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Kolossal said:
As anyone here ever experienced problems from an aluminium rack? I always read stories about repairability of a steel rack when you're out in a remote village in Patagonia, but is this really a legitimate concern? I mean, people haul pretty big loads on aluminium racks and they seem to be working well. Could steel racks be (while being very nice, good looking and adding a "little something" to a touring bike) a wee bit overkill in most situation.
Repairability is not the issue. Steel stretches before it fails, where aluminum tends to snap with no warning. Steel's stretchiness gives a longer fatigue window than brittle aluminum.

The amount of strength lost from a day of flexing decreases with time with steel, but aluminum's fatigue stays the same throughout the life of the rack.

Here's a review that talks about the higher failure rate using aluminum racks over a whole bike fleet when they were in the business of leading supported bike tours:

http://biketrailerblog.com/2008/08/the-tubus-cargo-review/
 

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I am a weight weenie and am planning a cross us bike trip. I drink a lot and needed to mount two 1/2 gallon kleen kanteens low down.
The Surly front rack is just under 3 lbs and is pretty heavy. One can get front racks half this weight and I already had a 1 lb rack, but it just does not do the job.
Anyway, I finally gave up and got the Surly for my LHT.
The thing is as strong as a lion and I was able to easily mount two small Blackburn racks for the water bottle carriers to the surly rack behind the panniers with minimal xtra weight.
I used two small aluminium brackets. Surly has a slotted attachment bracket back there that is hugely useful, and its tough as hell.
So, the Surly rack cost me an xtra 1.5lb, but what I got for that was a front rack platform and a bomb proof rack to carry 2 panniers and 1 gal water very low to the ground making the bike as stable as anything.
I have done quite a lot of long dist touring and you must have reliable basic kit to enjoy it.
I have seen all kinds of problems with other bikes along the road. Your basic rig must be tough and Surly does this !!
To compensate for the xtra 1.5lb weight, I will carry less other stuff and lose 1.5lb on my belly. I will also go for a very light rear rack
What you need is tough equipment with the weight down low and the ability to carry lots of water. Water is key, you run out of water in the middle of nowhere and you are done !
The rest is all secondary. In my opinion It's worthwhile to trade 1.5 lb for the surly front rack. Cut back 1.5lb on your other stuff and you will never regret it !!
I wish someone had told me this when I started out trying to save a bit of money on garbage kit.
 
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