Shovel Research Rod Steward Review: Ooh La La

The Shovel Research Rod Steward is a minimal and elegant 224-gram aluminum bag support designed to prop up and stabilize the Ron’s Bikes Fab’s Chest and other top-opening bags. We’ve been testing one for several months for this full review…

A lot of rack systems are a little overbuilt—and dare I say antiquated—for rugged off-road use. Many are too heavy or convoluted for our needs, and others are limited by narrow tire clearance that doesn’t quite jive with voluminous rough-stuff-ready tires. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great options out there these days, such as a few excellent minimal front racks and the relatively svelte and off-road-specific offerings from Tumbleweed, Old Man Mountain, and Ortlieb. However, most racks are over 600 grams—save the shiny new Tumbleweed Titanium Pannier Rack—which is pretty heavy compared to soft bag solutions. The Shovel Research Rod Steward is about a third of that weight and provides one essential function that many folks use a full-on rack for: propping up and stabilizing a bag. I’ve used the Rod Steward on a handful of trips for this detailed review.

Shovel Research Rod Steward Review

Rod Steward = Pec Dec 2.0

Those keeping track might recall a similar solution to the Rod Steward from several years back. Ronnie Romance came up with the Pec Dec Chest Support (aka “bag o’ parts”) back in 2018-19-ish to provide a similar level of bag buttressing as a rack but at a fraction of the weight. When I first saw it in photos on the interwebs, all I could think was that it looked kind of sketchy; three bars with a couple of P-clamps and only two bolts just didn’t seem that sturdy. However, I put one to use on a big and bouncy ride down the Canadian section of the Eastern Divide Trail a couple years ago and was nothing but impressed. It did exactly what it intended to and added very little to the overall weight of the system.

So, how does this simple accessory work? For the most part, all a rack does when used as a bag support is stabilize the bag and lift it up from the front wheel to prevent tire buzz/contact. In some instances, it supports the load, but that’s not really the case if strapped to the handlebars; and a lot of front racks are too low, which is in part why Bags By Bird offers “right height” custom handlebar bags to make up the difference. The Pec Dec—and now the Rod Steward—distilled what it takes to accomplish the same task by triangulating the force at the handlebar connection, the bottom of the bag, and the fork, all with a height that can be adjusted, to some degree. The Pec Dec uses a single length of tubing mated to a pair of Nitto rack struts via rack hardware and P-clips to form the U-shaped brace that attaches to mid-blade mounts on the fork. With the bag strapped to the handlebars and the tubing locked into the straps on the bottom of the bag, the entire system becomes rigid and incredibly stable. Better yet, it weighs just under 150 grams.  

  • Pec Dec
  • Pec Dec Chest Support
  • Ron's Bikes Fabio's Chest Review
  • Pec Dec

This style of system is also useful for smaller riders, as most taller folks can use handlebar bags (and saddlebags) without a rack and still avoid the dreaded tire buzz. I’m tall and don’t have any issues with tire clearance, but I love the idea of a simple piece of hardware that keeps my handlebar bag from crushing cables and rubbing the head tube. Note that the Rod Steward can be used to prop up a saddlebag used in the rear, too, as long as you have braze-ons in the right spot. I’ve used a saddlebag before, but I prefer a seat pack, rack-top dry bag, or small panniers.

  • 2022 Philly Bike Expo
  • Shovel Research Rod Steward Review
Owner of Shovel Research, Sal, at Philly Bike Expo last year; photo by Conan Thai. Shovel Research was started as a way for Sal to organize all their creative projects under one name. “The goal is for occasional production work (like the Rod Steward) to fund the weirder, one-off stuff, like building bike frames and furniture/home goods and exploring small bicycle components in more detail.”

The Shovel Research Rod Steward operates on the same leverage principles as the Pec Dec, using the same attachment locations, but it’s like night and day. For one, the Pec Dec was essentially made from a hodgepodge of parts sourced from Nitto and a length of tubing, whereas the Rod Steward is custom-machined in Portland, Oregon, and has more of a polished look and feel.

What’s Included and Installation

Another thing that makes the Rod Steward different—and generally more streamlined—is that it only has two main components instead of three. When you order the Rod Steward, you get an aluminum crossbar that has two threaded holes, two aluminum mounting clips, two 16mm M5 bolts, two longer M5 bolts, and a CNC-machined U-shaped 6061-T6 aluminum 3/8” rod that’s embossed with “Rod Steward” at the top. That’s everything you need to attach it to your bike and bag, all neatly bundled in a plastic-free cardboard package.

The Shovel Research Rod Steward it pretty easy to install. You simply bolt on the brackets, slide the U-bar in and clamp it into place, then bolt it to the bar that’s slid into the straps on the underside of the bag. Many top-opening, saddlebag-style bags have similarly spaced webbing straps at the bottom that can work with the Rod Steward. I largely used the it with the size small Ron’s Fabio’s Chest, which is what it’s made for. However, I also fit it to an older model of the Goldback by Bags By Bird, and that worked great as well. Note that it doesn’t work with the Swift Zeitgeist as it does not have Molle-style webbing straps.

I used the Rod Steward as a front bag support on my Stooge MK6 for this review, and for the sake of not cutting the U-bar, I opted to attach it to the middle bolt holes of the three-pack on the fork. If I was committing it to this bike, I’d probably move it to the upper bolt holes to come closer to the recommended 45° angle that Shovel Research recommends and free up the lower mounts on the fork for bottle cages. On that note, it might require some spacers to push the bottle cages outward since the brackets are fairly chunky.

Shovel Research Rod Steward Review

The most significant hurdle I faced in the installation is that the Stooge has a Boost-spaced fork that’s pretty wide. I had to bend the U-shaped bar to make it fit, and technically, I stretched it a little past the tolerance that Shovel Research states. As you can see in this diagram, the inner width of the Rod Steward U-bar is about 5.25” (13.34 cm), and Shovel Research states that it works with forks that have an outside-to-outside measurement of 4.25 to 5.25″ between braze-ons. The width of the Stooge fork at the middle eyelets is 6.18″ (15.7 cm).

  • Tumbleweed Titanium Pannier Rack Review
  • Shovel Research Rod Steward Review

Obviously, I don’t recommend following my example, but I didn’t have any issues. Fortunately for others with wide forks, or forks narrower than 4.25″, Sal makes custom versions of the Rod Steward too. Regarding fit, in Sal’s words: One size fits most. The width is non-adjustable and is optimized for mid-blade mounts on wide-clearance steel forks. It is designed for multi-surface riding on rigid bicycle forks. It may also work on some mid-seatstay braze-ons, but will be too wide for most road bike forks and a no-go on rack strut eyelets (the ones toward the top of seatstays). The optimal application is at a 45˚ angle relative to the steerer.

That’s a hyper-abbreviated summary of my experience and how I installed it, but you can find the full installation guide here in PDF format.


I didn’t have any issues with the Rod Steward deforming or flexing, even after bending it beyond tolerance to fit the Stooge fork. I can’t say I took the Rod Steward on a long month-long, multi-thousand-mile trip during my testing period, but I made sure to put it through a few very rugged rides with a full bag before putting pen to paper for this review. As usual, I carried my full sleep system and a few other odds and ends in my front bag, which happens to be a relatively heavy waxed Cordura Fabio’s Chest. All told, the base weight was around 3.5 kilograms (7 pounds and 12 ounces). However, on at least one trip, I tossed a 16-ounce beer and some snacks in there, which probably pushed the weight well over 4 kilograms. I was a little worried that the aluminum U-bar might meet its match on some rooty and rocky doubletrack, but it held its own with no bending or other ill effects.

Shovel Research Rod Steward Review
  • Shovel Research Rod Steward Review
  • Shovel Research Rod Steward Review

In Use/Observations

One thing I immediately liked about the Rod Steward is how easy it is to remove and install the bag, especially when compared to the Pec Dec. The Pec Dec was kind of cumbersome as you had to loosen the P-clips to slide them inward to remove it from the straps. The Rod Steward just requires that you loosen two bolts, then you slide it out from the bag. The downside is that with the Pec Dec, you can move the P-clips outboard against the bag’s straps, which keeps the bag from sliding laterally. The Rod Steward doesn’t offer this option, allowing a little bit of play. I didn’t find this to be a problem, but it’s worth pointing out.

  • Shovel Research Rod Steward Review
  • Shovel Research Rod Steward Review
Good Night 2023, Oaxaca, MX

Unfortunately, Sal recommends that you shouldn’t leave the Rod Steward on the bike with no bag. That’s probably a wise idea, although I don’t really see the risk of a catastrophic failure. I left the aluminum mounting clips on the fork for a several weeks when the Rod Steward wasn’t in use and didn’t have any issues with the bolts loosening or crimping the clamps, for what it’s worth.

There are two versions of the Rod Steward. The 11″ crossbar fits a small Fab’s Chest and the 14” crossbar fits a large. Both are available in raw aluminum, as pictured, and anodized black. And, as mentioned, Sal offers custom iterations with different lengths and widths.

  • Model/Size Tested: Shovel Research Rod Steward (small, raw)
  • Actual Weight: 224 grams
  • Place of Manufacture: Oregon, USA
  • Price: $100
  • Manufacturer’s Details:


  • Lightweight, elegant design that’s far simpler than a rack
  • Made in Oregon by a small-scale maker
  • Keeps bag stable and off the tire
  • Easy to install, works with different stack heights, and simple to attach and detach from bag
  • Custom widths available


  • Shouldn’t/can’t live on the bike when not in use
  • Single width isn’t ideal for all fork widths
  • Not recommended for carbon forks

Wrap Up

I love seeing small makers come up with new and innovative products around our little corner of the bike market. The Shovel Research Rod Steward is the epitome of this, a product—made in Oregon by an owner-operated brand—focused on distilling one simple function that was formerly relegated to racks that either don’t quite work or are overbuilt for this purpose. As a handlebar bag support, which is what I used it for, it’s an elegant system that keeps the bag stable and off the tire. It’s easy to use and far simpler than a rack.

The Rod Steward serves a niche purpose and is largely built around one bag, so it’s not for everyone. However, if you use a Fabio’s Chest, a Bags by Bird Goldback, or a similar top-opener with the right provisions and you’re looking to keep your setup simple and lightweight, the Rod Steward is well worth considering.

Further Reading

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