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I frequently commute with a backpack on my '90s steel race bike, and encounter the usual issues of sweaty back and tired shoulders. The riding position is also not perfect for carrying a backpack on my back.

I don't want to switch to another bike, so I want to add a front rack to this one. However, I am afraid the fork would snap, as the bike was never designed for a rack, but to be as lightweight as possible. The tubing is Tange cro-moly (some promo material I found on the internet calls it "Tange Champion").

There are no mount points of course, so I am considering a rack that mounts at the brake hole on the top, and to the wheel axle on the bottom.

Is this idea fairly safe? If so, how much weight would be OK to add to the fork (combined rack + backpack)? My backpack is usually ~3kg, and racks themselves weigh from ~300g (narrow racks with thin tubes) to ~1.5kg (porteur-style racks). I am fairly lightweight myself, ~65kg.

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  • I had some experience commuting with a laptop backpack and a rear mounted rack. Indeed, placing the backpack in the rack was more comfortable, specially for longer commutes, but it was somewhat cumbersome to securely attach the backpack every time, both in terms of securely attaching it and managing the shoulder straps. That is to say, a plastic basket permanently attached to the rack completely eliminated these issues. With the basket in place, I just throw the backpack in there and slide a bungee cord over it, just in case.
    – Jahaziel
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 15:48
  • Consider a basket that is of a similar size to your backpack, but think if your'e going to place it horizontally, vertically or even vertically and longitudinally (sideways). I used a basket that allowed me to place the backpack flat on the bottom, because the basket was also used for groceries and deliveries. But for a front rack, a basket that holds the backpack vertical and sideways would be more streamlined and less likely to interfere with drop handlebars.
    – Jahaziel
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 15:52

3 Answers 3

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I would have no concern about the fork's ability to carry this load.

Also, consider this: nearly all the weight is going to be transmitted directly to the axle, bypassing the fork entirely. The mount at the brake will mostly just stabilize the rack as it sits on your axles.

Of course, this will be especially annoying when you get a flat.

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  • Thank you! Was kinda assuming this but wanted to check, the risk of catastrophic failure on the fork is too scary.
    – goose_lake
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 12:13
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An axle-mounted rack on a steel fork will handle a tremendous amount of weight. For example, Old Man Mountain's Divide rack is rated for 32 kg when mounted on the wheel axle even when mounted on a carbon fork using little rubber pucks. The vast majority of the load goes into the axle. A steel fork will handle it just fine.

Bike handling can become a problem though. A heavily loaded front rack makes the bike very difficult to handle. I have the aforementioned OMM Divide rack on my gravel bike, and I am in fact planning on moving the rack to the rear wheel because handling becomes too difficult with two panniers filled with groceries. If you're attaching an axle-mounted rack, why not attach it to the rear instead?

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    Thank you, can mark only one answer as correct but both you and @Adam Rice gave me peace of mind with this. Didn't think enough of the mechanics, and indeed the weight is one the axle mostly, which I worry way less about. In terms of front/back, see my comment under Criggie 's answer.
    – goose_lake
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 12:16
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    A heavily loaded front rack does make the bike difficult to handle. I had a 20kg tent on there and the difference in handling is quite stark, your two bags of grocery are probably similar. But OP is talking about a 3kg backpack and that would be barely noticeable.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 19:05
  • @goose_lake more or less the same reasons I put my rack on the front wheel. A laptop and some other small items in a pannier or a back sitting on top of the rack will be fine. Anything up to just a few kg is not a problem. You notice the extra weight quite quickly but I find it’s only really a problem above a total weight of 10 kg or so.
    – SimonL
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 9:34
  • The OMM Divide is a really good rack btw. It has fit kits for quick release and thu axles, doesn’t need eyelets, is sturdy as well and not terribly heavy. They have a pizza rack version as well. The only downside to it is that panniers get mounted pretty high up, meaning a high centre of gravity.
    – SimonL
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 9:37
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Another consideration is handling - adding weight around a fork/bars negatively impacts how fast you can turn the bars, and can also vary the effects of rake and trail altering the effective geometry.

Mostly those randonneur racks are intended for bulky but lightweight objects, like sleeping bags hence the low weight recommendations from the manufacturer. So those numbers of 300g to 1500g seem reasonable. While you can probably overload them occasionally if you had to, carrying double every time might be a but much and will definitely impact handling.

Since you're already carrying the load, the bike itself should be capable of having the same weight moved somewhere else.


However there have to be other solutions.

  1. There are front racks that attach to the bike frame and don't turn. These should be good for at least 10 kilograms.

enter image description here

  1. Get a better backpack. There are a bunch of products that hold the pack off your back and allow airflow down between you and the bag. Downside, the bag is just as heavy so it doesn't help your shoulders.

Some bags just have thicker piping vertically to provide a "wind tunnel" down your spine.

enter image description here

  1. Frame bags might work - depends on the shape of your bike frame, and whether the items you carry can be tetrised in that space. I ride with a laptop sometimes and there's no way that goes inside the front triangle.

enter image description here

  1. Rear rack - There's the standard carrier rack with one or two panniers, and newer designs that are a top-of-rack bag with fold-down panniers.

enter image description here

  1. Last is simply reduce your load. If you don't need all the items during your ride, leave them at work. I only carry my laptop when I need to.
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    Thanks for the detailed answer! I should clarify I don't want to change my backpack or use a bike bag / rear rack. I am quite sure that a simple backpack + front rack is the most convenient solution for commuting with a laptop and everyday things. So the question has a different focus (will detail in next comment, character limit).
    – goose_lake
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 11:06
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    What I really want to know is (hopefully from experience), will the fork of a 90's steel road bike handle 3-4kg of extra load. To clarify, 300g and 1500g is the weight of the rack itself, not the weight they can carry. The racks themselves are specified to carry up to ~2kg for the lightest ones I found, to ~8kg for the heavier ones. However, that only means the rack won't break under that load, which says nothing about the fork.
    – goose_lake
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 11:07
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    I'm curious why it must be a front rack. If you want to interfere with steering the most efficient way would be just have the bag hang loose from handlebars. But most of us don't want that.
    – ojs
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 7:48
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    @ojs Not speaking about the OP, but theft risk (at stops/traffic light for instance) seems to be a common concern for rear racks. With a front rack, you at least have your belongings in your field of view.
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 10:54
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    @ojs For me it's several reasons: the convenience of reaching into the bag without having to get off the bike; having the bag in my line of sight to be sure it didn't fall off or get stolen; more simple mouting options for front racks as opposed to back racks for my bike, as it's a race bike with no braze ons or eyelets for anything; compatibility issues as I already have a lightweight plastic rear fender that's incompatible with a back rack.
    – goose_lake
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 12:12

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