This is how to make a sturdy, yet stylish, DIY front bike rack. It doesn't require any welding, specialist metalwork tools, or particularly much skill! I've put a wooden box on mine, but the principles are the same if you wanted to make a flat-deck porteur rack or use a basket.
I've long wanted a heavy duty front rack for my bike, but down here in NZ the only options were too small, lightweight, or cost more than I wanted to pay. I looked at some Dutch or North American options, but the shipping sunk that idea - can you imagine what it would cost to ship a 7.8 lb Wald Giant Delivery Basket halfway around the world?!!!
I was eventually inspired to make my own rack, but knew I wanted something a bit more stylish than a plastic crate tied to a touring rack with hose clamps, as effective as that might be. At the other end of the spectrum, my metalworking skills are fairly limited - I can’t weld, and even my hacksawing is a bit dubious. To get around that, I came up with a design that doesn’t require any special tools or skills to build, but is still strong and looks alright. The splayed legs of the rack may appear a bit strange, but this gives the rack its stability, forming triangles in three planes.
This design may not be suitable for every bike, so check yours before you head to the hardware store, particularly with regards to clearance from brakes and the top of the front wheel. It won't quite work with suspension forks, but I have listed some variations and enhancements at the end of this Instructable to help with some different types of bike and loads.
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Step 1: Materials
- Aluminum tubing - I used 13.2 mm outside diameter with 2.5 mm wall thickness, which fits 8 mm tie wire bolts. Two lengths of 1 m each was plenty for my bike - each finished piece was around 800 mm long.
- DynaBolt tie wire bolts x 4 (a type of suspension anchor, generally used with masonry) - recommended
- Saddles and screws/bolts, to attach the box to the tubing
- P-clips (also called P-clamps) x 2, to attach the rack to the top of your forks. You may need to go to an automotive parts or industrial fittings retailer to get these if your hardware store doesn't sell them.
- A wooden box, or a piece of plywood for the cargo tray. This needs to be relatively stiff so that the load doesn’t cause the tubing to buckle.
- Varnish, stain, paint or oil, to finish the box or tray
My bike doesn't have rack-mounting eyelets, so I needed two further anchor points at the bottom of my forks to mount the racks. I used 7/8" P-clips from my local bike shop, which are quite strong, but can slip with vibration if not installed quite right. Large, square washers are good to use, to make the clip clamp closer to the fork. I might pull the thin vinyl coating off and replace it with rubber shims, as it is showing signs of deterioration. If you are at all worried about their performance, stronger bolt-on fork mounts such as the Tubus LM-1 Mounting Set could be a good alternative.
If your forks have low rack-mounting eyelets, you'll only need P-clips for the top mount, although you will need to bend the tie wire bolt heads.
The tie wire bolts are used to attach the tubing to the P-clips. You'll need to find a tube size that closely matches the size of the tie wire bolt, which may be the hardest part of the project! Alternatively, you could flatten the tubing in a vice, but I think the tie wire bolts are stronger, especially if you are using thinner-walled tubing.
I played around with a few different sizes of aluminium tubing. 12.7 mm with 1.42 mm wall thickness was relatively easy to work with and control, giving a smoother bend, but may not be suitable for heavier loads. I also couldn’t find any fittings that matched this size. The 13.2 mm with 2.5 mm wall thickness was about as big as I would recommend going with the DIY bending method I used; it was difficult to get a smooth bend due to the resistance of the tubing, although working at ground level didn't help that. If you can come up with a better set-up, you may be able to go bigger, or even use thin-walled steel tubing.
Of course, if you have proper bending equipment, this won’t be a problem, and any kind of tubing could be used.
Step 2: Tools
Bending smaller sizes of aluminum tubing doesn’t require any special tools. I bent mine around the washing line pole, with some 4x2 pegged behind it to hold it in place. I filled it with sand so that it would retain its shape. All the tools required are fairly common:
- Metal file
- Emery cloth, or fine sandpaper (optional)
- Spray paint, for finishing (optional)
- Vice (recommended)
- Ruler/measuring tape
- Allen keys
- Drill and bits
- A pair of helping hands (or tape and clamps)
- Safety glasses
Step 3: Size Your Rack
First of all, decide what size box or tray you would like. While the rack legs are relatively easily adjusted to suit different sized decks, I figure it's best to base them on the general size of deck you intend to use. I used a 500 mm x 360 mm x 120 mm wooden crate, which I bought.
Loosely attach the P-clips to one side of your bike’s forks in the desired location, with a tie-wire bolt inserted in each. I tried to keep the lower clip as close to the bottom of the forks as possible, to keep the load down low, with the upper clip positioned so that the rack would be clear of the brakes. Insert a piece of tubing into each of the tie wire bolts and move the tubing around to determine what angle and lengths you’ll need to bend it to in order to fit the deck.
I built my rack with a backwards rake on the deck, so that it doesn't tip forwards when I turn the handlebars. It also gives me a bit of room to move with the measurements: get it slightly wrong with a flat deck, and it might end up sloping forwards!
Step 4: Bend the Tubing
The tubing needs to be filled with sand to help it retain its shape during bending. I crimped one end in a vice, then jammed a piece of wooden dowel in the other end, held in by tape. There are minimum radii for bending tubing, which would be worth researching if your tubing has a thinner wall, or you want to bend it to a tight radius. I bent mine around the washing line pole, which has a diameter of around 50 mm, and that worked fine.
It does take a bit of force to bend the tubing, so you will need something to hold the tubing in place. I pegged a piece of 4x2 timber into the ground, however something a little higher up would be beneficial, to make it easier to put your weight into the bending - working on ground level was a little difficult.
Mark out the angle you measured in the previous step to bend the tubing to. I stuck a screwdriver in the ground as a guide.
When you bend the tubing, the most important thing to do is apply the pressure right at the bend, moving your hands back along the tubing as the bend progresses. When you have achieved the desired bend, hold the tubing next to your bike to check the angle. From experience, it's best to do this before you take the sand out! Use the first tube as a guide for the second.
When both tubes have been bent, remove the sand and trim to the desired length. Attaching one side loosely to the bike to check the length before tightening the tie wore bolts is a good idea. Now is also a good time to give the tubing a rub with the emery cloth or fine sandpaper, if desired. Mine had been scraped a bit during delivery and cutting and bending; rubbing with some worn sandpaper gave it a nice burnished finish.
Step 5: Mount the Tie Wire Bolts
When the tubing is all finished, it's time to insert and tighten the tie wire bolts. I actually found it best to hold the tubing rather than place it in a vice, as shown, as this makes it easier to check if the tubing is deforming. Do as I say, not as I do (it was also a lot harder taking a photo while holdng both the crescent and the tubing!).
My theory is that the bolts should just be tightened enough for the tubing the deform slightly, but not yield at all. That's just my theory. The bottom bolts don't really need to be done up that tightly as there is no risk of them being pulled out; the top bolts may need to be done up a little tighter. As you'll see from the picture, I probably tightened the bolts a slightly too much, although it doesn't seem to have done any harm.
To finish, I spray-painted the tie wire bolts, to hide the yellow zinc finish. I should have roughened them up first with the sandpaper to aid adhesion.
Step 6: Fit the Rack and Mount the Deck
Now is the exciting part! When attaching the rack, I did need to slide the lower P-clips a little further up the forks to get to a point where the fork was wide enough to let the P-clip grab it properly. I ended up using four saddles, with a total of eight bolts attaching the deck to the legs.
The legs stayed in place quite well without a deck attached - I actually rode my bike for a day like this, although I have contemplated adding another member across the front of the rack, between the two legs, to allow the rack to stay on the bike for longer periods without a deck. I placed the saddles onto the legs, then sat the box on top. Once I was happy with the position, I marked the location of the holes in the saddles on the box, and drilled the holes. Front there it was easy to attach and tighten the whole assembly.
I used counter-sunk bolts to attach the saddles to the box so that there wouldn't be a protruding head to damage my cargo. I used spring washers with the nuts to reduce the chance of the nuts vibrating free whilst riding, which was especially useful as it meant I didn't need to tighten the counter-sunk bolts too much against the wood.
Step 7: Go and Ride!
There you have it! Once your rack is securely attached, it's time to take it for a ride. I recommend starting off with an empty ride, working up the size of the cargo as you become confident that your rack can handle the heavier loads.
I'm really enjoying riding with my rack. Apart from the admiring looks, it is actually a lot of fun to ride with. The front of my bike feels really stable, yet it still corners well. The weight is quite noticable if you try to wrestle the handlebars, but if you lean and use your weight to steer the bike, it's really not that difficult to ride with. I tried it with a 20 kg (44 lb) bag of cement - while there were some creaks I didn't like the sound of coming from the box when I tried to wrestle the bars, once up and moving it felt very light to steer. 20 kg is too much weight for this particular rack though.
There are three things I'm going to do to my rack to improve it:
- Attach some kind of steering stabilisier: the box makes the front of the bike turn to the side almost as soon as I let go of the handle bars, like if I'm attaching a rear pannier bag.
- Attach a light mount under the deck: the load often gets in the way of my light so I'm going to install a mount under the deck, a bit like on Dutch cycle racks.
- Attach lashing hooks: I've found that my load tends to really bounce whenever I go over a bump, so I'm going to attach lashing hooks around the outside perimeter of the box to attach either a bungee cord or a cargo net.
Overall, this rack has been a success, with the improvements I'm planning being additions rather than changes. I'll leave you with some further variations and enhancements to consider. Have fun, and thanks for stopping by! Ben.
- Create a porteur rack for bikes with front suspension by adding an extra bend in the tubing and placing the top mount as far up the fork lower as possible!
- Add a 90 degree bend to connect the top mounts to the handle bars for a DIY Dutch-style bike rack!
- Repurpose an old drawer for the crate!
- Add some strength to your rack by inserting tight-fitting lengths of wooden dowel inside the tubing, once bent. Glue will help it slide in, and add strength.
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