I previously discussed my search for a porteur-style rack for my Ibis Sonoma rebuild project, where I decided to go with Soma Fabrication’s stainless porteur rack. The rack arrived and is tentatively installed with great results.
The first thing I noticed when I opened up the box was how hefty the tubing was that Soma uses for this rack. It’s quite big larger than I expected and that I’d seen on typical rear racks, like those gathering dust in my basement. The beefiness was present throughout, not only in the tubing, but also the overall design, welds, mounting eyelets and plates. See some of the pics below.
The second thing that struck me was the overall quality and finish. Being quote a bit cheaper than similar racks from the likes of Velo Orange, I was worried about (and prepared for) a slightly mediocre product. While the welds are not exactly elegant, they’re also not at all sloppy or poorly done. The eyelet surfaces were well ground and lined up perfectly square. The optional fence was equally well done and it features really nicely done end caps. The Soma logo sticker is very well executed – understated and modern. Normally I’d remove decals like this (I’ve even buffed off screened printing), but I have no problem leaving this one in place.
One thing that is really well done are the mounting plates, including the optional axel mounting plates. The stainless plate material is, again, thicker than I would’ve guessed it would be at this price. A big bonus is all the nice stainless hardware – bolt, washers and lock nuts. I don’t know if you’ve been to a hardware store lately for stainless bolts and such, but there is easily $10-20 worth of hardware included with this rack. Two fork crown mounting adapters are provided – presumably for bikes with and without brakes on the fork crown; more on this below.
This is not-picky, but he only detail that I can complain about is that the ends of the rail tubing of the fence don’t line up perfectly with the tubing on the rack, once you’ve attached the fence. While the side tubing below the fence seems parallel with the rest of the rack tubes, those on the fence appear to flair out slightly when viewed from above. This may be an illusion though, and the rack rails may actually be curving back inward as they approach the 90 degree corner bends. Most people will never notice this, and if I were Soma, I wouldn’t worry about it!
I had two challenges when I went to mount the rack on my Ibis, which (somewhat ironically) has a Soma-Tange “classic curve” road fork on it. First, the mounting adapter for use with a front brake, though nicely and carefully bent/formed in order to avoid interference, did, in fact, strike the Campagnolo Chorus headset when attached between the brakes (Campy Athena) and frame, as shown below. In the pic below, the brake bolt isn’t even fully tightened yet – so this was a no-go. In the pics below, there are tow back-to-back serrated washers closest to the frame, with the adapter plate between these and the brakes; the cylindrical piece next to the plate is not a washer – it’s part of the brake (with flats for center adjustment).
above: the mounting adapter here strikes the Campagnolo headset
The adapter plate is already bent as tightly as possible to avoid the headset, so there was no way I could bend it more. My only option was to try to insert a spacer between the frame and the mount (and brake) to move everything away from the frame. I went to my parts bins and found some MKS fender hardware that looked like it would work, along with some generic stainless washers and lock-washers. I wanted to add as little thickness as possible so that the brake bolt still had enough threads to grab the crown nut on the backside. As it turned out, all it took was a thin washer and another thin lock-washer. Once I put these on, I was good-to-go. The clearance between the adapter/mounting plate and the headset and brake arm are very tight, but everything is snug and OK with a mm or two of extra clearance.
above: adding two thin washers gives just enough clearance
So the big issue, as with lots of bikes, forks and racks, is the dropout mounting. As I described in my previous rack post, the Soma-Tange fork has lower fender eyelets on the dropouts, but no upper eyelets for a rack. There is always the chance that a rack can be mounted to the lower eyelets with some big spacers to clear the fork and skewers, but this is pretty iffy and often not pretty.
The other option, and apparently an option that is unique to this rack, is to use the included (heafty) axle mounts. However, it’s immediately clear to anyone who wrenches on bikes that these mounts cannot be easily used with a quick-release axle. This is because the width (or length, I guess) of an Q/R axel has to be just slightly longer than the fork dropout spacing (100 mm on road forks), with just a few mm extra on each side for the fork dropouts to rest on, without extending beyond the outer edges of the dropouts, so that the Q/R can tighten flush against the dropouts. In contrast, “nutted” non-skewer, bolt-on axles are much longer – they must extend out beyond the dropouts so that there is room for the nuts to attach to the axle. But even in this case, there may not be enough extra axle length to accommodate the (heafty, thick) axle mounts.
So, Q/R or not, it’s likely that you’ll need a longer axle. For traditional cup-and-cone, loose bearing hubs – this is no big deal at all. If you’re a wrench, the new axle will be maybe $10-15 and a half hour of your time. Just remove the axle and bring it to your LBS along with both mounting plates so you can get the right length axle. If you’re not a wrench, bring your front wheel it in to your LBS along with the two axle mount plates – they’ll get it working for $25-30.
But one question remains: do the axle mounts go inside or outside the fork dropouts?
So I dropped an e-mail to Soma about proper use of these mounts. For the record, here is what Soma says:
“Are you using a nutted front axle? If so then you can mount them on top of the dropout, under the axle nut. If not, I would recommend mounting it directly to the fork’s threaded eyelets. You’ll probably need a spacer to make it clear. The adjustable tabs can be inverted for direct mounting. If you have ample clearance you can omit the tabs and mount directly to the lower tangs. Don’t mount the tabs to the axle if you’re using a quick release.”
So the axle mounts have to go outside (“on top of”) the dropouts. This makes sense: the fork dropouts are aligned so that they are parallel when spread to 100 mm hub spacing. If you squeeze the mounting plates inside the dropouts (against the hub), then you’ll mess up this alignment of the dropouts.
So why can’t you use a Q/R axel and skewer (including non-Q/R bolt-on skewers) so long as you buy a longer axle? Well, I didn’t push Soma on this point. There is probably some liability concerns, so I can’t blame them. But to me, as long as (1) you’re careful about getting the right-sized, longer axle, (2) use a non-Q/R (bolt on) skewer and (3) don’t haul huge loads, you should be OK. The problem is that you have to be very exact in your measurements and re-assembly. Since the rack axel mount plates are only 3 mm thick, adding enough length to give you 2 mm of axle for each mount to rest on (which is the minimum amount generally recommended – road forks usually rest on about 4 mm of axel, so axels are about 8 mm longer than dropout spacing) only leaves a 1 mm gap between the end of the axle and the outside edge of the plate where the Q/R rests. But this also requires the axel to be exactly centered in the hub; otherwise, one end of the axle will likely extend to the outer surface of the mounting plate, which would render the Q/R non-functional.
Another slight problem with using the axle mounts is that the “lawyer tabs” on fork dropouts (the little tabs that are allegedly a safety feature) are covered by the mounts. This would be the case regardless of a nutted/bolt-on axle or a Q/R axle. But really, many people say these tabs serve no real safety benefit, as bike forks didn’t have them for decades.
Nonetheless, I can’t recommend doing this – follow Soma’s recommendations and/or consult carefully with your local shop mechanic.
In the end, the cartridge bearing design of the Velo Orange hubs on my Ibis meant that I couldn’t find a longer replacement axel. I therefore, begrudgedly, resorted to using stainless p-clamps.
Next project: making and mounting wood slats to the rack deck!