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Choosing Luggage Racks for Bicycle Touring


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 cheap 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) but are a bad idea on a long expedition, where they’re likely to break relatively quickly.

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.jpgTUBUS LOGO RACK
Weight: 730g
Capacity: 40kg
Features: Good heel clearance. Low mounting point to improve centre of gravity.
Price: £85.50 from Wiggle
tubus ergo lowrider 06 med.jpgTUBUS ERGO RACK
Weight: 570g
Capacity: 15kg
Features: Like the Logo, the rack sits low so you have a nice, low centre of gravity on the bicycle.
Price: £67.50 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 06 med.jpgTUBUS CARGO RACK
Weight: 625g
Capacity: 40kg
Features: Extremely stable. The standard for long-distance bike touring.
Price: $120 from REI and £68 from Wiggle
tubus tara lowrider 06 medTUBUS TARA RACK
Weight: 525g
Capacity: 15kg
Features: A best seller from the Tubus range. Easy to fit and rugged.
Price: $120 from REI and £62.10 from Wiggle

Tubus isn’t the only game in town though.

surlyfrontrackOne 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!

CSpringsFrontIf 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.

Tubus also makes a rack for suspension forks, the Tubus Swing (£94.50 from Wiggle).

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.

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24 Responses to “Choosing Luggage Racks for Bicycle Touring”

  1. Old Man Mountain front racks sit above the suspension. This is unsprung weight, the suspension does not work properly. The Tubus Swing sits above the suspension. I have tried both intensively. I found the Tubus is the better one.

    • Tom Allen says:

      I can see why this makes sense. I tried to fit a Swing but it was too narrow for my fork crown. Interestingly there are experienced tourers with the exact opposite preference to yours (http://whileoutriding.wordpress.com)!

      With suspension I think the best solution is to not have any luggage on it at all – that’s part of the reason I use a trailer. However I’ll be carrying extra weight this year as my other half is joining me, so we’ll see how it works out.

    • Aushiker says:

      If both racks “sit above the suspension” what makes the Tubus Swing work better? I am looking at the Tubus but also thought it work considering the OMM Sherpa. Thanks. Andrew

  2. Tom Allen says:

    Nice article. I used a Tubus Logo and it’s never failed me in 20,000km. I’ve just fitted an Old Man Mountain Sherpa Front rack to my suspension forks, it’ll be interesting to see how it fares this year.

    I’d recommend a trailer for moving a lot of stress off the bike in general. You can’t go quite as fast, but broken racks and spokes will be a thing of the past, plus it’s great when you need to carry extra supplies.

  3. Duncan Sargeant says:

    I chose an Old Man Mountain Ultimate Low Rider because I didn’t have front fork braze-ons, and now I’m a big fan. I have upgraded my bike since but the rack is staying – it gives me more confidence than my Tubus Logo rear rack. Actually I’m more worried about my Dawes steel forks breaking than this rack.

    It was expensive as racks go but its worth mentioning that in researching forums I could not find a single person stranded on the road with an OMM rack. I read about people with minor problems, and they were all sent full replacements wherever they happened to be in the world.

    Also wanted to mention that although its aluminium, they use a special welding rig to make their racks. I wish I could tell you more but I don’t know much about welding!

  4. Duncan Sargeant says:

    I’ve seen some discussions on crazyguyonabike with people saying they prefer to put more load on the front than the rear for balance. I’ll have to experiment with that, but anyone got a comment?

    • friedel says:

      We always travelled with a bit more weight in the back. That was partly because our front panniers were smaller and simply didn’t hold as much as the back panniers but also because on rocky roads, we felt the bikes were harder to handle with less weight in front.

      There is an argument though that more weight in front takes strain off your back wheel, which in turn means fewer broken spokes and less pressure on the rim.

      I think this could be a bit like the steel vs aluminium debate. You just have to try for yourself and see which one works better for you.

    • Aushiker says:

      This is now my preference. I have recently done a few days off-road touring on my hardtail mtb pulling a BOB Ibex and quickly found on the single-track in particular that the front end was way to light … I really needed some load on the front to help keep it on the ground. The Adventure Cycling Association suggest having 15-40 pounds on the front.

  5. James says:

    I’ve gone with the steel version of the Madison Summit. I think it’s basically a copy of the Tubus Cargo with a little more cross-bracing. No problems so far.

    • friedel says:

      Interesting James. I’ve never heard of Madison Summit racks before. At first glance they look to be reasonable quality. How much of a workout have you given them?

      • James says:

        I’ve done about 1000km of loaded touring with the Madison (so, not much by some people’s standards). I have pretty heavy panniers on the rack, because I don’t have a front rack yet. The rack has held up fine so far, apart from some scuffing from the metal pannier hooks – and it sounds like that happens to all racks.

  6. “You only need to know one thing about buying a rack for your bicycle tour: don’t get a cheap one”.

    Sorry to spoil the show -I rode 50,000km with 2 blackburn racks (£30 a piece). Neither broke, although I will admit that I was worried they might. To ease my worries I’m now riding through Africa with a Thorn rear rack and a Surly front rack – the latter feels super solid – platform is excellent for water (10L on it through Sahara). No complaints so far

    • friedel says:

      Pete, I’d be curious to know what changed your mind, since you had such a good experience with the Blackburns on the first trip? My comment about not getting a cheap rack came out of the fact that as we were travelling and talking to other bike tourists, broken racks seemed to be the most common complaint. Often, people just set out with the rack that came with their bike, which turned out to be not very good at all. If you were going for something below the Tubus price range, I’d agree with you that Blackburn has quite a good name.

      • Yes, it was talking to other bike tourers who had tubus and the like that made me worry that my blackburn racks would break – people said they would. Well they didn’t. Perhaps it was luck. Ultimately changing them for something proven to e stronger (and I can tell that my Thorn exped and Surly racks are stronger)has taken a lot of worry off my mind. I shouldn’t really be writing all this with the roads through Africa that lie ahead. Lets see how the racks take the strain over the next year.

  7. friedel says:

    Here’s one more interesting rack that’s come to my attention – the Freeload Rack out of NZ. It’s another option for bikes with suspension or without eyelets.

  8. I’d like to cast a vote for Nitto racks here too. Nitto (of Japan) do hand-made Cro-Mo front & rear racks, fillet braised and of the highest quality. I think Rivendell are big fans of Nitto – which tells you they are very good, and very expensive…

  9. Hello,
    I use a road frame for touring so unfortunately my options are limited. Right now I am using an Axiom Streamliner Road rack since I have no eyelets or brazeons. Its aluminum and that worries me, but so far so good. Hopefully one day I run across a steel rack for my road frame.
    Thanks,
    Jon

    • Helen Dowson says:

      Jon,

      Have you looked at the Old Man Mountain Sherpa or Cold Springs? Tubus also do conversion kits for attaching via a quick release and a clampset for attaching to the seat stays.

  10. Here I don’t totally agree. Using the same bike for tours and everyday trips, I need a conventional rack with the usual spring flap to stow the sixpack or the loaf of bread I just bought. Our Swiss-made Pletscher racks are made of aluminium, yet they never failed us. (OK, then we only did things like 3 weeks in Sweden, not around-the-world trips.) And their three-point mounting system allows for securely mounting a child seat or other stuff.

  11. James says:

    I have to say that the Beckman rear rack is bombproof! I’ve used it since 2003 with zero problems in 9000 miles so far. The only problem is it takes a year to get one.

  12. Ian says:

    Front is a Nitto Campee – Also known as the BIG Front Rack -and “Conservatively” rated @ 50lbs too! Extremely well made and would take more weight than 50lbs I beleive. On the rear is a Tubus Cosmo. Basically the two best racks out there in my eyes. Unsurpassed build quality – Especially the Nitto Campee – and well worth the money !

  13. genti says:

    well,i realy need a (second hand)touringbike,i love it ,but i cant finde here in my contry Albania,did you have any idea ?thankyou

  14. andrew says:

    Good review / overview – i need a rack suitable for front suspension. Are there any readers with experience of the tubus swing? i believe the bags sit higher than other models. Does this impair balance ?

    thanks for any feedback.

    • Aushiker says:

      Whilst I have a Tubus Swing to go on my Giant XTC 2 I haven’t actually got around to fitting it so cannot comment on how it performs. That said I don’t recall any significant negative comments when I research it before purchase.

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