Monday, 14 March 2011

Front Loads: What's Your Take?

We were photographing an ANT bicycle in our studio last weekend, and afterward I took it out for a quick spin. This ANT was a cro-moly Lady Roadster with an enormous front rack and basket. Looking at the bike, I was anticipating how it was going to feel riding with that set-up, and based on my experiences with similarly equipped city bikes I did not think I'd enjoy it. Typically, when a bike has a large, front-mounted basket or crate, I find the front end to be somewhat unwieldy even when the basket is empty; I have a harder time than usual keeping the front wheel stable at slow speeds, and even when walking the bike, the front end sort of tends to wander.

However, the ANT bike did not have this problem, and I pretty much forgot about the basket as soon as I got on. This is similar to how I feel about the large rack-mounted handlebar bag on my Rivendell, but again these are the exceptions rather than the norm. Normally I dislike front loads. So what is special about the ANT and the Rivendell compared to other bicycles I've tried with similar set-ups? Some say that low trail geometry works well for front loads, but neither of these bikes is low trail.

Others say that it has to do with how the weight is supported. The ANT front rack is secured to the fork at the front axle and at the fork crown, which certainly makes it stable. However, I have tried other bikes with racks secured both to the fork and to the frame itself, and some of those have felt awkward. Stable in the sense that they don't sway, sure - but still awkward as far as the handling of the bicycle goes. It almost seems random - a hit or miss sort of thing, whereby ANT and Rivendell just happen to have stumbled on a geometry that works with front loads.

Oh, I give up! The more I learn about bicycle geometry, the more I realise that I don't really know anything. But having tried this ANT, I am considering experimenting with a front load on one of my transportation bicycles again. What has been your experience - have you noticed any patterns as far as which front load set-ups work and which do not?


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