Description of the situation
1. You would like to add utility to a road bike by installing a basket.
2. You’re unsure if this is possible because the original function of a road bike isn’t commuting.
The condensed answer is:
It’s possible to install a basket on a road bike if:
a. The basket is small enough to fit between the drops and has attachment clamps corresponding to the diameter of the handlebars.
b. The basket is attached to a front or rear rack.
Drop Bars Are a Limiting Factor
Drop bars create most of the inconveniences when installing a basket on a road bike.
The problems are:
The standard way to size drop bars is to measure the distance from the center of one drop to the center of the other. (Most drop bars are between 400 and 460mm.)
However, when installing a basket, the user has to take another measurement – the distance between the inner side of one drop to the inner side of the other.
Then, it’s necessary to subtract 2-4cm from that number to ensure that the basket won’t prevent the rider from shifting comfortably if the bike has brake-shifters.
Brake-shifters such as STI require the rider to push a lever inward when switching gears. If the basket is too close to the shifter, it will get in the way of the lever.
Example: If the inner distance between the drops is 43cm, one should be able to install a basket that’s 38-40cm wide.
FAQ: Can I use a basket attaching to the stem?
Those types of baskets are designed for commuter bikes with long, thin quills stems and won’t fit on a modern road bike.
The thickest section of drop bars is the clamp area where the stem attaches to the bars.
If you plan to install a handlebar basket on a modern road bike, the attachment clamps will have to be designed for 31.8mm thick bars.
Such models exist, but since most baskets are designed for commuter bikes that use thinner bars, 25.4mm is the most common diameter of the attachment clamp.
Having said that, old-school drop bars have a 25.4mm clamp area and are therefore compatible with more basket models.
The table below contains a list of handlebar baskets plus their width and the diameter of the attachment brackets. You can use it as a reference after making the aforementioned calculation.
|RFR Front Basket Klick&Go
|25.4 and 31.8 mm
|Force Klick 31.8mm
|Rixen & Kaul Festkorb E Bicycle Basket
|Topeak Front Basket
|25.4 and 31.8 mm
|KLICKfix Uni (the clamp is bought separately)
|1100g (basket only)
Switching To Flat or Comfort Bars
If you want to install a front basket on your road bike, chances are that you’re planning to turn it into a commuter. In that case, you may also consider switching to a different style of handlebars. The two common choices are flat and comfort bars.
If you decided to pursue this path, you will eliminate the restriction of drop bars when hauling cargo attached to the front of the bicycle.
Unfortunately, the conversion from drop to comfort or flat bars requires new parts.
Carbon Drop Bars Won’t Cut It
It’s inadvisable to pair carbon drop bars with a basket because:
1. You won’t be able to attach the basket.
Carbon allows the production of drop bars with ergonomic tops which reduce wrist stress. As far as I know, there isn’t a basket mounting system designed for bars of that shape.
2. Carbon handlebars are built for race machines.
The strongest feature of carbon is its low mass. On all other accounts, metal beats carbon. Putting carbon handlebars on a bike that’s going to be used for commuting is akin to installing Ferrari rims on a basic car.
Furthermore, carbon is a material that requires “caressing”. A carbon bike can’t take rudeness like a steel one. Hence why carbon components are no good for commuters.
Another downside of carbon handlebars is the higher chance of them snapping unexpectedly. For that reason, even some professional cyclists stick with alloy bars.
Attaching a Basket To a Rack
The second way to install a basket on a road bike is to mount it to a front or rear rack.
A front rack is a popular route when the end goal is to install a basket because the combo provides quick access to the transported cargo.
A road bike can accept a front rack if the following conditions are met:
1. The fork has eyelets for a rack.
Front racks have support legs/strays that attach to threaded eyelets on the fork via M5 bolts.
2. The fork uses rim brakes and has a hole in the middle of the arch.
Most front racks have a single brace that connects to the fork via a bolt passing through the brake mounting hole. (The hole may be absent if the fork is designed solely for disc brakes.)
Once the rack is installed, you can easily attach a basket by sliding zip-ties through the basket and around the rack.
Another option would be to use metal brackets with bolts passing through them. One of the metal brackets is over the basket while the other is under the rack. When you tighten the bolts, the brackets squeeze the basket against the rack. This method is more elegant but requires more parts and time.
The Benefits of Mounting a Basket On a Front Rack
1. Higher capacity
Handlebar baskets have a very low weight limit – usually around 5kg/11lbs. Meanwhile, a basket attached to a front rack instantly acquires the capacity of the rack which could be substantial (e.g., 20kg/44lbs) depending on the model.
Note: Front racks affect the handling of the bike even when the rack is unloaded. Also, road bikes are not designed for carrying heavy cargo.
2. More clearance
A front rack sits well below the handlebars. As a result, the width of the basket isn’t restricted by that of the handlebars.
That said, the drops limit the height of the basket and that of the luggage inside of it even when the basket is attached to a rack.
A rear rack requires two sets of eyelets – one near the dropouts and another near the top of the seat stays.
If your bike has the necessary mounting points, you can install a rear rack right away. Unfortunately, most road frames come without rack eyelets. The ways to overcome this obstacle are discussed further in the article.
Once the rack is in place, you can mount a basket to it by relying on the methods described above (zip-ties or metal brackets + bolts).
I used four pieces of aluminum + 4 bolts and nuts to amount a box on my rear rack as shown in the images below. The same principle can be used to install a basket.
The Benefits of a Rear Rack
1. Large Baskets
A rear rack allows you to install very large baskets because there’s plenty of clearance. If you plan to transport cumbersome objects, a rear rack-mounted basket would provide the necessary space.
2. Good Capacity
Most frame-mounted rear racks can support 20-25kg/44-55lbs. Some have even greater capacity, but in practice, the load impacts the bike’s handling too much, and the frame starts flexing.
Road bikes haven’t been built for overload. Even 20kg will be a lot in most cases.
FAQ: My frame doesn’t have rack mounts. What can I do?
If your frame doesn’t have rack mounts, you have the following options:
1. Use a rear rack with clamp-on mounts
Some rear racks have mounts with a clamp-on mechanism that you have to tighten around the seat stays.
Note: Do not use such racks on a carbon frame. Carbon has poor resistance to compression and can crack. Truth be told, you shouldn’t be using a carbon bike for cargo hauling in the first place. Carbon is a material for race bikes, not commuters.
2. Use a rear rack that attaches directly to the axle
The legs of some rear racks can be attached to the rear axle. Those models eliminate the need for eyelets. The downside is that every time you remove the wheel, the rack has to be dismounted too.
3. Use a seat post rack
Another option would be to use a rack that attaches to the seat post.
The only strong point of those racks is that they’re compatible with every bike that has enough seat post showing.
That said, there are notable downsides:
- The capacity is low – up to 10kg/22lbs
- Instability – the rack has a higher center of gravity
Note: Seat post racks are not compatible with carbon seat posts due to the exerted clamping force. If you want to install such a rack, you will need an alloy seat post.
FAQ: The frame has mounts for the rack’s legs but nothing for the braces. What do I do?
Commuting bikes usually have eyelets on top of the seat stays, but most road frames do not. You can circumvent this issue either by using a single brace attached to the brake’s mounting bolt or by installing a seat collar with threaded rack mounts.