Front Racks and Elegant Light Placement: Mission Impossible?

In preparation for the eventual acquisition of a handlebar bag, Graham has now been fitted with a front rack (Nitto M-18 from Renaissance Bicycles). I have been planning to purchase a front rack for a while, yet had no idea that there were so many choices and that the whole thing is so complicated.

To determine which front rack your bicycle needs, several things must be taken into consideration:

First off, do you want the rack to mount onto the fork, onto the brakes, or onto the front axle?  Okay, easy enough. The fork on my Sam Hillborne has braze-ons for a rack, so I wanted the type of rack that attaches to them.

But the decisions do not stop there:  If your bicycle's fork has braze-ons,  is their placement compatible with the length and angles of the rack's stays? Some front racks have fixed stays and the placement of the braze-ons on your fork has to match them exactly. Usually this only works when a rack was specifically designed for a particular bicycle, or if a bicycle was custom-built with a specific rack in mind. After browsing rack models until my eyes got blurry and speaking to several bike shops, I was still unable to determine for sure whether any of the racks with fixed stays would fit the Hillborne and did not want to risk ordering them. Thankfully, there are also racks with adjustable stays (like the Nitto M-18 I got) that expand to accommodate the placement of the braze-ons on your fork.

But wait, that is not all: You must also consider your brakes. Even if the rack you choose does not mount onto the brakes themselves, it can be incompatible with a given type of brakes (in particular, cantilevers) due to clearance issues. Don't forget to check up on this!

Exhausted yet? I feel spent just writing about this!  And I haven't even raised the question of aesthetics yet. If you look at the front racks closely, you will notice that some are square (like the Nitto M-18 in my pictures), while others are round. If you have a rear rack installed on the bike, it may be important to you that the two match - in other words, that both are square or both are round. So that is yet another design element to watch for.

Last but not least, there is the question of light placement. Some racks are made with little braze-ons for mounting lights. The Nitto M-18 is not. So we bought a VO light mount - which is basically a small metal bracket with two holes. The size of the holes was not compatible with either the rack's or the headlight's bolts, so we had to drill them out.

With the light now successfully mounted, we are still not sure of this set-up. The bracket is made of relatively thick steel, but nonetheless vibrates slightly side to side (but not up and down) when the bicycle goes over bumps. The Co-Habitant does not think this is anything to worry about, but I am not sure that I agree.

I am also not sure how I feel about the garlands of wiring that now seem to cover the bicycle's front end like ivy. Once the handlebar bag is installed the wires on the rack will not be visible, but what about the section that curls around the shifter cable? All in all, I cannot say that this set-up can be called "elegant" and we are still considering alternatives. One thing I do like, is how far forward the light extends - this placement seems ideal for road illumination. Is it a matter of compromise, or is there a magical solution out there that I am overlooking?


Update: There, we fixed it!

We have successfully re-routed the wiring, so that it now runs straight underneath the rack instead of coiling around it.

We have also titled the bracket down, placing the headlight a little further back, which should reduce the vibrations. I will remove the Nitto sticker when I get around to it. 

"Aerial" view.

The wires are considerably less noticeable this way, and I think the results are good.  Thanks for everybody's comments and suggestions. 


  1. I think the lateral vibration you mention could eventually fatigue the bracket and cause it to fail, although it is difficult to say how long that might take.

    Looking at the photo, the light is far ahead of the steering axis. Perhaps the light could be mounted further down the brace rod, closer to the fork? Or to the place where the rack attaches to the fork?

    Could use another of those clamps which it is already attached to, or a "P" clamp (stainless steel padded with vinyl) available from a hardware store.

    "P" clamps are often used for mounting racks on older mountain bikes which lack the braze-on mounts.

    You could possibly even get a "P" clamp in a size to clamp around the fork itself.

  2. Why not a Minoura Besso on this bike?

  3. Curious, why a front rack before a rear rack? Do you need easy access to what you're carrying while riding?

  4. A quick question: after your post on how much better the Pashley performed after you removed the front basket, why are you weighing down the front of this one with a front rack and handlebar bag? I realize they're different bikes and all, but am curious nevertheless.

  5. How about taking some matching bar tape and covering the wiring with that? You wouldn't have to cover the entire rack, just the outer sides.

  6. i agree with MDI about the vibration-- not much of an issue, and largely unavoidable with a tang-like mount like that. the bracket itself is strong and will not fatigue from minor vibration.

    of course, the first thought i had was to mount the light directly to the fender, like on the old french constructeur bikes. this would require a custom bracket. but i don't think this is possible with this rack, because i see that the nitto M18 does not have a fender attachment point (i wonder why... the M12 does) to further secure the fender. without an extra attachment point, the front of the fender is wobbly and can't support the light.

    wait, i partially take that back. i see that the M18 has an adjustable fork crown mount. you can create a fender attachment point from one of those bolts (using an aluminum spacer). see these pics:

    even though the bolt on the M18 is set back a bit, it can reinforce the front of the fender enough to support a headlight.

    i hear you on the wiring. my first thought is that a front-mount bag will sit on the rack, and rub on the wiring. i would at least have routed them differently-- perhaps down the rack stay, a more direct route to the dynamo, and away from the surface where a bag will make contact. not an elegant solution, but a more functional one.

    the ultimate solution would be to drill entry and exit holes in the rack (again, like the french constructeurs did), which is hollow tubular steel. the wiring can enter close to the headlight, and exit at the rear. it would be a very simple DIY to do. and no, the holes wouldn't significantly weaken the rack, structurally. the stays provide most of the support strength.

  7. steve: i agree! mount the light to the right of the stay bolt. and if not the minoura, then this mount:


  8. Jason - The reasoning is that I want both a saddlebag and a handlebar bag on the bike for long distance trips, because I have extensive camera equipment. Saddlebags can be attached without racks, but handlebar bags cannot (at least not in a way that does not interfere with steering).

    Richard - Heh. My Pashley basket was at least twice as wide and twice as tall as even the largest of handlebar bags out there. It was also mounted on very flimsy hardware that hung mostly off of the handlebars.

  9. Drilling the rack and routing the wire through that is a nice idea. Maybe we could do that, but I'd have to cut the wires (again) and re-crimp everything. Uh.

    Maybe I should've used zip-ties instead of coiling the black cable around the nice silver shifter cable. I suppose I can do that without too much trouble. I could also zip-tie the wire under the rack itself instead of coiling. Coiled wire didn't look good around the rack stay, but maybe zip-tied wire will.

    As far as mounting the light on the fork vs rack and where and so on, this was an aesthetic choice. I would also have gone for the fork eyelet. Would've simplified the wiring quite a bit!

  10. MDI - Aesthetic choice? I thought it was a visibility issue and I thought you agreed. I think lights look nice on the fork braze-ons, but then the headlight beam is not as visible from the other side as when it is closer to the front. Correct me if I am wrong here.

    As for ziptying in a straight line under the rack or behind the stay, I am all for it. I think the coiling is what makes everything overly prominent.

  11. I think my liking of coiled wire got the best of me. Perhaps we shall re-do the portion of the wire that runs along the top of the rack and zip-tie it underneath the rack.

    I'll just need to buy another truck-load of dynamo wire and more crimps...

    I should thank Harris Cyclery here, these guys are awesome when it comes to anything electrical/dynamo stuff like that.

  12. MDI-- i think crimping is fine during the trial and error phase of wire routing/placement, but once you and velouria can agree on a plan :-), i would solder and shrink wrap all splice work.

  13. somervillain -- one thing you'll have to recall with most constructeur bikes is that the fenders that they worked with were mostly lightweight stainless steel. I can't quite tell what fenders are on Graham but if they're aluminum, I'd think twice about mounting anything to them. I've had rear Honjo fenders that have, over time, sheared off their rear tips from the drill hole where I've mounted Spanninga tail lights so I'd suspect that you'd get similar fatigue with mounting lights on the front fender.

  14. Thanks? : )
    And I assure you this is even funnier when played out in person. I think harris Cyclery must think of us as a lunatic circus act by now. In a good way of course.

  15. Sorry to say, but I very much dislike this setup for the headlight. :(

  16. There is a magic solution, via Renee Herse.

    A headset that incorporates electrical contacts and insulates the frame from the conductors, allowing internal routing from the dyno-hub to the front and rear lights.

    I would like to see a brake cable housing that incorporated built-in coaxial conductors, with a self-terminating clip-on ferrule.

    (of course, this would allow brake levers to integrate light switches.... !)


  17. chris, you are right in that aluminum fenders would experience more stress than SS, but that's also why i said this is only possible if the fender is fortified by additional support points farther forward of the fork crown. given the design of the M18 rack, i don't know if this is possible. there's a whole lot of fender in underneath that rack, and it needs support. i don't know how heavy the headlight is compared with the old constructeur aluminum-shelled headlights, but it's common to see taillights mounted to aluminum fenders. if (and IF being the key word) the front fender can be supported close to the leading edge, then it should have no problem supporting a headlight. but, i don't think that's possible with this rack.

  18. +1 at Cris- my aluminum fluted VO fenders sheared off at the fender bridge after a year.

    I am hung up on light symmetry- but fork crown mounted lights are tough to make work without interfering with the bag or basket (or being blocked when you have too much stuff in a basket)
    I finally found a pretty good setup I think on Robert. Elton at Harris found me a 1" x 1/4" aluminum strut that was about 12" long and had a 90 degree twist at the end ( I think it was spare rack hardware). After a bit of fabrication,I fastened the flat part to the underside of the rack in two places, and then fastened the light to the twisted end so that it was facing forward correctly. It was stout enough that I didn't worry about it shearing off. I had a couple of fork crown brackets fail due to vibration, but they're pretty crappy metal.

    Small front racks that aren't designed for big touring panniers are tough to find here. I have three now- one that I brought over on Robert from Italy, and had to have welded together after it finally fatigued and failed. I bought a basket support from a place in England- it would work with the rod brake bikes, but I decided that a front basket didn't work with the DL-1's lines. And then I have Gilbert's "eyes" rack.

  19. I was wondering about aluminum cracking from all the holes. There isn't a good way to mount a traditional tail light except on the fender. The light we are using is very... light. The front light is, uh, not heavy also, but I'd think twice about fender mounting it because it would have vertical vibration that could interfere with riding.

    We re-did the wiring and angled the light down some. Perhaps this is prettier and even more stable.

  20. chris (and velouria): another thought for mounting the headlight directly on the front of the fender: let's take yet another lesson from the constructeurs, and add a second set of fender stays. traditionally, the front fender gets only one set, which supports the rear of the fender. many french bikes with really long extending front fenders had a second set which extended up and forward, and attached to the front edge of the fender. this would provide a robust support for a headlight, even on an aluminum fender.

  21. sorry for the post whoring in this discussion, but here's an example of a front fender with two sets of stays:

    regarding stress cracks and shearing of aluminum fenders, this is something that happens when the fenders are installed with stress at the points of attachment. if a fender has to be bent or tugged or "jammed" to fit at an attachment point, there will be a perpetual stress point, which can eventually lead to cracking or shearing. ways to minimize this are: having as many points of attachment as possible, distributing the load of each attachment point by using brackets with large areas (look at any JP weigle bike for examples of this), and using shock-absorbing washers between the fenders and the points of attachment (leather or rubber washers).

  22. Herzog - What about after the de-coiling?

    Re installing a headlight onto the fender - While it would look spectacular, I agree that it's a risky idea when lightweight modern aluminum fenders are involved. Sigh.

  23. It's not the coiling that bothers me. It's just that the light looks "crooked" and "out of place" and the mounting bracket has too much "presence." I hate myself for being uniformly negative about this setup, but I just can't stand perfection being compromised.

  24. Ignore the wires but look at where the light mounts in this picture:

    That's the nitto mini front rack:

    and it should fit nicely on the sam.

    then you get the light mount on the front, centered over the tire rather than on the right side where the wheel can cast a shadow on to the road.

  25. herzog - I don't mind you being negative, everyone is entitled to their own aesthetic preferences. I am just trying to see it through your eyes and understand what looks "off". To me the updated set-up looks pretty good. Later on we can fashion a more elegant bracket ourselves.

    skvidal - For some reason, when a rack is involved I like the headlight to be on the side and not up front. But your se-up looks good!

  26. since we're all wearing our hearts on our sleeves here , i'll add that i think the VO randonneur front rack is a nicer overall rack than the nitto M18, since it has no moving parts and adjusters to clutter it up. it has cleaner lines. i think it fits to the same fork-mounted eyelets, no? but the real pertinent thing about it for the sake of this thread is that it has four eyelets for lots of light mounting options. and i think it has a fender attachment point as well, like the nitto M12.

    i also tend to agree with velouria, in that if you are going to mount a light on the rack and not the fender, offset to the side looks best. that's how i did it on my porteur. but i also agree with herzog in that the bracket tends to call attention to itself. the light is a bit too forward of the rack. i'm beginning to think that from a strictly aesthetic perspective (and not from a strictly functional one), it would look best with that bracket, but attached to the fork eyelet. granted, the light beam might not be as optimal.

  27. This might be a perfect time to get Red Barn involved, and fabricate a shorter, more elegantly shaped, and properly etched mount for the headlight!

    Otherwise, I like it as arranged, and offset suits my tastes as well. Symmetry is not strictly necessary. It's not as wide as a car, or even a motorcycle, after all.

    The coiled wire setup made me think of chafed insulation and short circuits, too, but you've fixed it.

    Corey K

  28. What is the bracket was slightly "L" shaped so that the light itself would be further back and a bit more tucked-in under the front of the rack?

  29. We would love a filigree engraved s-curved bracket with bicycling statues acid etched on the back. I'll contact Red Barn right away... :)

  30. Velouria,
    fair enough on wanting it off to one side. I wasn't judging it based on how it looked but how well the light worked in the position.
    On our tandem where I have a nitto campee front rack - the off to one side mount ends catching reflections off of the rim itself and producing some odd light effects when moving.

  31. As my mother used to say, "let this be the worst problem you have today."

  32. I like your solution. I wouldn't have noticed the wires if you hadn't mentioned them.

    As much as I like the way your light is placed, my favorite way of mounting a headlight is still at the front of the fender. The French bikes--from Rene Herse all the way down to entry-level Peugeots--used to do it that way. Some English bike makers did it that way, too. Of course, it's only possible with a dynamo-powered headlight, as the weight of a battery-operated light would cause terrible swaying and vibrations.

  33. That untrimmed zip tie end on the top of your right fork leg looks dangerously close to ripping your sidewall apart

  34. Anon--thanks for pointing it out.

    I re-checked and the zip tie only looks close to the sidewall. The fender's edge is actually between it and the rubber. There is *a lot* of clearance with these fenders thanks to the Riv fork, even though we have fat Grand Bois on it.

  35. Nice bike. I have a very similar Rivendell Hillborne and find it a very comfortable all around ride. What size and type of tires and fenders are you using? I have Panaracer Pasela 700x37 and Rivendell supplied SKS fenders and find the fit a bit tight. It doesn't rub, but gravel gets picked up by the tires and scrapes the underside of the fenders. Your tires look larger, so I expect they would provide an even more comfortable ride than my Paselas.

    Sorry for being a little off topic :).


  36. Real late comer to this post but it's the only one I can find relating to finding a front rack for the Hillborne. Did you find out if a Tubus Ergo Lowrider Front Rack would fit? I have took the risk and ordered one of them. I tried the Tara and it did not fit but the Ergo looks like it has more options.

  37. Hi,
    Do you have some idea of the weight limit on the M18 rack? What are your thoughts on the rack after all this time, if you still use it?

    Thanks :-)

  38. Ben's Cycle gives the weight limit as 8kg which is roughly 17lbs:


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