8

As you may know from my other question, I'm putting together a bike to commute. I'm big, heavy, and roads will be paved only first half of the way.

I will need to buy a rear rack for my bike. Thanks to COVID and huge amounts of people like me, who are fed up with public transport and irresponsible people in it, the middle range of racks is unavailable, and no one knows if it ever will be. Racks are light, but big and relatively delicate so shipping costs makes it unviable to order abroad. So I'm basically left with these options:

  1. $15 rack that's cheap, relatively weak (officially 25kg, practically less), with traditional spring luggage clamp. They are made to be universal, for huge wheel range so they have obvious weak point and screws are known to be hard on the side mounted bike bags.

  2. $50 - $60 range. Strong (officially 40kg, practically more), but with very narrow top and no way to keep any cargo that is not designed as a bike bag mountable on the rack.

  3. I wanted $20 - $30 range rack that has wide top with spring holder and a mount that is easy on your bags, but I'd have to wait and hope they will ever appear, keep the reasonable price, and OEM market will not buy them wholesale. So that's probably not a real option.

I'm not asking which particular kind I should choose. Or rather I do, but my main focus is how one should decide which rack to choose when the middle shelf is empty?


Addendum — typical luggage

  • Heavy 17" laptop with charger et all
  • Lunch
  • Water and vitamin drinks
  • Some books or technical documentation on paper
  • emergency first aid kit

Things I may need to take less regularly but still often enough:

  • SDS Plus hammering drill
  • hammock, tarp and sleeping bag
  • Shooting range kit for blackpowder revolver, in a metal suitcase
  • 8
    Buy cheap, pay twice! – Swifty Aug 6 at 10:53
  • 2
    @Michael Not sure about Poland, but their shipment costs 10 EUR to Czechia and that is substantial when buying just a rack. – Vladimir F Aug 6 at 11:47
  • 3
    Even the expensive ones will wear out in time, but the lifespan will be a lot longer; I got many thousands of kilometres of touring plus over a decade of daily commuting off my first one. And I'm not convinced of the advantage of carrying loads on top of the rack; even the bag I had that was designed for the top of the rack had a tendency to flop around if it was carrying much weight. – DavidW Aug 6 at 13:19
  • 4
    @Mołot 10€ shipping on a 20€ rack makes little sense to me. Do you have any other way to get a good rack that fits your needs at this moment? If that 20€ rack with 10€ shipping is what fits your needs, and you save money (and sanity and health!) by commuting by bicycle, that extra 10€ is IMO money well-spent. – Andrew Henle Aug 6 at 14:08
  • 3
    @AndrewHenle I might get a more expensive one locally all right. My issue is that I don't know my needs yet and I'm afraid I'll buy something that I can't use properly. – Mołot Aug 6 at 14:57
15

25kg on a rear rack is already very hard to handle, especially if it’s on the top of the rack. Start leaning the bike unconsciously while standing at a red traffic light and you’ll suddenly do a very embarrassing dance trying to prevent the whole thing (+you) from toppling over. Carrying more than 25kg on a rear rack is really not a good idea. I doubt the bolts and bolt holes of the frame can survive much more. It’s also quite hard on the rear wheel, so make sure you have a sturdy rear wheel if you plan to carry this much load.

I never had a use for the spring clamp on my first rack and removed it after some time for weight savings. It’s really only useful if you quickly want to transport something small and easy to clamp, like a sweater. Even then it’s hard to keep it away from the rear wheel. I’m commuting and traveling by bike and I’m more than happy with my Ortlieb Backroller panniers (Vaude makes very similar ones). They are extremely sturdy, roomy, waterproof and quick to take on and off.

As Qwerky mentions in the comments, bungee cords are much more useful and flexible for securing things to the top of the rack. I’m actually using the detachable shoulder straps of the Ortlieb panniers for the purpose.

One more tip from experience: Tighten the rack bolts to appropriate torque and use threadlocker, they tend to come loose.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Yeah no kidding. That much weight is about where I'd seriously consider a trailer instead of a rack (just about can't tip a trailer). – Joshua Aug 6 at 18:29
  • Agree that spring clamps are a waste of time, but a bungee cord is frequently useful. Not sure what the official name is but I call it a "Dutch strap" as it is extremely common in Netherlands. Its three pieces of flat, elasticated cord with a eye hole at each end to mount using the bolts that attach the rack to the frame. – Qwerky Aug 6 at 21:16
  • 1
    @ChrisH: I honestly don’t understand how people manage it with kids. I’m certainly no weak person (I can do a 120kg deadlift) and yet I’ve still managed to lose control of my bike (8.5kg) with 15kg of luggage on the rear rack (2kg tent on top, rest in panniers) simply while standing beside it. Once it starts to topple it’s over, unless you are prepared for it. Maybe it’s easier with trekking or city bikes. – Michael Aug 7 at 11:05
  • 1
    @cmaster-reinstatemonica: Almost all rear racks seem to have a 25kg limit. Probably a general limit due to the M5 mounting bolts or maybe a legal limit? In any case there are some I’d certainly trust with 25kg and others where the welds probably break apart with only 10kg. – Michael Aug 7 at 11:13
  • 2
    @ChrisH: Interesting, Tubus states that for example their Tubus Cargo is tested for 40kg but they only put 26kg in the specifications because with 27kg or above you’d be allowed to use a child seat and they don’t want you to do that. – Michael Aug 8 at 5:18
9

In your situation, I would buy the cheaper option.

Firstly, you will limit the amount of money you lose if you still want the mid-range rack later on.

Secondly, I don't know how much experience you have with commuting with pannier, but I have lots and the only time I put the rack to it's limit is when I got shopping and beer crates are on discount. I rarely load them with more than spare clothes, lunch and bicycle spares.

Thirdly, you should consider the mounting of the pannier. I bought an expensive rack to raplace my mid-range one only to end up keeping the mid-range one as the pannier system fit on it much better. Consider rack tube sizing vs pannier mounting hardware, and rack vertical tube position vs pannier bottom securing mechanism.

Sometimes, the cheaper racks fail as they come with cheap and weak bolts. YOu could also consider buying the cheap rack, and buying stainless steel bolts (doubt they will come with strong bolts) and test the rack.

Finally, I'm very glad you've decided to commute by bike. And "best setup" is a very personal and subjective thing. So it can be hard to give advice that doesn't include "It's the best coz I like it".

| improve this answer | |
  • No experience, loving good beer :) – Mołot Aug 6 at 14:54
  • 1
    I think you might be surpised by how much a cheap rack with stainless steel bolts can hold. Plus, if you don't overload it with beer, you will need two trips to get beer, and in my books, more riding = more fun! I'm pretty sure the mid-range racks will have a 25-30kg max too – abdnChap Aug 6 at 15:01
  • yes, 25 up to 35kg, but it'll be a real, trustworthy number, with no people complaining in reviews m – Mołot Aug 6 at 15:10
  • 3
    For anyone who connecting a stainless steel fastener to another stainless steel fastener, don't forget anti-seize compound. Stainless steel fasteners gall to each other very easily. – rclocher3 Aug 6 at 21:04
7

As others say, this is your decision. Here's what I decided:

Personally, I use one of the sturdy expensive ones (a Tubus Logo, which has now gone around with me something between 30000 and 60000 km in the last 14 years), but I use panniers (including one with A4-folder shape & size) and therefore wanted to have the 2nd lower sidewise bars for the pannier. I'd have preferred a wider rack as well, but they weren't available back then with the lower pannier bar.

Things I'd look for/consider:

  • A spring holder is a secondary requirement in the sense that you can get separate add-on spring holders.
    (I haven't bothered to do so, however: my Sweater or rain jacket and dog leash go into the handle bar pannier)

  • My experience with the flimsy varieties of rack is that things get wobbly at far less than 25 kg (easily with a not-so-small laptop plus a book in the pannier), which is particularly bad at high speed.

  • I carry my laptop somewhat regularly, and I think a laptop is probably better transported "standing" than flat on the rack. I.e. I use a pannier.

  • If you consider pannier use at all: I still find the 2nd, lower bar to attach the pannier a very good idea.
    Since I do use panniers attached on the 2nd bar, I use top of the rack mostly only for longer tours (to put my camping gear across) where it gives a reasonable platform together with the top of the panniers.

  • Meanwhile, there are also racks with wide top (12 cm instead of the ≈9 cm I have) and 2nd bar available. (That's in the expensive segment, though.)

  • A rack design that puts the rear light into a bit of a "cage" can save a whole lot of back light repairs :-)

  • It may be possible to sell one of the expensive racks again if you decide after all to not like commuting.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Thank you. I know that it is ultimately my decision. That's why I wrote that process of making that decision is what I'm interested in the most. – Mołot Aug 6 at 20:04
4

Sorry for self answering, but answer was simpler than I thought.

I asked the best local manufacturer, one with medium-range prices and high quality, when their 35 kg racks will be available. They won't be, but they'll figured out they have a few of them in the corner of their warehouse... So I got what I hoped to buy in the first place!

So, it is always worth to try to talk to people, and simply ask.

| improve this answer | |
2

@Mołot please clarify - what kind of items do you intend on carrying ?

I have recently had to start carrying a work-owned laptop back and forth, I'm very glad I have the better rack and pannier.

If you're just carrying a coat and your lunch, perhaps the cheap one is good enough.

Consider also that 25 kg is a lot of weight on a bike, and 40kg is roughly all the weight your front wheel might carry while riding in a steady state. Most racks would be used for loads on the lower end, (except for baby seats)


An SDS hammer drill is 5 kg for a lightweight home user one, and perhaps up to 20 kilos for a hefty solid tradesman grade one.

A Colt Army Model 1860 or Remington Model 1858 is about 1.25 kg but all the other items could bring this closer to 10 kg. Additionally there may be restrictions on how you transport firearms depending on location/jurisdiction.

Heavy 17" laptop seem to be around 7 lb or 3.1 Kg

Lunch 0.5 kg

Water and vitamin drinks A litre weighs a kilogram, so 2 bottles would be about 1.5 kg.

Some books or technical documentation on paper - anything up to 2 kg, paper is heavy.

emergency first aid kit - again could be anything up to a kilo. Mine's only about 80 grams.


Upshot of all that is your 25 kilogram-rated rack could be pushing it. Instead - get a bottle cage for your frame. Almost all bikes have at least one pair of threads where a bottle cage can be bolted. And water is dense.

Another thought is that a rack is just a flat surface. Items like your drill will not hold the rack, you'll need some bungee cords or similar to attach them. Often the spring is in the wrong place or just inconvenient, but the mass of the item encourages it to slide around. Plastic or metal cases aren't grippy either. Perhaps you need a basket with sides on your rack? Not sure how else you might stack multiple things on the rack.

Also remember your bike spares, tubes and pump and tools for a puncture change. Additionally, the added weight high up and rearward can affect the handling of your bike, especially if the load moves suddenly.

I'd suggest a rack that has stays going down to the rear hub area for support, and enough of a structure to carry panniers on either side. This lowers the weight and increases bike stability. Some systems have stowable/folding panniers but of course strength is lower.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Question updated. And I'll try to get 120 kg wheels soon anyway. – Mołot Aug 7 at 7:26
  • The ones I'll have for now should be good, too. Manufacturer doesn't advertise max load but says they are OK for cyclocross, mountain biking and jumping. I guess heavier load on relatively flat road should not hurt. – Mołot Aug 7 at 7:36
  • @Mołot do consider joining the Bicycles Chat too. – Criggie Aug 8 at 13:39
1

I think in the current pandemic it is okay to start building your own stuff. Get a sewing machine and you can make it just the way you like. You could even start a business with it. Good luck!

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Sewing a pannier rack might be challenging. – Turksarama Aug 7 at 3:33
  • 2
    Sewing a frame bag is an admirable idea - not quite what OP asked about, but a great solution. It needs water-resistant cloth, a zip, and some velcro cableties. If I can make one, most people can. And it can be used on a bike regardless of a rack. – Criggie Aug 7 at 3:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.