How to Choose a Bike Rack and Bag

A daypack or messenger bag is perfect for shorter trips, but some of your best options for carrying gear are racks, baskets, and bags that fit on your bike.
A daypack or messenger bag is perfect for shorter trips, but some of your best options for carrying gear are racks, baskets, and bags that fit on your bike.

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Types of Bike Racks

A daypack or messenger bag is perfect for shorter trips, but some of your best options for carrying gear are racks, baskets, and bags that fit on your bike. Whether you use your bike for commuting, running errands, or longer trips, you will need a way to carry essentials, from a small repair kit to full-on camping gear.

Rear Rack

In good weather, items can be strapped straight to the rack without a cover; in bad weather, or to hold loose items together, bags like rack trunks and panniers can be readily connected to the rear rack. A rack offers a sturdy framework to hold gear on your bicycle.

Typically, rear racks have three supports per side (some have only two), and are designed to carry loads of 20 to 50 pounds, which is plenty for most applications. A few heavy-duty touring models can carry up to 80 pounds.

The braze-on mounts that many bikes have are where rear racks are supposed to attach. If your bike does not have one, you can still mount a rack by using the metal C clips that come with most rack mounting hardware; these clips fit around your bike’s frame tubes and take the lower mounting bolt.

Front Rack

With its extra mounting space for gear, a front rack is a secondary choice to a rear rack since it adds weight to the front tire of the bike, which can influence balance and steering. Touring cyclists who carry a lot of gear are the main users of front racks.

Front racks are mostly made in two styles:

The gear capacity of a normal rack, also known as a “top mount,” is maximised since the load can be slung off the sides and carried above the front wheel.

A low rider rack accepts bags only on the sides but holds that weight closer to the ground for better balance.

Front racks are made to bolt to your bike’s braze-on mounts, much like rear racks do.

Bike Trailer for Cargo

Consider a bike trailer for cargo if you need to transport a lot of goods; a trailer provides ample storage for towing bulky items around town or on long-distance rides.

Usually attached to your bike’s rear hub, cargo trailers can be used either alone or in conjunction with front and rear racks, depending on how much you need to carry. Some riders feel that pulling a trailer takes the weight off of their bike frame, so they choose to pull a trailer instead of carrying everything on front and rear racks.

Types of Bike Bags

Top Mid-Priced Pannier: Overboard Classic waterproof

Panniers

Ideal for long-distance bike trips, urban rides, and bike commuting carrying extra clothes, camping gear, and daily necessities.

Panniers, which get their name from the French word for baskets, are designed specifically for front or rear racks and provide ample storage, weather protection, and the ability to quickly disconnect from a rack on your bike so you can take your gear with you. They attach to racks using a simple system of spring-loaded hooks, clips, or bungee cords.

Stuff sacks are a great way to stay organised because little things often get misplaced in big panniers.

Caution: Overly big panniers (or ones wrongly mounted too far front) might produce this impact and a risky riding position. Make sure your heel does not strike the bag during your typical pedaling rotation.

Baskets

Best for carrying a range of items, including grocery bags, on fair-weather rides.

Baskets can carry loads on the front and/or back of your bicycle. Rear baskets are usually mounted on either side of the rear wheel. They can carry tall loads, as they have no lid.

Front baskets tend to be smaller than their rear-mounted cousins; they are most often hung off the handlebars or anchored to the front fork with metal stays.

Saddle Packs

Ideal for toting a variety of objects, such as shopping bags, during rides in fair weather.

Keep this affixed to your bike to make sure you never leave home without the necessities. Also known as a seat bag, saddle bag, or under seat bag, this slips beneath your bicycle seat and typically attaches to the rails of the saddle itself. Larger models can store a few more items.

Handlebar Packs

Ideal for bringing things you use frequently, like food, sunscreen, and a camera.

A clear plastic sleeve to display a map is a common option among touring cyclists, as it provides quicker access and frequently more room than a seat bag. This connects to your handlebars using clamps or straps.

Exercise caution while selecting a bag for your bike. Make sure it will not interfere with your ability to use the brakes or shifters, and avoid overloading it as additional weight this high can impair balance.

Rack Trunk

Ideal for use when you need a bag that is bigger than a seat bag but smaller than a pannier—for example, to carry a jacket, tools, and food.

Packing is made easier by some sort of pocket system or divided storage; some trunks even offer integrated rain covers. Rack trunks are smaller than panniers but larger than seat bags, making them a happy medium for carrying extra clothing, bike tools, and lunch. Many have plastic sheets to reinforce the base area and retain the shape of the bag.

Frame Bags

Ideal for keeping tools, food, and phones close to hand.

Larger frame bags for bikepacking and touring can accommodate hydration reservoirs; most frame bags clip to the top tube of your bike and are sized to keep food, phones, tools, and other items within easy reach.

Bike Bag Features

Best Bicycle Panniers: At A Glance

Adjustability

Compression straps and expandable collars are two ways that some bags can be adjusted so that you can carry loads of different sizes without worrying about the bags’ unused area flapping in the wind or the load changing when you ride your bike.

Ease of Access

Handlebar bags are a wonderful option for tiny, often used things because they are easier to access than panniers or seat bags. Other features to think about are the number of openings (flaps or zippers), the presence of little pockets for organisation, or just a vast, uncluttered space.

Water Resistance

Choose a bag rated as “waterproof” rather than “water resistant” if you are an all-weather rider who does not mind getting wet from rain and road spray. Waterproof bags are made of a rubberized material that keeps the contents dry even in heavy rain, and many have a roll-top closure to keep water out.

Attachment Options

Panniers attach to racks using a simple system of spring-loaded hooks, clips, or bungee cords, and are easy to disconnect; for seat bags, look for one with a quick-release mounting bracket rather than a set of buckles or rip-and-stick straps. If you park in public spaces, you will probably want to bring your gear with you.

Cyclists ride down a forest road with fully loaded panniers and other cargo

Take care: Make sure your bags are fastened to your bike securely. Unsecured loads have the potential to shift throughout your ride and cause you to lose control.