Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Front vs Rear Carry: Notes on One User's Experience

Saddlebag vs Handlebar Bag
Most of us who've cycled for utility, travel, commuting, leisure - anything other than all-out fitness really - have partaken in the convenience of carrying things on our bicycles. Whether it's a camera, a picnic lunch, a laptop computer, a sack of potatoes, or a stack of firewood, carrying it on the bicycle as opposed to on our backs tends to be more comfortable. Ah, but where on the bicycle? Because you see, our two-wheeled contraption presents us with a dazzling, confusing array of choices: front or rear.

Chuckle if you will, my friends. But the front vs rear carry question can lead to surprisingly impassioned debates. Now in my 7th year of cycling, I have experimented with both, in a variety of configurations. In the process I have developed a pretty strong preference for front carry, to the extent that nearly all of my bicycles are now thus equipped. Whether it's a small handlebar bag on a roadbike or an enormous utility crate on a transport bike, I prefer to have my things in the front.


I suspect the reason for this is to some extent cultural, having been raised as a female in large crowded cities. But without tying this to gender and geography necessarily, I will say simply that I was brought up to keep my belongings "where I can see them" at all times and this mentality is very difficult to shake. Whether it's just a small handbag that contains my housekeys, bank card, money and phone (the pockets on women's apparel often won't fit even these small items), or a work bag containing laptop, camera equipment, and potentially sensitive documents - if I'm traveling with it, then I want to have it my field of vision. And I am always somewhat uneasy if I don't.

Mercian Transporteur
Unlike some, I do not find that a specific front-end geometry is necessary on a bicycle to enjoy a front-carry system. I have ridden with heavily laden baskets on high-trail Dutch bikes, with hefty porteur bags on mid-trail English roadbikes, and all manner of other setups. In all cases, I have found the handling perfectly fine - provided that the system was (1) set up sufficiently low and (2) properly secured.

And therein lies the rub! Because ensuring that these criteria are met can be difficult, time consuming and expensive - especially on bikes where the frame and fork are not designed for front carry. It is certainly more difficult than affixing a large saddlebag to the back of the bike via 3 straps and calling it a day. Although even installing a rear carrier to support panniers or a crate is usually an easier business, with lower-cost options available, than doing the same to the front.

And so, my personal preference for front carry notwithstanding, I think of it as a trade-off:

A front carry system is more convenient to use, but more difficult to set up properly.
A rear carry system is easier to set up properly, but less convenient to use.

Because weight, when carried in the front, has the potential to affect steering, it is imperative to secure it well with a supporting rack or other specialised system (like the proprietary "front block" on the Brompton). Most effective of all, in my experience, is a support that secures to the bicycle's frame, rather than to the fork - although securing a rack to the fork is, in turn, better than the weight hanging off of the handlebars and swaying side-to-side. In addition, care must be taken to install the supporting structure low enough on the bike so as not to make the machine too top-heavy. And finally the bicycle's fork must be taken into consideration as well: Is it rated for the weight we intend to carry?

The rear of the bicycle is far less sensitive. If a rear load sways, is set up too high, or is inordinately heavy, chances are the effects will not be as noticeable in action.

Brompton Blur
For me personally, the benefits of carrying my things on the front of the bicycle outweigh the potential complexities of ensuring a proper front-carry setup. In my use case scenario, accessibility and easy reach are particularly important, because a good deal of my work centers on photography.

One particular job I was working on several months ago, for a movie studio, involved cycling around a vast, abandoned airbase and stopping to scout various locations, taking myriads of test shots while the light was still good. Being able to pop my camera in and out of my front bag while remaining standing over the bike, then take the shots and move on to the next location quickly, was imperative and I thanked my lucky stars for my perfectly-dialed-in front bag setup. But of course that's just one example. In the course of everyday cycling the convenience of being able to reach for a snack, or stash a jacket, without dismounting the bike is something I greatly appreciate. As is the peace of mind I get from having my personal possessions in sight.

But I can certainly understand that not everyone finds such things necessary, or even particularly important. And if that is the case, then I don't really see a reason to go with a front-carry setup, if a rear-carry one can be achieved with less fuss. Preferences are exactly that for a reason: It's about what you prefer in the context of your cycling experience, your use case scenario.

An Post Bicycle, Letterkenny
Of course there is nothing to stop us from sporting both front and rear carry systems on a bicycle. And on a bike that is pure utility, or touring-oriented, I indeed prefer to have both - in which case I like to use panniers for the heavier, less valuable things, while keeping the difficult-to-replace or sensitive items in the front where I can keep an eye on them.

It isn't that I don't trust the hardware on my rear panniers or saddlebag to keep my belongings secure. It's just that some part of me still hears my mother's, aunties' and grandmothers' voices - scolding the wild-running, scatterbrained, 11-year-old me to keep my things where I can see them!

Now... where the heck is my bag again?



46 comments:

  1. the cultural/gender/safety-stuff-in-front of you angle is interesting: I have a Brompton, I used to like the front, it gave 50/50 weight distribution with heavy loads. now I don't - I have a big carradice camper on the rear - it takes 26 litre (and kg) and I don't care about weight distribution - I prefer the feeling of freedom of only having handlebars in front of me. having a big load in my field of vision all the time makes me feel like a delivery person rather than a cyclist, as if im pushing a wheelbarrow

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    1. > having a big load in my field of vision all the time
      > makes me feel like a delivery person...
      > as if im pushing a wheelbarrow

      That sounds kind of nice actually. And I'm surprised that no one has come up with, literally, a wheelbarrow bike yet.

      Granted, there is this:
      http://www.futurefarmers.com/survey/bikebarrow.php

      But I would need mine with a step-through frame...

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    2. yes, but getting lost in a wheelbarrow isn't quite the same as getting lost in myself - much as I too at times feel quite fond of a spate of blue collar work. I usually need nice easy effortless rhythm for the proper getting lost, work can also be dissociative, but usually with too much a dose of reality. But give that farmers barrow bike a nice little big apple tyre with less resistance and it could become interesting.

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  2. I'm really comfortable with a small handlebar bag up front and small saddlebag in rear on my fast road bikes. The front has ID/energy bars and room to stash vest, etc., and the rear has tools, repair kit, etc. I like the symmetry and balance of it and the bags are so light it's not a hindrance. However, your many photography excursions really do require a more suitable setup. An interesting topic as always. Thanks. Jim Duncan

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  3. As you say, it's mostly personal preferences and we all like to share our preferences, right? Not surprisingly I'm the opposite. When I worked in a bike shop and had easy access to all sorts of bikes and equipment I'd experiment with all the latest on my ten mile commute each way. Fortunately the terrain was wonderfully diverse with city streets, rolling and serpentine paths through some woods, and a good hill or two thrown in. Since it was all season riding and there were always errands to throw in, I needed capacity to carry things. Baskets, front bags (high and low), various rear bag set-ups on various racks, etc. and all on various bikes. It was fun and never once had an accident though there were uncomfortable moments and always with the bike front loaded. First of all, I didn't like seeing my stuff in front of me, I preferred seeing the road….It was that simple. Secondly, the handling and braking felt different enough that I was always more cautious, less intuitive, it took the fun out of the commute. Also, I was never good at reaching for things -- or reaching forward for things -- seems it impaired my balance and there was never serious needs to have to reach for anything while pedaling that I couldn't find while straddling my bike at the next stop sign. A stable rear rack, rear panniers and a couple old tubes used to tie down anything extra now always stay on the bike and that's been thirty years of it and lot's of conditions. Oh, my, I just thought of also carrying my children on the back and cringe when I see riders with their kids on some sort of front handlebar set-up!!!! Anyway, when I tour I've got low riders and handlebar bag but that's a different gig altogether. If I could, I'd proudly show photos of me and my bike in flowered fields with all my variations, too. ;)

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  4. I'm facing the same question now as I'm trying to find a more convenient way to carry photo equipment. What is the model/manufacturer of the front rack you have on the bike with the upright bars in the second photo?

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  5. Having a Bike Friday folding bike, I use a Xootr crossrack in the rear which puts the big load low behind the seat and behind my body so there's no wind effect. I also carry a small load up front on my Nitto m12/mini rando bag to eliminate any twitchiness. Even on a non-folding full sized bike I wouldn't go back to a rear rack with side panniers; they are just wind traps. I've never understood the Brompton big front bags - it's like pedaling a pirate ship! Huge front sail.

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  6. I have used both over the years; having just gone back to having a basket on the front of m Clementine I can vouch for how brilliant it is, BUT I still like rear racks and rack bags< panniers etc.
    SO, Here's kind of how I like to break it down. First a rear rack although it is hand and convenient and all is rather unforgiving, anything on the rear rack get the vibration/ jarring of any surface full force!! The front on the other hand is usually more isolated from road conditions, due to having less weight on it and if I am popping the front over curbs and whatnot I can lift the front a bit more gingerly and finesse things a bit more. That said I have come to the conclusion that more delicate items (camera's, cell phones, Etc.) should be in a handlebar bag or front basket, while bulkier & more robust items (locks, clothing, most tools) can go in back.
    Another thing I have noticed with my rear rack bag is if it's not zippered closed really good any small bump can propel items out!!! I've lost keys, change, tools this way, so I have learned the hard way to close it GOOD! -Mas

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  7. What is the saddlebag in photo #4? Thanks.

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    1. That's a Dill Pickle, size large, made extra-wide (to fit 13" laptop in padded case).

      www.dillpicklegear.com

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  8. If I'm making multiple stops, I prefer a quick-release bag or basket/bag combo on the front, as it's just easier for me to deal with. Also, a front-positioned bag is easier for me to retrieve something quickly mid-ride (like Velouria's stop-and-shoot example in the post).

    If I'm hauling the groceries (whether that be literal or figurative), then I prefer the strength of my rear rack and bags. More stable for me w/ heavy loads.
    I suppose size/shape of bike (and rider) play a lot in to these decisions. The good thing is that it really doesn't matter. Whatever is comfortable for the rider is good enough.


    Wolf.

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  9. I've ridden for over 50 years with baskets on the front of bikes, panniers and bags on the rear carriers, they all seemed good enough - until I bought a Brompton. Having bought the Brompton last year I winced and blued my remaining pennies on a couple of the luggage options for the front block. What? Perfect. I've never ridden another bike which felt so stable, so safe and so eager with a large load dumped on it, poor thing. I've not yet made my own bespoke shopping bag - really like yours! Might be a project for some snowed in evenings next winter ...

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  10. It's simply dizzying to think about all the options. Then seeing your photos with each bike, each bag on each bike, all equipped with appropriate racks, all with the expensive leather(ish) saddles, and my mind explodes with dollar signs! You've got it all covered! My goal has always been keep it simple, keep it cheap, and hope those two will also keep it enjoyable. The rear rack affords the most amount of attachments and weight. I bought a Tubus (not cheap) which is light, stiff, and strong and have figured out many ways to attach all manner of stuff on the sides and top. So far so good.

    I'm surprised about items being propelled out of a rear rack bag if not zippered up, and the suggestion that it only takes a small bump. Wondering what kind of bag and rack is being used. Never (thank goodness) been my experience but certainly would force me to consider other options if that were the case.

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    1. FWIW I've designed a rear rack that's been manufactured by Tubus. So I am all for them.

      I too have had pretty good luck with items *not* being propelled our of containers whilst cycling. Nevertheless I do not question the validity of this problem and, thankfully, there is a variety of bungee cords and nets to remedy it.

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    2. The offending Rack bag in my example is a relatively inexpensive Transit bag from Performance. Rack isn't an issue because I use several and switch the bag from one to another bike/rack quite often. It's a shallow bag with a zipper along three edges of the top, the sides of the bag have gotten rather slouchy over the years so I've had problems with items coming out with the top zipper being no more than 1/5th open! All it takes is to hit a speed bump at 8+MPH! I typically hear a jangling sound behind me and think Hmm . . what was that? A minute or so later I realize what must have happened! LOL - Mas

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  11. I've tried a couple of bikes designed for front loads, briefly a Kogswell Porteur and longer an old Herse, but found that I didn't like the handling of the first, loaded or not, and that the second was not designed for the heavy loads I sometimes carry, either front or rear; in fact, speculation was that this Herse had been designed for relatively light, combined front and rear, long distance loads.

    Am I right in thinking that front loaders designed for more than about 10 lb in the front tend not to handle ideally with no load on the front?

    OTOH, I've had rear loaders that carried 40 lb with reasonable aplomb and yet, even more important, handled deftly while unladen. The best, oddly enough, was a 1973 Motobecane Grand Record, all light 531, that carried up to 45 lb loads on a (11 oz!) Fly rack while handling nicely unladen (as you would expect). My current rear loader, a custom Riv Road, is not as good, even while being stouter, but it is fine up to 35 lb and, of course, handles impeccably with loads of no more than 20 lb in rear panniers. In my experience, such bikes probably don't handle 40 lb loads as well as a well designed porteur, but OTOH, I think they handle better than the porteur would with no load at all -- right?

    I've found that sure, heavy rear loads will wag the bike during the transition from seating to standing, but even with 40 or 45 lb in back, in panniers, the wag is brief and the bike almost immediately settles down. In fact, I've found that even very asymmetrical loads -- 25 lb in one rear pannier -- are more annoying than terrifying, given sufficient quality of the rack and pannier.

    IME, the best load carrier of all was a restored early '80s or late '70s Ken Rogers trike!

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  12. It's funny that you mention gender. (You knew that would bring me out of the woodwork, didn't you? ;-)) When I was still riding as male, I never used to carry anything on the front unless I was on a bike tour or camping trip. Then, I would use a handlebar bag in which I'd carry my camera and lenses, a windbreaker/rain jacket (unless, of course, I was wearing it), snacks and a small notebook and pen. (And, oh yeah, condoms.) On any other kind of ride, however, I did not use any sort of front bag, basket or carrier.

    Now that I am riding as a woman, all of my bikes are set up to carry things in the front, in one fashion or another. I have "brevet" bags on two of my bikes, a front bag on a rack on another bike, a large "clutch" style bag that attaches to a Klick-Fix mount on another bike and, on one other bike (my commuter), a small front rack to which I can attach a basket or tie down my purse or other bag with a bungee cord.

    I think that part of this change in my riding habits has to do with the fact that the clothing I wear now seldom has pockets large enough for the things I used to carry in the pockets of my male clothing. Also, like you, I like to have things--especially valuables--where I can see and easily reach them.

    I am curious: How did you attach the front rack on your Mercian?

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    1. like so -

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/lovely_bicycle/24152215751/

      plus bracket at the brake bolt (the flickr pics show a temporary "belted" setup, but ignore that - it's been remedied!

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  13. My wife and I have similar Giant Elwood SE bikes, cheap but functional. We both have recycled New Zealand Post panniers on the back, which as well as storing our e-bike batteries contain tools, spare tubes, wet weather gear etc. The racks and panniers (hard plastic) will also take gear strapped on top.
    The difference between the two bikes? My wife's has a basket mounted to the handlebars into which goes changes of clothing, and lady stuff such as handbags etc. Me, I ride around with pockets full of stuff, and I tend to dress for a ride, and stay that way until the end, whereas Lynn will add and remove layers as required, when the basket really comes into its own.
    Not necessarily a gender thing but a reflection of our personalities possibly.

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  14. Nice to see all the mentions of pockets. In the old days the domestiques, and anybody who thought like a domestique, would seam tape and bartack their jersey pockets. Still works well if you plan to stuff them or carry water. The Hilltrek Greenspot jacket has even more pockets than the old Bertram Dudley Greenspot, and they work better too. The Hilltrek GWW Photographers Vest is all pockets and you don't have to be a photographer.

    Carrying a saddlebag does not require three straps. Carradice has reprised the old Karrimor Uplift as the Classic Saddlebag Support. One strap and two hooks. The hooks just drop into your saddle's bag loops. Easy as could be to take your bag with you when that is desired. The support also lifts your bag up off the tire or fender.

    I ride daily with 5-20# in the DL-1 saddlebag and 5-10# in the road bike bag. Those bags were acquired new in '65 and '66, I am well accustomed to them. On the infrequent occasions they come off, the bikes feel like they have wings. Then the bags go back on because I just wouldn't ride so much if the bags weren't there. Bicycles are exquisitely sensitive to small shifts in rider weight and they respond just as much to the weight of baggage. Riders have to compensate constantly against the steering input of the baggage. It is possible to carry a lot of weight on a normal bike. I used to carry 80 to 100# daily and adding groceries on the trip home no big deal. But the bike handled like a wheelbarrow with pedals. Still more fun than a car, and possible, but not the least bit sporting. And requires great forethought and caution in traffic. When I hear or read about bikes that handle "well" with big loads all I can think is some people have low standards. Anyone who routinely carries more than 30# should consider a longtail or other dedicated hauler. Some of the longtails are reasonably sporting and any of them is much steadier in traffic with a heavy load.

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    1. I thought the Xtracycles Radish I rode for a few glorious months was beyond reasonably sporting. But admittedly it is easier to dump things in the front "bucket" of a bakfiets. With cargo bikes I think a lot depends on the sort of thing you tend to transport.

      Could really use a good photo vest, but the commercially available ones are too big and cost more than what I want to spend. I keep threatening to sew one myself, and hopefully this will be the year for that project.

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    2. Hilltrek is only barely commercial. Couple of ladies sewing in Aboyne above Aberdeen. Surcharge for custom sizing is nominal. They are expensive. Quality is like the 1930s. Their catalog photos are abysmal, make everything look like sacks. Biggest problem I have with mine is it looks so darn good it hurts to go beat it up on the bike.

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  15. Rear racks are easier to mount, easier to build(I've made over 100 now) and make it far easier to manage your loaded bike when not actually on it, but for myself, a well designed, well made front rack or bag is so much better I think. I'm waiting for the Ostrich handlebar bag I ordered last week to come so I can make new bag supports and decaleurs to fit it for the Mercian and Seven in time for the first big rides this spring.

    When I was a kid my neighbor and me, our older brothers and a couple of their friends loaded up our bikes and rode the 18 miles to a friends ranch a couple of times to camp by a pond and fish for a couple of days. We only took the bare necessities(everything we owned) and piled it all up on pletscher racks about a foot above our rear tires. I remember riding the whole way on a BMX bike with the seat about 5 inches too low unable to stand up without the whole bike suddenly flopping back and forth like a fat man doing the Nae-Nae bad enough to throw me and all my frying pans and hammers into the ditch. My friend Don always hung a paperboy's sack loaded with a thousand pounds of gear over his handlebars and just rolled along like a train...

    Front loads are the business...

    Spindizzy

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    1. And I never even congratulated you on the 100 rackaversary!

      {Dibs on front rack prototype testing BTW.}

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    2. Since you've survived testing some of my stuff already(you had rack #1 and lived to tell about it) you're top of my list. Wanna do the alpha testing on my recycled cardboard shipping tube folding bike?

      Spindizzy

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  16. This urban male has a decided preference for front load as well.

    My commuter / light touring bike is equipped with a Pass Stow rack upon which I attach a Swift Polaris Porteur bag ( http://builtbyswift.com/shop/polaris-porteur-bag/ ). Very convenient whether I am picking up groceries or heading off with gear and my astronomy binoculars for a weekend at nearby state park. A thick plastic enclosure at the top of the bag keeps maps and my iPhone handy and dry.

    The comments above complaining of not wanting to see gear while riding do not match my experience. The Pass Stow rack is low enough that the bag is out of my sight line unless I look down.

    Of course geometry plays into this. Much as I would like to carry loads up front on my road bike, I've found even a kilo up front is enough to make steering squirrelly. For short rides I use a lovely Acorn saddle bag. Longer rides or when I need to carry something substantive, the Dill Pickle saddle bag works well.

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  17. I'm in the fore and aft camp, too. All three bikes have a rack on the back, and I have a Basil Katharina bag that moves between them. It's pretty -- a major consideration when I started biking two years ago and was riding the world's ugliest bso -- and seems to be holding up to near-daily commutes and rides. Holds purse when necessary, ipad, water bottle, little camera and mini tripod, books, snacks, etc. It's even reasonably water resistant, though if I know I will be riding in rain, stuff goes into ziplock bags, too.

    Each bike also has a front basket. W/out it, I feel skittish -- like there's no buffer between me and the road. (Silly, I know.) At the same time, I like to be able to see the road through it, so while I love the look of a nice handlebar bag, I've been able to resist. Even a full basket somehow doesn't feel as solid as a bag? The f-stop gene skipped me completely, so I'm happy w a little point-n-shoot that can hang around my neck and get tucked under a bra strap on pedal-shoot-pedal rides. If I had more or better gear, I'm sure the quest for the perfect Dill Pickle bag would be on!

    My bikes are nothing special -- Brodie Infinity and Kona Dr Good (w porteur rack), both new fall 2014; 1977 Raleigh Sprite (my steel bike experiment), bought a few weeks ago. I can't say that I notice anything on any of them in terms of how what I carry affects handling. I just ride, but I am never fast and have never done even a metric century (yet!), so that might have something to do w it. Or, since I'm the sort of person to whom all cheese tastes like milk that's gone bad, perhaps I just don't have a sufficiently sophisticated cycling palate either.

    Best,
    Lil Bruin

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  18. I use both, with a preference for the front bag when carrying a light load. One advantage I've noticed with the front load on a fixed gear bike is that it's easier to lift the rear end and spin the crank to the desired position when stopped at traffic light or stop sign. I'm a left pedal at the 9:00 or 10:00 position to launch.


    John

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  19. A note about chainstay length. This involves some history, because I just can't help myself. In days of yore normal bikes and touring bikes had chain stays of 44 or 45cm. Good bikes and fast bikes had 43cm chain stays. Less than 43cm meant you had a pure racing bike and the only load ever carried would be a folded tubular under the saddle. Minimum chainstay length was 41.5cm, it just wasn't possible to get shorter without resort to a Flying Gate or some such.

    Since the late 70s bike design has been the province of marketers. Design changes happen primarily as reaction or overreaction to the last design fiasco. The cycle of fashion has gone around enough times that no one has any connection to a baseline. Commuters are riding bikes with 39 and 40cm chain stays and imagine that spending more money on more bags is going to make their bikes ride better.

    All the old guides recommended that tourists pack for the trip with a total load of 20# or less. That was based on what a normal bike could carry. Bertin above speaks of "impeccable" handling with a 20# load. Impeccable was the standard, less than that and you were taking chances in traffic. I have packed for a two week camping trip on 22#, weight of the bags included. Nowadays people need 20# to go to the office, a 200k brevet needs 30#. Bikes are pushed really hard accommodating those loads.

    A Surly LHT has 46cm chain stays. By my arcane and archaic standards, with my jaundiced view of the bike industry, an LHT remains impeccable with 30# and is pretty reasonable with 40#. A Kona MinUte with 51.5cm chainstays carries 50# so easily you won't notice it's there until you go uphill. And it can go downhill at good speed without excitement. Top load carry for a MinUte is greater than I will ever attempt again. Except chainstay length both those bikes have very ordinary geometry. Please don't do what the catalog pictures do and mount the panniers all the way to the rear of the rack, behind the rear axle. With no common sense at all even very good bikes can be messed up.

    All the above assumes rear loading, which remains the default method that most people use. If you do front loading chainstay length is less crucial, but the bike will still function far better if it has some length in back. If you have been playing musical bag and musical rack stop and measure your chainstay. If it is short you don't need one more bag, you need a normal bike. If you've been experimenting with all other variables and didn't notice your chainstay length, sorry, your experiments demonstrate nothing. Any and every variant of load carry works way better with some wheelbase. Of course it all works better with a lower saddle too, but that's an entirely quixotic hope.

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    1. BTW, the Motobecane Grand Record, that I described as my best load carrying bike, had 45 cm stays (measured to the end of the long dropouts). I'm pretty sure it was sold as a "racing" bike -- it was Motobecane's second level model, often kitted with Campy. At any rate, the stays allowed ample room for clearance of rear panniers (for a while, my panniers were a pair of $8, 10-gal kitchen wastebaskets strapped to the Fly -- excellent grocery panniers and still used by my next door neighbor on a beater I sold him).

      OTOH, the front-center was decidedly short, and there was considerable toe overlap even without fenders.

      http://www.cyclofiend.com/cc/images08/cc554-175%20Grand%20Record.jpg

      I have no idea why this bike carried heavy rear loads better than others with much stouter tubing; possibly a function of weight distribution, with the build designed for rear weight bias?

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    2. I had the same '73 except that mine had a very long and noodly fork, no TCO. My brother had a '75 which was about the same, slightly more normal fork, no TCO. Both your size too. My brother raced his a lot. They were not racing bikes at all, they were raced because you could get them back when having cash you were eager to spend was not enough to procure a bike. It's not designed for rear weight bias, it is just designed to be a bike, general purpose bikes do carry reasonable loads pretty well. This is also about the last moment when anybody did design a bike that was just a bike.

      Long chainstays do not make you slower. There's even a plausible case that longer chainstays are faster. I would reproduce Pino Morroni's rant on that point if I could. Racers don't want long chainstays because they are a bit less deft in a fast turn. In tight quarters action racers want telepathic handling, which means short stays. '73 was also the year that Rebour and Goddet almost succeeded in imposing standardized geometry in the Tour de France. They would have had all but the smallest frames on 43cm stays. They were concerned that the new tight geometry was causing too many crashes.

      A bike with short stays basically always wants to be turning. Throw in some swinging baggage at the end of a lever arm called a rack and the rider is busy preventing the bike from turning. In current practice 41 and 42cm stays are considered as in-between compromise lengths for general purpose sport bikes. Lots of commuters are loading up on frames that Daniel Rebour would consider as too short to race on.

      When trying to figure out why any particular bike handles the way it does there are many many factors to consider. Getting stuck on any particular subset, or being certain you've thought of everything, will always lead to bad conclusions. I'm just pointing here at one factor I have not seen addressed anywhere for some time. There are lots of other factors. Sometimes you just don't know the answer and there's nothing to do but try different stuff. For load carrying I am pretty sure, at least my opinion is pretty strong and somewhat grounded, that short bikes won't work and long ones will. There are longtails out there with design elements that make me crazy but they still do pretty well at load carrying. Anyone I see on a short bike trying to carry stuff looks like they are struggling.

      I can also tell you I have had multiple builders refuse to consider building me a frame with measurements I think of as completely normal, like 45cm stays, like 9cm of frame drop. So I get what I want vintage. What's considered as normal these days is quite odd to me. I am no longer unique in thinking that tires 17 or 18mm wide aren't useful for anything, they were de rigueur for many years, OEM on full touring bikes, and the industry thought they were great. Frame design as currently practiced is about as far gone as 17mm tires.

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  20. I'm surprised by your preference of front carry in this post, considering what you went through with your Pashley Princess. I thought you liked it when you removed the basket, and started using the rear rack instead. The same could be said for your Raleigh DL-1 and your Gazelle. What changed? Didn't you think that the bikes handled better and were able to reach faster speeds when you carried stuff in the back? Is it because the bikes you ride nowadays have different geometry?

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    1. I have not owned the Pashley Princess (or even had a close look at one) in what must be 5 years now, so this is somewhat speculative, but I think the main issue was that the basket was too high and not sufficiently well-supported from below; the sort of stuff I'd try and put in it was too heavy to be carried in that manner.

      I had never tried to fit a front carry system on the Gazelle or the DL-1, mostly because it would have been awkward with the way their lights and cables were set up, so I just did not bother. As I said, the front load preference is something I developed gradually. And still not *all* my bikes are set up that way, as it does not make sense to go through the trouble if for whatever reason the bike is not well suited for it.

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  21. Since I see that you use a Carradice Barley saddlebag, I suggest that you might try using it as a front bag as well as a saddlebag. I have regularly used a Carradice Barley bag as a handlebar bag for the last five years or so, both with and without a front rack. If using a rack the bag can be secured firmly to the handlebars, the headtube (or stem), and the rack by putting a toestrap through each of the bag 'lid' straps and then around the rack tubing. The toestraps can then be pulled up snugly and the bag is immovable.

    Without a rack, the bag will suspend itself securely when fastened to the handlebars and then around the headtube or stem (in a similar way to a saddlebag fastened to the seatpillar). Because the Barley bag is designed to rotate back toward the seatpillar when used as a saddlebag, it will rotate toward the headtube when used as a handlebar bag, thus lifting itself up and away from the mudguard so that a front rack is not always a necessity. If used with drop bars the side pockets can be removed, as I have done. If the side pockets are left in place, room for hands on the drops is limited; however, if used with porteur bars or straight bars, there is no problem with hand room.

    I ended up using the Barley bag as a front bag because of the excessive cost of the best known French bags, and because of what I felt were the unnecessary complications of decaleurs and 'klick-fix' handlebar clamps.

    So, try it out and see what you think. In my opinion the bag functions very well in this capacity, and it's full of retro chic (well, maybe).

    The Fossil

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    1. I have done this (on a roadbike, no front rack), and have photos of it somewhere. As I recall, what I found disconcerting about the setup was that I could feel items inside the bag "pulling" to the sides (especially when cornering) in a way that does not happen with a rack-supported box-shaped handlebar bag, if that makes sense. Do you not experience this?

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    2. I deleted my earlier reply because I did not really answer your question. So, to find the answer I filled my Carradice bag with lots of 'stuff', fastened it to the 'bars of my fixed/free, and went out and about on the North Norfolk lanes. Even rounding a tight downhill bend at 20mph+ there was no noticeable shift in the bag, or 'pull', as you put it. Even hands free on a steep downhill the bag did not move nor did the front shimmy. The answer is 'No'. I would send you a photo of the bike and bag arrangement, but I cannot do that here, so you'll just have to believe me. Regards, The Fossil

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  22. I love being able to toss my purse and whatever else into a front basket affixed to my FR8. As it is frame mounted I can carry 2 overflowing bags of groceries there without much affect to the handling, and my rest rack is available to carry a small person when needed. I agree front carry is better than rear.

    What I don't like about an open front basket- is keeping items from bouncing out- I use a net to prevent that and when it rains, I need to bag my purse to keep it from being waterlogged.

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  23. I had a rear rack installed on a mountain bike which has now been sold - I have purchased a new mountain bike and a road bike (first road bike) and have no carriers on either bike. Aesthetically I do not like carriers of any description - racks or bags attached to my bikes.
    I use a back pack but I understand that would not be practical for carrying heavy loads or in cases where items need to be easily accessed - cameras and so on. A back pack suits me when I need to carry more than what can fit in a small saddle bag - if I did have to carry heavy items I would use a rear rack again and place my back pack on that. However I would prefer not to as I like the look of a bike clean of any paraphernalia - I would never front load my bike - I like the handlebars absolutely free of any encumbrances.
    Apart from those bikes designed to carry loads - such as the postal service bikes and some utility bikes such as the Brompton and the classic 'ladies bikes' I think any bags detract measurably from the bikes appearance - in the case of 'high end' bags they can even overwhelm the bike's aesthetics.

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    1. I have several friends who are downright allergic to having anything attached to their bicycles, so I understand. Funny though, as they love it that *I* have stuff attached to my bike and can carry things for others.

      And I agree that oftentimes bags and baskets - not even necessarily "high end" ones, but ones with strong personalities - can dominate the bike. Other times certain bike/luggage combinations simply look wrong to me. The ideal of course is when they are designed to complement and enhance one other and, in practice, actually do.

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    2. It possibly reflects a different dominant aesthetic from my youth, but a bike doesn't look "proper" without full length mudguards and a Carradice saddlebag. Call it the CTC look.

      A few years ago, when we went to watch the Tour of Britain come ov3er Waddington Fell, I was designated official pie carrier, as I was the only one with a big enough bag.

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    3. Frankly, I do not think my Retrotec would look right without its Pass Stow rack:

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/retrotec-inglis-cycles/9524262743/sizes/z/in/photostream/

      http://www.velocipedesalon.com/forum/f11/retrotec-inglis-24694-2.html#post755050 (half way down and bottom)

      Back pack while riding is fine in cooler dry weather (too cold and you need a coat - coat and back pack combo would be too much for comfortable riding, imo). Temps start creeping up or any sort of humidity and back packs really leave your back clammy doing any sort of riding.

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    4. I'm continually telling my commuting mates to ditch the sweaty backpack and get a decent large saddlebag but to no avail. Up until recently I commuted (65km return) with a Carradice Longflap and bloody loved it. It barely affected the handling even when fully loaded with clothes and beer.
      I'm now on a low-trail rando type bike with an ILE bag the same as pictured above. This is also great, and as the handling is optimised for a load the steering actually works better with all of my stuff on the rack. Surprisingly, the handling is also just fine when unloaded.
      In short: forget about the aesthetic of the bike and embrace the freedom of bike-mounted bags. :)

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  24. Anon: Thanks for the interesting comments. I agree that bikes' handling qualities and feel and speed, or at least the sensation of speed, are the result of many factors, but I do think it's legitimate to ask if long stays, *as an element of a rearward weight biased design,* contribute to good load carrying qualities.

    As for short: I've owned 3 Riv road customs, all built for "twenty six inch" wheels. The '99 and '03 have the same 45 cm stays, but #1 had 42.5 cm stays, and it was made from tout 753 (531 fork of course) and was generally a quicker handling bike. Yet that bike carried rear loads (Fly, good panniers) better than the later ones made from stouter tubing and with longer stays, *and* re-designed to slow the handling a bit (slightly slacker hta).

    OTOH, the later ones handle unladen impeccably -- the are my benchmark for the combination of straight line calmness and "intuitive" turn-in; the first, especially with skinny tires, tended to wander a bit and dive in turns. (Yet, again, it carried loads better, at least with 32+ mm tires -- go figure.)

    So the Motobecane was not a "racing bike"? Was it the francophone equivalent of the UJB sports tourer?

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  25. Glad you found it interesting. That may be the best I can do.

    Simple question first. Early Grand Records were not racing bikes. Ben Lawee knew the race community. He was not interested. They could be raced and they were. Everyone who raced one was anxiously looking for a real race bike. UJBs did not exist yet. Japanese bikes were still Anglophile.

    Rivendell 753, according to Rivendell, was heavy tubes. Your Rivs are all for 26" wheels. Looking at your Moto you are tall enough you don't need a small wheel bike. I can't even imagine what the design criteria were. Transposing frame dimensions directly from 622 wheels to 559 wheels will make gibberish.

    I can't instantly explain why your 42.5 stays worked better than your 45 stays. Instead of speculating on unknowables let me try this progression. Number one. Rigi frame, 35cm stays. Won't go straight, feels somewhat more normal turning. No rack fits. A house key is too much load. Number two. Generic race frame, 40cm stays. Goes straight well, turns well. A rack can be fitted, it will always turn out badly. Preferred way to carry load is jersey pockets. Number three. Grand Record and similar, 45cm stays. Does most things well. Racks work well. Will carry most things most people expect to carry on a bike. Number four. Mid tail versions of longtail bikes, 50cm stays. Does most things well. Will not corner quick enough to attempt racing. Will carry as much weight as you are willing to attempt. Longer stays only necessary for bulkier loads, weight is no problem.

    You had good luck with the Moto and 3 mixed, uneven results with Rivendell. If you ever feel the need for another bike I would suggest basing the design on the Moto. I would suggest Grant is not the designer you want. In the early 90s designing a roadish bike for 559 wheels involved pulling rabbits out of hats. For the later bikes, for a repeat customer, no excuse for not getting it right.

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  26. From the looks of the contents of that saddlebag I fear that those eggs will not be the only thing "scrambled" if that "sports drink" is what I think it is.(cannot read the brand on cap).
    Your reading matter is a tad dry, just as well.
    My main concern however is the lighting system you are using, is there not something more cycle specific , you could be using.

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  27. Do you find the ILE bag carries well *off* the bike as well? I am thinking of the ILE bag but wonder if its functional walking around with a load, using it inside a classroom, etc. Thanks!

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