Ultimate Winter Commuter Build: Rack and Fat Fenders

My cheddar build commuter makes biking to work in the winter easy as a ride in the park.

In my eternal quest to create the ultimate winter commuter bike, I have added full coverage fenders and modified the rear rack I built for my Schlick Northpaw. Regular readers may remember this post where I described how I built a very minimal rack in a couple of hours in my basement. I left it bare metal so I could modify it. After riding it for a while, I decided it needed additional tubing to keep the panniers from flexing into the rear tire. The photo below shows how my first attempt at the rack looked.

Phase one of the rack only had a single vertical stay on each side. I found that my panniers moved around enough while riding to hit the rear tire.

To fix the rack problem, I heated up the joint at the top of the stay, cut the stays down, mitered them and brazed them back in a more plumb position. Then I bent  matching rear tube and brazed them in position. I brazed in some fender mounts at the lower corners and under one of the top cross braces on the rack so I could attach the rear fender stays to the rack rather than at the braze-ons near the rear dropouts.

The ultimate winter commuter? Fat tires, internally geared Alfine 11 hub with Gates Carbon Centertrack drive, Alfine front dynamo hub powering a Super Nova E3 headlamp, Hayes Hydraulic disc brakes, Full coverage fenders, and Bar Mitts. What is missing? Dillenger studded tires are still on my wish list.

I bought the fenders for $108 from Big O Manufacturing out of Minneapolis. The only modifications I had to make to install the front fender was to notch out two spots so I could pull the fenders up higher on my near the fork crown. The rear fender took a bit more work. First, I had to replace my 113 Gates Center Track belt with a 115 to move the tire back 11 millimeters so I had enough clearance for the fenders at the bridge on the chain stays. Then I had to grind away some of the brake bridge up near the top of the seat stays to add clearance there. If you think you are thinking of ordering a Schlick Northpaw and you might want to add fenders, just tell them and they can build the bike with the bridges so you have the clearance. I didn’t think about that when I ordered mine, dooh!

The next rack I build will be about a half inch taller to give a bit more clearance.

You can see where I had to grind away an arch in the brake bridge. If you order a Northpaw, just ask that they build the bike with room for fenders. They can use a thinner curved bridge so you don’t have to pull out an angle grinder like I did.

You can see the rack remains unpainted. I want to ride it a little longer to make sure I have it right before I ask my West Side pal Jason from Sanchez Paintshop to paint the rack and stay where I ground away the tubing. Since he has to touch up the frame orange anyway, I thought maybe I might have him pain the rack orange too. What about the fenders?  Should I leave them black or keep the orange flowing?

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

12 thoughts on “Ultimate Winter Commuter Build: Rack and Fat Fenders

  1. Looks great Dave! I vote for keeping the fenders black, it’s a nice contrast. It’ll give you that “Black & Decker” look.

    • I think I agree with the contrast idea. I’ll probably defer to Jason in the end. I have never seen him do a paint job I didn’t like. If you have not seen his work, click on the link in the post to see his galleries. He paints a lot for Dave Wages of Ellis Cycles.

  2. Nice work, but I can’t believe you took a grinder to the frame! That is courage. I just tore a piece of foam off my new ski goggles to reduce fogging, and I could hardly bring myself to do it.

    • Peter, you have to remember that I built for Waterford Precision Cycles, have a frame jig, torch and all the tubing and parts I need to build a bike in my basement. AND, my good friend Jason Sanchez of Sanchez Paintshop is a little over a mile from my house.

      Not bragging, but I’m more than your average do-it-yourselfer.

  3. Looks cool, Dave…. my vote is to paint fenders to match frame, swap fixation saddle and pedals for black ones. A lot of black contrast already with those massive meats!

  4. I can’t quite wrap my head around $108 for a pair of fenders.  I’ve got an old Schwinn Woodlands with a pair of Mt. Zefal full-coverage fenders and a Japanese copy of an 1990′s vintage Blackburn rack, and that seems to work out OK for my commuting around La Crosse.

    And personally, I think orange frame with black fenders is an OK combination.  Black goes with damn near anything anyway.


    • Hey Bill, thanks for the comments. All things for fatbikes are higher priced because production runs remain very small. The fenders are from a one man operatiion.

      • Just re-read the article and then checked out more info on the bike.  Didn’t realize it was a fat-bike with the extra-wide tires so I can now better understand your need to go with special-build fenders rather than off-the-shop-wall stuff.

        But still, 108 bucks was about the same amount I paid in 1973 for my very first 10-speed (a Japanese-made, steel-framed, Suntour-equipped “Crystal”, as reviewed by Eugene Sloane in his column that he was writing for ‘Popular Mechanics’ at that time).  I am still very definitely “old school” — and low budget!!


    • Harold, the centertrack belt drive has worked flawlessly in snow, slush, mud and sand. Gates has it dialed. Ideal for bikes that hit the beach. I ride it under water all the time in the summer. Zero maintenance

  5. Great innovation and problem solving, Dave.

    Now can you push the needle and encourage any bike manufacturer to create something along these lines as standard equipment?

    • Well Bob, not sure if the industry is ready for an off the shelf fatbike winter commuter. There are now lots of companies offering fendered IGH commuters with dynamo lighting though.

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