You only need to know one thing about buying a luggage rack for an extended bicycle tour: don’t get a cheap one.
Racks take a beating on a bike tour. The rack has to carry a heavy load and it is constantly exposed to the bumps and jostles of riding.
This strain means that cheaper racks will probably be fine for shorter journeys close to home (especially if you’re just trying out touring, and not yet sure how much you’ll be riding). On a longer expedition, however, of several months or more cheaper racks are almost certain to break partway through the trip.
Unless your idea of fun is using hose clamps and splints to put your rack back together and then trying to get it fixed or replaced in the next town, do yourself a favour and invest in quality from the beginning. A good rack should be so trouble free, you’ll hardly remember it’s there, even after thousands of kilometers of loaded touring.
Look for these features:
- Steel – Steel racks have proven themselves to be strong and reliable over long distances and extreme terrain. There are some good aluminium racks out there but in general we think steel is the best choice for extended international touring. Steel racks can also be easily welded back together, if necessary.
- High Load Capacity – The most robust back racks are rated for about 90lbs or 40kg of weight. You probably won’t carry that much but it’s nice to have more capacity than you need and know the racks are more than strong enough for the job.
- A Guarantee – Hopefully you’ll never have to claim on it but the best racks come with a substantial warranty.
Your bike will also play a part in which rack you go for. Most touring bikes have eyelets that allow you to fit just about any rack to the frame. If you have suspension or disc brakes, however, or want to tour on a bike without eyelets, you’ll have to go for a rack like the ones made by Old Man Mountain.
We travel with Tubus Logo and Tubus Ergo steel racks. They come with a warranty that includes replacement, sent to anywhere in the world, for the first 3 years and a 30 year guarantee in general. This warranty alone makes Tubus racks very attractive for anyone planning to do a lot of bike touring.
Our racks have so far proved to be exceptionally reliable. Friedel hasn’t had any problems with her racks. Andrew did need some reinforcement work done by a welder after 26,000km (we stupidly let some rust set in, instead of touching up the protective paint in one spot) but it was easily fixed and continues to carry a heavy load.
TUBUS LOGO RACK
Features: Good heel clearance. Low mounting point to improve centre of gravity.
Price: £90 from Wiggle
TUBUS ERGO RACK
Features: Like the Logo, the rack sits low so you have a nice, low centre of gravity on the bicycle.
Price: £108 from Wiggle
Also popular are the Tubus Cargo and Tubus Tara racks. They are used by many bike tourists. “No complaints, they just work!” say Tara & Tyler of Going Slowly and that’s exactly how a rack should be.
TUBUS CARGO RACK
Features: Extremely stable. The standard for long-distance bike touring.
Price: $120 from REI and £68 from Wiggle
TUBUS TARA RACK
Features: A best seller from the Tubus range. Easy to fit and rugged.
Price: $120 from REI and £68.40 from Wiggle
Alternatives to Tubus Racks
Tubus isn’t the only game in town.
One alternative comes from Surly. Their Long Haul Trucker touring bike has gotten rave reviews and we love the look of their Surly Nice front rack. It has a top platform so you can mount something lightweight like your sleeping bag and mat to the front of the bike, saving room on the back for the heavy stuff (like when you need to carry extra water).
When James Welle and his wife Sarah went on their world tour, James tried out the Surly racks and felt they were even sturdier than the Tubus ones Sarah used. The Surly Nice is certainly hefty, weighing in at 1,382g (double the weight of a Tubus rack) and rated to carry about 30kg of gear – that’s a lot for a front rack!
If you want to take a mountain bike with suspension on tour or fit racks to a bike without eyelets, have a look at Old Man Mountain racks.
They’re made of aluminium, which we wouldn’t normally favour, but Old Man Mountain has an excellent reputation and we’ve never heard a bad word about these racks. We looked at their Cold Springs rear rack at a bike fair and it seemed very solid. Both the front and rear versions are rated to carry 22kg – more than the Tubus racks allow you to carry up front.
A final word on racks. No matter which one you choose, chances are the paint will wear a little thing with time, especially where the panniers rub up against the racks. Keep some touch-up paint handy so you can keep the racks free of rust and working well for a long time to come.