Reykjavik, Iceland- “So you are riding on bicycle?” an Icelandic guy at the campsite in Reykjavik asked me. I nodded. “Then you must belong to the crazy people,” he stated before turning heel and walking away.
My used, pink 18 speed mountain bike that I picked up from the back room of a bicycle shop for cheap came with a rear gear rack already attached. A huge benefit. But how to make the simple gear rack — which is really nothing more than some metal twisted up over the back wheel — into something that could carry all my travel gear?
This is my third long distance bicycle journey. The first began in Portugal and the second started in the Czech Republic. For both of these previous bike tramping events I was very ill-prepared — for the Eastern Europe ride I set off without even a tent or any sort of portable shelter — but made alterations and adaptions on the road. For this third attempt in Iceland, I know a little more what I am in for, and planning for such an undertaken has become almost instinctual.
First and foremost, I need a way to affix my backpack to the gear rack. It needs to be fastened securely, be balanced, and positioned as close to the bike’s center of gravity as possible. I plopped my rucksack down on the gear rack without any other support, sized it up, and thought of just strapping it there with some bungee cords. But I realized all too quick that bungee cording it alone would not be appropriate: the backpack was way too long if laid parallel to the rack and laying it perpendicular meant it would stick out at the sides — an idiot move. So I needed something to more securely hold the bag on the gear rack.
My first two bicycle journeys saw me using milk crates to hold the bulk of my baggage on the gear rack over my rear wheel. For this trip in Iceland I went looking for such an implement in the trees and brush which surrounds Reykjavik’s stadium. Almost no sooner than I began my search it was over: I walked into the bush and, as if by order, found a plastic tub that appeared to be the perfect size. The law of the perfect improbable was on my side. I seized the tub from the weeds and went to work.
Video of how I made my gear rack for bicycle travel
Watch the video above to see how I outfitted a plastic tub into a gear hauling apparatus. Keep in mind that I am traveling and do not have as many tools and other materials as I would if I were at home. If I did have more of a selection then the tools I used here would be ridiculous. The tools and materials that I use in the above video are those I either had with me previously, found, scavenged, or purchased cheaply. A key to world travel — and one of the elements that often makes it challenging, stimulating, fun — is using available materials in new or innovative ways to accomplish an objective. For making this gear rack, my multi-tool was my biggest asset, I purchased the hack saw for $5, the clothesline for $2, and I found the tub in the bushes near Reykjavik stadium. Together, I made an adequate system to cart my gear around this country.
The tub initially proved a little too bulky to fit on the gear rack flush — the end of it would not go smoothly under the back of the seat — so I needed to saw it up a little and shape it to fit properly. After doing this, I then bored holes in strategic locations in the tub’s bottom with the leather punch attachment of a multi-tool (an indispensable device for bike tramping). I then securely tied the tub onto the gear rack with sturdy synthetic clothesline. Done. My backpack fit into it perfectly, and I then bungee corded it in.
Again, watch the video for the play by play on how I did this — it was slightly more of an involved (and humorous) process than what I let on here.
On buying panniers
Iceland is far more of a remote, geographically rough country than anywhere I’ve previously bicycled in Europe. In Iceland, I was told that it is possible to bike for days without hitting a resupply station, so 2 – 3 days worth of food and lots of water is recommended to be carried at all times. So I realized that I needed to carry more more supplies. Also, holding two thirds of the country’s population, Reykjavik is pretty much the first and last location in the country to find specialty bike gear. In point, I would be leaving this city with the same rig that I would have to use for the entire duration of this trip through the country: there would be no equipment overhauls en route, as I was able to do on my first two bicycle journeys. The combination of the need to haul large amounts of gear, the definite prospect of facing rough riding conditions, and the probability that bike supply shops will be rare meant that I needed to plan this trip out a little more mindfully than my previous ventures:
I would bike tramp Iceland, yes, but I would do so with sense. I went to a bike shop and bought a set of panniers.
Never before have I approached bicycle travel in such a fancy way as to require panniers, but never before have I cycled in Iceland. $65 bought me a pair of this optimal luggage for bicycle travel and also the ability to comfortably carry all the gear and food that I need to make this journey.
As I look over my bicycle one final time before departing, I feel good about its gear hauling rig: it is sturdy, reasonably well balanced, and all my gear and food fits comfortably. In this instance, the mental bandwidth that I put into preparing may perhaps lessen that which I may have to put into repair once out where the wind blows hard, the glaciers creep, the volcanoes rise, and the sea crashes into the shore: the heart of Iceland.