Words and photos by Dave Schlabowske
Last November, the night before I headed off for my Northwoods deer camp in Peeksville, Wisconsin, I decided to build a new rack for my blaze orange Schlick Northpaw hunting rig. Because I was putting it together at the very last minute, I started with a really basic rack, but left it bare steel so I could continue to modify.
My Schlick is built up with a Shimano Alfine 11 IGH and Gates Carbon Centertrack belt drive, plus a Super Nova E3 powered by an Alfine dynamo hub. Adding the rack, a pair of 45Nrth studded Dillingers and some full coverage fenders from Big O Manufacturing in Minneapolis and I had ultimate winter commuter and an incredible hunting rig. After four months of tweaks over the long winter, I think the rack is finally done.
I typically use a backpack and sling my rifle over my shoulder when I ride to my deer stand, but this rifle season, I decided to hunt a couple of miles deeper in the woods, and I wanted to bring some camera gear with me. In order to save my back, I decided to build a rear rack to haul the gear.
I learned to build at Waterford Precision Cycles, and when I left that job, I set up a little frame building shop in my basement. My job at the Wisconsin Bike Federation keeps me too busy to build frames, but taking time off for deer hunting in Wisconsin is sacrosanct, so with my vacation starting the next day, I headed down into the shop to light the torch.
Grabbing a length of ⅜-inch 4130 chromoly tubing, a ruler, Sharpie and a bender, I went to work. I started with the top, and bending the struts so to keep it as close to the tire as I could and still leave enough clearance for a fender (if I ever get one). My technique for attaching the rack to the rack bosses is simple: flatten the ends of the tubes, drill a hole and round the corners with a 10-inch bastard cut fine. Nothing fancy but it works.
Next I bolted that finished piece into place on the frame with the rear wheel removed. Then I eyeballed the two struts, rough-cut the tubing with a hacksaw, and flattened the ends so I could mount them to the lower rack bosses. Because my bike has an offset frame, one strut had to be longer than the other. Once mounted, I could position them so they matched and mark the joint and miter angle with a Sharpie. Into the vice they go and I cut the miters with a 10-inch bastard cut round file.
Then I put them back on the bike, fluxed up the joint, grabbed a stick of brazing rod and fired up the Oxy-acetylene torch. My eyes are about 15 years older than they were when I worked at Waterford. If I was going to build professionally again, I would have to invest in some glasses that fit under my brazing goggles. Never mind that though, since this was a rush job and I was the only quality control inspector; I brazed on!
With the struts in place I cut three sections of tubing to brace the top of the rack, mitered them with the round file, drilled vent holes and brazed them in place. Without vent holes in the tubes the hot expanding gases in trapped in the tube would blow the through when you brazed up the last end joint.
Then I put the tire back in place to check the alignment. The rack passed QC, so I pulled it off and soaked it for half an hour in some hot soapy water to remove the remaining flux. After I pulled it out of the water and let it drain, I heated the rack back up with the torch to vent out any remaining water that might have been trapped inside the tubing. Let the rack cool a few minutes, do some very minor clean up around the joints with emery cloth backed up by a 10-inch half round file and I was done. Total time invested: just over two hours.
The initial build definitely saved my back at deer camp, but I found the single stay design allowed my panniers to rub my rear tire when I went over a bump. My first modification was to remove the single stays and bend up supports that would keep the panniers from flexing. I also brazed on some water bottle mounts to the rack so I could mount a pair of full coverage fenders from Big O Manufacturing in Minneapolis.
The upgraded bracing on each stay was a big improvement and the fenders are rock solid. The only problem was putting a bag on the top of the rack plus the panniers. I decided to add horizontal tubes an inch or so down from the top on each side to accept the top pannier clamps. I’ve been riding the rack in its present form for a month now without any complaints, so I think it’s finally done.
I had an absolute blast commuting and playing on my Schlick this winter. I pedaled the glare ice Hank Aaron State Trail to work every day, I charged on the ice to Madeline Island across frozen Lake Superior to visit the spectacular sea caves. I even rode down a frozen waterfall on the Milwaukee River.
Although I fully embraced the polar vortex this winter, I’m looking forward to loading the bike up with a tent and sleeping bag for some sub 24-hour trips up the long sandy beaches of Lake Michigan now that the weather is warming up. Fat-bikes really are four season rides, and with a few mods, they can take you to work or show you an adventure.
Read this and more in the latest Bicycle Times, Issue #29, available here or at better book stores around the world.