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"Bicycle Times", January 1, 2013

KITTY LITTER PANNIERS

Bicycling gear and accessories can get pricey, especially if your wish list is long. In this column we will show you how to get crafty and make some cool gear with your own two hands.

Words by Giles Snyder

Photo by Giles Snyder

Our cat’s true colors are the subject of a long-standing dispute between my wife and me. To hear her tell it, Skitty is filled with nothing but sugar and spice. I say it’s more like malice and spite.

Skitty has given me plenty of good reasons to fear her. Most of them have to do with her claws. She may consent to snuggle with my wife, but she’s jumped up from my lap and tried to sink those talons into my arms too many times for me to entirely trust her.

Needless to say, I give her a wide berth and simply try to keep tabs on her to discourage a surprise attack.

Despite a relationship that borders on the pathological, I’ve got to give her credit for at least one thing. She’d probably poke my eye out if she knew, but our cat was there for me last spring when I was searching for an alternative to buying an expensive set of bicycle panniers.

I was looking forward to my first tour — a trip up Maryland’s C&O Canal Towpath from Washington, D.C. [See issue #18’s Bike Overnights, page 28, for more on that. –Ed.] But since I’d never gone on a tour, even a short one like what we planned, I didn’t know what to expect.

What if I had a bad experience? Or simply didn’t like touring?

I feared if I went out and bought a brand new set of panniers, they would only get used once and then end up gathering dust in my basement before being sold at a yard sale.

That’s where our cat came to my rescue.

A quick internet search turned up plans and how-to videos for a number of do-it-yourself panniers. I settled on one made from the plastic buckets kitty litter comes in. And now that I’ve used them, I doubt I’ll ever employ anything else.

NOT ONLY ARE THEY INEXPENSIVE TO MAKE, THESE BIKE BUCKETS OFFER A FEW ADVANTAGES:

• They give the recyclers among us a reason to cheer.

• They are easily detachable and make great camp stools or a small table.

• They give touring bikes a wide, flat space to strap more gear down.

• And most importantly, they keep gear inside bone dry.

I should know. The minute we left Washington, D.C., it started to rain. It rained on us all day, alternating between a light drizzle and a steady downpour. By the time we reached our stopping point for the day, we were soaked through.

But I was more than pleased with how these bike buckets performed. Everything I stowed in them made it up the towpath without an ounce of water seeping through. It felt good just knowing I’d be able to change into dry clothes.

I’d love to take credit for the design of these kitty litter bike buckets, but I can’t. I adapted the following from Crazy Guy on a Bike’s website (www.crazyguyonabike.com).

MATERIALS:

• The kitty litter buckets

• A drill

• A utility knife

• Stainless steel hooks — look for ones with flat stems

• A permanent marker

• Bolts and washers

• Two bungee cords

• Reflectors and/or safety tape

INSTRUCTIONS:

STEP 1: When you hang the buckets, you’ll want them reasonably even with the top of your bike rack in order to create an extended at surface. To achieve this, position your hooks so they are level with the top of the bucket. Use the marker to mark holes for the bolts and use the drill to punch holes large enough to accommodate them.

STEP 2: There are a couple of ridges near the top edge of the bucket. You’ll need to cut a small portion of them away with the utility knife so the hooks lie flat.

STEP 3: Attach the hooks using the bolts and washers.

STEP 4: Next you need to stabilize the buckets so they don’t bounce around while on the road. There’s a flange where the bucket’s handles are attached. Drill a hole through it, being careful not to pierce the bucket itself.

STEP 5: Take a short bungee cord and work the hook at one end through the hole you just made. Now, when mounting the bucket to the bike’s rack, attach the bottom bungee hook at the “Y” where the rack struts are welded together. This bungee keeps the buckets from flapping around.

STEP 6: After I mounted my new buckets, I didn’t like how the stainless steel hooks grated against the bike rack’s rail. So I used the safety tape to wrap the rail. If I had to do it over again, I’d use less tape and just wrap the hooks.

STEP 7: If becoming a rolling advertisement for your preferred kitty litter brand does not appeal to you, you might want to try to hide the manufacturer’s label on the buckets. I thought about either painting mine or using the safety tape to cover them, but I soon saw the humor and decided to keep the labeling plainly visible. I simply attached a couple of reflectors and left it at that. On the road, they get you noticed. People chuckle and ask questions when they see them.

You don’t have to have a cat around the house to make these do-it-yourself bike buckets, but it helps. However, if you do, I hope she isn’t as ornery as mine.

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