Today Surly launched the Pack Rat, a road/commuter bike designed specifically for front-loaded cargo. The Pack Rat is the culmination of years of experimentation with different ways of hauling stuff on the front of bikes, with geometry and design features that offset the negative handling characteristics of front-loaded bicycles.
Why would you want to put your cargo on the front of your bike? As Surly says, “Having your stuff in front of you means it’s close at hand and easily accessible. It also allows for better weight distribution. A front load keeps the bike nimble and allows you to more efficiently use your body English to steer from the rear.” However, front-loaded bikes traditionally have their own handling drawbacks. The weight pulls you through turns with less control and makes for a less enjoyable ride. The Pack Rat’s design aims to eliminate these issues while still providing a great ride without any cargo, and it accommodates a rear rack as well.
The Pack Rat is built around a steel frame and fork with front and rear rack and fender mounts. The fork features internal routing for generator hubs, and the horizontal dropouts can accommodate singlespeed or geared setups. The frame comes in sizes 38-58 cm. As the company is starting to do with most of its bikes, Surly designed the Pack Rat frames with size-specific geometry, meaning that smaller bikes are not just scaled-down versions of larger bikes and they are designed around two different wheel sizes depending on size. Frame sizes 38-50 cm are designed around 26 inch while 52-58 cm are designed for 650b wheels. Surly states that “smaller diameter wheels keep the weight of the load lower than a 700c wheel would, thereby improving handling and ride feel.”
The Pack Rat will retail for $1349 and will be available at the end of this month. For more information about the design of the Pack Rat directly from Surly, check out their blog post.
Full Specs and geometry:
By Adam Newman
Specialized Pizza Rack – $90
The Pizza Rack derives its name not from the payload size of its top platform, which is a size small pepperoni only, but rather from its packaging. The top platform is a separate piece from the two sides, which ship disassembled in a pizza-shaped box. It goes together with a handful of screws and is adjustable to mate with a wide variety of bikes, as long as they have mid-fork eyelets. I used it with the Tumbleweed Prospector reviewed in this issue. One nice feature of this design is that it doesn’t require eyelets near the dropouts, which these days are often cast aside in favor of more complex axles and dropouts. Even some carbon fiber forks have mid-fork eyelets these days, including the one found on Specialized’s own Sequoia.
Built from aluminum with 13 mm tubes, I can tell you from first glance this rack isn’t something you’re going to want to use to drag the entirety of your belongings on an around-the-world expedition. It is, however, just fine for light duty and it’s rated to 33 pounds, which is enough to make you rethink piling that much stuff on the front end of your bike.
The side panels have rails for attaching small panniers, but the emphasis is on “small.” These won’t be mistaken for proper low-riders. It works great with the Pizza Bag, but I would have liked to see Specialized add those small nubs on the underside of the rack to prevent bungee hooks from sliding off. If you want to secure a cardboard box, for example, you have to be crafty with your hook placement.
The Pizza Rack is a simple and less-expensive option for folks looking to get their toe into the flat-rack lifestyle. I wouldn’t recommend it for expedition use, but for around- town grocery-gettin’, it goes just fine.
Specialized Pizza Bag – $100
Designed specifically to pair with the Pizza Rack, this boxy bag is held on by big Velcro straps that keep it stable and secure. It retains its shape thanks to some internal padding, and its slick, urethane-coated exterior kept my contents dry when I used it in extended rains. I wouldn’t call it waterproof, but it’s certainly “weatherproof.”
The roll-top design helps here, since there is no zipper to leak. Just close the opening with a single snap then secure it with the large Velcro strap across the top. I wish this strap were a bit longer to facilitate overstuffing the bag, but I could see how you could easily get carried away. It was long enough to shove a jacket under it when the bag was closed, which is handy. It also held an axe I found on the side of the road, but I don’t really think it was designed for that.
The features here are pretty spartan, with a mesh inner pocket and two exterior pockets. The vertical webbing on the front is reflective, but I would have rather it been horizontal like a traditional MOLLE webbing so you could strap things to it or hang a blinky light on it. I’d also love to see a shoulder strap so you could detach it and bring it with you.
In fact, this has been one of the big hangups for me in terms of “philosophy of use.” For touring or adventuring, it’s a nice way to keep items handy or carry bulky items like stoves, food or tools, as long as you don’t overload it and make your steering a nightmare. For around town, it’s far too much of a theft magnet, and with no way to remove it and bring it with you easily, I would much prefer a basket.
Since the 1970s Blackburn has been making high quality touring equipment that has traveled the world over. A resurgence in the popularity of touring in recent years has led to a renaissance in products from the brand, including the new Outpost front rack.
Unlike traditional low-rider racks that mount to dedicated eyelets, the Outpost can be mounted in several different ways. The lower mounts can be bolted to fender or rack eyelets at the dropout, or the wheel’s skewer can run right through it, though you need an extra long skewer that’s not included. The height is then adjusted to fit 26-inch, 700c or 29-inch mountain bike wheels.
The secondary supports are then mounted to the rack structure and can be bolted to lowrider eyelets, mid-fork eyelets, even cantilever/V-brake bosses. The can even be attached via hose clamps or the included P-clamps if your fork doesn’t have any mounts, assuming the fork is strong enough, of course. The best part about the design is that you don’t need to bend or cut anything to make it fit. I put it on two bikes and the setup on each took only minutes.
The rack itself is made from Easton 6061 aluminum, and has been plenty sturdy when loaded up. Keeping the top attached must certainly help with the overall structural rigidity, and is a handy place to strap lighter items or even a U-lock for commuting. Panniers can be affixed on either the top rail or the second rail, depending on how deep they are. I’ve mounted a pair of Ortlieb rear panniers to the front on the lower rail with no problems.
The $100 Outpost is a perfect match for my Surly Karate Monkey, which I use as a commuter but isn’t equipped with rear rack mounts. Plus having the weight up front and down low keeps frame flex to a minimum. Loaded up it certainly does affect the steering, but it only took a few minutes of getting used to. It is rated to 45 pounds and I wouldn’t hesitate to put that much weight on it. There is also a matching rear rack available if you’re going on a long tour.
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #32 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a product review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure.