefore, under weight it can give a little.
  • Incompatible Rack. Sadly, I think that my Blackburn rack was also partially the problem. The hooks were slightly in the wrong place to allow both hooks to be “inside” struts. Look carefully at the photo above and you can see one hook is at the rear, allowing the bag to slide along and then off.
  • No lower hook. There’s nothing to hold the bag to the side of the rack. So a knock lets the bag move too far from the side of the rack.

Now the bags do have some clever things like an elastic band to pull the bag shut, and another hook to help with that. But sadly, I simply cannot recommend these bags. While they’re foldable, portable and inexpensive, they just don’t do the job.

I will look for some alternatives. Ortlieb make the Bike Shopper but it’s nearly £70 for a single pannier.