Advanced Touring Systems: Hummingbird IFT Rack Models

Every once in a while a nice surprise comes along, and that definitely defines the performance of this extremely lightweight and exceptionally rigid, dual-triangulated Hummingbird IFT Mid-Mount front rack.  For a rack that has so little structure and that tips the scale at less than nine or 10 ounces, respectively (depending upon whether it is built in a three- or four-point version), it is shockingly rigid.  Better still is the fact that it is designed as part of a system with Hummingbird IFT panniers, that are also phenomenally lightweight and feature a highly advanced design.  The combination of the rack and panniers develops a dimension of performance that bicycle tourists have never before experienced.

This Hummingbird MId-Mount rack, at 9.75 ounces is very, very lightweight and extraordinarily rigid. These are important elements in performance. But the most critical part of its design is in its integrated mounting fasteners and how exceptionally rigid its rack/pannier mounting system attaches panniers.
The tubular chrome-moly steel Hummingbird rack was designed as a front rack for Phase Two and Phase Three touring (see Advanced Touring Method).  For long-distance touring and even some types of expedition-oriented touring, it is the ultimate performer among front racks, combining unparalleled levels of rack/pannier stability and rigidity, which is coupled with an incredible performance-to-weight ratio.

At first glance the Hummingbird Mid-Mount front rack appears to be a low-riding rack, but it's not.  The pannier mounting position of the rack is about four inches higher than in traditional low-mount racks.  The four-inch difference is very critical.  It provides better ground clearance for panniers and it also allows any model of panniers to be designed to be taller, and narrower, depth-wise (some Hummingbird IFT and RP panniers are as narrow as two inches deep), to maximize their gear-carrying potential while always allowing gear to be mounted as close the the center-line of a bicycle as possible.

The Mid-Mount Hummingbird racks are designed to be custom-fit, utilizing a very rigid, direct mount to correctly applied fork fittings, or as a semi-custom fit when the horizontal pannier-mounting tube is bent downward to fit brazed-on fork fittings mounted in a traditional position (see photo).  The combination of direct, custom fitting, coupled with a design incorporating dual-triangulation and very rigid rack-to-fork fittings, develops the extreme rigidity of the rack.

A Hummingbird IFT Mid-Mount rack custom-fitted (almost) to low-mount fork fitting. This is the common approach to mounting racks to non-ATS fork fittings.
The four-point ATS Ultra Lock pannier-mounting configuration is the standard for the Hummingbird Mid-Mount front rack.  It provides the highest level of pannier stability and strength in a system with Hummingbird IFT or RP panniers.  The rack is also commonly built with brazed-on fittings to accommodate the Hummingbird PT Ultra Platform, and is available with all of the common ATS custom fittings for lighting systems and wiring.  The standard finish  of the Hummingbird racks is a very high quality black powder coat finish.  Options include painted and tri-chrome plated versions.  The Hummingbird Mid-Mount front rack combines superb quality and craftsmanship with unmatched performance at an extraordinarily low weight. 

Base price in a rack/pannier system with Hummingbird IFT panniers: $1395

A front rack for tandem touring, with a platform over the bicycle wheel, is the most versatile type of rack as it provides an overload space for items not normally carried within panniers, like a sleeping bag and tent poles.  In tandem and expedition-oriented touring a top platform is an especially helpful design adding an often-needed dimension of convenience and flexibility in carrying lightweight gear when the capacity of panniers is stretched beyond their normal limits.

The Hummingbird Standard High-Mount Front Rack is available in either a custom-fit version or with a rack-to-frame connection made with the highly adjustable, and elegantly finished, Pivot-Mount attachment mechanism.
The ATS Hummingbird Standard High-Mount front rack is totally unique among all front racks, and especially for tandem and expedition touring, in that it delivers by far the highest levels of performance at an exceptionally low weight.  Expedition-ready tubular steel racks can easily weigh more than two pounds, but the dual-triangulated Hummingbird racks, which are available in both custom-fit version or one using a Pivotmount attachment design, weigh in at about 13.5 and 15.5 ounces, respectively.  This unique rack represents the essence of fundamental and essential design.  What isn't necessary has been removed from it's design.  And what remains is not only that which is absolutely essential, but a design which incorporates an innovation that develops an extraordinary increase in rack/pannier stability while significantly reducing both rack and pannier weight.  That innovation is a combination of three design elements that are mutually beneficial: the tubular internal frames and Ultra Lock mounting system of the panniers, plus the minimalistic side platforms of the Hummingbird rack.  Tubing that is removed from the side platforms of the rack (to reduce unnecessary weight) is replaced, in terms of rigidity and structure, by the tubing of the internal frames of the panniers when the panniers are mounted in place.  The extreme tightness of the Ultra Lock mounting system fasteners ensures that the panniers and the rack both become more rigid through a design of shared structure.  This mutually beneficial design is in essence, symbiosis, and it is exactly why racks and panniers should be designed as a system and become two equal parts of a whole.  (For more information on these designs see,  ATS and RBD rack/panniers systems: the critical details).

The symbiotic nature of the Hummingbird Standard High-Mount front rack design contributes to the exceptionally low rack/pannier system weight.  For tandem and expedition touring, Hummingbird IFT systems are available that weigh slightly more than a mere two pounds, yet at the same time are dramatically more stable than any other systems.  As in all ATS racks, the Hummingbird Front High-Mount rack features exceptional fillet-brazed craftsmanship, whether it is in the Pivotmount version (pictured) or one that is a custom-fit rack by extending the top platform of the rack to a specially design mounting fitting that is brazed in place on the rear side of a fork crown or uni-crown fork.   Strap guides, along with many types of custom fittings for single- and dual-mounted lights, and all of the other common custom options, are available with this Hummingbird model. 

Base price of the ATS Standard High-Mount front in a system with ATS panniers: $1495

When the first Hummingbird racks were built in 2003 their initial focus was on ultralight touring on single bikes, incorporating designs that utilized panniers with 14 internal tubular frames.  But it was immediately apparent that the design of the Hummingbird systems was, potentially, extremely versatile, and with limited modification could be applied to every type of touring.  Probably the most neglected area of touring is tandem touring in that it is a highly specialized area of touring with little specialized equipment, so step by step, many elements of Hummingbird design were applied to rack/pannier systems for tandem touring.  The Hummingbird systems are a perfect fit for tandem touring because of their extreme stability, their gear loading systems that afford highly effective sub division of gear within the panniers to balance gear on a tandem, and because of their extremely low weight.   The first step in creating highly effective tandem systems was to develop super-lightweight 18 tubular internal frames for the panniers, which makes the panniers four inches longer and proportionately narrower relative to their overall size and carrying capacity.  Designs were altered to make the panniers more durable to carry heavier tandem loads, and finally, a special tandem version of the Hummingbird front high-mount rack was designed.

The Hummingbird Tandem High-Mount design is, in every detail the same as the Standard design, with the exception of a couple of very important details.  The top platform of the rack is two inches longer to better accommodate sleeping bags and other gear in a lengthwise position.  More crucial to higher levels of performance in accommodating heavier tandem-touring gear loads is that the bottom of the side platforms are two inches wider.  This design modification allows the spacing of the fittings for the Ultra-Lock mounting system in the racks to be increased at the top from seven inches to eight and at the bottom from three inches to five.  Especially in large panniers, and even more importantly in those with tubular frames, mounting system fittings need to be as widely spaced as possible to increase strength, and to increase mounting rigidity, which is very critical in bearing heavier gear loads in tandem and expedition-oriented touring.

Reducing the weight of touring gear, as well as racks and panniers, is a very important part of the preparation and design in tandem and expedition touring.  The Hummingbird rack/pannier systems are designed in a radically different way than other racks and panniers to develop an extremely high level of performance.  Their weight, relative to their much higher levels of performance, through design, is in great contrast to that of other gear.  Commonly, large panniers constructed of heavy materials, with heavy plastic stiffening plates, can weigh more than six pounds per pair (moderately sized dry bag panniers will weigh up to five pounds).   Even aluminum racks for tandem touring can weigh two or more pounds each.  In a set of front and rear racks and panniers for tandem touring, the combined weight can easily add up to 15 pounds or more.  That amount of weight, especially in panniers and racks that are designed to develop a low level of stability, is a lot of poorly controlled weight.  In extreme contrast are the Hummingbird rack/ pannier systems.  The combined weight of front and rear Hummingbird systems, including Hummingbird IFT panniers with 18 internal frames, will be between 4.5 and 6 pounds, total.  What tandem tourist would not love to get rid of 10 absolutely unnecessary pounds of funky, poorly designed racks and panniers that perform at a very low level, to be replaced by ones that provide, through advanced designs, extreme increases in gear-carrying stability and in bicycle handling quality, that are afforded by the use of the Hummingbird rack/pannier systems?

And one last thought about front tandem racks.  With few exceptions, in the past three decades when touring tandems have been built, they have included fork fittings to mount a front rack in a low-mount position.  To put it very mildly, this is very unwise.  Conventional low-mount racks are so low that well-designed tandem panniers will be on the ground, or near it, when they are mounted to such racks.  Also, low-mount racks without a platform over the front wheel provide no place to mount a sleeping bag and pad on the front end of a touring tandem.  As far as I'm concerned, when a full compliment of touring gear is carried in tandem touring, or expedition-orient touring, low-mount racks should be completely avoided.  There is simply a much better, and much more advanced approach, performance-wise, through the use of well-designed high-mount racks and panniers.

Base price of a Hummingbird Tandem High-Mount front rack in a system with Hummingbird panniers: $1495


At first glance, the rear Hummingbird racks are quite similar to the front high-mount racks.  Indeed, they are similar, but they are also quite different in some important details.  The top platform of the  Hummingbird Standard Rear rack has parallel sides, opposed to a triangular shape, and overall the platform is quite a bit narrower and longer.  In Phase One of my Advanced Touring Method the rear rack is the only load-bearing rack.  Consequently, as it must accommodate a full touring load, it has to perform as well as possible.  Because this rack only weighs about 13.5 ounces (when custom-fit), it has to have a very high strength- and rigidity-to-weight ratio.  It has both, and each is a result of design, not materials.  It isn't that its materials are inadequate.  The materials are quite sound: seamless 4130 chrome-molybdenum steel tubing and brass fillet-brazed joints.  But in a very lightweight rack like the Hummingbird rack, it is a brains vs. brawn approach that is applied to its design.  In a rack that must be exceptionally strong and veryy rigid, while at the same time being quite lightweight, it's brains that win over brawn as several simple elements of design are implemented that make it both exceptionally strong and rigid for its weight.  And these elements of design also have an important impact on the performance of the panniers in a Hummingbird system.

The very narrow top platform of the Hummingbird rack (less than three inches) is critical in several ways.  It steepens the angle of the vertical tubes in the sides of the rack.  The vertical tubes are, in effect, integrated triangulation struts.  The steeper their angle (flare), the more laterally rigid the rack will be.  The narrow platform allows panniers to be mounted a little closer to the wheel (always, the closer the better).  And lastly, as the angle of the sides of the rack increases it moves the bottom of the rack slightly outward, in effect, and it allows long panniers (those with 18 tubular frames or 18 plates) to clear the rear derailleur of the bicycle to which the rack is attached.  Panniers that are longer, are also thinner.  The thinner, the better.  So there are a number of elements of design that work together to increase the performance of the rack/pannier system, beyond the obvious ones like a super-stable integrated pannier mounting system.

As in all Hummingbird racks, the Standard Rear is available either in a custom-fit version or with a Pivotmount attachment mechanism.  It is a purely custom-built product made in many different configurations that vary with choices of different styles of taillight fittings, strap guides, integrated mounting system spacing, bracing and in finish.   And, like the other Hummingbird models, it was designed to perform as no other rack on the market and to offer a high level of craftsmanship in a field of products devoid of craftsmanship.  Base price: $575

The Hummingbird Standard Rear Rack reflects a great combination of low weight, starting at about 12.5 ounces, a high level of rigidity, extremely stable rack/pannier mounting stability and elegant craftsmanship and finish. Its in its own unique dimension of quality and performance.
As in all Hummingbird racks, the Standard Rear is available either in a custom-fit version or with a Pivotmount attachment mechanism.  It is a purely custom-built product made in many different configurations that vary with choices of different styles of taillight fittings, strap guides, integrated mounting system spacing, bracing and in finish.   And, like the other Hummingbird models, it was designed as a high-performance rack unlike any other rack on the market, and to offer a high level of craftsmanship in a field of products completely devoid of quality execution or finish. 

Base price of the Hummingbird IFT Standard Rear Rack in a rack/pannier system with ATS panniers: $1495

The tandem version of the Hummingbird Rear rack is alike the Standard version in all details and options with the exception that its top platform is longer and the horizontal portion of its sides are also a couple of inches wider to accommodate wider Ultra Lock mounting system spacing and large tandem/expedition panniers.  Spacing the fittings more widely is a critical aspect of performance and of the rack/pannier system design.  In my descriptions of some of the features of the Hummingbird racks I've yet to cover the Ultra Lock integrated mounting system in detail.  It is a very important feature of not just the Tandem Rear rack but all of the Hummingbird racks.  It's a design that separates the Hummingbird racks from all other racks.  And it is the design of the Ultra Lock integrated mounting system in the racks that ultimately makes it possible for the Hummingbird panniers to be mounted in an extremely rigid and strong manner.

The Ultra-Lock Mounting System is designed to provide extraordinarily rigid pannier-to-rack mounting. The four brass mounting fittings of the panniers slide into place under the stainless locking fittings in the racks and are tightened rigidly in place. The mounting fittings in Tandem rear racks are spaced at 8" at the top, and 5.5" at the bottom of the rack. In terms of stability and the lowest weight, it is the most advanced mounting system ever designed. (one complete fitting is shown in the photo)
It is in the thoughtful design of racks that the stable and rigid mounting of panniers and gear begins.  In this respect, the Hummingbird Tandem Rear rack is highly exceptional.  The rack has a very unique pannier locking system that is integrated into its design.  Its called the Ultra-Lock System.  The fittings for the Ultra Lock mounting system, that rigidly lock Hummingbird panniers in place on the racks, are silver-brazed directly to the rack.  There are four two-part pannier locking devices on each side of the rack (two in the top of the rack spread eight inches apart, and two at the bottom spread five inches apart).  These locking mechanisms operate in conjunction with specially machined brass fittings that are rigidly attached to the tubular internal frames of Hummingbird panniers.  When the panniers are mounted, the brass fittings are simply slid into place into their corresponding locking-fittings in the rack, and tightened.  Its a very simple mounting system and is easy to use, but it is also extraordinarily rigid and strong while being absurdly lightweight (the brass mounting fittings are about 1/7th the weight of typical pannier mounting hooks).

A Hummingbird IFT Tandem rear rack mounted to a frame utilizing the Pivot-Mount attachment mechanism. Through steep, integrated triangulation and an extremely stable pannier-to-rack mounting design, this rack is the ultimate in tandem and expedition touring performance. This design/model of the rear rack is used in conjunction with Hummingbird RP pannier models.
The Ultra-Lock system is one of many features and details of the Hummingbird Tandem Rear rack design that add up to extraordinary performance.  As with its companion Hummingbird Tandem Front High-Mount rack, this rear rack may be modified (corner bracing and wider Ultra Lock spacing) to perform exceptionally well under extreme tandem or expedition gear loads with Hummingbird RP Tandem or Hummingbird IFT Transit panniers.

(I should mention that bicycle tourists probably don't realize it, but the touring racks sold through bicycle stores or online retailers are not consciously designed to accommodate the rigid mounting of the panniers.   Any rack, whether it is a Tubus, Surly, Nitto, Jandd, Blackburn, Topeak, or any other brand, is little more than a simple platform in which panniers may be loosely hung.  At the same time, virtually all brands of panniers sold through the same types of outlets have very unstable mounting systems.  (This is typical of my customers' experiences: I didn't realize how much my Ortliebs flopped around until I used your panniers.).  I don't think that I would be exaggerating if I were to say that the design of both racks and panniers, as it relates to the rigid and stable mounting of touring gear, is very poor.  In view of the fact that the stable mounting of gear is the primary function of racks and panniers, it is a typical example of how products sold through bicycle stores and online retailers fall far short, performance-wise. 

Base price of a Hummingbird Tandem rear rack in a system with Hummingbird panniers: $ 1495