I believe in the bicycle as a tool to get you where you’re going. To make this a reality, your bicycle needs more than just 2 wheels and a seat. You need some way to easily carry more than just yourself! Backpacks and front racks/baskets can do the trick, but the rear rack takes the prize as the easiest and most effective way to carry things on your bicycle.
Gear Recommendations in 2020 for Rear Bicycle Racks
Here are some great rear bike rack options, a list I’ve tried to keep short. If you have disc brakes, read my quick note further down on how they may or may not interfere with a rear rack installation.
1. A classic no frills bike rack
This Ibera Bike Touring Carrier Rack (disc brake upgraded version) is a basic rear rack that packs a lot of punch with its hidden features. While they have special bags that clip into it with the PakRak system, it works great for any pannier. I like that it has an extra metal bar welded on the back to better support a heavy pannier. I’ve had other bike racks like the Planet Bike Eco Bike Rack that have failed to support a heavy bag near the back of the rack…which you can clearly see in the following picture.
Both the Ibera & Planet Bike rear racks have a solid piece in the middle of the platform, which doubles as a decent fender!
2. A sleeker rack, especially good for road bikes
The Axiom Streamliner Road DLX is great if you only intend on using panniers and don’t intend on using a trunk bag or putting anything on top of the rack itself, as the platform is smaller than normal. I use this on my road bike with skinny tires. In theory, its sleek profile keeps the load closer to the center of gravity and helps with stability. The Axiom racks also have feet extensions that make sure the rack is adequately far back so you don’t strike it with your heels, as they describe in their marketing video. As you can see there’s just a single attachment point for the front of the rack. Usually this is where caliper brakes are installed. If you need an installation that uses the seat stays, take a look at their other Axiom Streamliner Disc DLX rack.
3. Another sturdy bike rack
This Topeak Explorer Rack (disc brake version) is the top pick on Wirecutter’s bike rack recommendations. I don’t quite agree with them (especially since the Planet Bike Eco is their runner up which I think is not as good as the Ibera), but it is another reliable pick. It has an extra stay (an extra support bar) and although it is also rated at 55 pounds (25 kg), I hear it’s more stable and durable. It has edging on the the top that allows for easy use with the Topeak Trunk Bag!
Alternative Rear Bike Racks
All the racks I’ve recommended above are “standard aluminum racks” that connect to your bike near the center of the rear wheel and near your bike seat. There are other bike rack types that work, but I haven’t found the need to use them.
1. Racks attached to the seatpost or seat stay
I have never used a seatpost attached bike rack, as they seem less stable and have a load capacity closer to 20 pounds (9 kg), but if your bike doesn’t seem like it can easily connect near the rear hub (aka no hub rear eyelet in your frame), this kind of rack could work. It also may be easier to install. I see this kind of rack often on mountain bikes.
A few disadvantages of these seatpost bike racks
- Changing your seat height will move a rack like this up and down. This is enough of a disadvantage to avoid this kind of rack unless you have your seat height solid and no one else uses your bicycle.
- You cannot use a side pannier on this rack, as there is no support for it. You can only use a top basket, trunk bag, or bungee cords to put things on top of the rack. With panniers being my favorite type of carrying device, I think this is a big disadvantage.
There are other racks that attach only to the seat stays like the pricey Thule Pack n Pedal. Again, this is only necessary if your bike lacks the connection points for a normal rack.
There are also a few racks that connect to both the seatpost AND the seat stays…
2. Extra high capacity bike racks
It seems like Amazon carries a bunch of off brand high capacity rear bike racks of which I’ve never seen before. These tout capacities where you can carry another human on the back of your bike (which I do anyway with my 55 pound rated bike racks, shhh). Be careful with these. I have no experience with them, but if you try one out with success, I’d like to hear how it goes. If you plan to attach a pannier to one of these, make sure it has enough support bars to support the bag and prevent it from touching the wheel!
3. Folding Bike (or other non-standard wheel size) Rear Bike Racks
I was recently looking to buy a rear bike rack for a folding bike with 20″ wheels, and I found this Specialized bike rack that has extendable legs so it can fit many different wheel sizes. I opted for this over the seatpost rack so I don’t have to mess with it during the folding process (which is already enough of a pain). I was surprised that I could fit all my normal panniers on this rack with no problem!
PS – If you’re thinking about a bike rack with built-in wheels for folding bikes, that only works on some folding bikes like the Brompton. This bike doesn’t fold as small and can’t use the rack as a rolling platform.
3. Stainless Steel Rear Bike Racks
Most bike racks mentioned in this article are aluminum. Aluminum bike racks are cheaper, lighter, and plenty durable for normal use. Some enthusiasts will say stainless steel is the way to go for durability, but I’ve never had a durability problem in all my years of bike commuting and bike touring. With stainless steel being more expensive, heavier, and prone to rust, I think it unnecessary to spend the extra money on a stainless steel rack. If you are interested, Tubus is a reputable brand selling stainless steel bike racks.
4. Don’t bother with spring loaded rear racks or attachments
There are bike racks with spring loaded holders on them, but I think these are mostly useless, as you can still carry barely anything with this contraption and it just gets in the way of a much more useful pannier or trunk bag (explained below). The only thing I’ve ever used them for is carrying a jacket or shirt when I got hot on a bike ride. Don’t bother with this type of rack. Bungee cords (discussed below) are much more versatile, useful, and easier to remove when not in use.
Best Ways to Use a Rear Bike Rack
Once you have a rack, it’s still pretty useless without any accessories. Here are the main options to make use of a bike rack and actually carry things on your bicycle!
1. Bungee Cords
Whatever carrying system you use with your rack, you should always supplement it with some bungee cords. These big elastic bands with hooks can turn a rear rack into an insane carrying device. (FYI they can also be dangerous if you let go while they still have tension on them, so attach and remove them carefully with two hands.) The the Netherlands, most bike racks come with a bungee cord that has 3 bands and you attach it at the bottom of the rack so you can easily carry items on your rack, as seen in the picture below.
2. Panniers on the sides of the rack
This is my favorite and the most convenient way to carry things. You can usually attach and un-attach these bags very easily and take them inside with you when you leave the bike, so all your stuff comes with you and you don’t have to worry about any theft. Recommending these bags is a new post of itself, so I’ll just say I have the Jannd Wet Rabbit for small loads and the Ortlieb Backroller Classic for larger loads. For commuting I usually just take one bag unless I know I’m headed to the grocery store or need to carry more things than usual.
Folding side baskets or some other DIY project are also a good options that are easier to leave with the bicycle and you can put backpacks or bags in them.
3. Basket on top of the rack
Basket, crate, bucket, etc, there are lots of baskets to choose from. Whatever it is, you can just toss things in it and start riding. This is another very convenient way to carry things, and depending on the size of the basket it can be pretty useful. I’ve seen baskets large enough to carry backpacks and other large objects. I’ve also been able to fill the basket and then bungee things on top of it (as you saw above with the bodyboard!).
There are a few downsides to this top basket approach:
- Things are more likely to bounce out of the basket if you don’t have them secured with bungee cords. I have less of this issue when things are deeper inside a pannier.
- It may be harder to attach panniers to the sides of the rack if the basket is in the way. Some racks have an extra bar underneath the platform where it may be easier to get a pannier on if you also have a basket on top. Most baskets that I’ve used aren’t super easy to remove, so when you use a rear basket, you probably aren’t using a pannier!
Topeak even has a removable and rollable crate that’s easy to attach to the Topeak rear racks, but I haven’t used it myself.
4. Trunk bags on top of the rack
This type of bag works well, but I don’t think it’s as easy to use as a pannier or basket. These trunk bags can’t carry very much, and unless they have a fancy convenient mount system like the Topeak or Ibera they can be a little tedious to take on and off the bicycle.
I’ll admit I used to commute with just a small trunk bag for years, and I can’t believe I bike commuted for so long while only able to carry so little. Once I started using a pannier, the world opened up to me. Since mine required 4 velcro straps and a clip to remove, I just left it on my bicycle in San Francisco and hoped for the best. To my surprise it lasted about 2 years before someone finally stole it off my bike. My next one I locked to my bike with a seat lock, but I soon started using a pannier that I could easily take off the bike and tote with me.
These bags are much more useful for some bicycle touring or another longer trip where you may not take bags off the bicycle very often.
5. Sit on the rear rack
Child seats are of course a safe and viable way to use your rack, but here I’ll discuss having adults sit on a bike rack.
First off, this is not recommended for a normal rear bike rack. Most of them are rated at around 55 pounds, which is well below an adult weight. However, I have successfully had some people sit on a bike rack for a quick trip on smooth pavement and it’s worked out well enough. Other times it’s too hard to get going and we decide it ain’t gonna work. Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. Seat cushions (mostly marketed for children) and foot pegs could make for a comfier and safer ride.
The downsides greatly outweigh the benefits for all but the shortest rides:
- With that much weight on your rack, stability is very difficult, especially since any movement by a passenger will cause the bike to turn that direction! Communication on how to mount and dismount is key.
- The rack is not comfortable to sit on! Even the slightest bump will not be comfortable for your passenger unless you have a seat cushion.
- This will also be heavy on your back tire and tube, which if not inflated enough could cause a pinch flat if you go over a bump.
Anyway, this is not something you should be doing often, but I’d be lying if I said it was impossible, and I know everyone thinks about it! 😉 Ride safely.
How to Install a Rear Bike Rack
Each bicycle and each rear rack has different ways of installation. In generally, it’s easiest to install rear bike racks on bicycles that have eyelets next to the rear hub and eyelets in the seat stay. Many bike racks will come with extra installation parts in case your bike is missing some of these eyelets. If not, there are some extra parts you can buy to usually make it work.
If you don’t have eyelets next to the rear hub, that’s a bit harder. In that case, you would have to get some kind of alternative bike rack as I mentioned in a section above. Some bike racks (like the Axiom Streamliner) have attachments that can attach directly to the hub quick release or locking skewer. For through axles, I found this product to help with rack installation.
Your best bet is to take your bike to your local bike shop and figure out exactly what you can do with your bicycle.
A Quick Note on Disc Brakes and Rear Racks
Often you may see marketing for a certain rear bike rack as compatible with disc brakes or not. There’s a lot of confusion here, so let me try to clear this up.
Every bicycle is different, so just because it has disc brakes doesn’t mean that a non disc brake rear rack won’t fit your bike. Disc brakes only interfere with rear rack installation if the brake mechanism is directly above the eyelet where you’d connect the rear rack to the bicycle (right next to the rear hub). If your brake mechanism is not above the rear hub and instead on the side (or somewhere else maybe), then you can safely buy the “normal non disc brake rack” and installation will work fine.
Most of the “disc brake compatible” racks simply have a spacer to extend the connection point over the brake mechanism. If you do have problems installing, you can always buy a spacer and a longer screw at a hardware store to solve this problem. And some racks like the Axiom streamliner have feet that push the connection point behind the disc brake mechanism (towards the back of the bike) without having to extend the connection point outward.
Other Rear Bike Rack Installation Tips
If you’ve gotten this far, you probably want the last bit of details on installing your rear bike rack and using some kind of carrier with it. Here are some final notes and things to watch out for.
- Make sure you have enough room between a side basket or pannier and your heel when pedaling. Some bicycles with a short chain stay length make it harder to have pedal clearance with panniers. Usually nothing to worry about with most bicycles, but if it’s a specialty bike or a small road bike it might be something worth measuring. This is something that Axiom streamliner helps fix as well since it pushes the connection point further back with its feet. (Can you tell I like that rack? haha)
- Some rear racks have different diameter sizes for the side rails where you’d connect a panniers. Most of the time the standard sizes will work, and many panniers come with inserts to accommodate different sizes, but it could be worth measuring. Usually pre-installed bike racks are thicker than a normal rack you’d buy.
- As you ride around, check the screws fastening your bike rack on occasion. If they become loose, they can rattle out. This has happened to me a few times, and results in a trip to the bike shop to get a new screw (because I can never find the old one!).
Now Go Forth and Carry!
By now you have the information you need to get yourself a bike rack and start the process of carrying everything and anything on your bicycle. Next up, deciding what kind of panniers you want. Never again will you be stuck with a to-go box or take away bag that you can’t carry on your bike rack on the way back home.
Let me know what rear rack and carrying system you use in the comments! Happy Biking!