Advanced Touring Systems Racks Introduction

“Serious racks.......superb in both design and construction”
(Adventure Cyclist Magazine)

ATS Hummingbird, RD/EX Hybrid and Expedition Hybrid racks were designed to provide a unique opportunity to cyclists that combines the most advanced designs, extremely low weight, superb fillet-brazed craftsmanship and the highest levels of performance.  Never before have tubular chrome-moly steel racks been built to a standard even remotely close to the level of craftsmanship and design of ATS touring racks.  I've always wanted to offer consumers a radical alternative to all of the poorly designed, poorly executed racks that glut the market.  Consequently, I take a radically different approach to the design, structural execution and the quality of finish in my racks.  Today, all ATS racks are designed and crafted in completely their own dimension.  To ensure the highest levels of performance, ATS racks are designed only to be used in systems with RBD and ATS panniers, which have advanced designs that contribute to much higher levels of pannier/rack stability and performance.  Other brands of panniers are simply not designed well.

The foundation of design and performance in ATS racks is in the Hummingbird models.  Introduced in 2003 and 2004, the Hummingbird rack/pannier systems, featuring extremely rigid tubular chrome-moly steel front mid-mount racks as lightweight as 8.75 ounces and rear racks as low as 10.75 ounces, create superb strength-, rigidity- and performance-to-weight ratios that have completely changed the standards by which all racks may be measured.  Their highly advanced designs have set the tone for all ATS racks and have been the basis for the evolution of design in all ATS racks during the past decade.

Fillet-brazed rack joinery, in which joint fillets are brazed, filed, shaped and sanded to create a smooth, seamless joint, is an important element in the pursuit of excellence in rack craftsmanship. Each of these rack joints still needed a bit of finish work.
Fine craftsmanship in ATS racks is combined with advanced design in developing the highest levels of performance in rack/pannier systems. This Hummingbird IFT Mid-Mount rack weighs only 9.75 ounces but is extremely rigid and provides tremendous rack/pannier mounting stability through four-point integrated pannier mounting.

Currently ATS racks are built in three separate and unique design groups, each one developed for very specific types of touring.  The extremely rigid Hummingbird models, with integrated single or dual triangulation, are designed for ultra-lightweight touring, tandem touring, all paved-road touring conditions and even, in specially modified forms, for expedition-oriented touring.  The very lightweight and superbly rigid RD/EX Hybrid models, which incorporate integrated dual triangulation struts in their design, were designed with general road touring in mind, and as very high-performance expedition racks.   And the ATS Expedition Hybrid racks are exceptionally rigid racks, that incorporate separate triangulation struts and that utilize the ultra-stable integrated Pivotlock pannier mounting design in creating the most advanced racks for extreme expedition touring.  Within each group there are several models of front and rear racks, with numerous configurations of each model.  As in all ATS products, each rack is built to individual customer specifications, including many custom options in lighting system designs, lighting wire routing, integrated mounting systems, bracing struts and stays, and strap guides in addition to custom options in powder coating, paint and chrome plating.

One of the challenges that I've experienced as a builder is in trying to make the Pivot-Lock adjustable rack-mounting mechanisms of Advanced Touring Racks have a nice, clean custom-quality appearance. Both the hand and machine work in making the parts is an enjoyable aspect of being a bicycle builder.
One of the great disappointments that I experienced in purchasing beautifully crafted custom touring-bicycle frames in my younger days (way back in the 1970s) was that the touring racks that were attached to the frames were always built to a completely different, and dramatically lower standard.  I found my way to nicely executed bike frames but custom-built racks were always fairly crudely executed.  It has always seemed like such a contradiction to me in view of the fact that the racks were made of the same basic materials (tubular steel) and in that they were connected directly to the bicycle frames.  It only seems logical that touring racks built for well-crafted bicycle frames would utilize the same construction and finish methods and would reflect the same level of quality.  But they never did, and unfortunately nothing has changed in the succeeding decades. 

Today, the same kind of extremely crude, industrial-grade, brazed and welded racks that were available when I began bicycle touring are being manufactured using the same approach, and with the same results as in preceding decades.  I'd be horribly disappointed if I were to mount any aluminum rack, or a Nitto, Gordon, Tubus, or any other kind of crudely executed tubular steel racks, to one of the frames of my custom bicycles.  I just can't see the logic, from the point of aesthetics or consistency of execution, of putting a welded rack on an exquisitely detailed custom frame. Therefore I don't mount crudely executed racks to my own touring bicycles. 

Plated racks, when well executed, are enormously time-consuming to build requiring days of work in complex designs. But they are part of the very wide range of ATS rack custom options.
One of the great things about having executed a lot of highly refined, intricate hand-work as a custom frame builder is that the skills cross over nicely to building racks, and thus I can build my own racks to any standard that I choose.  Therefore I approach the building of touring racks much in the same way that I do in building bicycle frames.  I aspire to create a totally different standard of execution, and to offer racks in a completely different dimension of design, performance, detail and quality.  These days, all models of the Advanced Touring Systems fillet-brazed racks are built to a standard that is higher, in terms of craftsmanship, than all but the extremely rare fillet-brazed or steel-lugged bicycle frames built by a handful of the world's finest frame builders.  Each rack is available with a powder coated finish, painted finish, with  tri-chrome plating or a nickel finish.  Chrome-plated and nickel-plated versions of the racks are built to a higher standard of finish than all bicycle frames.  There are many reasons that ATS racks have often been rated as “works of art.”

Specifically, in terms of execution, all ATS racks are built using both a brass and silver fillet-brazing method of adjoining tubes.  Each rack joint is brazed and then the joint fillets are carefully filed, shaped and sanded, blending the fillet into the surrounding tubing to create a very smooth, seamless joint.  However, custom-quality craftsmanship is about much more than just nice fillet joints.  Each custom fitting and part that is brazed to the racks, or utilized in the mounting of the racks to a bicycle frame, is sanded and polished before it is attached to a rack. The same standard of prep work is applied to lighting system mounting or wiring parts, as well as strap guides and other of the many custom fittings that I design and make.  Every part on the racks is carefully sanded (240 grit or finer) and polished smooth before the racks are coated or painted to ensure that no unsightly marks appear on the finished racks.  Plated racks go through a vastly more rigorous sanding and polishing treatment before plating.  All in all the racks are executed to a standard that is meant to compliment the very finest of frames.

I have offered three levels of fillet-brazed joint quality. These are mid-level joints. To me, well-executed joinery is simply a very fundamental part of high-quality rack workmanship.
The fillet joints, when they are finished well, provide a nice, smooth look and are one of many details that make Advanced Touring Systems Hummingbird IFT racks truly in their own dimension.

All ATS racks are built exclusively for ATS and RBD panniers, and represent the foundation-half of a rack/pannier system.  For any rack/pannier system to function well, both the rack and panniers must have complimentary designs.  Traditionally, racks and panniers have been designed and built as if they were two separate types, barely related of gear.  They have always reflected a level of design in which panniers are built just to hang loosely from racks by means of only two hooks at the top of panniers.  Advanced Touring Systems racks and panniers are designed to function on a totally differently level in which panniers never hang loosely to racks.  They are designed in complimentary ways so that they may develop extremely rigid rack/pannier mounting, both at the top and bottom of the panniers, to create a foundation of rack/pannier system stability.  In addition, the quality and design of ATS racks and panniers are is consistent and complimentary.

ATS racks feature integrated, brazed-on mounting system fittings at the top and bottom of the racks which are compatible with ATS and RBD pannier mounting systems. Compatible, highly rigid mounting is the foundation of performance in rack/pannier systems. Mass-produced panniers have never been designed to develop rigid mounting.
It would be highly inconsistent, contradictory and pointless to match any other brand of pannier, whether it be an Arkel, Ortlieb, Jandd, or any other mass-manufactured pannier, to ATS racks.  All of these panniers are extraordinarily deficient in fundamental design and reflect poor overall design.  They are also executed to a much lower quality standard, which is radically different than the standard of ATS racks.  Only ATS and RBD panniers are compatible with ATS racks in many ways, including four-point mounting systems, high level of performance and design, and in their superb craftsmanship.  For decades it has always been the racks or panniers that have been designed to function in complimentary systems, that have greatly out-performed all other products (Merz, Beckman/Gordon, RBD, ATS, Mountain-Minded etc.). 

The vast majority of touring racks that have been built have been constructed from solid aluminum rod.  The perception is that aluminum is much lighter in weight than steel. If high-quality steel tubing were to be compared with aluminum tubing of the same diameter and wall thickness, this would absolutely be true.  But solid aluminum rod, of which millions of racks have been built, is not a particularly lightweight material, in view of it's lower reliability, rigidity and strength in comparison with 4130 chrome-moly steel tubing.  The reason that aluminum rod has been the material of choice in the construction of racks is that it's dirt cheap.  Metals prices fluctuate, but the last time that I purchased aluminum rod (of which I make custom parts for panniers and bicycles) and 4130 chrome-moly rack tubing on the same day, the steel tubing was approximately 25 times more expensive than the aluminum rod of the same diameter.  I'll repeat that: 25 times more expensive.  And the contrast in price is many times greater still in aluminum rod that is used in the racks constructed in Asia compared with the American-made steel tubing that is used in Advanced Touring Systems racks.

Steel tubing holds a much higher potential for the clean execution of work and the addition of fittings that are extremely reliable and functional, and that may be, from the standpoint of aesthetics, very nicely executed
Seamless 4130 Chrome-molybdenum steel tubing is used in the construction of all ATS racks because its rigidity-to-weight ratio, and its reliability against failure is exceptional (still, it is design that is the primary source of the highest degrees of rigidity).  In addition, ATS racks feature many custom-made fittings for custom rack options, including integrated mounting system designs, lighting system designs, strap guides and other features in which fittings for the options are very cleanly silver-brazed to the racks.  Steel is the material of choice because it is the material that may be cleanly brazed and finished.   Also, steel is a material that may be very cleanly fillet-brazed and finished opposed to aluminum, which at least traditionally in the construction of racks, is crudely welded.

ATS racks feature the finest craftsmanship and finish.  This is opposed to all welded aluminum (as well as welded steel racks) racks which represent the lowest possible levels of finish, craftsmanship and design.  In reality, aluminum racks as they have traditionally been built, in many ways are just plain junk.  The two contrasting materials, and the approach to the execution of racks with them, is dramatically different and are at the opposite ends of any quality/performance spectrum.  Chrome-moly steel has always been the material of choice of the finest racks, structurally and aesthetically.