Dave Schlabowske recently got a new Milwaukee Bicycle Co fatbike. He rounded it out with completely custom components and he silver-brazed a custom rear rack. In part 2 of this series he shares how he designed and built the rack for lightweight bikepacking setup. See his process and gallery of photos here.
Read Part 1 about Dave's fatbike build HERE.
Story and photos by Dave Schlabowske.
Over the many years I have been bikepacking I have refined my camping gear so most of it packs very small and is extremely lightweight. My shelter and sleep system only weigh about 3 lbs total, and I can stuff the Zpack Duplex tent, the Enlightened Equipment 40° Quilt, Thermarest NeoAir Uberlight pad and Sea to Summit pillow in two Sea to Summit 5 L roll-top dry bags.
Because that gear is light and small, I was looking for a way to pack it that did not take up precious space in a bikepacking bag that was designed to hold heavier items. My experience with lightweight rear racks has not been good. Aluminum racks eventually break due to fatigue from vibrations riding rough trails and gravel roads. Stronger chromoly steel racks are heavy and overkill.
Planning the Custom Fatbike Rear Rack
When Trek came out with their 1120 with its unique front and rear rack system I thought that was an ingenious way to pack small dry bags, but it was still overbuilt for my lightweight gear. When I converted my Milwaukee Bicycle Company Feral 29 from an MTB Trail Bike to dedicated bikepacking rig, I had it stripped and asked if Ben’s Cycle could add more rack mounts and then had it repowder-coated.
Ben’s has the Waterford Precision Cycle-built frames delivered without paint so they can add almost any braze-on a customer wants before powder coating, so they had no problem with my request to add a triple mount on the downtube, top tube bag mount and two water bottle mounts to the seat stays.
Using the Trek 1120 rack as my inspiration, I planned to build a custom rack using 3/16” 304 stainless steel wire, which is a tad thicker than what is typically used for water bottle cages. I bought a handful of 60 inch lengths of wire from Speedy Metals in New Berlin for about $5 each. The wire is thin enough that I can bend it with a simple hand tool and can be silver-brazed given I still have an Oxy-Acetylene torch, but no longer own a tig welder.
Measuring, Bending, & Brazing
The project is something like a combination of origami and packaging design in that the main section of the rack is all bent from a single 60 inch piece of stainless wire. I measure all my bends from the center of the wire and then make the bends. Along the way I am careful to keep the rack symmetrical and aligned. While it is important to measure carefully and make precise bends, the wire is forgiving in that I can twist it and tweak bends slightly after they are made.
Once the main rack is brazed up, I braze it to two pieces of ¼ inch stainless plate that I cut into strips to mount the rack to the chainstays. After that is done, I add some additional 3/16” wire pieces to the main rack so I can securely attach the dry bags with bikepacking straps. I am also able to attach things like my tent stakes and Morakniv Bushcraft knife.
The first rack I built for my 29er worked out so well that I just built another one for the new Milwaukee Bicycle Company fat bike I just got. I made efforts to keep the weight down on the fat bike rack (10.9 oz/310 g) and it ended up lighter than the 29er rack (12.8 oz/363 g).
You may notice I like the color orange for my bikes, which dates back to my first bikepacking/gravel bike, which was the iconic 1993 Bridgestone XO-1. That bike was destroyed when my old concrete garage collapsed at our first house in Milwaukee, but I have had a thing for orange steel bikes ever since.
How it Performs
I built that first rack two years ago, and after a few thousand miles of bikepacking on varied rough terrain, I have had no failure or need to make repairs. The racks are sturdy, but also flex enough so they hold up to all the vibrations that cause stress fractures in aluminum racks. I can’t make these for other bikes since they are custom built to fit specific seatstay dimensions. For those who want something similar, I suggest they look at the Aeroe rack system. That is a bit more heavy duty, but seems very well engineered.
To see Dave's original custom rack and his Milwaukee Bicycle Feral 29er, see his Reader's Rig HERE.