Why I Like Porteur Racks

Bryant with Pass & Stow

I’ve been using a porteur rack on my everyday commuter for a couple of years now. I’d become so accustomed to having one on the bike that I started wondering what it would be like to live without one. So, when I got my new bike (Civia Bryant) I rode it for a couple of weeks sans rack before moving my Pass & Stow over from my old bike. It was an interesting exercise, but I must say, I missed the rack and I’m glad to have it available again.

My Civia is not optimized for carrying a front load (neither was my last bike, a Surly LHT). Both have high trail geometry optimized for carrying weight in the rear. But, for commuting and utility riding where trips are not often more than 15-20 miles tops, front loading a high trail bike is not as much of an issue as it is for randonneuring or touring where trips can be hundreds of miles at a stretch, sometimes when the rider is tired and sleep-deprived. In other words, I’ve had no issue with a porteur rack on either of these bikes for the short hops and city riding that I do.

So, what’s so good about a porteur rack? Well, to put it simply, I find having a level, 10″-12″ square platform on a bike immensely convenient for carrying stuff. Here are just a few things porteur racks are good at hauling:

  • Bulky, lightweight items such as cases of paper towels, toilet tissue, chips, etc.
  • Items that are too large for panniers such as pumpkins/squash/watermelon, cases of water/beer, pizzas, lumber, and so on
  • Bulky clothing such as rain shells, overcoats, extra shoes, etc.
  • Wet items (to keep them separate from the dry/delicate items in your panniers)

As seen in some of the photos on the blog, I often have a Freight Baggage dry bag strapped to my porteur rack. This waterproof bag is specifically designed to fit the Pass & Stow rack (Swift Industries also makes a similar bag for this rack). I find the Freight Baggage bag quite useful for everyday commuting. It carries my lunch and any loose items, plus it’s large enough that I can use it as a stuff sack for the extra layers I peel off on the afternoon leg of my commute. I also keep a repair kit and extra tube in the front pocket.

The bag sometimes comes off on the weekend (it only takes 10 seconds) for more serious hauling. When I need to lash something larger to the rack, I either use a bungee net or a couple/few Irish straps. It’s when hauling oversized items that a porteur rack really shines and the limitations of a rear rack come more into focus.

Certainly a rear rack with a pair of large panniers will suffice for many people—I could make a basic two pannier set-up work for much of how I use a bike. But, the convenience of having a place to quickly stow loose items, as well as the flexibility and usefulness of having a stable platform for carrying oversized items, make a porteur rack an indispensable part of my commuting/utility rig.

21 Responses to “Why I Like Porteur Racks”

  • David Vo says:

    Why I Like This Blog – For someone who is always looking to upgrade his bike, or in this case, purchase a new dedicated commuting bike, I want efficiency in my information gathering. I really like your style and your relentless pursuit of the “best”. With that said, it’s a real pain to go back in your archives so I really appreciate it when you hyperlink keywords. I was thinking about getting a front rack. With some new tabs, I quickly found leads for a good rack and bag to go with it. Please continue this practice.

  • Sharper says:

    We’ve got different ideas; on my cargoing bike, the grocery panniers I have sit nearly flat across the rear rack, and bulky items (potted plants, pumpkins, and toilet paper packs) usually strap across the back just fine. I’ll keep a porteur in mind next time I find myself needing that little something extra, but so far, I’ve been squeaking by without.

  • Don says:

    For city riding, I have come to prefer a front load as primary and using a rear rack for overflow, as for a grocery run. My city bike is a hybrid with mtb roots, and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it manages with the front load. Something optimized would be nice, but this will do for now. I have a Wald basket on a front rack, which was cheaper than a nice rack like yours, but I can see how that flat surface would be more versatile.

  • Jim says:

    Alan, have you ever ridden a bike with a fixed-to-frame front rack and, if so, can you compare and contrast that experience with that of the porteur?

  • Alan says:

    @Jim

    My Brompton has a fixed-to-frame luggage carrier at the headtube. It’s actually amazing how much weight you can load on the front of that bike without it changing the handling much. More here:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/09/23/brommie-cycle-truck/

    I’m assuming the same would be true of a full-sized bike with a frame-mounted rack, though I’ve never had the opportunity to give one a good workout. Here’s more info on frame-mounted racks:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/09/09/a-brief-introduction-to-cycle-trucks/

    I’m hoping to get my hands on an A.N.T. Basket Bike to review at some point.

    Alan

  • doug in seattle says:

    My around-town bike is a mid-80s tour with the super-sized 7-rail CETMA rack. I have grown so accustomed to this rack that I doubt I could do without it. It carries everything! Usually, I fill a fruit box up with groceries and strap it to the rack, sometimes up to forty pounds worth. I have also carried huge baskets, bikes, two weeks’ worth of two people’s laundry, chairs found on the side of the road, wheels, and camping gear on it. Most recently I hauled a 26-inch TV to the recycle place 10 miles away.

    Rear racks simply don’t cut it anymore! My townie is equipped with a saddlebag for the daily load (flat repair, rain gear, load straps, the occasional 22oz. bottle of beer). I find that nylon clip-buckle straps sold by REI work the best. I carry two long ones and two short ones that can be combined into one extra long one for the extra big loads.

    Handling is usually fine. Certainly a lot slower and cumbersome, but it hardly ever feels dangerous. After a while you get used to it. The TV was cutting it close, though.

  • arevee says:

    Do bulky items – such as plastic wrapped bunch of paper towels – that go higher than the bars make it difficult to manuever at low speeds or when walking the bike? I would worry the bulky item would make it difficult to turn the bars.

  • Alan says:

    @arevee

    The rack turns with the bars so clearance is not an issue. As far as maneuverability, as Doug mentioned, you adapt to the weight pretty quickly.

  • Garth says:

    I have yet to try a front rack. Does the front rack accommodate larger items simply because of its increased width?

    I have had problems with the rear rack pushing up into larger items before (e.g., pizza boxes), because the force is applied across such a narrow surface. However, I would have thought the front rack would not take as much weight or bulkiness because it would be shorter and it would be less stable because the front wheel turns. I assume you secure the front wheel to the frame when loading/unloading?

    Even touring setups are always depicted with the bulk of the load on the rear, and only smaller bags over the front wheel.

    Garth-

  • Don says:

    Ask your Civia buddies to send you a Halsted, to take this discussion a step further. I like the cycle truck approack better than that of the “extended cab” ute. Then you could figure out at which point the dedicated hauler starts to justify itself apples to pineapples.

  • Danny says:

    I love the idea of a front rack for all the reasons you mentioned. However, I take my bike onto the bus fairly often, and here in Fort Worth, the bus racks use a hinged arm that attaches over the front tire to hold the bike in place. This makes it difficult (impossible?) to use the bus with a front rack. I’m afraid the same might be true for fenders, but I haven’t tried it yet. Guess the solution is to replace all my bus trips with bike trips!

  • Pete says:

    The only issue I’ve had with front racks/baskets is stabilizing the front end while parked, loading, dismounting, etc. A double-leg kickstand and front wheel stabilizer helps a great deal.
    I just ordered a Cetma front rack and can’t wait for it to show up! – but I had to go with a narrower version to fit in the crowded bike racks on my weekday commute.

  • CedarWood says:

    For anyone wanting to stabilize the front end during loading/parking, there’s the Shimano HP-NX10 headset lock. Since it’s only compatible with 1″ threaded headsets, it’s not for everyone, but it does a great job and provides a slight theft deterrent as well. My cargo bike came with one and I’m hooked now.

  • Ian Hoffman says:

    Interesting timing on this post. I was just spending time in the garage this last weekend, staring at my XtraCycle rig, thinking of what it would be like to add a front rack like this.

    Yeah, I’ve got more than enough room for almost anything with the XtraCycle bags, but sometimes I just want quick and easy access to something. Seems like that’s just what a rack like this would offer.

  • Adam Booth says:

    Does anybody have experience with Pass n Stow AND CETMA racks?

    I was ready to pull the trigger on a CETMA 5 rail, but Lane didn’t think it would work with the stretch from my front wheel to handlebars…

    So now I’m trying to decide between a CETMA halfrack or a Pass n Stow.

    ???

  • Jim says:

    @ Ian – I’ve been thinking that for years but have opted against it for easier car (gasp) transport. Expensive alternatives include the Yuba Mundo with frame-mounted rack or…

    Joseph Ahearne might be working on an XtraCycleTruck. The thought makes me weak in the knees.

  • Joe says:

    I’ve got an LHT / Pass & Stow combo as well. It’s currently my only bike, and while I love the rack for just what Alan’s said (plus it’s GREAT for picking up take-out food that you don’t want to dump out into a pannier), I also find it to be a pretty good rack for touring. I put all of my clothes in Ortlieb rollers on the P&S, and throw my sleeping bag on top.

  • John L. says:

    @Danny–I, too, have had difficulty mounting my Pass & Stow outfitted LHT on bus bike racks. I love the porteur rack and don’t want to part with it, but sometimes I need to take my bike on the bus if I don’t want to drive somewhere. The solution I’ve worked out (so far) is to bring the hinged arm of the bike rack up as high as it will go on the front wheel (usually about the 10 o’ clock position, if you’re looking at the wheel), and then secure it to my bike frame with a heavy duty bungee cord. That keeps the arm securely in place and holds the bike steady. It takes a few seconds longer, but it’s worth it for your peace of mind. Finally, I have fenders, but because they don’t extend beyond the front of the Pass & Stow rack, there’s no damage.

  • Bryan says:

    Like many readers reader of this blog, I spent many hours obsessing over what to put on the front of my commuter bike. I finally decided on a Wald basket (the middle size, I think the 139 model). It was the right call for me. I use it to carry a lock, jacket, gloves, shopping bag, and miscellaneous other things that would have to go in a bag if I had a porteur rack. Pros of the basket are: simple to mount; lightweight; holds a 1/2 flat of strawberries or couple of grocery bags; costs less than $20! Cons are that it sways a bit with a heavy load, and it’s nowhere near as hip as porteur rack. I’m pretty sure it would collapse under a case of beer. If you don’t need to carry a lot of heavy items, though, it’s a good solution.

    P.S. Love the blog! I look forward to reading it every day.

  • Dan says:

    @Adam,

    If you’ve got the means, go with the Pass and Stow. I’ve used my CETMA for a couple of years and on a few different bikes and while it gets the job done, it’s really not great for anything other than light loads. Sure, it can handle the weight, but it will flex and flop all over the place due to the awkward mounting hardware, especially the p-clamps that connect the struts to the rack. As Alan has said before, the best rack is usually the stiffest. In that regard, the CETMA fails miserably. I’ll keep using mine simply because I’m used to it and don’t want to buy another rack, but I’d much rather have a real porteur rack.

    If you want to try out front loads before investing, get yourself a wald basket. CETMA racks use wald hardware for the bar mounts and while Lane now makes his own very nice-looking struts, the wald ones work just as well if not better.

    I hate to badmouth a hard-working one-man shop so I’ll say this – if you don’t have the means to purchase or mount a real porteur rack, a CETMA is a great option and mine has been pretty indestructible.

  • Adam says:

    Thanks Dan. That’s where I’ve been leaning. Especially since the standard CETMA has to be significantly elongated to fit my bike.

    Lane seems to be a great guy and answers questions quickly. I seriously thought about a half rack, but as you said a stiffer rack is better. The pass n stow has an additional strut to the mounting hardware and looks far more robust.

    I’m gonna save up for it.

 
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