Adventure-commuting: Refreshing the Bantam

The Bantam in Frazer Park, 31 January 2023. Olympus XA/Kodak Ultramax 400

My Bantam is the nicest bike I own or owned, a custom machine built to my body geometry and specifications almost eight years ago. Everything about all that screams special. And I’ve kept it as my “special” bike over these past eight years. I wanted to set it up as “not a commuter” because I had other bikes to use as commuters and wanted to keep the Bantam for special occasions. And keeping it special would mean I wouldn’t make it like all my other bikes, which is a tendency that is hard to overcome.

Of course what actually happened is that I didn’t embrace the Bantam like I thought I would. Eventually I did embrace the Bantam, ironically at the start of pandemic, when “bike commutes” or commutes in general became non-existent for many folks. All my rides became fun rides, so why not bring out the Bantam?

Then the world shifted slowly to “still a pandemic, but less pandemic-y” and commutes came back. I would naturally gravitate towards my Raleigh Superbe and then my Brompton, as they were more optimized for commuting. But I started to think about getting the Bantam more into the mix. This was spurred by something Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bikes said recently: He wished that people who got nice/fancy/expensive bikes would use them more for utility than just pleasure, because if a bike is reserved for just special stuff, it gets used less and less.

To do that, I wanted to do a few updates. The big one was to get a new bag. If you know me, I don’t really need an excuse for another bag, so “get a new bag” shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But hear me out: The main bag I’ve used on my Bantam is my North St. randonneur bag, which I had custom-made almost eleven years ago. It’s a great bag, don’t get me wrong, and it’s bigger than a traditional handlebar bag. But it’s not really big enough for day-to-day stuff, plus it’s starting to get a bit long in the tooth. What I needed was a good sized front bag, one that can be used mostly by itself. What I needed was a good basket bag.

Now I’ve used a basket on the Bantam before, but it was usually in conjunction with a small Velo Orange/Roadrunner handlebar bag. That bag was just too small, so I recently sold it. I also have a Sackville basket bag from Rivendell. It’s a great bag, plush waterproof canvas and all. But it’s got a big non-waterproof zipper at the top. When that bag is loaded, that zipper points straight to the heavens. And if the heavens decide to unleash rainfall, well, so much for keeping the contents dry. A basket bag made with waterproof material and a roll-top would be great. I thought I had it with a custom bag from Lord’s Luggage that Andy let me test. It was capacious, a bit too much. I needed a bag that would carry just enough stuff.

So I just got a Transporteur bag from Velo Orange/Roadrunner. It’s got a cordura shell and waterproof liner. I’d prefer waxed canvas, but that would most likely cost more than the $125 I paid for this bag. There’s a large accessory pocket with waterproof zip on the exterior, loops to hook a (not-included) strap (though I had an extra one lying around), and loops around the base for rack mounting. Since I’d be plopping this bag into a Wald 137 basket, I’d used the two side buckles to secure bag to basket. I’ve only had it for a little bit, but I love using it! And its 29 liters of capacity fits a decent amount of stuff. I managed to get my laptop into it, even! It’s not perfect and I have a couple quibbles, like an interior organizer pocket would be nice, and also either a velcro strap or strap/buckle to go over the roll-top to keep it closed. 1 But overall it’s a great bag.

I also got around to redoing the bar wrap. Back in December I mentioned that I’m not totally sold on drop bars, and may switch to upright bars at some point. Before I do that, I want to give drops one more chance. And I figured adding some nice leather bar tape would help, especially since I hadn’t wrapped the bars in maybe four years and the tape was worn out. Emee gifted me leather bar tape from Walnut. It is very luxurious! Of course, I had to wrap this luxe tape to the bars, and wrapping/rewrapping bar tape is not something I like to do, as evidenced by the fact that four-year old tape was unraveling.

Has leather bar tape radically changed things and made me fall back in love with drop bars? Well, it’s not a radical change, but it is a marked improvement. For one thing, it looks a lot better, and sometimes having something look nice makes a big deal. The wrap feels comfortable, too. I may still switch to upright bars at some point, but I want to give these drops and this bar tape at least a year before I decide. And if I do, the leather bar tape is easily removable, no annoying adhesive strip you’d get from cotton or synthetic tape.

I’ve made a couple more tweaks. For the longest time I’ve had a Velo Orange “Mojave” water bottle cage on the downtube: It can hold a quart-sized water bottle, and that can be handy for tours. But for day to day riding it’s not as big a deal. So I switched back to a regular-sized cage. Now I can have a water bottle and a thermal coffee mug, so handy for commuting!

And after all this time, I’m going to add a kickstand to this bike. For many bikes, adding a kickstand isn’t easy, but I had Bob K put a “kickstand plate” between the chainstays, seat tube, and rear wheel when he built the bike. Yes, I had the bike designed for a kickstand, and didn’t put one on for almost eight years! Oy. My Pletscher double-legged kickstand will go on there when I get a proper bolt for it, a stable way of keeping the bike upright when I’m not on it.

How do I feel about all this? Well, I’m enjoying the bike a lot more. So much more, I want to ride it a bunch. But it always seems to happen: When I want to ride a bunch, things come up to prevent me from doing so, whether weather or, in this case, busyness with other things. I will get a chance to ride more soon, though.

Honestly, I feel a little silly about my changed mood and perception of the Bantam. All I did was put new wrap on and get a different bag. It’s not like I did real things to make the bike handle differently, like a new drivetrain or different tires. It’s still the same old Bantam. But somehow a few small changes have reinvigorated the bike for me. And if that’s all it takes, I’m all for it!

And now I’ve got the Bantam set up more for commuting, yet it still is ready for adventure. An adventure-commuter, if you will. It’s something that I resisted for a bit, but now I’m totally into. And I wonder: what took me so long to come around?

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1 In normal use, the roll-top will stay shut, kept in place by the side buckles. But when I load/unload the bag from basket, I have to undo those buckles, and that’s where the roll-top can come undone. On dry days, no worries, but when it’s pouring… For now, I’m using a strap from VO, the Austere strap, to keep the roll-top totally shut. It easily goes through the daisy chain around the base.


3 thoughts on “Adventure-commuting: Refreshing the Bantam

Add yours

  1. I actually have one of those short 8mm bolts I’m not using, and would be happy to send your way. I can get it out to you today, just let me know.

    I’m not entirely surprised simple tape and bag is enough to change the mood and perception. I think you mentioned the basket is a new addition, too. Anyway, every couple of years, my wife re-arranges the furniture in a couple of rooms in our house. My thoughts are that there is one optimum way things should go, and sometimes the change proves that, but the latest change to our livingroom seemed (for me) to move away from the best layout. Now looking at it from the perspective of changing the mood (versus my focus on utility), I’m going to be more understanding of that.

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