Bike Commuting with a Violin

February 2, 2019, 8:22 PM · I know it has been brought up once or twice in the past, but I thought it would be worth bringing up again. I have a two-mile bike ride to school. Living in Minnesota, biking every day is nearly impossible during the winter months, so I ride the bus, but as my current case is starting to fall apart, I want to consider what works best for the ride. I've looked mainly at two different ones: the Tonareli Ultralight violin case because of the weight, optional backpack straps and the BAM Peak Oblong. Are there any better ways to manage both a violin and a backpack?
Thanks in advance!

Replies (29)

February 2, 2019, 8:46 PM · In the winter I guess you wear your backpack and carry your violin. When you are cycling, can you use a backpack that also functions as a pannier? Then you can use backpack straps for the violin or the Joey.
February 2, 2019, 10:49 PM · I have seen bikers with their violins on their back in NYC more than I wish to, as I get nervous just watching them. It's a personal choice for sure, but seems so risky to me as a non-biker. Perhaps their "thrill of the ride" overcomes all fear of something ever going wrong during their rides.

Sorry I did not add anything of value. Just be careful out there.

February 3, 2019, 12:08 AM · Adalberto,
I do agree that there is some risk when biking with a violin, but I’m also not dealing with a great violin. I should also be clear that I don’t mean motorcycle/scooter, I mean a human powered bike with pedals. Thank you both for your advice!
February 3, 2019, 9:32 AM · The risk is negligible if you have an insulated case with backpack-style straps.

A single strap works too, but might put you off balance if you have to make a quick turn.

February 3, 2019, 1:10 PM · If you want to bike with a violin you need a rack on the back of your bike to strap your backpack to or else panniers. I have a thickly padded bag with backpack straps to fit around my case and feel that that is quite safe.

I got it from Concord music supplies years ago, don't know if they still have them.

February 3, 2019, 1:25 PM · If you type "backpack panniers" into Google or Amazon you'll get some options. Or visit your local bike shop and they probably have a selection and you can buy locally.
February 3, 2019, 2:50 PM · I've been commuting on a motorcycle with a violin for years, as long as there's no ice or snow on the road. My trip is an hour each way. I've found that most violin oblong cases that come with backpack straps have weak attach points, not designed for frequent heavy use, generally just for walking around, but definitely not strong enough for serious jostling around and bumps in the road.

My reference obviously doesn't encompass all cases but cases I've owned or seen, including a Bobelock 1051, Negri Venezia and any fabric covered case where the strap attach points are secured to the fabric without adequate reinforcement or not attached to the rigid case structure. Unfortunately I have first hand experience with the inadequacies of most backpack strap attach points while on a motorcycle at 65mph and the upper end of a case protruding above your head acting as a wind brake.

Oliver, originally, after learning not to trust most straps, I bought a Joey case carrier which is a very well designed carrier with a decent sized music pouch, which I have carried several binders in, with strong straps. This worked well before I started using panniers to carry extraneous gear. The case easily slips inside the Joey carrier and is adjustable. This served me until I tired of dealing with a bulky and heavy oblong case and decided to go light and more compact.

At that point I tried Bam tapered case but disliked how easily the gelcoat finish scratched and on hot sunny days with the sun hitting the case for an hour, how warm the internal temps would get due to insufficient insulation.

I switched to a GL Combi Contour, which had room for my shoulder rest and basic essentials, including two bows. It is very well made, with a wetsuit style sealing zipper and an extremely well designed and strong strap system and attach points. Rather than fiberglass or plastic, the case is made of a composite that is very well insulated, with a textured finish that I haven't been able to scratch yet. I have a hygrometer and thermometer in the case and it is as temperature stable internally as any previously owned plywood oblong I've had to date.

Oliver, on a bicycle, besides an adequately light and protective case, you apparently are in need of carrying capacity as well since you also are dealing with a backpack. If the Joey carrier, which also works with tapered cases, has insufficient storage for your needs, and you don't wish to use bike panniers or a center tube carrier, you might want to look at a chest pack in place of a backpack, which would allow you to carry the violin on your back and books on your chest. Just a thought.

Edited: February 5, 2019, 8:17 PM · I don't bike (cycle) much these days but when I was, it was violin on back (generic oblong case, backpack straps) and panniers on rear rack. If I had a light load, I could put on a drawstring bag first containing my stuff, then the violin case, and skip the panniers. My lunch bag could be tied to the rear rack, but my regular backpack couldn't (too big, too many loose straps to secure), and having the violin on my body means I'm the shock absorber rather than the case having to be made well enough for that. An 1/8 size violin, if I needed it for teaching, could be worn in front using a single strap.

And I was loaded down with all sorts of safety gear - helmet (case had to be tilted to avoid it), rearview mirror attached to eyeglasses, bell, air pressure horn, lights, reflective clothing/patches.

February 4, 2019, 6:07 AM · Don't know much about cases, but last summer in France we saw a woman riding a bike with a cello. It looked like a modified banana bike (smaller front wheel and long fork), with a basket or platform of some sort along the fork which had the cello case securely strapped to it. Looked like it held the cello pretty well, although I imagine the steering was a bit wobbly.
February 4, 2019, 10:32 AM · Hi Oliver,

I've biked with viola in Western New York (near Buffalo) for 10 years - in all but the worst of snow. I have a very sturdy case made by Weber, and bought a Cushy padded case cover (which just fits over a case). There are a few benefits to the cushy - it insulates the instrument, like a winter coat. It protects the instrument somewhat, were it to fall. It has served me well for a long time. The buckle on the backstraps broke a few years ago - I tied it in a knot though and am still using it now. Love it. Much better than driving. If I had an Amati, or some priceless instrument - I might think twice...but have never had a problem. I would recommend a cushy personally.

February 4, 2019, 2:09 PM · All cases are pretty much the same when you have them on your back while biking or motorcycling. The differences appear should you fall. A case used in this circumstance should have a proven track record of instrument protection in the event of mishap.
February 4, 2019, 7:54 PM · I agree with Dimitri. You have to plan for one of 2 events: a fall/hit with a motor vehicle or a failure of the case's hardware. With a cheap case #2 is very likely, as for #1 the question is when rather than if, if any of my friends who commute by bicycle is any indication (100% probability).
Edited: February 5, 2019, 8:04 AM · In the documentary, “Highly Strung” the violist cycles to rehearsals in Adelaide with his Guadignini on his back. He justifies this, quite reasonably IMHO by pointing out that although the instrument is very valuable, so is he, and he’s going to avoid endangering himself . What case he uses is not covered in the film
Edited: February 5, 2019, 8:53 AM · I disagree. This person is an individual fortunate to have the money for a Guadagnini, but it doesn't mean it's "his". One day he will die anyway, while the instrument must be preserved to be passed on to future generations.

A Guad belongs to Humanity, and it's the responsibility of the "owner" to take best possible care of it and not subject it to unnecessary risk.

February 5, 2019, 8:53 AM · I used to cycle to college in London with a violin on my back and a backpack on my front. I would have a brush with death virtually every day!
February 5, 2019, 10:08 AM · Good point David and one I failed to mention. I bought a Bobelock cover for my case a couple of years ago and very glad I did. The extra insulation is very noticeable, especially on hot days when I open up my case at practice and check my tuning. Not to mention protecting my case from wear and tear. So far it has held up very well. The Cushy is actually better made in my opinion and the better choice.

The one caveat for me was the straps on the Bobelock. I actually modified my cover to allow me to use my GL case straps as they are much stronger and a more secure attach point. The Cushy has better straps than the Bobelock and although the GL case straps are stronger, I would probably have not gone to the trouble if I had gotten the Cushy.

In response to Dimitri's comment, to be honest, as much as I love and prefer to travel on my motorcycle, if I was in possession of a valuable violin, monetarily and/or historical or otherwise, I would not be strapping it on my back and straddling a motorcycle, bicycle or any other high risk mode of transportation. As it is now, even with my $3500 violin, when in my Jeep I carry it on the back seat with the seat belts on it. I know, seems contrary to my carrying on a motorcycle but I find ways to justify that practice ;)

February 5, 2019, 11:26 AM · I've been cycling around North America for about five years now in all weather. I cycled across the U.S. and across Canada so far. I use a super cheap case because I don't want to draw any attention from thieves. I also place it in a large heavy-duty trash bag for protection for the elements which makes it further unattractive. I have a rear rack on my bike, and I bungee the violin to the rack. I also have a trailer and the violin goes in there now mostly. You can put it on your back, but buy a lightweight case because a bike is already terrible on your joints (knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders). Wearing something on your back exacerbates those issues.
Edited: February 5, 2019, 2:22 PM · A cousin of mine— an excellent athlete— was killed on her bicycle. So I would be very careful if transporting a valuable and fragile axe around. A seriously reinforced Musafia case would be a requirement for biking in a real city.

Of course, a mile or two in a slow small town might create fewer opportunities for bad news. Not sure how I feel about putting it on the bike vs your back. There are long-ish bikes that allow strapping a cello between seat and rear light. @madeye, I think the bike you saw is what the Danes call a “long-john.” Potentially a good solution if you can strap the instrument down firmly. If nothing else, you are more aware of threats ahead than behind.

Edited: February 6, 2019, 12:40 AM · A cheap beginner VSO can be carried in a paper bag. Paganini's del Gesù is transported in a reinforced trunk with a complement of armed guards.

Anything in between should receive protection appropriate to its historical significance.

February 6, 2019, 7:08 AM · For the price of a good protective case, and the issues raised daily in this experience, I'd buy a second practice violin and leave it at the school.
February 6, 2019, 9:38 AM · Is Dmitri serious? I wouldn't be surprised if it were true, due to the importance of the instrument, but I legitimately can't tell whether he's joking.
February 6, 2019, 9:38 AM · Is Dmitri serious? I wouldn't be surprised if it were true, due to the importance of the instrument, but I legitimately can't tell whether he's joking.
Edited: February 6, 2019, 12:40 PM ·

"Conditions of its travel included a multimillion US dollar insurance policy and an armed escort of Italian police officers."

Edit: Wouldn't it be funny though if HH had the original flying around the world and they were protecting a copy?

February 10, 2019, 10:15 AM · Something to keep in mind, seeing as you're in Minnesota:
As I imagine you're aware, in the winter months, when the temperature gets extremely cold (cold enough that physical exertion is dangerous, so possibly irrelevant to a bike commute), even having your instrument outside for a few minutes can do damage. Our school was shut down due to extreme cold (-50F windchill), and some students that took their instruments back to their dorms experienced damage at the seams because they took their instruments out of their cases immediately. Even a great case only goes so far; it can't replace prudence.
In regards to the case, I've had success wearing a backpack over a Bam Hightech. And you can get a "hoodie" for it as extra protection from the elements.
February 11, 2019, 12:40 PM · Several violin students in our community wrap up those chemical handwarmers in a cloth and put them in their case in the winter as several have to wait in an unheated bus hut for the school bus when temps are well below freezing, much of the winter teens or single digits. Apparently it's been working well for them. The violin teacher says they've been doing it for years and the instruments are very tune stable. Keep in mind we're generally talking student violins as well.
February 11, 2019, 4:46 PM · I have the Bam hightech dart-shaped case. I'm not sure the oblong would work on a bike. Bam is very sturdily built (though not as light as I would like) and the backpack straps and grommets are built to last. I think the violin would be OK if I fell -- that's what the case is built for. I doubt the violin would be okay if the case got run over by a car -- really no case is built for that.

It's safe to carry the violin on your back while you ride, but do pay attention the fact that the additional weight up high raises your center of gravity and makes you less stable (i.e. more likely to slip or fall). Another reason to not get the oblong -- you don't want to carry a bunch of stuff up high. Put your music stand, gear in a pannier pack low on the bike. Have as little on your back as possible.

Edited: February 13, 2019, 1:49 AM · Bike/Ride is motorbike or bicycle?

I ride a motorbike daily for work and class as everyone in Vietnam does. I have 4 cases (Negri Venezia, Bam Hightech, Chinese "hommage" of the Bam Hightech and a chinese cabin case with detachable tube). All of them are Ok about comfort and the strap safety. I have had one fall in the bike with the Bam. It scratched the surface quite much, but didn't affect the integrity of the case and the violin was unharmed. I think all would have been Ok in that fall (As Tomas Boyer says, maybe not survive a car running over it).

From them I prefer the Bam and its copy. A good reason is that biking/cycling is quite dirty. It's easier to clean hard shell than fabrics. It also has less drag than the big oblongs. When I use the case, I carry books and other stuff in a Givi box that attaches to the deposit with magnets.

I also go cycling in a cyclocross bicycle and in my riding posture the only case I find comfortable is the cabin case. All others give me problem raising my head so I have to ride in an unnatural position. But the cabin case is really limited in space so I am looking at alternatives, like you. I'm almost decided for the GEWA Air Ergo which is very much designed for what I need.

Oh, and awesome story and profile of Jasmine Reese, by the way...

Edited: February 16, 2019, 4:02 AM · One more thing to add on this subject is the placement of the backpack attachments on the bottom panel of the case.

A higher placement (i.e. further away from the short end pointing down when carried on your back) will make the case more stable when walking, but will create problems especially when riding on a motorbike because the case may sit on the saddle behind you, and swing from side to side.

Some case makers in fact offer custom placement of these attachments in order to optimize the case for your needs.

So… if you are in a music shop trying out cases, before purchasing one with riding a motorbike with it in mind, try sitting down on a bench with the case on your back and see what happens.

Edited: February 16, 2019, 11:30 AM · Cheap Chinese cases have a very poor quality of the metal used for attachments and straps. They have cheap brittle hardware, and although it may look sturdy, will break easily. Chinese metallurgy sucks. I had hardware failure on every Chinese cases/hand bags I ever had and I simply don't trust them; especially the straps. If you are going to wear your case, do not go with cheap hardware. My German Gewa Air shaped case not only has quality hardware, the straps come with an extra steel wire as a backup in case the metal buckles do fail. There is obviously a reason why they do that.

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