Blast From the Past: Cheapo Bike Rack

Originally posted on March 24, 2016 at 8:00 am


Editor’s note: This article by Truls Johnsen first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #101, published in July 2003.

Mountain biking eats some serious dough, and after I acquired the perfect dirt bag mountain bike road trip vehicle (an ‘84 Vanagon camper) I realized that I could use a cheap roof rack to carry bikes in a stylish fashion. And since I only paid around 300 dollars for the car, the rack had to be really cheap. Dirt cheap. Thus, the idea came up of making one myself.

Being a Ph.D. student, I had all the time in the world for such nonsense, so off to the local aluminum dealer I went. My plan was to use aluminum U-profile as the base for each of the racks and then add the necessary hardware to those to make them complete. I found some nice 6061-T6 aluminum in 75 mm x 40 mm. These are sold only in complete lengths (around 16 feet) here in Norway. A quick calculation showed that it was enough for four racks, and I only paid about 70 dollars for the whole length.

Next stop was at my local car parts store to pick up some exhaust clamps. These are nice and sturdy, and turned out to be perfect brackets for mounting the carriers to the rack bars. To make sure that they stay in place, I added a few large washers and some locknuts in the bag. The clamps are dirt cheap, so my budget attitude was still there.


When I started thinking about this project, I had a problem of finding a way to securely clamp the forks down. But after fiddling with some parts back home, the idea of using old front-hub axles came up. I bought some new ones from my local bike shop, but one could use second hand ones. To make sure that the spacing was right, I added a number of washers and spacers, then I made four spacers out of some old metal tube I had lying around. I cut the spacers to fit inside the profile—just to make sure that everything would be stable, and so that the axle couldn’t compress the profile. Then I went out to the workshop. This, in my case, means the kitchen.

The aluminum profiles needed some work. There have to be holes for both axles and brackets. I had already cut the full length into four, for four bikes. To make sure that I got enough length, I placed the holes for the axle fairly close to the end, but not close enough that it could break. Twenty-four holes later, things started to look better. Space for the disc calipers was the next thing that had to be fixed. I hadn’t originally thought about this, so I had to improvise during the process. I made a model on paper, and then transferred that to the profiles. Worked like a treat. The jigsaw took care of the rest.


Three hours, a nice carpet of aluminum debris on the kitchen floor and a pot of coffee later, I was ready for assembly. I used strong epoxy glue called “Super Epoxy,” but it would be all right to use any high-strength epoxy glue. I used just a tad on each end of the spacer tubes. In they went. The axles were the next to go in. I used some Loctite on the nuts so that I can change these in the future. A couple of hours to let the glue cure, and out to the Vanagon it went.

I had decided early on that I wanted the racks to be mounted in an asymmetrical pattern, so that I could have room for four bikes on the roof. This worked like a charm, and all of a sudden I had turned the Vanagon camper into a first-class bike carrier. I’ve now used the rack for half a year, and it’s still working great. All this, for a fraction of the price of a “proper” rack.

Truly a dirt bag solution.


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