The Gear: Jack the Rack

Posted By Gravel Union On the 26 May 2021

Emma chats with Miles Bartholomew-Gibbons, the designer behind Jack the Rack – a prototype product likely to appeal to anyone interested in gravelly bikepacking.

GU - Jack the Bike Rack - tell me a little of the thinking behind it?

Miles - After working in the bike industry for the last 10 years, I realised that there were many weird and often unnecessary standards that had been created for different aspects of the bike. Jack is kind of a reaction to the strange feeling of knowing the industry and designing products for it, yet still being confused when building and modifying bikes. The thinking behind Jack was not just about Jack, but about how we might create more universal products for the bike industry. We were trying to create something simple, yet get all the functionality of the most ‘integrated’ and over engineered components and parts out there. We also love making our bikes as capable as possible and racks are a great way to do this. But you don’t always want to run your rig with a rack. So, Jack is a temporary rack solution we were kind of looking for ourselves.

GU - Who do you think it's aimed at?

Miles - Jack is aimed at everyone from the person who has just started riding and is looking for easy ways to carry things on their bike (rather than their body, or not at all), all the way up to the pro/super experienced bike packer or daily commuter, but who wants the flexibility to change their bike set up with minimal hassle. The nice thing about Jack is that he leaves space for the users’ imagination. He isn’t prescriptive. And we’re thinking, as we finish development, how the individual user might be able to customise him and his use as much as possible.

GU - I've been lucky enough to have an early play with a sample, it's quite a versatile thing. Do you think it can take over from bikepacking bags?

Miles - Yes, it's been really great to get your feedback on him. The more, and more varied, feedback we can get in these final throws of sampling before Kickstarter and Production, the better. The point of Jack is not to take over from bikepacking bags. Bikepacking bags are great, and can be well designed for that exact type of riding. Jack is for someone who might not want to commit to such focused kit like bikepacking bags, but instead uses bags they already have, or switch between a bag and a basket, or having no carry solution on the front of the bike at all. Jack is just as easy to attach and remove as many bikepacking handlebar bags, so it’s a similar experience, just with more versatility. So, in short, no, I don’t think he will, and I don’t think he wants to!

GU - Are there any weight restrictions to it?

Miles - We haven’t (yet) tested him to destruction, but he has been built from solid stainless bar. Which means he can take a lot of weight before any plastic deformation happens (permanent bending). By a lot, I mean dynamic loads of 1000Nm and more. The straps are also designed in the same way that climbing harnesses are - with the same materials, so even though they are the weakest link in real world testing, they can actually take around 1 tonne static loads. Basically, he’s overbuilt for permanent damage/breakage. The weight limit is 5kg just because we feel like any more than this, in this position (in front of your bars) becomes a little more difficult to control the bike’s handling. However, we are regularly testing Jack with loads of around 7-10kg, on road and off road. We’re currently just making some alterations to allow a better experience in light single track style situations.

GU - Is it ok to use with carbon bars?

Miles – Yes and he fits both 25.4mm and 31.8mm bars. There are plastic spacers that interface with the handlebar and rack bar. This helps the rack stay clipped on with extra security, but also protects the handlebars from coming directly in to contact with metal. These spacers, although hard, don’t move and therefore don’t damage anything. Because there are no screws or mechanical fixings used on any part of the product (meaning you don’t need any tools to fit him), you cannot over tighten him. So actually, I’d say he’s even more protective of carbon bars than something like your “out front” computer mounts or any other bar mounted hardware that uses screws.

GU - So you’re starting up a Kickstarter campaign soon. Do you have any details?

Miles - Yes, we’re aiming to launch on Kickstarter by mid-summer. It’s slightly vague at the minute, just because we’ll only start the proper set up for this, once we are totally happy with our relationship and agreements with the factory, and we feel we have the product 95% nailed. We’ll be doing some promotion to gain pre-launch support, then launching with some good early-bird pricing. There’ll probably be some extra treats as stretch goals, that every bike packer or city commuter will find useful.

GU - Will you be able to get spares such as the yellow bungies or even the fabric base part that I can see maybe getting damage or worn out?

Miles - The whole rack has been designed with disassembly and repair in mind. Not only when you’re off the bike, but even when you are! Everything is replaceable (and we’ll carry spares of every part and component), but it is also so easy for anyone to replace the parts. Not only that, but if you are on the road, let’s say on a multi-week trip, and any part fails or gets worn out, the rack is designed so you could literally use any rope or string or even wire to retrofit him back into use. We love this kind of ‘open source’ thinking, and are always hacking stuff with our bike. So yeah, Jack is hackable and very durable for this reason. You would have to really try to destroy the actual rack part (the stainless steel). And even if you did, stainless can be bent back into shape. In fact, when you ‘cold form’ stainless, it hardens. So, you’d end up strengthening him if you did damage him with some kind of crash or whatever. However, because the stainless is solid bar, not hollow tube, it can elastically deform much further, before any ‘permanent’ shape change occurs. Again, so great for long term durability and carrying heavy loads, heavier than our set weight limit.

GU - You sound quite confident about Jack and its reason for existing. Any last thoughts or reasons you’d like to share?

Miles - Yes, I am really excited about bringing Jack to market, because he is really a symbol of inclusivity and enablement. Let’s get more people out on bikes, both on their holidays and around the city. Easy to use, durable and satisfying carry solutions are such an important part of further bike use and adoption. We’re doing this because we know how great bikes are, but how many barriers there still are to getting more people involved. Vive La Vélo!

You can find out more details about Jack the Rack on their freshly launched website