27 May, 2009

Front Rack Basics

It seems that there has been a lot of interest in front racks recently, or at least a lot more questions about them have appeared in my inbox. Part of the reason for this may be that the style of bikes VO favors is attracting more and more interest. Our customers are no longer just crusty randonneurs and Francophiles cyclo-tourists. Ever more folks are switching from racing bikes and even loaded tourers to 'constructeur-style' rando and city bikes. So I thought I'd post some basics about front racks.

As you may know, and this is a generalization, bikes from the US and Britain historically were designed to carry a load on a rear rack on in rear panniers. Bikes from France split the load front/rear or were front load biased. The low trail geometry favored by the better French builders, the constructeurs, worked well with front loads. And since VO is a Franco-centric place, we put a lot of emphasis on front racks.

Small Front Racks

Cyclists generally use a front rack to support a handlebar bag, and, occasionally, a larger load. That is why most front racks have a fairly small platform, like those on the Nitto M-12 and our Rando rack. The M-12 is for bikes with canti brakes and is attached to canti brake posts. The VO Rando rack is for frames with caliper or center-pull brakes and is attached to the fork blades, via either braze-ons or p-clamps. But two racks are almost identical in size and function and they are the racks that most of us need and use.

For those who would carry a bit more there are racks that mount on the fork dropout eyelets. The VO Constructeur rack is an example of what might be termed "medium duty." It's still light enough for just a bar bag, but it can support a 12 pack of beer, or even small panniers, in a pinch.

Speaking of bar bags, there are some handlebar bags that are attached with a handlebar clamp. Those are fine for light loads, but having the weight way up high and attached directly to the handlebars is obviously not ideal. Handling is bound to suffer. So the French constructeurs placed their handlebar bags down low on a rack mounted just above the fender. In this position and with proper geometry, one could carry a sizable load in the bag. Some cyclists with smaller frames eliminated the rack altogether and had their bag resting directly on the fender.

Porteur Racks

There are those who need to carry larger loads like groceries, a case of wine, large piles of books or newspapers, etc. The Porteur rack is designed for them. The Porteurs were Parisian newspaper delivery men. They piled 50 or 100 pounds of papers on the big front racks of their special bicycles and delivered them to news stands around the city. Those with a good route made a very comfortable living indeed. And many commissioned custom built porteur bikes from Alex Singer or Goeland or other great constructeurs. Here's an interesting collection of photos of the bikes they used.

These racks are very popular and rarely in stock, but by mid-summer we should have several hundred arriving from a new factory and a steady supply from then on.

A less expensive option for bulky, but not heavy, loads is a front basket of the type made by Wald. We'll start stocking the new wood-bottomed version of these in a few weeks.

Camping Racks

Camping racks are designed primarily for front panniers and will support a heavy load for bike- based camping trips. The best of them is probably the Nitto Campee rack which has removable pannier frames so it can also serve as an everyday rack. Note that the panniers are attached low on the bike for improved handling. Like the porteur racks, these are often out of stock.

Racks with Integrated Decaleurs

Decaleurs are quick release mechanisms for handlebar bags or baskets. We stock several types which I'll write more about in the future. The important point is that they are not a substitute for racks, but rather accessories for bags. They allow you to simply lift your handlebar bag off the rack and, using the shoulder strap, stroll into the cafe or shop with it.

We make two racks, versions of the rando and of the constructeur racks, that have integrated decaleurs. These eliminate the fiddling and setup of a separate decaleur and are lighter and sturdier than having two separate components.

Mounting Racks

Probably the most common rack-related question I answer is, "Can I mount racks and fenders to the same eyelet?" Of course you can. All you need is a slightly longer 5mm screw and a few washers. Since the eyelet on forks with only a single eyelet is behind the dropout, the rack tang will rub the paint off the fork unless you space it out with a couple of washers.

The constructeur and porteur racks we now sell are undrilled and designed to fit right on top of the fender of either 700c or 650b bikes. Mounting the rack low improves handling and appearance. This is the way custom racks from the great constructeurs were designed. So the tangs at the bottom of our racks are undrilled. The installer drills them for a perfect fit for your bike. But we find that many customers are hesitant to take a drill to expensive stainless steel, so our new production racks will be pre-drilled with either two or three mounting holes. We will still offer the racks with integrated decaleurs undrilled. That may not satisfy everyone, but most should be happy.

The racks must also be attached at the fork crown. Again, the new racks will be pre-drilled, but the current versions can be custom drilled and mounted either to the brake bolt or, preferably, with a daruma bolt. We will soon have a VO brand daruma bolt so the chronic shortages of Honjo darumas will be alleviated.

Nitto M12 racks mount to the hole in the fork crown and to the canti-studs. For years most folks mounted them to the studs with regular canti bolts, but you had to check the bolts occasionally because the could loosen. And the last thing you should do is over-tighten the bolts since that deforms the brake studs and causes endless troubles. Now there are special rack mounting bolts made by Nitto and by VO. These are based on the bolts French constructeurs used to mount racks on center-pull studs. They have a stud on each end and a hex head in the middle. While not strictly necessary, they do prevent the loosening of brake bolts and they look nice.

The last mounting issue relates to the VO Rando racks. These were originally developed specifically for the VO Randonneuse frames. We found that many cyclist wanted to adapt them to other bikes with caliper and centerpull brakes. This is easy to do with a p-clamp substituted for the fork eyelet. A few custom frame builders have also used them on their frames, adding eyelets in the proper position. The question I often get is if they can be attached to lowrider bosses. Sorry, but no; they work only on forks with the VO specific eyelets or with p-clamps on other forks.

Phew! That's enough about racks for a while. And I apologize that we are out of half the stuff I just wrote about. But it's all on order or on the way. Demand has again outstripped production, but it's only a temporary problem.


ChrisCullum said...

Crusty randonneurs? ;-)

Anonymous said...

curmud-onneur perhaps :)


Winga said...

How much are the new Porteur racks going to cost?

Anonymous said...

Yes, crusty randonneurs is franglais, sorry. ;-)

Randonneur Grognard would be better.

Scott G.

Chris Kulczycki said...

We have not set the price on the new racks yet, but they will be less expensive. And they will be available to shops through VOI.

TwoBigCats@gmail.com said...

received my rack and rail this week - both are nicely made and i'm looking forward to installing on our tandem.

the blog post on racks was interesting and helpful to me, perhaps you could link your to it in you "rack" area.


William said...

I knew that the racks would not attach to lowrider bosses but, since that has been one of the frequently asked questions, I now feel free to indulge my curiousity. Why not? It would seem to be an obvious choice rather than relying on eyelets used for nothing else (which actually look weaker to me). Since this is V-O I expect that there is a reason -- either aesthetic or practical, so... how come?

Chris Kulczycki said...

There is not a standard position for lowrider bosses. They are in about the same place on most bikes, but not exactly in the same spot. That's not good enough for a rack designed to fit right on the fender. Also, they are so low that the long struts required don't look right with a small rack.

Fred Blasdel said...

Lowrider brazeons are nearly always past the point where the fork blade begins to curve -- so forks with different amounts of rake/trail have them at significantly different offsets.

The Kogswell porteur racks will require special tabs/pclamps too -- because the custom P/R forks are available with three different amounts of trail, in three wheel sizes and two steerer tube diameters!

Fred Blasdel said...

Is there any chance that constructeur racks will continue to be available undrilled as an option?

I might have to order now before it's too late...

Gary said...

Looking forward to the Taiwanese front constructeur rack!

Kilroy said...

If a front rack (such as a lowrider) is installed, is the shock absorbing ability of the front fork compromised?

rgonet said...

Can anyone explain where the term, "daruma," comes from?

Anonymous said...

The only DAruma that I know of was the father of Zen Bhuddism.

robatsu said...

Sad to see the undrilled ones go, but I understand the need to reach out to a broader audience. Accurately drilling the beefy tangs is a chore that probably a lot find daunting.

It would be nice if there would still be some available undrilled, but that may be an unrealistic wish.

Like the other poster, I may have to pick up one or two of the undrilled ones before they become unavailable.

A daruma is a particular type of painted Japanese doll/figurine. They are purchased with neither eye painted. You, the owner, paint one eye when making a wish. When the other wish comes true, you paint the other eye.

One eyed darumas are a pretty common sight in Japanese homes/businesses. Calling one hole eyelets a daruma is probably just a play on this.

Sort of like "cyclops" but without the monstrous connotations.

Red said...

Are there any plans for VO to carry more than the one type of rear rack? Perhaps a slightly larger one? While I find the current rear rack quite lovely, I suspect a number of folks would be interested in splitting the load more evenly on their city bikes.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Red there are plans for a larger rear rack, but these things take time, lots of time.

Red said...

@Chris - Oh, do take what time it needs, please, the question was not in any way a complaint! (^_^) I like VO's products, how well they compliment each other and flow with the machine, and I know from experience that great results are due to taking the time to get it right, not get it fast. I was just curious if any plans were in the works.

(I'm still in the middle of my re-build, taking a '79 Peugeot UO-8, stripping it down, and turning it into a City/Porteur single. Racks are still far down on the list for my project.)

That being said... I know we'll all be interested in the results of your and your crew's hard work!

mohdhaslanr said...

do you ship those items to malaysia?

Roberto said...

I don't understand how the porteur rack is fixed to fork crown. Can someone show me a close picture of a installed rack? Thanks!

QUIJANO said...

Does anyone know if nittos front low rider camping style rack with the removable pannier mounts would work with caliper brakes? I was thinking one could use p-clamps to attach it on the top of the fork?

ingie said...

I own a VO front rack but still don't know how to use it! How should I transport a simple handbak or a little panier? There are eyelet in but not suitable for bungee cords whatsoever. Can anyone help me with this? It seems like people who own those cute little racks only have them for decoration. I just want to carry my handbag while cycling!


VeloOrange said...

Ingie, Most cyclists use front racks with handlebar bags like the VO or Berthoud bags, You can also use bungy cord or small panniers for odd loads. The eyelets are for lights, not bungies, but they make great bungy stops.

Anonymous said...

Building a double porteur on a new Jamis Cota 21 bike at Fat Tire Bikes in Albuquerque rite now and want to secure the porters to the fenders as well. Any videos or ideas would be greatly appreciated. My shop mechanics are kinda iffy on that idea.

Murmillos said...

Some time back you said possible larger Porteur racks. I'd really like that! I am thinking of Double, front and Back Porteur racks on my new Porter build underway at Fat Tire Bikes here in Albuquerque RITE now! The staff Mechanics there are iffy on securing the Porteur racks to the velo fenders stainless steel 700c as well as to the frame. Drilling holes is their concern. Are their any videos or printable instructions available?. Photos and Videos of my first Build are also being taken. Double Porter! Pretty Cool Eh! Im using a new Black Jamis Cota 21 as the Platform as this was what I could afford to start with. Next build Im using a Velo Frame! Thanks for any help you can give.

VeloOrange said...

We don't have any videos or instructions as to how to install racks to fenders as each install is different. This made even more complicated if you wanted to mount one on the back. Really it's a try-and-see sort of thing as you're going.

VeloOrange said...

Just make sure you're using a fresh drill bit and measure several times before drilling!