My thoughts on the ideal front rack

I have taken the plunge and ordered a small front rack for my Trek to be used for the LEJoG ride in a few weeks. I have ordered a freeload Sport rack [now a Thule product] as if is one of the few racks that can be fitted to a bike with no rack fittings. For that ride all I want is to be able to carry a small bag for food, camera and maybe a extra clothes.

That will go nicely with my Caradice SQR Tour which I have been overloading a bit on some rides. It gets too heavy for example when carrying the following: U Lock, cable lock, trainers, Galaxy Tab, tools, energy bars, water proof and long sleeved top; then it makes the back of the bike wobble around a bit.

The freeload rack also has the potential to be be useful on a number of other bikes in the future, for example on my mountain bike or on my fixie.

However, it does not represent the ideal for me as I have identified 3 ways in which I want to use a front rack. The problem is that I have not been able to find a rack that meets all three needs, so I am looking for recommendations.

Front Rack for Long Rides.

For century rides such as LEJoG I want a small front rack to take a small bag. I prefer this to a handlebar bag as it does not interfere with handlebar mounted lights and is more compatible with drop handlebars. It is more flexible in the style/size of bag I carry.

Having a light weight rack like this means I can avoid overloading the Carradice bag which makes for much easier access to everything while riding. That also means I can avoid using a rucksac for a hydration pack as if it is as hot as the last few days I am going to need more water than the 2 bottles I have cages for. The freeload Sport rack is a good example of this for bikes with no mounting points. Otherwise something like a Nitto Mini Front Rack would be good.

Front Rack for Touring

When I go touring I find the weight of the rear panniers unbalances the bike and puts too much load on the rear wheel. In part that is because often my touring is to get me to meetings/conferences etc that require lots of paper or books or my laptop or all three. In the past I have broken spokes on my back wheel (and yes losing a lot of weight from the rider would also help a lot). Being able to shift weight to the front helps a lot but so far my only options have been a handlebar bag which can’t take much, a trailer which works quite well but slow or my Bullitt cargobike which is fantastic but overkill and also slow compared to even a loaded road bike.

So for touring it seem to me that the best option is a pair of small front panniers with a small platform for a bag for the easy to hand stuff.

If it were just low riders then the Tubus Ergo is one of several nice racks from Tubus.

Otherwise I guess the Surly Front rack although the weight is quite high and it looks pretty fussy. Another option are the Old Man Mountain racks such as the Sherpa which can fit pretty much any bike.

Front Rack for everyday transportation

At the moment, I either use a bike with panniers or I use my Bullitt Cargobike. I don’t generally like panniers for running errands or popping into lots of places and so often use the Bullitt even if the cargo space is massively greater than I need.

For these in between loads a large front platform (porteur style) is really convenient.

Loading is really simple as you can just drop a bag or more on it or strap on a box. There are two main styles, those with side rails and those without. CETMA in the US make nice examples of both such as the 5 bar and the Brack.

The capacity is also very flexible compared to a rear rack as they are squarer and so can support a variety of shapes more easily. Plus of course you can see the load.

Dave’s solution: the combination

As I look to the future and a potential replacement for my Trek Pilot 1.2 I am looking for a bike that I can use all year round for everyday transport, that is fast enough for century rides (bearing in mind I am not planning to race them) and that can be used for touring. That means I want one bike that can have any combination of these front racks. What I don’t want to do is buy 3 racks and swap between them.

So I am looking for a combination rack. It should be fixed to the rack mounts at the bottom of the fork with braces to low rider mountings part way up the fork and in some way fixed at the top (to the brake hole at the top of the fork, or to the spacers above the headset or to the handlebars). It should start as a fairly minimal frame for low riders that can have either a small or a large platform added to the top as required. The frame will be a bit of overkill in structure for the low riders and/or small platform in order to be strong enough for the large platform.

Unfortunately I have not seen any examples of the combination I want. So any suggestions gratefully received 🙂

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  1. Sounds like you need something custom made! Wouldn’t be cheap though. When I was looking at front racks for panniers and a platform (before I woke up and realised I’m not going to be doing any proper touring for a while due to family life) the closest I got was the Surly one you have pictured. As you say though, a bit heavy and over complicated.

    I nearly went for a Carradice saddle bag in place of a bar bag mounted to extra bar sections held forwards and down out of the way by space-saver / computer and light type brackets or Cinelli Spinaci bar extensions.

    • Adam,

      Yeah, might have to build it myself 🙂

      I have used the bar bag extensions directly from Ortlieb but have not found a good way to fit lights with their bar bag.

      Maybe a Thorn Accessory T Bar would be a good solution for the handlebar bag.

  2. Hi Dave, in terms of a replacement for your pilot have you considered the Surly Cross Check? Maybe not the complete bike as the spec seems limited but the frameset on it’s own is good value and tremendously flexible in terms of an all purpose bike. I’ve recently built one up as my regular commmuter/distance tourer and would highly recommend it. Finding the right racks and luggage can be a challenge for sure, especially to use between multiple bikes. In terms of all round versatility I have found the Topeak MTX DXP trunkbag to be superb.

    • Chris,

      I have a long shopping list for a new bike. It includes disk brakes, rohloff, full mudguards, big air tyres, belt drive, … 🙂 Also I would really like to get a bike that is made in the UK. Loving the idea of a Stoater the All Road bike from Shand Cycles at the moment – I am good at dreaming 🙂

      The Topeak has very little more capacity than my Carradice SQR Tour and with the rack is a lot heavier. As a modern alternative to the Carradice saddlebags I think the SQR bags are excellent. It is just I am not good at travelling very light 🙂

  3. Dave, I hate to have to say that mine is actually a LOT bigger than yours… 🙂 the Topeak MTX DXP has a capacity of 22.6 Litres compared to 16 Litres of the SQR tour and the maximum load of the Topeak is limited only by the load rating of the rack. The racks come in variety of styles and weights depending how much weight you intend to carry. You can certainly pack them up to spoke popping capacity!

    Have you read up on the Thorn Cycles range, their online “literature” contains some very compelling thoughts on the design of Rohloff geared bikes?

    • Chris,

      I should know better that to enter a “mine is bigger than yours contest” 🙂

      Thorn Cycles literature is interesting, for a bike that I want to last for the rest of my riding days the Rohloff is indeed very compelling. They also have strong opinions on a number of other things that I am less convinced by. For example they have long been against disk brakes (although now starting to relent a little) and the next big thing they are against is belt drives.

      As I am not a world tourer and have no plans to put my bike on a plane to far flung parts of the world I feel that few of their concerns about disk brakes and belt drives apply to me. For my needs which include low maintenance, high availability and high convenience the combination of Rohloff, disk brakes and belt drive are pretty convincing.

  4. Bike maintenance comes in three’s! « 42 Bikes - pingback on May 30, 2012 at 9:56 am

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