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  1. #1
    Old Skeptic stronglight's Avatar
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    Bruce Gordon Racks?

    I'd like to hear opinions of Bruce Gordon's "standard" add-on aftermarket racks. I suppose they are well designed, well made, strong, but are they really worth the nearly $200 he charges for each?

    They are not intended to be custom racks and meant to fit a particular bike, so it seems that for the amount of money they are not notably superior to perhaps a TUBUS rack - built with the same materials, made for the same purposes, and with an equally respected heritage. However the Gordon racks are often cited as being the best.

    I know that his basic, standard model, budget touring bikes, are the ones mainly intended to use these racks, and those bikes are what keeps him fed (and not the fancy custom bikes which he also builds in small numbers).

    But, for another bike, by another builder, do these racks seem like a sensible or justifiable purchase? I'm honestly not intending to criticize Bruce at all, just very interested in hearing any opinions.

    Also, does anyone know of someone who builds custom racks made to measure for an existing bike... uh... perhaps even for a reasonable cost?

    Thanks,
    Bob

  2. #2
    Senior Member foamy's Avatar
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    BG racks are, I think, semi-custom. I went through his web site quite a few times and if you are ordering racks, you still have to send him measurements. I believe that on his web site it states that they are fully adjustable. I know for sure that Bilenky builds custom racks that are tough and great to look at. Robert Beckman, of course, makes custom racks and on his web site, when you order panniers, I believe he only mentions his own, BG's and Bilenky's for fitting purposes. I may be wrong there—there may be another one or two. At any rate, the rub is, they're all relatively expensive. I'm sure there are others. I went with Tubus because they're lighter (depending on the model), mass produced (price), hollow chromoly tubing and approach (approach, I say) the same level of quality. That and they are very adjustable, the rear racks anyway. The Tara (front) have three holes to use to level the pannier hanger bar. I would have preferred something made in country, but not at twice the price.

    Back to the BG's: I've never heard an unkind word about his racks. As far as I know, they're the high-water mark. If you have the cash and inclination, I'd go for 'em. I like the look and function of his new panniers too. But again, heavy paper.
    Last edited by foamy; 01-19-08 at 10:20 AM.
    None.

  3. #3
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by stronglight View Post
    ...Also, does anyone know of someone who builds custom racks made to measure for an existing bike... uh... perhaps even for a reasonable cost?

    Thanks,
    Bob
    If you want custom racks at a reasonable cost, you might consider making them yourself.

    Seriously, it isn't that hard.

    And you can find help on the web.

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    Racks are underestimated for what goes into them. I did a front rack that is a little more complex than the BG, but I think it still looks sleek, and not busy. 27 joints, 10 bends, 2 radiuses, etc... You could make several frames for that effort (forks are another mater and have some expensive bits). The materials are quite expensive, and the finishing is expensive. Basically you have something a lot more expensive and customized than a Surly LHT frame (tubing is about 10 bucks in the country of origin for the LHT). but people don't see the value.

    I think the simplicity, strength, and design of the BG racks is tops, but the problem there is that bags, racks and frames should be an integrated whole. And they should certainly fit properly. Most people shelling out for good gear, look for the best bike, bags, racks, and stuff they can afford, and then they take a lot of straps and a big wrench and hammer and put them together. Then if they want to upgrade they buy "better" stuff and go through the same process. My advice is to go through this process only once. If you want to get to the next level, don't buy "better" stuff, that still isn't integrated, work on integration.

    It's really easy with a toolkit, say. Maybe the first time out you didn't have a few things you needed, and some of your tools were overkill. You blend together what you need. I know this is obvious. It's just that it gets a lot more expensive with bags racks and bikes.

    So I guess my point is that if you feel the BG racks are really going to blend your bags and bike go for it. It is pretty unlikely they will do that with any old stuff you have. And even if they do, if your bike or bags aren't finalized then you run the risk of the next purchase making the racks awkward.

    I know with my gear the only option was custom, and I could only afford to do that myself. Actually it is probably extremely expensive to do this stuff for yourself. My raw materials were over 100 bucks for the front rack. The only way it pans out is that it displaced some other expensive hobby I might have, and over a longer period of time, and for more family members it might save money. Though even there, not over off the rack stuff.

    Slightly OT, what I am hoping to do is buy a "grupo" for each of my kids and then just upgrade their frames. The thought is to make something Bike Friday like that they could use as a commuter, college bike, world tourer. It would have quality components, and of course a custom 4130 frame like the BF. The cost should be less over time than 3 x sizes Wal-Mart bikes. So far only one of my kids is old enough for the 20 inch wheels, and of course, a neighbour gave her a surplus essentially new 26 inch comfort type bike with Shimano components. Dang! there goes the profit margin.

  5. #5
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by stronglight View Post
    I'd like to hear opinions of Bruce Gordon's "standard" add-on aftermarket racks. I suppose they are well designed, well made, strong, but are they really worth the nearly $200 he charges for each?

    They are not intended to be custom racks and meant to fit a particular bike, so it seems that for the amount of money they are not notably superior to perhaps a TUBUS rack - built with the same materials, made for the same purposes, and with an equally respected heritage. However the Gordon racks are often cited as being the best.

    I know that his basic, standard model, budget touring bikes, are the ones mainly intended to use these racks, and those bikes are what keeps him fed (and not the fancy custom bikes which he also builds in small numbers).

    But, for another bike, by another builder, do these racks seem like a sensible or justifiable purchase? I'm honestly not intending to criticize Bruce at all, just very interested in hearing any opinions.

    Also, does anyone know of someone who builds custom racks made to measure for an existing bike... uh... perhaps even for a reasonable cost?

    Thanks,
    Bob
    It's possible to build your own racks for a reasonable cost. If you search the web, you can find examples.

    *****
    I have both Tubus and BG racks; in case it is of interest, here are some observations:

    The BG racks are works of art. The finish is much better than Tubus.

    The Tubus racks are well made and functional, but not really in the same league as the BG racks.

    Gordon studied art and sculpture before working with Albert Eisentraut (a gifted framebuilder -- "an artist whose medium is bicycle frames"). He (BG) has won some international competitions for his designs. You can see pictures on the web of some of these.

    *****
    Robert Beckman used to have you send your frame to him, so the racks could be precisely custom fitted. He is a radical perfectionist in his builds.

    "Robert Beckman is the go-to guy if you need panniers & racks. His products display amazing build quality and attention to detail. We have a set of his Expedition panniers and Sakkit rack that we bought in '95 that have been used on many long duration & backcountry MTB tours and they still look like new (once you wipe the mud off of them.)."

    http://www.coinet.com/~beckman/


    *****
    Rivendell carries some excellent steel racks. Surly has steel racks that are well made.

    Jandd Expedition racks are well priced, and very sturdy. They are well covered by warranty. I spoke with the designer, and he said that they had never seen one break. They are a lot sturdier than most aluminum racks. For the vast majority of people, they are more than strong enough.

    *****
    To your question, "But, for another bike, by another builder, do these racks seem like a sensible or justifiable purchase? I'm honestly not intending to criticize Bruce at all, just very interested in hearing any opinions....":

    "Sensible or justifiable" will depend greatly on you and your circumstances. And your tastes.

    If you want to save quite a bit of money, you might consider the Jandd racks.

    If you want to save less money, one of the other steel racks might be a good alternative.

    If you value the finish and build, BG might be worth it.

    If you value what they offer, Beckman's racks might be the ticket.

    *****
    I'm not trying not to answer your question more specifically -- it's just that answers to these sorts of questions really do depend on individuals and their preferences, finances, priorities, applications, tastes, values, etc.....

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    "It's possible to build your own racks for a reasonable cost. If you search the web, you can find examples."

    I've made cheaper nicer racks, myself, but if you are talking 4130, you are talking 12-20 feet of 4130/rack, at about 2.50-3 dollars a foot (my landed cost was closer to 5 bucks a foot). And I got charged 40 bucks for the powder coating, which was sorta a bro deal. That doesn't count gas, postage, fuel, flux, sandpaper, tooling, jigs, bender, tabbing, hardware, etc...

    Keep in mind that if you are a business all of those prices get marked up (true cost to be the customer's source), And a profit gets charged on top of them.

    I have often wondered whether the exact shape of the gordon racks, which are a little small (I've made knock-offs), actually comes from the 4' postal maximum. Hard to believe in socal where materials are prety easy to come by, but certainly where I live buidling larger more true world sizes comes at a material wastage cost.

  7. #7
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by stronglight View Post
    ...so it seems that for the amount of money they are not notably superior to perhaps a TUBUS rack....
    Most Tubus and Ortlieb products, although they are often thought to be 'German', are actually made in Asia.

    Gordon's racks are hand-made in Petaluma.

    *****
    The Jandd Expedition racks hold up incredibly well. I've used them as well, with very heavy loads and under rough conditions, for years, without problems. They also have less flex and better designs than most of the steel racks.

    If they're covered by a good warranty [which they are], from a good company [which Jandd is], and if they are very unlikely to let you down in the first place [which is true], have great design [they do], and are reasonably priced and sometimes available at a discount [which they are], and you value saving money here [which you seem to], why not at least consider them?
    Last edited by Niles H.; 01-19-08 at 04:44 PM.

  8. #8
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    "It's possible to build your own racks for a reasonable cost. If you search the web, you can find examples."

    I've made cheaper nicer racks, myself, but if you are talking 4130, you are talking 12-20 feet of 4130/rack, at about 2.50-3 dollars a foot (my landed cost was closer to 5 bucks a foot). And I got charged 40 bucks for the powder coating, which was sorta a bro deal. That doesn't count gas, postage, fuel, flux, sandpaper, tooling, jigs, bender, tabbing, hardware, etc...
    I had a friend who made custom racks for a while. It is hugely expensive and time consuming unless you have all the tools/materials available to you AND you enjoy the process of fabrication. Given your questions it doesn't sound like that's you.

    I've got Tubus, old Man Mountain and Surly racks. They are all good and I'd tour on any of them. The Tubus in particular stands out as a very stiff and quite light design. Paired with some Ortlieb or Arkel panniers they will carry your gear reliably where ever you care to go.

    Although custom has some potential advantages my own experiences and reports on the net of experiences with Beckman and BG highlight that there are also some downsides in terms of time/cost and miscommunication/differing expectations. With a Tubus rack you choose amongst a few models and get a what you expect. With a custom rack you can specify anything you want and you'll get something between what you think you asked for and what the builder understood. The more effort spent on aligning your vision and the builder's understanding the better.
    safe riding - Vik
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  9. #9
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niles H. View Post
    Most Tubus and Ortlieb products, although they are often thought to be 'German', are actually made in Asia.
    Quote from Ortlieb's site:

    "All products of our high frequency welding line are produced at our headquarters in Heilsbronn. All ORTLIEB products are backed by a 5 year warranty against defects in material and manufacturing."

    This refers to all their bike panniers, bike bags and messenger bags.

    Quote from Tubus' site:

    "The tube carriers are produced by our subsidiary tubus China Lt D in Hangzhou, near Shanghai. About 65 workers produce all flexing and welding parts there, strictly following German maintenance of industrial health and safety standards and working hour regulations. We follow the principle of equality of all our staff, no matter in which country or department they are employed. Each of our Chinese co-workers has a similar health-, accident- and pensions-insurance as their colleagues in Germany. We employ - if possible - only local workers, who are integrated in local social networks through their families.
    Of course our Chinese colleagues earn nominally less than their German co-workers, but in both countries the salaries are higher than the standard tariffs and all staff members are involved in the companies success!
    "

    I'm glad both companies put this information on their websites.
    safe riding - Vik
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  10. #10
    eternalvoyage
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    Making your own racks *can* be expensive, but it need not be.

    The tools used by someone who is going into production are far more expensive than those needed if you are just making one (or some other small number of racks) for your own use.

    Obviously it depends in large part on you and your interest in such projects.

  11. #11
    40 yrs bike touring
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    Bruce Gordon racks-front Mtn and rear have been on all of my touring bikes since I first found them in 1985 along with the Robert Beckman Designs/Needle Works Panniers designed to work with the BG racks.
    I had tried a wide variety of other racks and panniers over the previous 15 years and found these to be so much better than the Blackburn and other racks that I tried. I had broken many of these earlier racks once at 5000meters/16500 ft in the Andes of Equador. That was when I started looking for an effective replacement rack.

    Better because the racks and panniers become an immovable extension of the bike so there is no movement of the panniers and racks to hinder bike handling and control.

    The first bike I outfitted with the BG racks was a Fat Chance Mtn bike. I used the standard BG rear rack and the high Front Mtn Rack. No custom fitting needed. I still have the bike and racks and panniers. I then added the same racks to our Fat Chance Mtn Tandem I ordered in 1988 and continue to ride and tour on.
    And finally in 1989 I drank the full BG Kool-Aid and bought a custom version of his Ti RockNRoad bike and ordered the same rack setup. This remains after almost twenty years my main and preferred all around and loaded touring bike. The BG racks and Beckman panniers and the BG RNR have made touring on and off road an even more wonderful experience including the Divide Ride.

  12. #12
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by vik View Post
    Quote from Ortlieb's site:

    "All products of our high frequency welding line are produced at our headquarters in Heilsbronn. All ORTLIEB products are backed by a 5 year warranty against defects in material and manufacturing."

    This refers to all their bike panniers, bike bags and messenger bags.

    Quote from Tubus' site:

    "The tube carriers are produced by our subsidiary tubus China Lt D in Hangzhou, near Shanghai. About 65 workers produce all flexing and welding parts there, strictly following German maintenance of industrial health and safety standards and working hour regulations. We follow the principle of equality of all our staff, no matter in which country or department they are employed. Each of our Chinese co-workers has a similar health-, accident- and pensions-insurance as their colleagues in Germany. We employ - if possible - only local workers, who are integrated in local social networks through their families.
    Of course our Chinese colleagues earn nominally less than their German co-workers, but in both countries the salaries are higher than the standard tariffs and all staff members are involved in the companies success!"

    I'm glad both companies put this information on their websites.
    That may or may not apply to all of their panniers and other products, and I have been told by an Ortlieb employee that some of their panniers are made in Asia -- and that production has moved more and more to Asia.

    The quality, in my experience, of products that were once manufactured in Germany or Japan, and then manufactured in other parts of Asia, is often not the same.

    The Tubus racks are well made, but if one compares them directly with Gordon's, there is a noticeable difference in quality of construction and finish.
    Last edited by Niles H.; 01-19-08 at 05:01 PM.

  13. #13
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    I have two Burley Piccolo Moose (rear) racks and two Bruce Gordon's Lowrider racks. Since I haven't seen the Tubus except in pictures, I can't compare the finish. I can say, however, that Bruce Gordon's paint stays on the rack whereas the Piccolo looses paint like mad.

    In terms of design, I find the design of Bruce Gordon's Lowrider to be better than that of Tubus.

    One Tubus model prefers holes through the fork and the other requires it – my tandem had only threaded holes on the outside. I'm not fond of the independent sides of the Tubus Duo, and I figured I could easily scrape some skin on the open ends of the Tara rack, because the same bikes are used both for touring and commuting/rides in the city.

    Bruce Gordon uses a closed trapeze, the bottom part is wide enough to attach safely the bottom hook of my panniers (without slipping), it's all welded in one piece, and a nice add-on, there is a threaded hole to attach fenders struts directly on the rack. This makes the front fender much more stable... and safer too.


    P.S. I bought the Bruce Gordon's because on my first touring trip with the tandem, I came back with a cracked hoop near the bolt, a crack that I didn't find until I decided to remove completely the rack to check why it was so wobbly.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

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    "Making your own racks *can* be expensive, but it need not be.

    The tools used by someone who is going into production are far more expensive than those needed if you are just making one (or some other small number of racks) for your own use."

    Your right in the sense that 100 isn't much compared to 400 and up for the same thing from a custom fabricator like Beckman. I just think a lot of people don't understand how high the real costs are. None of my refered to costs are for production, but the average highly invoolved craftsman is still unlikely to have all the stuff required to make a rack. Even few frambuilders have the bending gear. I winged the bending gear using sheeves for the dies, but without a lot of expensive experience on a JD2 bender I probably wouldn't have thought of that. I also had extra sheeves and the epoxy necesarry to fit them only because I build boats. A more direct route would have been a metalworking lathe, Which I currently have 5 of, though I didn't at the time I started on the rack prokect. I still think the point stands that if a short list of materials, well short of the actual cost, nothing in for tools, runs more than a tubus or surly nice rack, you are into an expensive option, even if it is cheaper than a 500 dollar rack.

    Like Michel, going to the trouble has solved previous problems I had, that in some cases were dangerous. Still there probably aren't too many MAPP brazing amateurs who set out on their first tour with the knowledge that their home solution will actually hold together, despite their best efforts.

  15. #15
    Acetone Man
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    My 0.02 on owning a Bruce Gordon mountain bike front rack (the one with the top shelf and the wedge shape):

    Very sturdy design, and the top shelf is most welcome as is the clever way the wedge design moves the load closer to the steering axis to preserve stability. I can't ride hands off with loaded panniers in front but I don't know if you can do that with low riders either. What is not appreciated about this rack is the less than well thought out attachment to the fork blades. This rack was designed for rigid fork mountain bikes without mid fork brazeons, and the intended attachment method is as primitive as a pair of P-clamps and a pair of very convolutedly bent stainless steel stays. P-clamps are sucky enough in smaller diameters, but the only ones I could find large enough to fit my oversized fork blades (rather common in MTBs...) were absolutely horrid, so as much as I can appreciate Bruce Gordon's attention to build quality and innovative ideas, he gets a big fat F minus for engineering sensibility.

    Thusly, I had to stoner engineer my own solution for this rack, which involves a pair of corner angle pieces and a hose clamp on each side. Originally I had the angle bolted on to the hose clamp first with some extra bits, but that was a bear to set up and didn't add any strength, so now the mount is just held on to the fork by the friction of the hose clamp itself. Unbelievably, after all that, my front rack STILL has more sway than my Blackburn Expedition in back, which is completely and utterly solid. The corner angle I used was galvanized because all I had to bend it with was pliers; had I a vise I could have used stainless which would have been much stiffer. The rack also has a set of threads halfway down the rear stay, so when I'm not being lazy, I can try to get something down there too and finally nip this problem in the bud.

    I got my rack for $70 on craigslist, and I wanted a top platform, so I'm pretty happy with my rack. But at full price, and especially if you don't need a shelf, the Tubus is probably a better value. Their mounting hardware for all forks, including those without brazeons, is legit. Best racks at any price are probably Thorns, but I think their fronts only work with their own frames, which are $$$.

    Last edited by Thasiet; 01-20-08 at 06:06 PM.

  16. #16
    Old Skeptic stronglight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thasiet View Post
    ... I had to stoner engineer my own solution for this rack, which involves a pair of corner angle pieces and a hose clamp on each side...
    Bravo on the engineering solution.

    One thing you could try would be to drill and tap the fork - or even add water-bottle bosses as more solid mounts. These can be simple threaded "Riv-nuts" which many companies [e.g. Cannondale] often use to very cheaply and easily fit their frames with bottle cage or rack bosses. They just press in, basically like pop rivits. The tools are expensive, but the technology is simple, and many bike shops have the tools (and the threaded rivits) for effecting repairs or adding more bosses to bikes.

    Then you could use simple 1/4" or 3/8" aluminum tubing cut to length, as spacers to center the rack. (you can usually find the tubing at a local hardware store in 1 to 3 footh lengths for only a buck or two. And then use long-ish 5mm stainless bolts. to anchor the rack. This "might" offer a more rigid mount... but your setup makes sense to me too.

    Yeah, I'm forever rigging bikes to hold things (like alloy fenders) solidly in place. And older bikes, especially non-touring bikes fron the 70s, never had enough of even the most simple, practical, useful fittings - anywhere on the bike.


    FYI... These plastic spacers are also easy to find at the big Home Centers.
    Usually available in just 1/4" 1/2" or 3/4" lengths.
    These particular ones are a perfect fit for 5 mm bolts.


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    Bruce Gordon and Robert Beckman Equipment

    I think both guys are top shelf. Their career paths crossed way back when. My Beckman Sakkit tourer ran BG panniers which are fantastic but will shortly appear on Ebay along with an extra set of Beckman panniers. Attached are new photos of my Sakkit with Beckman racks. There are so few photos available so enjoy.

    More are here. http://www.wooljersey.com/gallery/v/...ikes/album153/
    Attached Files Attached Files

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    Quote Originally Posted by Niles H. View Post
    The Jandd Expedition racks hold up incredibly well. I've used them as well, with very heavy loads and under rough conditions, for years, without problems. They also have less flex and better designs than most of the steel racks.

    If they're covered by a good warranty [which they are], from a good company [which Jandd is], and if they are very unlikely to let you down in the first place [which is true], have great design [they do], and are reasonably priced and sometimes available at a discount [which they are], and you value saving money here [which you seem to], why not at least consider them?
    I'll second the above sentiments. I've been using Jandd Extreme front rack and the Expedition rear for years. I've actually been looking for an excuse to upgrade the racks for a few years-- I really like the Surly Nice racks, and the Tubus lines-- but I just can't justify it. The Jandd just do their job too well.

    I've done much touring on these racks. There's not much to say, except I never thought much about the racks the whole time. That's about the highest compliment a set of touring racks can get.

    Probably more telling, though, is all the grocery shopping I've done with them over the years. I live more than ten miles from a good supermarket, and I've often made the long ride with *very* heavy loads on the front and rear. Canned goods, liquids, and other heavy items have made for much heavier loads than on tour. Jandd claims a 25 lb. limit for the front and 50 lb. for the rear. I've carried much more weight than this, many times. Some of the ride is over bad roads, or offroad. Despite all of this, I've had no trouble with the racks whatsoever.

    The front rack, the Extreme, is especially good. I like the solid top shelf. The shelf makes the rack very stiff. As a nice bonus, the solid metal helps augment the front fender in wet conditions, as it extends out much further over the top of the front wheel than the fender.

    No matter how heavy the load on the front, there is *no* flex whatsoever. There's sometimes a bit of flex on the rear, but only with a very heavy load, and only when I stand and pedal.

    The Jandd are underrated, I think. They really ought to be taken seriously by most tourists who are considering Tubus, Surly, or any of the custom racks. They're more than enough rack for anyone doing loaded touring on paved roads. I'd even use them offroad. And they're a lot cheaper than the high-end steel choices.

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    Bruce does not post the weight of his racks on his website, to his detriment IMHO. I have his racks, as well as racks from Tubus, Surly and an assortment of no-name aluminum rod racks (what, doesn't everyone at BF have more than one bike?). I have Bruce's extended rear rack, with the 15" platform; this rack is longer and wider than the Cargo, but it's also considerably lighter. (I can't give you exact weights because I don't have a scale that would be sensitive enough for the calibrations. Well, I do, but my wife would have a fit if I used the baby scale to weigh some bike racks. ) I also like how the BG racks have fender mounts on them that allow you to really cut down the length of the fender stays. Not only does this save a little weight but more importantly it really makes for a very rigid setup for the fenders.

    In comparing front racks, I at first thought I'd like the utility of a platform on the front of the bike, so I used a Surly Nice rack for awhile. Very flexible to attach to pretty much any bike (except one with a suspension fork), and it seems pretty sturdy (kinda like those bull bars you see on the front of SUVs), but in practice I found I never used the platform, so I switched it out for a BG lowrider. I think that switch alone shave a couple of pounds off the weight of the bike. (The Surly racks are notoriously heavy.)

    As far as the integrated system of racks and panniers, Bruce was in between pannier suppliers when I got his racks, but I have had no problems using panniers from REI (with the R-K klickfix mounting system) or Arkel (their newer 'cam-lock' mounting system)--no slipping, no shifting, no unplanned release of panniers. I haven't tried Ortlieb bags, but I don't see why those wouldn't fit as well.

    This isn't to say there aren't other good options out there, but the OP wanted to know the benefits of the BG racks. As others have noted, my understanding is that Bruce makes his racks in different sizes to accommodate different bikes, so while they may not be 'full custom' they should still fit your bike like they were. Think of it like tailored clothing: you can get a made-to-measure suit if you want, but off-the-rack at Bloomingdale's with alterations will look good, fit pretty darn well and be a lot less of a bother.

  20. #20
    Senior Member jcbryan's Avatar
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    I've got a BG and it's by far the best I've abused to date! Get and forget about worrying about your rack!

    Best, John

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