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Bike Buckets - An inexpensive pannier system you can make

How to make panniers out of recycled kitty litter buckets

Topic: Bicycle Touring  
Categories: Bags & Packing


Copyright © 2006-2014 By Brian Huntley - (contact)

Status: Completed Aug 2006Featured Journal #322
Last update: Sunday November 6, 2011 11:54 (US/Pacific) (edited Sat 16 Jun 2012 20:14 (US/Pacific))
122,291 hits since August 7, 2006 (hitcounts updated nightly)
26 pics

Table of Contents

From Kitty Litter to Luggage in 30 minutes
Bike Buckets on the Bike
The Mk 3 buckets - using commercial pannier hooks An alternative connection method
Bike Buckets on the Road

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From Kitty Litter to Luggage in 30 minutes

I put together a new set of Bike Buckets this morning and thought I'd take some photos of the process. Some are a bit blurry as my camera's macro mode turns itself off quite quickly, but I think they're still useable.

While I didn't look at the clock, I did complete the pair during one episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants, so I figure it's about 30 minutes. Your first one will probably take longer.

Here's what you need:

The buckets are "Ropak 4 Gallon Square with Lid" models. Buying these new costs about $4 each, but I get them free with $7 worth of cat litter (which is cheaper than buying the bags. Don't ask me, I'm not an economist.)

The hooks near the drill are sold in hardware stores as "rope cleats", and these one are about 2" tall. The bolts are Phillips head #10 x 1/2", stainless steel. The nuts are to match, but this time I happened to have 4 Nylok nuts and 4 normal ones (couldn't find 8 Nyloks.) I use small washers under the bolt heads and large ones under the nuts, to help spread the load.

Not shown are a pair of short bungee cords to use as tensioners.

First, remove the labels from the buckets. If you get the sort that use slip-on plastic sleeve labels, this is extremely easy.

Next, mark the top flange for a cut-out. This needs to be just a bit wider than your rope cleat hooks, or about 1/4".

Cut perpendicularly through the flange with a sharp knife, then score across the bottom of your intended cutout. Bend it with a pair of pliers and it should snap right off.

Place a hook so it's level with the top of the bucket, and mark the bolt holes. Note: this is easier to do with the bucket inverted, with the hooks upside down and sitting on the table. It's just very difficult to photograph yourself doing that.

Mark the hole for the upper bungee hook, too, which should be centered on the bucket's finger flange.

Drill out the holes with a slightly undersized bit. Remember that the bungee hole doesn't go all the way into the bucket, just through the flange.

Attach the hooks with the bolts, washers, and nuts, getting them good and tight with the screwdriver while holding the nut with the wrench. Attach the bungee cord by bending its hook slightly wider open and lifting up on the finger flange. Adjust the bungee's length to suit your rack - about 6-7" is normal. I do that by tying a double knot at the appropriate place, then cutting the cord below the knots and sealing the nylon strands with a lighter.

Apply reflective tape and you're done! (There's a non-flash photo at the beginning of this article.)

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This "SafeTape" (Safety Ape?) is automotive rated at at least 70 candle power per square foot or some such oddball number. As you can see with the flash photo, it's good and bright!

Bike Buckets on the Bike

Several people have written and asked me to show how the Bike Buckets attach to the bicycle, which goes to show that what's obvious to one person is opaque to another.

I generally start by placing the bucket beside the rear rack of the bike, with the hooks facing the bike. Then I slip the hook of the tensioning strap over the "V" hook at the bottom of the rack. (Please excuse the rusty bits.)

Once that's on, I simply lift the bucket and hook the 'rope cleats' over the rail at the side of the bike's rack, being sure the lower hook stays engaged. After both buckets are on, it looks like this.

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Both in place, ready to roll!

I hope that's clear to everyone. (Note how the tops of the buckets are level with the rack - this makes a good platform for over-sized items like your tent.)

The Mk 3 buckets - using commercial pannier hooks: An alternative connection method

I've been meaning to do this for some time - I've actually had one of these hook sets in my junk box for more than 5 years. Finally, Skyler Descartes wrote this article about his version, so I thought I'd try it out.

It turned out my hook set was the 'standard' size, but my bike's rack has oversized rods. Nevertheless, it fit on fairly well despite not being able to lock into position. All the same, I picked up two sets of the oversized hooks from MEC ($6.75 each, and they now come with hardware to attach them.)

As the photo shows, there's quite a difference between the sizes. I think the quality has slipped a bit in recent years - I had to ream out one hole on each side of each set due to poor molding. Note: if you want to test fit these to your bike, BE CAREFUL! When they are not attached to a pannier, they are very difficult to unlock and remove.

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A comparison of standard hooks (on the left) and oversize hooks (right.) The oversized ones sometimes have red release straps, but not in this case.

Unlike the rope cleats used on my other buckets, the pannier hooks require a lot of the plastic flange to be trimmed off the bucket, if you want the hooks to be as high as possible. (This not only keeps the weight low, but I find that having the bucket tops level with the rack to be a very useful configuration.) I started by marking the approximate cut lines.

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Marking the places to cut.

I used an inexpensive steak knife to cut the bucket. It's sharp, serrated, pointed, and flexible - almost ideal for the task.

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Cutting the bucket's flange.

I gouged the plastic on the right hand side a bit (I confess I was watching tv while doing this.) There's no real reason to cut the flange on an angle like I did - a vertical cut would be fine. As I use the flange to attached the tension cord, however, I can't simply cut the whole thing off.

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All cutting done - time to drill.

Six stainless steel Phillips head machine screws, complete with a daub of Lok-Tite, and a set of matching flange nuts come with the current kits.

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The hardware - nice flanged nuts, and the screws are pre-treated with Lok-Tite Blue.

I drilled the holes one at a time, putting the bolts in as I went so as to get them well located. Because the shafts of the flange nuts are wider than the screws - or the holes the screws pass through - I needed to use two different drill bits - one to drill a locator hole and one to fit the nuts - and unbolted the hooks in between drillings. (Despite all my care, I managed to accidentally drill a misplaced hole (the first) after the drill bit skidded on the plastic.)

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All bolted together.
Note the gouge in the plastic on the left, and the accidental hole. Both were unintentional, but should help me "torture test" these buckets.

From the inside of the bucket, the nuts are very smooth and almost flush with the plastic. I found they wouldn't go quite as flush as I wanted at first, and considered using washers behind them, but a better screwdriver allowed me to use more torque and snug them up quite well.

The bungie cord tensioner attaches as before.

I don't know if these will last as long as the rope cleats do, but will be testing these extensively on my commute and while grocery shopping over the coming months.

Thanks to Skyler for the nudge.

Bike Buckets on the Road

For some reason I've been fielding a lot of questions about the Bike Buckets lately, around town and on the 'net. Because of that I decided I'd show more pictures of the bike buckets 'in action' on the road.

(The resolutions vary quite a bit as my digital cameras got better.)

You may notice the buckets aren't all the same set - they seem to last about three years of around-town and touring use, or maybe 6000 km. The usual failure mode is the plastic around the hook bolts cracking. If that happened on the road and was serious, I'd flip the bucket around, make new holes, and re-attach the hooks.

Around Lake Ontario (in New York State) in 2002.

Around Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail (2003).

Around New Brunswick (Shediac) in 2004.

Around Georgian Bay (nearing Sudbury) in 2005.

Around the Alleganys (near Huntley PA) in 2006.

Around Euro-Ontario (SW Ontario) in 2007.

Around Temiscamingue, Abitibi, and Outaouais (North-ish Ontario and Quebec) 2008.

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Canada'a Parliment, Ottawa

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Around Lake Erie, 2009.

Here's hoping for many more photos to come for my "bucket list"!

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120 litres of groceries and sundries - 80 in the buckets, 40 on the rack.

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"Bike Buckets - An inexpensive pannier system you can make" Copyright © 2006-2014 By Brian Huntley - (contact). All rights reserved.
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