By Eric Baxter
There is a certain elegance to a Wald bicycle basket— steel wire and bands formed to create a usable rectangular space. Not much, really, just a utilitarian carryall.
But talk to a Wald basket owner and they will tell you differently. To them the simple affair is a rugged bicycling partner paired down to its essence and balancing on the needle-fine point between form and function.
“We use them because they work, we don’t see any need to experiment with other companies,” said Grant Petersen, president and founder of California-based Rivendell Bicycle Works. Petersen’s company is geared towards riders who see bicycling as more than simply a way to keep fit; the bicycle is an intrinsic part of their life. To this end Rivendell offers top-of-line products with a reliable reputation, and sometimes a price tag to match.
Yet among the pearls of utilitarian cycling is the company’s selection of Wald baskets, relatively dirt-cheap and nigh-on indestructible.
“We use the baskets, and they’ve proven themselves every time,” Petersen said. “I can’t remember when one was returned.”
Thousands of commuters and utilitarian bicyclists would agree. The rugged Wald was, and remains, a favorite of the two-wheel grocery-getter, the errand-runner, the bike-to-work grinder pumping away the miles. Yet few of these people realize they tapped into a long heritage of workhorse reliability, and likely their father, or grandfather, used a Wald as well.
The Wald basket seen today is essentially the same one seen when the company moved from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to Maysville, Kentucky, in the 1920s after making their name selling a bicycle repair tool beginning in 1905. Bicycle sales were booming and the country was growing. It was a perfect proving ground for making an enduring product. During the years running up to the Great Depression, as well as during and after that trying time, companies relied on bicycles for product deliveries, as couriers, and sometimes even as the business base itself.
This time also spawned the iconic giant delivery basket, the Wald 157. The front-mounted basket is a simple rectangle, wider than it is deep, smaller at the bottom than the top. Straps and brackets enhance weight-carrying capability. This basket was used by paperboys, urban grocery delivery services, and bicycle-based businesses like knife grinders and window washers. It was simple, utilitarian, inexpensive and tough. Without the basket, their companies may not have thrived. Those same attributes that helped the businesses and Wald prosper are the same ones keeping the business going today.
Wald spokesman Dan Crum said the baskets appeal to a wide range of bicyclist ages and levels of experience. “We have customers in their 20s, and we have customers in their 70s and older,” he said. “These are just everyday people, and they love the baskets.”
Peter Donovan, a Manchester, New Hampshire-based commuter has been using a Wald rear-folding basket for his ride for the past 35 years—the same basket.
“I’ve tried to kill it,” Donovan, a cook and sometime bicycle mechanic, said. “I’ve waited for it to die, and it just keeps going.” The basket transports everything from weekly grocery runs weighing in at a hefty 70 to 100lbs., to his bike tools, to serving as a base for lumber runs for his home improvement projects.
“The basket outlasted three bikes and five rear racks,” Donovan said. “The only thing that happened (to the basket) in all those years was a little rust.” The rust was sanded off and painted over with rustproof paint. During his three decades on the road, Donovan experimented with a few other companies, including baskets specifically made for the bike he was riding at the time.
“They were rugged, and worked, but I always went back to the Wald,” he said. While Wald’s level of quality has remained consistent, their products have evolved. Smaller versions of the delivery basket now unclip from the handlebars to become a shopping basket. Rear baskets fold fl at when not being used. Nothing is designed to fit a specific bike model. The products are just designed to work, and the customer is responsible for fitting them to the bike.
“We’ve always tried to make products that fit bicycles in general,” said Dan Crum, a Wald spokesman and 40-year company employee. “We just can’t keep up with changes in the market, not that we would want to.”
But some changes were called for. Several of the smaller-sized front baskets, which use the front fork as a structural element, can now accommodate quick-release axles. Headsets and stems have gradually increased in diameter, so Wald has taken that into account.
“We are a business, and we do change,” Crum said. “At the same time we don’t see a need to change a good thing. The baskets work.” Indeed, Crum said he and the other people at Wald take pride in continuing a century-plus heritage where adjectives like “loyalty” and “quality” are not just words on a page but built into the product. But it’s the work part that’s most important.
“We started out helping tradesmen,” Crum said. “Now we’re just helping a different type of tradesman. Whether you worked at a factory or work at an office, you still need a place to put your lunch.”