Bike Bags and Racks: How to Choose
Whether you use your bike to commute, run errands or take longer trips, you’ll want to carry more than just a tube-repair kit.
Typical Bike Bag Setups
Everyone is different, but here are some common gear-carrying strategies.
|Bike Commuting||Running Errands||Bike Touring|
|Seat bag or rack trunkfor tools, tubes and small items||Seat bag for tools and tubes||Seat bag for tools and tubes|
|Daypack with sleeve for laptop, lunch and other basics||Front basket for medium-size items||Handlebar bag for map, snacks, phone and other small essentials|
|Rear rack and panniersfor books, clothes, shoes||Rear basket for a large grocery bag||Front rack and panniers for small or soft items|
|Rear rack andpanniers for large grocery bags||Rear rack and panniers for large items such as camping gear or clothes|
Rear and Front Racks
A rack provides a stable framework to hold gear on your bicycle. In good weather, items can be strapped directly to the rack without a cover. For foul weather or the ability to hold loose items together, rack trunks and panniers can be easily attached to the rear rack. These offer a secure and balanced way to carry your gear in all conditions.
- Rear racks are usually rated to carry loads between 20 and 50 pounds, which is sufficient for most uses.
- A few heavy-duty touring models are able to carry up to 80 pounds. These racks have 3 supports per side (others have only 2).
- Most bikes have braze-on mounts to accept the bolts that attach a rear rack. If your bike does not, you can still mount a rack using metal C clips included with the mounting hardware. These clips wrap around your bike’s frame tubes and accept the lower mounting bolt.
A front rack offers an additional mounting spot for gear. It is a secondary option after a rear rack as it adds weight to the bike’s front wheel and can affect steering and balance. Front racks are popular mostly with touring cyclists who carry large volumes of gear.
There are 2 styles of front racks:
- A standard rack (also called a “top mount”) maximizes gear capacity as the load can be carried above the front wheel as well as hung off the sides.
- A low rider rack accepts bags only on the sides but holds that weight closer to the ground for better balance.
Types of Bike Bags
Named after the French word for baskets, these rear bags are a popular way for commuters and other cyclists to carry their gear. Panniers offer roomy storage, protection from weather and the ability to quickly disconnect from the rack so you can take your gear with you. They attach to racks using a simple system of spring-loaded hooks, clips or bungee cords. They can be used singly or in pairs.
Caution: Make sure your heel does not contact the bag during your normal pedaling rotation. Too-large panniers (or those improperly mounted too far forward) can cause this impact and an unsafe riding situation.
Small items tend to get lost in large panniers, so consider using stuff sacks to get organized. For example, you can stick tools in one sack, keys/wallet/phone in another and snacks/energy food in a third. This reduces the need to dig around.
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.
Best use: Baskets offer fair-weather riders an easy way to carry a range of items. Large rear baskets are ideal for runs to the grocery store since most are sized to fit 1 large grocery bag per side.
Also called a saddle pack, saddle bag orunderseat bag, this fits under your bicycle seat and usually attaches to the rails of the saddle itself. Most hold small items like a multi-tool, spare tube, tire levers, a patch kit or an energy bar. Larger models can carry a few extra items. Keep this mounted to your bike to ensure you never leave home without the essentials.
This attaches to your handlebars with clamps or straps. It offers easier access and often more room than a seat bag, so it’s perfect for a camera, sunscreen or snacks. Some models feature a clear plastic sleeve on top to display a map-a popular choice among touring cyclists.
Caution: Be sure the bag you choose does not affect your ability to operate the brakes or shifters on your bike, and do not overload them as extra weight carried up this high can affect balance.
This stable bag mounts on top of your rear rack using either straps or a tack system. Rack trunks are smaller than panniers but larger than seat bags, making them a happy medium for some or a simple way for others to add capacity. Many have plastic sheets to reinforce the base area and retain the shape of the bag. Packing is simplified by some sort of pocket system or divided storage. Some trunks even offer integrated rain covers.
Tips on Buying and Using Bags
Some bags adjust via compression straps or expandable collars. This allows you to carry loads of varying sizes without having the unused portion of the bags flapping in the wind or the load shifting as you move on your bike.
Ease of Access
As noted earlier, handlebar bags are more accessible than panniers or seat bags. Other considerations: How many openings are there? Zippers or flaps? Are there small pockets for organization or simply a large, undivided space? Some riders care about this; others, not so much.
If you’re an all-conditions rider who doesn’t shy away from rain and road spray, look for a bag rated as “waterproof” instead of “water resistant.” Waterproof bags are made from a rubberized material to keep the contents dry even in a downpour.
If you park in public areas, you’ll probably want to take your gear with you. A fixed set of baskets may not be the best option; choose panniers instead. For seat bags, look for one with a quick-release mounting bracket rather than a set of buckles or hook-and-loop straps.
Caution: Be sure that your bags attach securely to your bicycle. Loads that are not secured can shift during your ride unexpectedly and cause a loss of control.
Avoid carrying loads too high on your bike-it can impair your steering or ability to stay upright. Loads carried on a rear rack affect bike handling less than loads carried in front. The lower you can carry a load the better. A fully loaded bike must not impair your ability to avoid obstacles, other riders or cars.
Panniers do not need to be used as a set. If you only have enough gear to fill one, it’s best to load one and hang it off the right side of the bike so it does not stick out into traffic. If the rack and pannier are securely mounted, you will not even notice the absence of a bag on the other side.