December 31, 2009

Where there's a will, there's a way.

After a lot of internal nagging, and hearing things like "I still think you can get a rack on that thing", my brain wouldn't let me be. Enough of the backpack, already - my back the main protestor to that effect. My shoulder is still recovering from a week of stress at work, and "hunching" the bag to and fro on the winter bike. There are several reasons I don't like having my back covered while riding, and shoulder tension is one of them. That's even with Camelbak's really solid 2010 design -- it's just not me, tho. I am still not sure how I tolerated having one on my back for up to 400K at a time, a few years back.

Logistically, it's very nice having one set of bags to work from during the week: IE, with the panniers on the Kogswell, and the Camelbak for the winter bike, I was constantly shuffling items back and forth between bags - things that can't be duplicated, like my security badges for work. Yes, as it was bound to happen, I arrived at work a couple times missing something I needed. Then, the problem of being used to twice the storage space and suddenly having to get something home that was too large for the Camelbak. Things like that, and the case kept getting driven.
Back into bike-geek-dom I fall, and the quest for panniers begins anew.

Ever since day one with the winter bike, I have been trying different racks and options to see if anything would fit. Truth be told, I was really missing my old Carradice SQR system, even if it was only one bag's worth of storage, kinda high and swingy with a full commute load inside. At least the mounting system didn't care what kind of bike you were using.
Rear mounted bicycle racks are simple devices, but they make a lot of assumptions. You need the right kind of bike to mount to, preferrably one with braze-ons. Even then, some headaches ensue. Combined with fenders, and sometimes you're looking at hours in the garage, looking for the best way to arrange things. Try all of this on a bike without any brazeons, a tight wheelbase, and disc brake mounts - well... I was surprised I was able to mount fenders, honestly. A lot of zip-ties, modifications, and long pauses for thought.

I tried several racks, including seat-post mounted racks - which, in my opinion, are compromised from the get-go. None of them, mounted "normally" offered enough heel clearance - the main culprit being the short wheelbase of the bike. Compared to the Kogswell, I needed to move the rack backwards about three or four inches to get what I needed - and that might as well have been a foot on a bicycle. If you can't get a clamp around something, or even drill into the dropouts and get it, it's not happening.

I then stumbled upon some interesting solutions from a few companies, namely "Old Man Mountain" and "Tubus" that use plates of aluminum and long quick-release skewer to solve the problem. I simply took this a step or two farther, and came up with a solution, finally.

In the hands of patient engineers with CNC machines, the results are worth paying for. In my case, I set out to accomplish the same task, and managed to do so for about six dollars in parts. Sheet aluminum, about 1/4 thick... well, that's what the label said -- it's more like 2.5mm thick. I couldn't find anything thicker at my local hardware store, and didn't feel like scrounging. My garage, sadly, doesn't have much in the way of junk or scrap laying around -- most of it's already been turned into other weird projects. So, I bought new. I also rummaged the servalite bins, and got some nice fender washers and assorted hardware for the task. I love those bins. I spent another 30 minutes looking through things I didn't need.

Back in the garage, I set out to re-create - custom for my interests - the "plates" that OMM and Tubus use for mounting a rack via the QR skewer on a bike. In my case, the most expensive part of the project was the QR itself -- background: the bike here is a Redline Monocog, and the steel plate that the rear dropouts are made from is already really thick compared to a regular bike. The bike comes spec'd with a rear hub that has a solid, threaded rear axle: no problems. The wheelset I currently have is a QR wheelset - and the stock 135mm QR is plenty long enough to make it through the dropouts and cinch down with plenty of threads engaged. But, I also run a chain tensioner, which adds even more thickness - and now the QR is at about the limit of safety. If I were to add rack plates to the mix, the QR would no longer be long enough. Sure fire fix, get a long lag-bolt of sorts - M5 - and use the QR axle ends from a non-QR skewer. Easy... but the hardware store didn't carry anything even approaching long enough. Hmmm... well, that got me to my personal solution: use the dropout plates to my advantage.

I had already drilled a hole in the drive side dropout plate to use for mounting the fenders, so I'd use that for the new rack and fender carrier there. On the non-drive side, I'd simply use the more-than-adequate disc brake tabs for mounting. The non-drive side turned out so sturdy and elegant (as elegant as garage-hacking goes) that I wished the drive side had the same disc brake tabs - silly as that'd look.
On the drive side, I didn't want to drill a second hole into the bike, so I utilized the one hole, and used the surface of the chain tensioner as a "gravity" support.
The pictures will outline all of this in visual detail.

I know that hardcore mountain bike riders the world over are crying foul - even a search on the web only revealed two other hits of commuters that have converted Monocogs to rack-worthy bikes. I know, I know. Purists. I'm the same way, and hassle as it might be, the nice part of this set-up is that I only need to sever a few zip-ties, cheap and replaceable - and remove a half-dozen bolts to free the bike from the add-ons, ready for a weekend on single-track. Hassle, yes -- but only during the winter, which is primarily the only time this bike will participate in daily-duty. It's still a wonderful multi-tasker.

The workbench is a snowy mess of aluminum dust and shavings - but it was worth the couple hours I gave it. The main rack was a purchase from Blackburn - just a simple rear rack, cheap. I only had to find a way to get it on the bike.

This is the seatpost, and forward rack-mouting solution I came up with. Using some bits from the parts drawer, I found an long-tossed aside Minoura fork mount. An accessory mount for lights, meant for front fork mouting, this worked well on the seatpost, with a solid metal strap for mounting. The end cap was removed, and a hole drilled through both side of the hard resin-like plastic - a long metric bolt through this new hole gave a secure place for the racks included straps, which normally would attach to brazeons on the bikes seat stays.
This should prove solid enough.

The drive side, finished product. Not as polished, true, as a purchased solution - but hopefully just as stout. At least, that's the hope. I have to make a few loaded test runs to see if my aluminum solution holds up. On the drive side, there is less dropout plate to work with, so I kept the single hole that I'd originally drilled for the fender, and used it to mount the plate to the bike (the right-most bolt). The center bolt holds the fender stays, and the rear-most bolt holds the rack. The "gravity" support is provided by the Surly chain tensioner. A few problems here: I can't change gear ratios, because the chain tensioner will move fore or aft, thus altering where the rack/fender mount sits - which could pitch the rack up or down on one side. Not a big deal in practice, because I don't plan on changing gear ratios anytime soon - but a limitation, yes. Nothing a little filing wouldn't solve, however. Thru the spokes you can see the backside of the non-drive side solution. I like this side far better, and I imagine it will hold up better than the drive side, if I had to choose. No drilling into the bike, just used the disc brake mounting tabs: obvious limitation, no disc brakes - ever - with this set-up, but hey: #1, V-Brakes are plenty. #2, running a rack and disc brakes is a very special set-up, to prevent the non-drive pannier from hitting the brakes during operation. The only solid, well-thought solution I've ever witnessed lies on my dream, do-all, money no object bike - the Tout Terrain Silk Road. TT makes two bikes I'd really like to have someday, but that's another post.

The non-drive side view of the C'dude rack/fender carrier (patent pending?).
Please ignore the jammie pants and house-shoes. I was comfy.
The plates themselves: I started with one plate, knowing full-well that a single thickness of this aluminum was not going to hold the full weight of my commute load. The only option in this case, since I couldn't find thicker stock, was to double up the plates. I started by making one mount, and then simply traced the shape and hole pattern onto the remaining stock and cut out another one. No lasers or plasma here, just good ole hacksaw and file. I'd then take the two plates and bolt them together temporarily, put them in the bench vise, and filed and Dremel'ed them until the shapes were identical and smooth. The finished products match each other, and the end look is pretty clean. If this two-plate, approximate 5mm thick solution doesn't prove strong enough, I can simply add another layer. In theory, the plated design "should" be stronger than a single piece of aluminum, but if that's actually true, it's purely by accident here -- I would have preferred a single, solid piece of stock, but this works.

..and the finished product. Heel clearance, fenders a little more managable, and probably only a marginal dent to the weight-carrying capacity of the rack itself. Time will tell.

Then came mounting my favorite tail-light for racks, from Busch and Muller - the Dtoplight XS. This is the battery version I retired from the Kogswell when I went all-generator. But, the Blackburn is not a "Euro" rack, and doesn't have the correct mounting plate. Solution, simply take when blackburn gave me, a little spare aluminum plate, and make a bracket.

Hard to file and take a picture on a camera with no timer, but whatever - you get the idea... metal in vise, file file file... Man, I would kinda love access to a full-on metal shop, welding equipment, etc., someday. The things I could do -- heck, ANY of us could do, with the right tools.
Remember, measure twice... cut once... file endlessly.

Here is it, installed on the rack -- you can see the supplied "single reflector" mount that is common on USA products - it's bolted to the homebrew bracket that supplies the "Euro" two-bolt, 50mm spacing required for the taillight. The tail-light doesn't weigh that much, so the two-bolt design - while superior - is really just to keep things level. The single bolt suspending everything from the rack platform is plenty.

And, finally, with panniers mounted: this now provides a couple advantages: there is no weight on my back - shoulder will be spared, layering and cooling, venting will be better since there is nothing laying on my back while I ride, and I can wear reflective clothing for better visibility. To that end, this now provides a familiar profile to traffic approaching from the rear. Instead of bike reflectors and lights and moving ankle bands, the two giant white reflective triangles give my bike more "girth" when viewed from an approaching car, and therefore usually provides more "respect". It looks like more of a vehicle, instead of a "dang bike".

Plus, the superiority of Germany's regulations for bikes shows in their reflectors, which in many personal head-to-head comparisons, makes CPSC reflectors look really wimpy.

I'll report back on how the rack supports hold up --
Initially, this looks and feels pretty solid.

Thanks for reading!

Coming soon -- how to dress for COLD commutes.


Anonymous said...

I was driving on 132nd today over 69 hwy, trying to figure out how to get between work and home on the bike. Tomahawk creek trail is drifted in and most of my other routes are blocked by glaciers that plows have created. I passed a biker and thought that I recognized the dual triangle reflectors on the back.... I've been trying to get on the bike all week (other than a couple of trips in the neighborhood). Now I'm inspired to try harder...

kG said...

It's been tough -- actually working on a post to that effect, coming soon, on how the snow storm and subsequent plowing (or lack of) has eliminated a lot of routes, and made things far less than ideal lately. I've been walking a fine line of "stupid" lately, but there haven't been many other road options until the last 36 hours, which is when the melting really picked up. More to come... but, yes, that was probably me on the bridge! :)

Anonymous said...

They plowed Tomahawk creek trail today. It was pretty snow/ice packed but passable this evening East of Metcalf. Mecalf to Antioch was pretty clear, then it was packed up again in the trees West of there. Don't think I would try it on a dark morning after a refreeze for a few days. It's definitely not easy to navigate when most neighborhoods don't connect to each other. The only way to get around is to get on the busy streets. I'm willing to do Switzer but Antioch and Metcalf are out.

Red Bike said...

Nice solution, thank you for the inspiration.

I'm trying (and failing) to fit pannier racks front and rear to a disc braked 29er MTB.