08 February, 2007

Amish Baskets for Bikes, Updated

Eli Hershberger and his family, with four small kids, make baskets in rural Minnesota. They are an Amish family who grow their own food on a small plot, keep one horse and a cow, and use a generator to power their saw. Since the road outside their farm has been closed they've had no place to sell their baskets. You can't drive too far in a horse and buggy.

How do I know all this? Neil Berg, who's comments everyone must have seen, know them. So he cooked up this idea to have them make bike baskets. I got some samples a few days ago and I am very very impressed. The baskets are not inexpensive, but they are real pieces of old fashioned American craftsmanship. Even the leather straps are hand made and embossed. And notice the rope trim along the top.

I think the panniers are really a great design. And the front basket with the lid is great, but it should sit on a front rack.

I'd love to sell some of these baskets both because they are truly lovely and to help out the Hershbergers. I'll even wholesale them to other bike shops. But if you'd like one, or set, please let me know and I'll put an order together. Frankly, I'm not sure if these will be popular so I don't want to buy a large quantity until I get some feedback.

The pannier sets cost $95, the big handlebar basket is $65, and the little one costs $38.

Here are the Dimensions and weights,
Small basket-- 8.5" x 9.5" x 12", 1 lbs, 10 oz.
Large basket--10" x 11" x 12", 2 lbs, 12 oz
Pannier-- 11.5" x 12.5" x 7", 2 lbs, 1 oz (each)



Anonymous said...

The baskets are lovley but I wish they did not have leather trim. The prices are very reasonable.

Joel said...

Not a knock, but the front basket with the lid kind of reminds of the one Miss Gulch used when she incarcerated Toto.

Those rear panniers probably would not be ideal for touring but would be nice way to pack for a day trip to the beach or park. They would work well for groceries also.

In the photo are the rear panniers attached to the VO Constructeur Rear Rack, perchance?

neil m berg said...

Actually even the road that closed was still 3 or 4 miles from their home. And I was wrong about the generator. It's a diesel engine with a system of shafts and pulleys that drive a drill press, table saw, and band saw.
The baskets are really sturdy. The bottoms are plywood and the panniers and lidded basket have wooden frames around the top and the lids. Of course I'm probably somewhat biased as I know the makers. There is a lot of labor involved in making products like this and like a lot of us, they're getting squeezed by the price of Chinese products.

Andy said...


If you do decide to wholesale or order a bunch for the V.O. shop, it might be worthwhile to make a few refinements as needed (attachments for front rack, less-decorative rivets, and perhaps a waxed-canvas or tin-cloth liner).

Do the Hershbergers suggest any particular treatment (beeswax, tung oil) to keep them healthy?

That being said, they're beautiful just the way they are. And a bargain at twice the price. I'd probably get a set of panniers, or a small bag if you devise a system for strapping to a front rack.

neil m berg said...

I believe they just treat them with lintseed oil.

neil m berg said...

Just to let the world vote on something, the first prototype had a 3/16" piece of very nice oak plywood for the lid. I thought it was attractive. Chris thought they should be woven, which of course added cost. Also, I am surprised Anonymous doesn't like the leather. Vegan? They are made by, you guessed it, an Amish harness maker.

Andy said...

I'd like to see the oak-lid version (if we're going to be voting).

I wouldn't be surprised if anonymous is reacting to the contrast between the dark leather and the light wood. Perhaps a lighter leather, or waxed canvas? Of course, anonymous may just not like it because the leather trim has a certain vibe, much like a high school english teacher's Land's End briefcase.

Anonymous said...

Yes, vegan.
It is not my intent to preach personal politics here! Just difficult to find well made, good looking bags, saddles & such without leather accoutrement. Berthoud, Ostrich & Brooks are examples. I cannot think of a single decent looking saddle that is not leather.
Of course, I understand that most here would disagree with me as we all like well made, handmade items made frame natural materials. This is one area where my personal ethics and aesthetics clash.

joel said...

I have the same issues with leather and thus have drifted to Ortliebs.

A nice nylon or even heavy cotton or wool strap would probably attach and fasten the baskets just as well as leather.

Anonymous said...

Wendell Berry has some interesting things to say about the place of animals and farming communities. He makes the valid point that all human activity displaces wildlife to an extent. I.e., even living as a 'Raw Foodist' or 'Fruititarian' (I have herard both terms used in serious conversation in my neck of the woods--a person who eats only raw vegatables, and a person who refuses to kill anything, including plants, eating only its fruits) displaces and causes the deaths of animals as those carrots or strawberries and nuts still need to be cultivated. I have many vegan friends, and I respect them, andadmire their committment to a way of life that is often still misunderstood. I tend to favour a view of agriculture that embraces sustainable local food, as opposed to factory farming and large scale livestock production. And that sort of view incorporates the proven methods of Amish agriculture--a way of food production and has echoes in many other non-western cultures that view life as sacred, yet also see death and eating other living things as part of that sacredness.
I am not wanting to abuse the goodwill of CHris in his hosting of this blog, but thought I would weigh in on this interesting topic.
M Burdge

Chris Kulczycki said...

As a sometime vegetarian, I wouldn't want to see an animal killed for leather straps on my basket. But given the size of the cattle industry, the leather will likely be made into fertilizer or Jello if it's not tanned and used.

Speaking of Vegans, I just read a fascinating book about nutrition that raised many other questions about the wisdom of eating more than a little meat and dairy. It is called "The China Study". The name comes from a massive study of nutrition and health done in China by doctors from Oxford, Cornell, and the Chinese government. It is absolutely fascinating and shows that much of what we think we know about nutrition is just plain wrong.

Chris Kulczycki said...

By the way, I don't mind going off topic on this blog. This is not the CR list ;<) I just ask that the subject be at least mildly interesting to a wide range of readers and be presented in a civil manner.

neil m berg said...

I am not vegan, but part of my family is, and I certainly have enough off center ideas that I'm not going to start chucking rocks at any body else's life choices.

Is anyone one else old enough to remember Shmoos? What we needs is Shmoos.

monti said...

I was curious how much these baskets weigh, for that is the idea behind the wicker basket, lightweight, or at least it is in my mind. I'm not looking for specifics perhaps a general idea of weight. I just hear the word plywood and think, heavy.

nv said...

I'm the anon vegan. I'm really pleased by the extremely understanding and civil comments that followed my post. You guys are great.
Chris, I'm not looking to open a can of worms but just thought I'd mention this in response to your comment regarding unused skin becoming fertilizer or jello (Although that may very well be the case). Part of the equation that makes the meat industry/operating a slaughterhouse profitable is banking on selling the hides to the tanning/leather industry. This is a fact.
I'll look at the "The China Study". I've heard it's quite interesting but I've yet to read it.
The baskets are really nice. I hope there is enough interest in them to give a little business to the Hershberger family.

Anonymous said...

those baskets are beautiful! would prefer a woven bottom over plywood for weight and aesthetics..get them in!

Anonymous said...

Just an observation for size 13 shoes: the saddle bags may need an angle in the fronts which allow greater range in pedal stroke.

I thought had a problem with my bags, until I figured they were asymetrical. Haven't hit it yet since that time. Just another tricky day.

They look very nice, and must be about the only thing made in America now. Hurray!

Rita Mitsouko said...

$65 for a nice basket with lid is quite reasonable, especially when one considers the general crappiness of readily available baskets and cost of shipping a nicer wicker basket from the UK.
Will the baskets be identical to the ones pictured? If so what are the dimensions of the large front basket? Would it be possible to do custom orders?

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon/nv about the use of leather. I love Wendell Berry but am not currently vegan or anything. I prefer leather belts and shoes. But in the bike world, I notice that bag makers, in particular, seem to want to pair like with like: nylon with velcro, canvas (or basket) with leather and buckles. It's hard to get around the fact that nylon straps work better; everytime I take the time to thread the leather straps through my Banana bag, around my Brooks, I feel suspicious that it is done this way mainly for style. Even the original, Gilles Berthoud, is using click-it attachments for its classic saddlebag. Check their website, and see. And non-leather straps go on and off in no time, with zero problems, so why would we use leather, which actually works less well? For style? for that old-timey feeling, to match our old-timey lugged bikes? Is that a good enough reason?

michael white

neil m berg said...

I don't know what the baskets weigh, but they're not heavy. There is no sensation of weight when you pick them up. Maybe Chris can find a scale a weigh one. I asked about a woven base and it's not an option. They were concerned about woven bottoms failing in time. They make baskets the way Amish, at least this sect, make baskets. They are very conservative people in all things.

Joel said...

If weight is a concern, then just stick with cordura.

These baskets are clearly not meant for long distance touring or brevets.

They would be perfect for people who want to use their bike for shopping and general errands.

Those rear panniers have me thinking about packing up some blankets food and a book on a summer afternoon then heading up to the Ravinia Music Festival (Summer outdoor home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Highland Park, IL) for a picnic then a night of music under the stars.

They would be the perfect quality made packing compliment to the Busch & Muller classic aluminum light Velo will have soon (I hope).

Anonymous said...

Shopping or errands with those nice bags? You'd have to carry them with you. I still haven't got my system figured out for locking up in public, but everything easily detachable has to go with me as of now if I can't watch it from 100 yards away or less. Too many crack heads around.

I don't know how all of you guys with real nice bikes do it. You must live in Fairytale land with lolly pops edging the road ways or something. Most cities of certain sizes or larger are tough though, especially in the Bush Depression.

neil m berg said...

Where I do most of my cycling people don't lock their bikes.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Rita and others,

I'll update the post with weights and dimensions in a few minutes.

I don't think custom orders are practical (unless Neil wants to handle them ;<)). The only way to communicate with the Hershbergers is by snail mail. And from the long letter they sent me, they seem to want to do larger quantities of a few products.

neil m berg said...

Custom baskets are not a problem. If Chris doesn't want to deal with it, I will. For instance, I have panniers similar to the ones pictured except with two leather straps which wrap all the way around. I'm also thinking about having them make a small lidded basket to sit on a front rack similar to Riv's Loafer.

Andy said...

If you do order some, it would be nice to have Mr Hershberger sign and date the bottom of each basket. A nod to tradition.

Anonymous said...

Neil, I was thinking the double wrap-around straps would be nice. Let's see some pictures.

Joel said...


I live on the North Side of Chicago. My shopper/commuter bike is definitely upper end. I have an Ortlieb shopping basket that I use on custom made racks

I use an Abus chain and lock, pitlock skewers and the Ortlieb comes with a lock. I have not been burgaled yet.

There are nice locking wires you can get to lock those wicker panniers to the rack.

Finally, I think most bike thieves are kids (far from being 'Bush depression' probably spoiled suburban kids thinking they are revolutionaries) looking for more modern bike accessories. The kind of people attracted to wicker panniers tend not to think about stealing them.

Anonymous said...

OK, I fell for the whole "Nigel Smythe" thing, but I can't be fooled a second time. "Eli Hershberger, Amish basket maker"? Riiiiiiight. ;)

Anonymous said...

Custom orders from this high end crowd may be free engineering for them so they can make large batch size (America's contribution to mfg other than teaching statistics to Japanese). So if they ever want to do large batch sizes, they will have to do small batch sizes from experts here first. Very good opportunity for them from my view. Very smart riders here, except me, the newby. But I know all factors involved with successful mfg processes and development very well.

Anonymous said...

I live on the outskirts of a town of 8,000 people. I'd feel entirely confident leaving a bike with nice bits and these baskets locked in public in my town with a basic bike lock. I used to commute to work on a nicely outfitted Rambouillet (now sold) and left it locked outside with a single u-bolt lock through the frame only. Never a problem. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any lollipops along the roadside.

neil m berg said...

He's real, and it's Eli R. Hershberger, to differentiate him from all the other Eli Hershbergers on the same road. Really.

Ahren said...

This is a great thread!

Personally, I would like prefer natural straps, leather or cloth. Once broken in, leather is supple and durable. It took me three years to break in my grandfather's Vasque's (they are thirty years old, but he never got around to wearing them) and they are now as comfortable as my sneakers, yet the most supportive boots I own. But I understand a persons wishes to not use leather.

I'd be pretty bummed if plastic was used as straps. Though it doesn't need to be treated like plant or leather, the baskets would deteriorate if they weren't treated every so often, so it might make sense to keep it all similar.

I don't think 3/16" plywood bottom would really add that much more weight. I put a 1/4" piece of Teak on my D-rack and it weighs maybe a couple of ounces. The additional strength might be worth it.

I've been thinking of contacting a woman I've heard of in Vermont who makes traditional canoe packs (oak framed woven baskets) to see if she could make something similar. Looks like I don't have to now.

Anonymous said...

"I use an Abus chain and lock, pitlock skewers and the Ortlieb comes with a lock. I have not been burgaled yet."


With Pitlocks, that combo could be up to a $1000 crime prevention unit. That's better than a minimum wage Security guard sleeping beside it. Chain indentations in paint are cute too. Even wire cable will wear paint easily.

But Chicago, wow, home of Dillinger, Mr T, and Mayor Daily. Tough neighborhood.

Yeah, I was thinking about the pitlocks and a couple of cables so wouldn't stretch across paint. One smaller plastic covered cable for rear wheel and seat since odd size seatpost only can use standare seat post clamp. But the Pitlocks, depending on what all accessories you want to protect, cost allot if you have allot of accessories. Just figuring out Peter White's Set Prices menu may take a couple of days alone.

It would be hard, especially in Chicago, to figure delinquent Mobsters don't have Pitlock keys. I didn't see it mentioned, but it doesn't sound like there is over a half dozen combos. But if you got a high dollar bike, you really don't have any alternatives.

Anonymous said...

There is a guy in Canada who sells Pitlocks as well.

PJWhite is one of the smartest bike dudes in the world. But he charges more for Pitlocks than the Canadian dude. For the price, Pitlocks add some class as well as security. They have a nice patina and the fastner bolts have a very attractive shape.

The Abus comes in a protective sleeve that works. The Ortlieb came with nice little secure chains that are coated and have not scratched my paint yet.

I've seen cheaper secure chains - such as the popular saddle locks - that are not and agree, they will scratch paint pretty easy.

CARicco said...

the panniers are interesting to me. I am a painter and some times take some materilas on rides, I rarely take and small canvases as My panniers are soft pack. so the rigid structure looks like just the ticket!...I would try a set for sure...


CARicco said...

**best to proof what one sends before hitting enter**

the panniers are interesting to me. I am a painter and some times take materials for painting & drawing on rides, I rarely take small canvases or panels, as my panniers are soft packs. The more rigid structure of the wicker basket looks like just the ticket!...I would try a set for sure...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the crime prevention product heads up. And I can figure those products out in a couple of hours vs a couple of days.

Thanks a Bunch!

Joel said...


Cool! That is how I see the panniers. A nice accessory for the working cyclist that can also fill in for recreational needs.

A Woody panel wagon for bicycles if you will.

Anon: No problem. Glad I can help. You'll find him great to work with as well. Just like Chris.

Clay Fong said...

Is there a simple way to adapt these baskets for the VO decaleur? I'd love to be able to switch between a basket and my Ostrich bag on the front rack.

Anonymous said...

I recently acquired a Raleigh Twenty -- and I know it is heresy here but -- it needs some kind of basket on the REAR RACK.

A plastic milk crate would fit so good and look so bad. This large basket, with that flippy lid, would be the bee's knees. I want one. I'll happily do the lineseed oil or spar varnish or whatever's recommended.


Chris Kulczycki said...


I think that the baskets could be used with a decaleur. In fact, I plan to try just that on my new city bike.

Anonymous said...

New city bike? When do we get to see?

neil m berg said...

I have similar plans myself for a small decaleured basket - more the size of a French touring bag. Another of our VO friends has inquired about a larger retangular basket that won't be handle mounted. Maybe the front baskets shouldn't be angled? Yeah I know, it's getting late to start changing things.

xjoex said...

I'd like a small front basket. How do I order?


Anonymous said...

i like the oak plywood lids -- can this be an option?

evan said...

are the wicker panniers and baskets still avail.????

evan said...

chris, are the wicker panniers and baskets still avail???