Bicycle Ammo Can Rack Box

I’ve had this project in mind since getting the Toba Roger Randonnneur rear rack for my Trek PDX. N took ownership of a Nashbar trunk bag that I picked up at a thrift store and I thought I would give this idea a try. It has enough room for tools, first aid kit, or snacks. It does have padlock eyes, so it is lockable, but that is more of a casual anti-pilfer approach than real security– it is a plastic box after all. It does have a waterproof gasket to seal the lid.

It’s not expensive as bike carry options go. I got a black MTM AC30C-40 30-caliber ammunition can and a Planet Bike tail light bracket.  The mounting hardware all came from a marine supply store and I have about $24 total in the project.

I used 3/8″ black nylon pad eyes to mount the box to the rack with 10-32 stainless screws, washers and aircraft nuts. My original plan was to use a pad eye at each corner, but after looking at the box on the rack, I thought that two pad eyes on the center cross bar would be enough. That allows some sideways adjustment to get it well centered. With some careful measuring and drilling, it sits straight and even on the rack. I do need to get longer screws to have them fully seated in the aircraft nuts.

Mounting hardware
3/8″ nylon pad eyes and 10-32 stainless fasteners
Lower mounting
View from underneath showing the pad eyes over the rack cross bar
Interior mounting hardware
Interior mounting hardware

The box weighs 22 ounces and measures 7.4”(L) x 13.5”(W) x 5.1”(H) outside and 6.0”(L) x 11.2”(W) x 3.7”(H) inside under the handle slot. There are taller ammo cans available, but I wanted it low to make it easier to get my leg over the back and keep it clear of the back of the saddle. I think it looks better too. It’s about like a lunchbox

Left side view Quarter viewRear viewLid raised

Luggage style padlock in place
Luggage style padlock in place

I used the Planet Bike tail light mount with a Cateye TL-LD550 lamp, which is mostly a reflector with LED’s down each side and will run in steady or flashing modes. I clipped the Planet Bike release tab off as it hung down under to no purpose. The Cateye lamp slides into the mount from the top and when the lid is closed, the light can’t come out of the mount. I sealed the mount with silicone to keep it waterproof.

Planet Bike tail light mount
Planet Bike tail light mount
Cateye TL-LD550
Cateye TL-LD550 tail light


The box holds my tool kit, spare tube, spare batteries, first aid kit, headlamp/flashlight and bungee cords with room to spare. It can be removed in a few minutes with a Phillips screwdriver.

My OnGuard Pit Bull Mini LS U-lock will fit with a 4′ cable, leaving enough room for my tool kit. That’s not bad for urban trips and low fuss— what the Brits call phaff. One thing about biking is the helmet/gloves/sunglasses/lock fussing whenever you get on or off the bike. With this I can drop it in and go.

Finished project
Finished project


The industrial design thing

I found out late in life that I’m a freak for industrial design. My recent passion for bikes is fueled by this interest as well as ultralight hiking gear, boats and photographic equipment. Systems make for even more the temptation and those categories fall easily into that quagmire!

I found Zahid Sardar’s book, 100 Best Bikes which is pure industrial design porn and I enjoyed it immensely. It was very much an inspiration for the modifications to my Trek PDX bike.


So I’ve begun “collecting” bikes with my camera. I found this wonder locked to the window guard outside a local thrift store (it was a customer’s and not for sale).


Rail Trail Misadventures

Have you traveled a busy rail trail by bike? I enjoy the exercise, being outdoors and exploring these trails, but they aren’t always a quiet ride in the country. Sunny weekend days can make them very busy and there can be weekday commuter rush hours too.

A first glance the trails seem like a refuge from car traffic and the safe way to travel by your own power, but I’ve witnessed some crazy stunts by trail users that make me pay attention while I’m on the path.

Road bikers: there are lots of road bikes on the metropolitan paths I travel. The smooth pavement and long stretches with no crossings or other complications make a place where the skinny tire crowd can get into the high gears and roll. They are playing in the same place as walkers, runners, skaters, skate boarders and other bikers traveling at much lower speeds. That makes for riders hunched over the handlebars pushing for some personal speed/distance goal or just the thrill of going fast under their own power, zig-zagging through elderly walkers, kids on bikes, baby strollers and folk like me who are riding at 12mph vs the road bikes’ 20+mph clip. Some trails are posted with a 15mph, but that makes no difference.

Passing quagmires: bike paths are generally 12 feet wide and can be narrower. Passing is much like passing in a car, but riders like to cut it close and there seems to be less sense of the danger. When you have walkers and bikes two abreast, a family with a trailer and a wobbly kid on a bike and throw in a bridge or a blind curve, it can get way too interesting and 12 feet gets very small. Add passing bikes in both directions and you have a lovely combination. Try passing in a road crossing with pipes or timbers sticking up to block motor vehicles from the path. It’s like an obstacle in a video game. It’s all a lot like driving in Italy!

There is some reality disconnect when people get on bikes: the laws of physics, traffic laws, common sense and simple courtesy are all suspended. That lovely human trait of self-centeredness comes out with the sunshine I’m afraid. I think that some like to do on bikes what they would do in cars if they could get away with it. Add a big dose of living life in a rush.

As the comedian Ron White has said, “you can’t fix stupid.” I’ve seen too much of that on bikes. There was the fellow I saw riding a bike the wrong way down a one way street with no helmet and smoking. If he wouldn’t smoke, he would make a much better organ donor. And those riders I see with their helmets hanging from their handlebars. What leap of faith and logic is THAT?

Or four people who decide to stop in the middle of the trail for a chat. Not off to the side mind you, but smack dab in the middle, with a front wheel askew and taking up another foot or two. I guess it is THEIR trail and they are just letting the rest of us use it.

Dogs: I like to walk my dog and they need close supervision on a path with bikes. And short leashes. I’ve had a couple dog walkers with retractable leashes strung right across the trail like a clothesline! Another case of it being THEIR trail. Assume nothing when passing a dog and don’t expect good behavior: I’ve seen a couple “lungers” out there.

Every once in a while you will get tight quartered obstacles like the trail going through blind and narrow S-curves under a bridge with fencing, railings or rock walls too. The trail designers thoughtfully add a line down the middle of the trail, but painted lines aren’t very tall and are far more theory than barriers.

Paint! White lines in the rain are infamous for falls, as well as metal grates, manhole covers, and trolley tracks. A couple weeks ago we were riding a detour section of the Burke-Gilman Trail where it passes through the University of Washington campus. The detour has some large bike path symbols painted on the asphalt: 3’x5′ green rectangle with a white outline of a bike. With a little rain and some road grime buildup, a summer rain shower made them deadly slick. I warned my companion and not 30 seconds later, rider behind me initiated a turn right on top of one of those symbols and the bike popped out from under her. She was going slow enough and had the reflexes to actually land on her feet. Amazing! I would have been hamburger for sure.

Last weekend I watched one of a herd of road bikers riding on the “wrong” side straight into a blind S-curve with no escape possible. I have no idea what people are thinking when they do such things. I don’t think they understand how much it will HURT when they have a head-on collision on a bike.

Sunday, I came upon an older road biker laying on his back on the pavement, tangled in his bike and not getting up. There was a fellow with in-line skates bending over him and I assume they had some sort of collision. I got 20 feet past and pulled completely off to the side to see if they needed help and a road biker behind me passed so close that he knocked my pannier off the mount. He skidded past, staying upright and kept right on going— while I brought up the highlights of his family history out loud. The biker on the ground started to move, with a huge bloody scrape on his elbow. With both conscious and moving, I left them to work it out. This was on a straight wide section of trail and I can’t figure out what they did. My guess is a sloppy close quarter pass on the biker’s part.

Traffic lights and crosswalks: people seem to have no sense of left or right if they aren’t in a car. Maybe they don’t in their cars as well! This is well illustrated at trail crosswalks where people charge off like race horses, going every which way with all the walkers and baby strollers leaping into the intersection at the same time. Bikers who were not waiting at the light come roaring up to make the light. Add an impatient right-turning vehicle to finish the salad.

Crossings are all dicey in general. The stop signs on trails are universally ignored and people fail to check for turning cars. There is some confusion by bikers and drivers alike as to who needs to stop when. Some bikers think that always have the right of way and act more like pedestrians. Assuming that a car will stop or even see you is a recipe for broken bones.

I think many riders fail to grasp the effect of a vehicle on a human body. There are no seat belts, no air bags and certainly no cocoon of steel. If a car hits you, it is going to hurt a lot and for a long time— if you survive. As my father says, the graveyards are full of people who had right of way.

Walkers: give them lots of room, for they know not what they do. If you haven’t ridden a bike on the trail, you don’t have the same perspective. Some are very young and not under good supervision. Others don’t seem to sense the danger of the passing traffic and will turn or change direction with no warning.

Likewise inexperienced bikers. They will stop when and where it suits them and no telling what direction they will go when they start peddling again. You can spot them by the bike and their clothes: no jerseys, black stretch shorts, streamlined helmets or wrap sunglasses. More likely some gray hair, extra pounds, upright handlebars, fat tires and a seat the size of a cattle ranch.

I do use a bell and my voice to warn others of my approach and passing. Road bikers are notorious for not warning when passing, or nearly whispering the traditional “on your left.” If the person being passed has the wind in their ears, they may not hear you. What is needed is a good “command voice” announcement—- with enough lead time to react.

Of course everyone needs to slow down, especially when it is congested. It’s no huge effort to back off for 20 seconds to let the people in front of you sort out a bit. Charging up to pass when there are multiple layers of people on the trail is just begging for a collision. Some common sense and courtesy would go a long way. Be aware of other people and your place in the stream of traffic.

So this is the playground! Wear your hemet, be careful, have fun—- and stay out of the ER.

46 Mile Rail Trail Bike Journey

N and I got up Sunday morning a couple hours past a good start for a day hike and decided to go north on the Burke -Gilman Trail and go all the way to Redmond via the linked Sammamish River Trail.

They are really a continuous trail with no obvious transition than signage, following the rail lines from the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle, around the the north end of Lake Washington and south to Marymoor Park in Redmond. They are asphalt paved, 12′ wide paths with marked road crossings and a few under and over passes.

The Sammamish River or Slough is the outlet for Lake Sammamish to Lake Washington. It is slow current and south of the town of Woodinville, has been turned into a straight canal for flood control. It looks more like a big ditch than the meandering stream it was.

One of the bridges over the Sammamish River near Bothell, WA.
One of the bridges over the Sammamish River near Bothell, WA.

Our first stop was the farmer’s market at the town of Lake Forest Park, near the north end of Lake Washington. There was fresh local produce and baked goods and some good music from a duo of sunburned buskers. We bought cherries and apricots and had a snack at nearby Log Boom Park and the north end of Lake Washington. We continued on through all the bedroom communities of Kenmore, Bothell and Woodinville, stopping at the Redhook Brewery for a lunch of burger, sandwich and a couple pints. We continued on to Redmond and Marymoor Park, taking a lazy Sunday afternoon rest brake sprawled out in the shady grass next to the Clive Mansion and windmill in the park.

Redhook Brewery bike parking
Redhook Brewery bike parking

We were looking over the rail trail map and decided to take the Marymoor Connector Trail to the East Lake Sammamish Trail so we could see the lake and get a feel for that trail. The lake trail is under construction about a half mile out, so we used that as our turn around point.

We worked our way back through the park and stopped at the India Festival next to the trail in Redmond. We watched dancers on stage and shared a mango smoothie. We headed on towards home with a couple short water stops on the way. There was a strong headwind for a few miles, making some work for us.

Dancers at India Festival Redmond WA 7/27/201
Dancers at India Festival Redmond WA 7/27/201

We stopped at the 192 Brewery in Kenmore. It’s a funky little brewpub with a huge outdoor seating area with old patio furniture and a live band. After re-hydrating and a good rest, we finished the last leg of the trip with the odometer showing 46 miles.

Live music at 192 Brewing
Live music at 192 Brewing

While this wasn’t a long bike trip for those used to touring, it was our longest trip to date— a few miles more than the Centennial Trail from Snohomish to Arlington. We were tired and I was a little saddle sore, but felt better than I expected. I had made a round trip to the Chittenden Locks last Thursday, giving me a total of about 70 miles in the last four days.

A new bike and modifications

I got a new bike a couple months ago and it has been a great addition to my lifestyle.

My wife has a Jamis Coda Sport “urban” bike supplied by her employer to help reduce parking congestion and comply with the Washington State Commute Trip Reduction law. I had an old yard sale hybrid bike in storage and I tuned it up so we could take some weekend rides together. It was okay, but keeping up with my wife wasn’t easy, what with the fat tires on my bike and the 32c commuter tires on hers. I was in a thrift store soon after we started and found a pristine Trek PDX — for $69.95!


I’ve found that bicycles are like cars when it comes to design and customizing and the customizing bug bit me on this one. I’ve been experimenting with tires, handlebars, lights and racks to get this bike outfitted for my needs.

The bike came with 700x28c road tires and after using a bike running fat tires, I appreciated the speed of the skinny tires, but they scared me on the lumps and bumps. We live close to the Burke-Gilman Trail that was reclaimed from a railway that ran from the north end of Lake Washington to Puget Sound near the Ballard neighborhood. The trail is a fantastic urban biking resource, but it has a lot of bumps from roots that have raised the pavement, particularly in the area near the University of Washington. Hitting one of those sharp bumps with a 28c tire at 15mph is bone jarring and it can be hard to see them in the areas with mixed sun and shade. I tried some 35c tires, but they were a little big for the 622-15 rims and there was a speed penalty.

I have gotten a lot of great bike advice from Max Dilthey’s blog, Max, the Cyclist . Max has done some extensive touring and he has been a patient tutor for me. One of Max’s recommendations was for Schwalbe Marathon tires  and I think he is right. I ordered up a pair of 700x32c HS420 tires and they are working well for me. They have a 3mm thick rubber insert for puncture resistance and the tread pattern is a good balance of traction, rolling resistance and durability.

Handlebar height was an issue for me. I have a bit of arthritis in my neck and looking up while leaning over the bars is difficult. The bike came with a set of aluminum hybrid style bars with about 1″ rise and swept back about 25° and mounted on a 150mm/15° stem. I have short arms for my height too, so raising the bars and reducing the reach are both helpful. I started off by trying a steerer tube extension. The extension was a quick and dirty way to raise the existing bars, but adds to the complexity and looks patched too. My first question was to the strength of the arrangement, but I had no issues using this over a period of a couple months and there was no tendency to loosen or odd steering feel.

extended bars

I was looking at different handlebars with a thought to a stem with less reach and bars with more rise, but I ran across the Origin8 Classique CargoUnit basket and handlebar combination.

origin8 basket new

The handlebars have 80mm rise and are an inch narrower than the stock Trek bars. They have two mounting bars, so they can be raised another 4″ if needed. With that and juggling the stem height spacers on the steerer tube, there is a good range of height adjustment. I tried the lower bar first with the stem at the bottom of the steerer tube, but that was too high, so I opted for the upper mount with the stem mounted at the top of the steerer tube.

Stem design was some concern as all the cargo weight is carried on the stem, with no stays or supports running to the fork. I’m not a “performance” cyclist by any means and don’t plan on crashing down some single track with this rig, nor any plans to haul heavy loads. But this load carrying basket called for a stem with a four bolt clamp for the handlebars and I found a used flat black stem with a shorter 50mm reach at Recycled Cycles, near the University of Washington.

My Alchemy Goods Pike model messenger bag fills the basket well and that is about what I had in mind. I can bring home a bag of groceries (or even a 12 pack) with no worries. The assembly is flat black and goes with the bike perfectly. While I was at it, I added some Origin8 Pulsion lock-on grips.

basket side view  basket rear view

The mirror is a Mirrycle Mountain mirror that I found in a thrift store for $1.99. It’s perfect and allows me to keep an eye on traffic behind me on the street and the bike trails too. I picked up the bell at a flea market for $2. Bells can seem fussy, but they really help notifying pedestrians and other cyclists when I’m passing. The computer is a recent purchase, a wireless SunDing SD-548C that has more than enough functions for my needs: speed, mileage, and clock are all at my fingertips. You can find them from US suppliers on eBay for $6.99, including the shipping. I was surprised how well it works. I did break one by dropping it hard and one of the buttons went flying, so I just bought another complete unit.

My next project was the rear rack. I had a Planet Bike rack on my other bike and hacked it to work with the Trek. Disk brakes make the left side of the rear hub very busy. The previous owner had installed SKS fenders and did a good job of bending the stays to fit around all the brake hardware. The Planet Bike rack wasn’t designed for disk brakes but I was able to use P-clamps to hang it on the seat stays, That left the rack farther forward and higher, so I had less heel clearance and anything carried on top of the rack tended to bump me in the butt. I ended up putting the rack on my daughter’s bike and tired one of Performance Bike’s Transit TD-1 racks designed for disk brakes. They are very inexpensive at $24.99 on sale and it worked okay, but I really wanted to clean up that rear hub area.

I found a Toba Roger rack at a local bike shop. The basic Roger model is study in simple elegant design and it is made for disk brakes. It also incorporates a rear fender as part of the support, so I could get rid of all the SKS stays at the same time. But I was concerned that the Roger model would not allow enough heel clearance and I found a variation on the design, a  Roger The Randonneur rack that has all the elements of the basic Roger model with a top rack as well. That model allows moving panniers back farther on the rack as well as trunk bags or other items strapped to the top. I swapped the stock skewer for  a Shimano 178mm version. The original was about 3mm short of reaching the end of the acorn nut and I wanted full coverage with this critical part.

Before and after:

old rear rack  toba roger mounting

I think it is well suited to the overall design of the Trek and makes a good pairing with the Origin8 basket. It begged for a light and I found a cool bolt-on fender tail light: a Spanninga Pixio Xb. It is very bright, but lacks “blinky” modes. Toba needs to step up to the plate and make a rear light for these integrated fender racks, as well as making a matching front fender.

Toba Roger Randonneur  Spanninga Pixio Xb light

I looked for a flat front fender to match the Toba. I found flat Civia fenders in pairs only and held off on ordering them. I was in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood the other day and took a look at the Dutch Bikes shop on Leary Way. One of their helpful staff understood my design concepts and came up with a used front fender from a Dutch WorkBike. I think it works well with the rest of the accessories on my bike and it is flat black, of course. It  came with a great Bibia mud flap too– all for $15.

Fender  Fender

Mud guard

I am experimenting with front lighting. I got a Blackburn Voyager and Mars light set which are small and light and good for identification, but I wanted something to light up a dark path at night. I have used Fenix flashlights and headlamps for hiking and found a Fenix bike handlebar mount. It is plastic and a bit large and clunky. One side clamps to the handlebars, or in this case to the side of the bottom tube on the basket. The other side holds a flashlight from 18-28mm diameter and rotates with a detent,  simply twisting to the angle you want. It rattled and I took it apart to see if I could cure that. The two sections pivot on a shaft that has a washer and “e” clip holding it all together. It should have some sort of spring or spring washer to keep it snug. The shaft would have to be longer to add a spring and I chose to remove it and replace it with a screw and aircraft style lock nut. That allowed me to tighten the nut to the point that it didn’t rattle and the locking style nut would stay put when adjusting the light.

I thought I would try one of the Ultrafire C3 flashlights with an extension tube using two AA batteries and rated at 15o lumens. It has a click switch on the bottom and is single mode: on or off, with no intermediate levels  or flashing. What a piece of junk! If the tubes are tightened together, it won’t stay lit. I assume the batteries and spring are putting too much pressure on the switch and distorting it somehow. If the tubes are rotated just a bit, it will work normally. It was $12 and change on eBay and I’m afraid it is a classic case of getting what you paid for.

I’m also experimenting with one of the Nite Ize Lite Ride GT flashlight mounts that has a plastic saddle with two of the “‘gear ties” to hold it in place. It is very light at 0.8oz and easy to install. It works better than I expected and can also be used as a simple stand for your small flashlight.

Nite Ize Lite Ride GT with Olight i2 EOS AA flashlight
Nite Ize Lite Ride GT with Olight i2 EOS AA flashlight

That’s about it for my modifications on the Trek to date. Here is the whole bike as it is now:

bike july 21 2014