CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Mainers are a crafty and creative bunch when it comes to figuring out better ways to do things with the materials at hand.
Take Jim Huebener. The engineer, part-time lobsterman and avid cyclist knew there had to be a better way to carry items on his bicycle than the conventional baskets already on the market.
“I was sitting waiting in traffic one day thinking about how to carry stuff on the bike,” Huebener said. “We’ve all seen guys using milk crates on their bikes and suddenly, this light went on, and I thought, ‘I could do better than that.’”
What Huebener did was combine engineering, lobstering and cycling to create Kettle Cove Enterprises and lobster trap baskets, barnacles optional.
The large front- or rear-mounted baskets are made entirely out of used lobster trap parts — complete with authentic repurposed Gulf of Maine barnacles — or new, never left dry land, parts.
Both are available in fixed or removable versions.
Huebener had his lobster trap basket brainstorm in the fall of 2013, and by spring he’d developed his manufacturing plan and made enough in his Cape Elizabeth home’s garage to reserve a booth at the annual Bicycle Coalition of Maine bike swap at the University of Southern Maine.
“That was the first time I started selling the baskets,” he said. “The reactions from people were very positive.”
Each trap basket still has the “escape vent,” which allows undersized lobster to vacate the trap, authentic marine rope for handles, bungees to keep it in place and a bright orange bait bag for smaller items.
“I only use new, clean bait bags,” Huebener said with a laugh.”They’ve never had any bait in them.”
Huebener estimates he’s sold about 100 of the baskets online and at local bike shops such as Gorham Bike and Ski, CycleMania, Back Bay Bicycle in Portland and Colonial Bicycle Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“The vast majority of people buying them are women,” he said. “But I did have one guy tell me he used them for a bike tour around Acadia [National Park] and they worked great.”
He said the baskets work on most models of bicycles and orders are coming in from outside of the state.
“It’s definitely a ‘Maine’ thing,” he said. “Someone in Kansas might look at it kind of funny.”
Funny looks aside, lobster trap baskets have been shipped across the country including to cyclists in California and Texas.
“Mostly, they are people who have a connection to Maine,” he said. “And yes, I’ve thought about sending lobsters with the baskets.”
The baskets are easily installed — there’s a video on the company’s website demonstrating how — and Huebener asks customers to send along photos of their bicycles so he can do his best to ensure a perfect fit.
“Once I show them to people, they love them,” he said. “My wife even uses one on her commute to work.”
Each basket is made with galvanized steel coated with PVC and held together with aluminum and stainless steel fasteners.
“For the used trap parts with barnacles, I cut up my old traps and those from other local lobstermen,” the licenced commercial lobsterman said. “I only keep the wire, vents and rope that are in good condition [and the other lobstermen are] glad to get rid of them.”
The rope handles make it easy to take the baskets into stores to carry around while shopping.
The basket is 13.5 inches wide, 10.5 inches deep, and 9 inches high and can accommodate a lot of purchases, Huebener said.
The trap baskets average just under 5 pounds and retail for $50 for the fixed mount basket, $52 for the front-mount trap basket and $70 for the rear-mount removable basket.
The baskets are a great representation of Maine, according to Dan Vaillancourt, buyer at Gorham Bike and Ski.
“We decided to carry the baskets because especially in our Portland store we get a lot of tourist traffic, and we know those folks are looking for a nice, local momento,” Vaillancourt said “The baskets are a perfect fit, [and] we’ve sold a bunch of them.”
Gorham Bike and Ski has been carrying Huebener’s lobster trap baskets for two years, Vaillancourt said, and recently consulted with him on the design of the front-mounted basket.
“The baskets are awesome,” Vaillancourt said. “They work really well, they are super functional, and I think they are great.”
Huebener is considering plans for a basket that would fit a standard briefcase and branching out into other uses such as baskets for busing tables in restaurants.
Since starting production a year ago, Huebener said he’s seen his creations being pedaled around the area more and more.
“It’s really cool to see people riding around with one,” he said “I’ve not done it yet, but I want to jump out at them and tell them, ‘I made that.’”
Huebener thinks the key to his basket’s success is the combination of functionality and Maine-centric components.
“It’s rugged and simple to use,” Huebener said. “I make them right here in Maine, using materials from Maine and New England, [so] it’s a way to have a piece of Maine with you, wherever you are.”