Upgrading my bike accessories


I’ve always been fond of physical modular systems, but lately I’ve become a little obsessed with customizing my stuff with modular attachments. My bike has seen the most of this, both in terms of the number of projects, and the amount of effort put into them.

The organizer

Much of this is built around Ortlieb bike accessory products, which I have committed to as a sort of “platform” for durable, hackable bike accessories. I like Ortlieb’s roll-top, rain-proof panniers, but the lack of built-in organization is frustrating. I started with a custom internal organizer sleeve, which includes a laptop pocket, and some webbing for organizing other smaller items, especially my bike lock. This was a major project, which required learning how to sew and design fabric patterns, among other things. A project log is here.

As I write this, nearly a year after completing the v2 organizer, I notice that Ortlieb now has a commuter insert product. If this had existed 18 months ago, I likely would not have bothered making my insert, but I prefer my design for several reasons.

The organizer sleeve, as well as several other components, are made possible with Fidlock magneto-mechanical quick-release devices. These are kind of the ultimate quick-release solution; the magnets bring the two halves together with very little manual alignment needed, closing a latch, which provides a sturdy mechanical connection. They can then be separated with an action that is unlikely to happen on accident - pulling in a specific direction, pressing a button, etc.

The dog basket

After concluding that my dog Gizmo hated riding in a doggy backpack, I started putting him in a basket on my rear rack, which he loves. At first, I attached a milk crate to my rack with zip ties. This worked fine while in use, but it prevented me from attaching the Ortlieb panniers, so I would have to remove it after every use. Obviously what I needed was a quick-release mount. Trolling Craigslist for “ortlieb”, I eventually found this device, which attaches to the top of any rack, and provides a QR mechanism for mounting a trunk bag or a basket. The other half is available separately for $10, so I got a couple of those for experimenting.

(aside) Ortlieb has an even better rack-top QR system called rack lock. Unfortunately, the mechanism does not seem to be available stand-alone. I’m not willing to buy a $150 bag just for the mechanism, especially when I actually want several of them.

Unfortunately, the metal tubing that comes with this thing is not well-thought-out. The idea is that it provides a horizontal bar for your pannier to clip onto, since the QR base is covering the rack. Great, except the new bar is two or three inches lower than the rack, which just doesn’t work, because it puts the panniers too low on the bike. I had a self-defeating QR system; the base had to be installed and uninstalled each time. It’s also a very frustrating install process (unsupported discrete nuts instead of integrated female threads), so this had to be solved.

I got aluminum tubing and a bender, and made a rounded square to replace the crazy-shaped tubing. Now, everything works well enough. There is still one problem: the tubing goes out a little too far, which makes it difficult to attach the bottom latch of my panniers. But, generally, it works. Also, since I don’t normally ride with the dog basket attached, I can use the QR base to attach other things. I’d like a small trunk bag, maybe just big enough to hold a lock, some snacks, and an insulated water bottle. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but I have created an attachment for a U-lock.

As for the dog basket, the milk crate still works great. I improved it by added some padding to the bottom and the rim, plus a liner made out of a blanket. I designed an origami pattern that converts a square blanket into a box with a padded bottom and four sides. The idea is that, in the crate, the blanket can serve as the bottom padding, the liner, and the retainer ties for the rim padding, while out of the crate it can serve as a picnic blanket. It turns out that folding an origami pattern in a blanket is kind of a hassle, so I’d like to sew some color-coded velcro guides onto the blanket.

[TODO gizmo pic]

Other upgrades

The above two projects were relatively major, requiring significant design, specialty parts, fabrication, and iteration. After using them for a few months, I realized that I have been failing to apply my hobby of micro-optimization to my bike. With a box of leftover Fidlock clasps, I started noticing more small improvements.

  • Fidlock squeeze buckle for helmet (for one-handed closing while riding)
  • Fidlock v-buckle for pannier (for one-handed closing while riding)
  • External organizer with Fidlock button-latch

Even more upgrades:

  • Mylar strip replacement for flimsy fabric that holds top pannier buckle (prevents falling in an annoying space between the pannier and the rack) Someone else’s solution
  • Waterproof QR seat bag to replace my old, disintegrating, non-water-proof bag
  • Rear light attached to helmet in a fully modular, replaceable way (TODO photo)
  • Permanently-mounted, minimal, DIY rear fender (TODO photo)
  • Removable front fender. I was planning to design and build my own until I found this, which took a surprising amount of searching. There are many variations on the removable bike fender, but this is the only one I know of that provides full protection, and has a sturdy mount.

Had to design and print a tool: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4831058


laptop sleeve insert - link to blog post

Fidlock helmet latch Fidlock helmet latch attached

Fidlock v-buckle v1 Fidlock v-buckle v2 construction Fidlock v-buckle v2

Side-mounted mini pack Side-mount closeup Side-mount male Side-mount female - magnetic QR key

Ortlieb QR seatbag

QR rack mount



Lies, Damned Lies, and Exponentials