The first time you ride a bike with a rack and loaded panniers fitted, the sensations is somewhat alien. When full, panniers can add a substantial amount of weight to bike.
However, if you’re carrying a heavy load, then placing the weight on your bike can certainly save your shoulders and back from undue stress – and you won’t get the sweaty triangle associated with a backpack.
Pannier racks and panniers are popular among commuters, touring cyclists and anyone who needs to carry a substantial volume – they’re great for day-to-day tasks like food shopping, too.
Pannier bags need to sit on pannier racks – and thus setting yourself up is a story of two halfs. Here’s a look at what to look for with each component, and some product suggestions…
Firstly, not all bikes are designed to have pannier racks fitted with ease – so you’ll need to ensure your bike is suitable before you go and buy a rack. A compatible bike will have eyelets for panniers near the tops of the seatstays and sometimes specific rack mount eyes next to the mudguard eyes above the rear dropouts.
If your bike doesn’t have eyelets, you can buy mounting systems which attach directly to the frame and rear axle. Alternatively, there are loads of frame and saddle bags available now which are ideal for lighter-weight tourers.
Assuming you have a bike set up for a rack, or you know you can get a mounting system, it’s time to choose a rack.
The most common style of pannier rack is fitted to the rear of the bike – but you can also opt for a rack at the front too. If you’re carrying a moderate load it’s probably easier to go with the rear. If you’re taking a lot of kit, opting for both and distributing it so that the greatest weight is at the back, but there’s some at the front, can create more even handling.
Pannier racks are typically made from steel, aluminum or titanium. Aluminium is generally cheapest, and it’s perfectly adequate. Steel is the strongest, though it can rust over time – unless you opt for stainless steel. Titanium is lightweight and it doesn’t corrode – but it’s more expensive.
The maximum weight that a pannier rack can withstand is a pretty crucial stat, so check this before buying.
Some racks offer more heel clearance than others. Purpose-designed touring bikes usually have long chainstays designed with panniers in mind, but if you’re using a classic road bike with shorter chainstays (or your feet are on the larger side) then it’s worth opting for one with more space allowance.
Many brands also supply add on mounting kits that help create a better fit with your bike – providing more heel clearance, adjusting the height at which the rack fits to offer a more natural centre of gravity, or with an extended mounting system to cater for pesky disc brakes.
The best rear pannier racks for 2018
LifeLine Alloy Rear Pannier Rack – £19.99 rrp
An aluminium option for those looking to keep their costs down, this pannier rack from LifeLine suits 26in and 700cc wheel bikes, and comes with spacers to ensure it fits disc brake bikes. The unit itself weighs 682g, and it can carry up to 25kg. There are eyelets for mounting reflectors and lights.
Topeak Super Tourist DX Rear Rack – £39.99 rrp
An aluminium pannier rack with stainless steel fittings and top plate designed to be compatible with Topeak trunk bags. This model is designed to suit all frame sizes, though it’s not compatible with seatstay-mounted disc brakes. The unit weight is 739g and max capacity is 30kg.
Blackburn Central Rear Pannier Rack – £59.99 rrp
A centrally mounted rear rack with a simple aesthetic and a max carrying load of 20.5kg. The body is made from aircraft-grade aluminium and this rack will suit 26in and 700c wheel bikes, with or without disc brakes. It’s got a loop for fitting lights and can carry a trunk bag on the top as well as pannier bags each side.
Tubus Logo Rear Carrier – £100 rrp
Tubus is a market leader, and the brand produces high-quality racks for serious touring cyclists. This stainless steel rack features lowered rails creating a lower centre of gravity. Pannier bags sit on each side, and there’s also a platform on top that’s ideal for strapping a tent or sleeping bag to. The weight is 680g, max capacity is 26kg.
Tubus Cargo Rear Rack – £90 rrp
The Cargo rack from Tubus is made from steel and it can carry a max load of 40kg with its 640g weight – it’s been designed to be extremely strong without too much heft. It’s available in several sizes to suit different wheel diameters – including 26in and 700c. A light bracket is included, which is a great added extra.
Blackburn Outpost Rear Pannier Rack – £109.99 rrp
Blackburn has used Easton Scandium and aircraft-grade aluminium tubing to construct a rack with a narrow profile which keeps the pannier rack weight close to the bike for improved centre of gravity. Pannier bags can be mounted in two different positions and there’s light and reflector mounts. The max weight is 25kg.
Once you’ve got your rack sorted, it’s time to choose a pannier or two to attach to it.
Your choice of pannier will be dramatically influenced by intended use: durability, waterproofing, maximum weight and personal style all come in to the equation.
Ortlieb is pretty much the market leader. The German-based manufacturer creates highly durable, totally waterproof panniers, with roll tops that keep the moisture out.
For those carrying a lighter load, there are plenty of panniers which can be removed from the bike and used as a standard backpack or shoulder bag, useful for shoppers and commuters.
The best panniers for 2018
LifeLine Pannier Bags Pair – £24.99 rrp
Panniers designed for diehard touring cyclists can be prohibitively expensive if you’re more of a day-to-day focused commuter – which is where this set from LifeLine comes in. Constructed from a high density canvas, they feature an adjustable quick release, storm cap closure and can carry up to 25 litres per bag.
Altura Arran 16 Single Pannier – £34.99 rrp
A durable, n0-frills pannier that still packs a punch thanks to water-resistant Duratec 600 fabric, 16-litre carrying capacity (max weight 10kg), reflective features plus backward facing lid pocket for easy access. Each bag weighs 0.7kg and there’s an inbuilt PE board for back panel support.
Ortlieb Back Roller City Pair – £85 rrp
A commuter-focused pair from Ortlieb that provides heaps of quality features – albeit at a price.
These panniers can sit on front or rear racks, and they use a bright nylon material with reflectors on each side for increased visibility. A QL1fixation system makes these easy to attach to a rack with one click, and the capacity is 20 litres on each side. The closure system is a roll top with buckle closure and there are shoulder straps for carrying off the bike.
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic QL2.1 Pannier Pair – £120 rrp
The Back Roller Classic panniers are lightweight, durable and waterproof. These are created with rugged, challenging touring in mind. Capacity is 20 litres each and these feature shoulder straps for carrying off the bike, with an array of pockets plus reflective features. They fit to the racks with sliding hooks which can be adjusted without tool, and they weigh 950g each.
Brooks England Lands End Rear Pannier – £98.99 rrp