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I am thinking of buying a combination briefcase/bike bag to carry a small laptop, some papers etc on my daily commute to and from work (I was thinking something like a Vaude Newport II L, 33cm high and 45cm wide). This would be mounted on a low-rider rack attached to the front of my bike (I can't attach any bags to my rear rack, as that space is taken up by my daughter's child seat; I take her with me for part of my commute).

I have been to a number of bike stores in my local area (northern Germany) to get advice on what bags to look at, but I have gotten wildly different opinions on what bags are suitable for mounting on a low-rider rack. Some tried to sell me bags that looked far too large for a low-rider rack, while others said that anything larger than (for instance) an Ortlieb Front-Roller City (30cm high, 25cm wide) it too big for my front rack.

I understand that anything I attach to my front rack must be narrow enough (or mounted far enough in front) that I don't touch it while pedalling.

  • Is that the only restriction on size, or are there others?
  • Is there an maximum recommended size for front low-rider bags?
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    Take the bike to the bike shop and put the bags on the rack and see how it is? – Batman Nov 4 '15 at 17:08
  • Related question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/17224/… – Rider_X Nov 4 '15 at 19:59
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    Have you considered pulling a small trailer? Either for your daughter or for your bags? – RoboKaren Nov 4 '15 at 20:57
  • @RoboKaren: that is my fall-back option :) The downside is the cost and the hassle (part of my commute is by ferry, and the trailer would be too large to take on the ferry, so I would have to leave it at my daughter's day-care...); I can make it work, but other solutions would be preferable. – Lightsider Nov 5 '15 at 9:48
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Starting this year I have been front loading two panniers on my commuter, with a reasonably large load (laptop, papers and project books, clothing (work and change) and food). For what I have learned is that there isn't a single answer to how large you can go and depends on a number of factors:

Q1: Pannier Size

I actually run rear panniers (and/or a computer pannier similar to your linked one) on the front (Orlieb rear panniers), and have been through three different low-rider front rack set-ups until I found one that worked with these larger sized panniers. The main problem for me was the smaller sized front racks didn't properly support a larger rear pannier (see Other Considerations Item 3).

This was a difficult process as this is a somewhat non-standard setup the on-line information information was inadequate at best. For example, I started with a Tubus Tara, which does not properly support larger panniers (as suggested by one of your LBS), but the Tubus Duo (you need fork that has inside and outside eyelets) has the lower rail positioned about an inch lower than the Tara which does support larger panniers. NO WHERE was this mentioned in any of the Tubus literature. I figured it out by going to a local bike shop and holding up different racks to my bike and my panniers. No one in the various bike shops had any idea about these differences, as the standard touring setup is to run smaller panniers on the front, with a larger load in the back.

I also tried top platform racks like the Surly Nice rack, which did a good job of supporting larger panniers, but I didn't like how much it flexed when trying to steer under heavier loads (this makes balance difficult). The higher pannier position compared to a lower rider made the bike feel less planted.

In the end answer seems to be a lot of trial and error, with little help out there because it is a non-standard setup. You will need to ensure your rack can properly support your pannier size and that you can properly fix the pannier to your rack (see Other Considerations Item 3). If one set-up doesn't work, don't give up hope you may want to try a different rack or pannier combo.

Q2: Max Size

By size I assume you are talking about weight (as your first question asks about size). As suggested by other answers it really depends on if the bike still handles well (see Other Considerations Item 1).

Other Considerations

While you didn't explicitly ask for general advice, I feel it is worth adding the following general notes about front-loading only as it is a rather niche approach:

  1. Steering is affected by front loading, it works best with a bike designed to front load. There seems to be two approaches here, (a) a low trail geometry (e.g., Soma GR) and (b) shifting the riders weight farther back by default so a front load balances the weight distribution (e.g., Specialized AWOL). If your bike is not designed to be primarily front loaded (e.g., Soma Saga) front loading will make the bike sluggish and hard to steer, this gets worse as the load increases.
  2. You will need to ensure your panniers are evenly loaded or your steering will pull towards the heavier pannier. Carefully loading is less of an issue when touring, just part of the preparation like packing down your tent, but to can be a hassle when commuting. When rear loading the panniers, uneven weighting has a much smaller effect on handling.
  3. Fixing the pannier properly to the rack is also critical in a front loading set-up. If you only partially fix the pannier (or the pannier is not properly supported) it can twist into the spokes. If it jams, it will result in a rather nasty crash. The same scenario in a rear-loading configuration is much less dangerous as in the worst case it will simply result in a skid and a damaged wheel or pannier. When commuting and tired in the morning it is easy to make mistakes such as not properly fixing the pannier.
  4. So why even front-load? If the bike has a front loading geometry the ride quality is much better than rear loading. Climbing out of the saddle feels very natural and similar to a bike without a load. Plus it is easy to skid/slide the rear through corners. Killer style points!
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    Whited to reiterate other answers/comments that front toe/pannier overlap is non-existent for most setups. – Rider_X Nov 5 '15 at 2:35
  • I've found pre-sales (including outside of packaging) information on front racks to be very poor. "Eyelets required" -- check. Open the instructions "through-hole eyelets required". – Chris H Nov 5 '15 at 16:59
  • @ChrisH - to make things even more confusing the fit seems to differ between straight bladed forks (i.e., disc forks) and curved forks as the mid-blade eyelet is in a slightly different location. Then just to make you cry a little throw in clearing fender stays and a disc caliper. Definitely tests one's ingenuity. – Rider_X Nov 5 '15 at 18:48
  • Of all the racks, front and rear, I've fitted, I think only one hasn't required at least one of {hacksaw, drill, tap, unexpected P-clips}, and that still needed screws and nuts that didn't come with it! – Chris H Nov 6 '15 at 9:32
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When you have to worry is when turning. I suggest if you've got the rack already but can't test-fit the bags then you mock something up of the same size and do some tight turns on a nearby quiet road. Obviously you'll have to make a best guess as to the mounting points but you can probably scale from a picture of the mounting face. Ground clearance might be an issue with a very large pannier but again scale off a photo. Too much weight, even low, on the steering system will have an effect, you may notice it most when you've just dropped your child off.

On anther note you might not have to rule out rear panniers: my daughter's seat is a saddle post version but I've got a rack that fits under it. I bent up some aluminium tube and fitted it with P-clips to extend the rack backwards. I could mount a pannier large enough for a swimming bag for an adult and a baby behind/below the baby seat. Too much weight behind the rear axle affects the handling but a small front pannier can take the heavy stuff (or in my case I mounted my locks on the front forks). On my wife's e-bike the panniers supplied with it just fit under the baby seat.

The specific bag you've linked to may be tricky. You might be able to bias it forwards to avoid your toes but then the weight will be a long way forward which will make the setup sensitive to how securely the bag is attached to the rack and may make the handling worse.

  • Building a mockup is a really good idea, even just cutting down a cardboard box to the size of the bag will give you a good idea of how the bag you have in mind will fit and if it will interfere. Another thing to keep in mind is that a front bag will add to the "sail area" of your front wheel. So if you often encounter strong winds you'll definitely notice that in your handling. – dlu Nov 4 '15 at 17:42
  • In terms of toe overlap with the bag, this also depends on the toe overlap of the frame. For example, my commuter has huge clearance ( even with fenders + 700x45c tires) and even with large wide pannier I can't get the pannier anywhere near my toes even after shifting the pannier as far aft as possible. – Rider_X Nov 4 '15 at 19:58
  • @Rider_X, that's certainly true. As we had little information to go on regarding the frame, and there are so many variables I thought a test was in order. My commuter hybrid wouldn't have a problem with toe overlap except when riding unclipped. Probably. I've recently taken my front rack off as I rarely used it and it made things awkward with a bike rack I use daily, so I can't tell whether a pannier would approach my toes. – Chris H Nov 4 '15 at 20:58
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Most bags (that I've seen) don't reach past the diameter of the front wheel when they are mounted on the rack – I really don't think there will be a significant practical issue regarding the size of the bag. I've ridden, a lot, with both Kirtland and Ortlieb Rear Roller panniers on a variety of front racks – both conventional and low rider style. Mostly it just works.

It is possible to load front panniers with enough weight to affect the handling of the bike – I used to ride in New York City with electrician's tools and supplies in my Kirtland bags. That got interesting, but it was never scary (although I was much younger then…).

If you're planning relatively light loads (< 5 or 10 kg or so) I don't see much of a problem. The Ortlieb connection system is pretty flexible. I think you'd be able to get any of their front bags onto a relatively normal front rack.

I think the best thing to do would be to take @Batman's advice and visit a bike shop that seems willing to listen to you with your bike and try out some likely candidates – or order one online from a vendor with a good return policy. I think the odds are very good that you'll find a bag that works.

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Unless it is touring bike with a long chain stay you actually have more pedal clearance up front.
Have you looked at like the Ortleib office?

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