Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oh, Canada!

More spy-shots from the Skunk Works shop here at The Cycle (or at least that's my excuse for the lousy photo quality):
  My photo wouldn't be so blurry if the darn pannier would sit still.

That, dear reader, is NAFTA at work. One Jandd Mini Mountain pannier, proudly made in the Yoo Ess of Ay (and discussed ad nauseum in one of my many bike bag reviews), to which I have grafted to an Arkel Cam-Lock hook kit made by our friendly, maple-leafy neighbors to the north. There's a twin to this bag with the same mutation, but you get the idea.

My one knock on the Jandds has always been their touring-biased hardware. The OEM parts required you to get a hand in behind the bag (between your rack and wheel) to snug up a fixing strap. Once snug, it would take a small nuclear device to knock them off (hence, awesome for a touring kit that stays on the bike for months at a time), but that snugging and un-snugging process made the bags a real hassle for daily commuting.

Our bilingual buddies above the border have fixed all that, though. The Arkel retrofit kit replaces the original hardware with cams that retract when you pull up on the pannier handle. No fiddling, no futzing... on the rack, they grip like an angry Rottweiler on a cyclist's calf, but when you get to your destination, just pull the handles and go. Double bonus, the Arkel hooks are plastic-lined aluminum, so they're tough without chewing up the finish on your racks. If only Rottweilers had quick-release handles and non-marking jaws...

Downsides are minor, but they do exist:
  • This is not an inexpensive kit. $48 'murican dollars could buy you a cheap set of panniers instead of just pannier hardware. But you're talking about astonishingly well-made stuff from the Polite Provinces here, not sweatshop junque from over the ocean. If my experience with a previous generation of Arkel bag/hardware (see that old bag review again) is any indication, these hooks will likely outlast the panniers I've grafted them on, at which point I'll just graft them to something else.
  • The fairly specific mounting points on the aluminum tracks may require you to drill extra holes in the backing plates on your panniers and poke extra holes in the pannier fabric -- they wouldn't line up exactly on my bag's original holes. That can leave behind a lot of (ahem) "pannier ventilation" (a gentle way of saying, "great, now my underwear's going to get wet when I commute in the rain.") Some high-test black duct tape (visible in the upper left corner on the photo) seems to be doing the trick for now, but not everyone aspires to such heights of style.
  • The hooks have to be positioned carefully on the tracks so the cams can go through their full range of motion. If a cam hits a vertical rack strut before it reaches the rack's top rail, it's effectively being held in the open position by the rack -- something you might not notice until the first pothole. The hooks are incredibly easy to move with just a small hex wrench, so no biggie here.
  • If your pannier already has handles, the new kit makes them redundant. Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix, though (NOTE! Cut the OLD HANDLES on your BAG, not the NEW HANDLES on the HOOK KIT, lest you render the hook kit useless. You've been warned.) And those seemingly-handy D-rings for shoulder straps that are integrated into the Arkel hardware? Mine rattle on the rails of my rack. Haven't taken the scissors to them yet, but I'm thinking about it. 

I will continue to abuse these Bags of Two Nations (humming "It's A Small World After All" the entire time) with my daily commute load and report back on any other quibbles. On first impressions, though, they get a "Things That Don't Suck" rating -- high praise considering the normal levels of cynicism and snark around these parts.


SteveKurt said...

ooohh!!! Very fancy! Excellent work, especially for an English major. ;-)

I've been using a pair of those mini-mountain panniers for about 6 or 7 years, and was a bit frustrated by the velcro straps that secure the pannier on the rack. I think you almost need to remove the wheel to access those velcro fittings.

My solution was to just replace/supplant the velcro straps with a bungee arrangement (using old inner tubes for the bungee cord). Not as secure as the Arkel fittings, but pretty low tech and functional.

With the exception of the velcro attachment, the Jandd mini-mountain pannier has been an excellent, economical pannier for commuting. Mine have survived nearly a decade of year 'round commuting with minimal wear.

Congrats on such a nice conversion!

Steve in Peoria

Steve Fuller said...

I actually like the previous gen Arkel hanger hardware a bit better. I personally found the cam locks a pain in the butt to use when the bags were empty. I'm retrofitting the slightly older hardware on my Arkels that came with the camlocks.

That said, the hardware is first rate stuff. :)

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

SteveK, I'm going to let that "English major" comment slide. :-)

SteveF, if you have one spare camlock and would rather have the older kit, I'd trade you the hardware off my old Arkel. It's pretty grungy but still works just fine. It's one of the big bags, so I think we're talking 10" rails. I'd have to measure, though.

Steve Fuller said...

I bought two sets of the older rails (one for the retrofit) and one just in case I want to mount something else stupid like cat litter buckets to a bike. You are welcome to my cam lock rails when I'm done with the swap though. These are off of a set of GT-54 panniers