Tailfin Carbon Rack
barry lachapelle
barry lachapelle

August 7, 2022

Tailfin Carbon Rack, Trunk Bag & Mini-Panniers Review

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In 2017, Tailfin started as a Kickstarter project and has since become one of the most interesting bikepacking companies. They prioritize R&D, engineering, and design to deliver some of the highest quality products we have had the pleasure of testing. We took their flagship products—the Carbon Rack, the AP20 Trunk Bag, and 10L mini-panniers—for a 400km boot around Northern Vancouver Island.

Since its inception, bikepacking has been clearly defined as a different-from-bike touring activity. As a tourer turned bikepacker, this delineation has often seemed to be to the detriment of bikepacking rather than the other way around. Sure, bikepacking terrain is very different from road touring, but ultimately the spirit remains the same—getting out there and doing it. There is a lot of learning that has come out of hundreds of years of bike touring that seemed to be either totally ignored or else forgotten, especially in the realm of seatbags and—omg, tailwag.

More and more we are starting to see bag companies reboot older touring ideas, using new design and technologies to create bikepacking gear. For example, Arkel here in Canada has 25 years' experience as one of the country's best road touring pannier makers. They have been leveraging their experience and moving in totally new directions, creating products like their Rollpacker Seat Bag. We find this all super exciting. There are also newer companies who seemingly bypass all the traps of the traditional bikepacking setup, and are just able to think differently. Enter Tailfin.

Tailfin started in 2017, as a Kickstarter project. For the project, Tailfin was actually the product name for an ultralight carbon rack and pannier system aimed at road cyclists. The team succeeded in raising 300x their initial ask and got to work. Since the Kickstarter, they have adopted Tailfin as the company brand and have doubled down on technical equipment for off-road touring and bikepackers. Tailfin pride themselves on their R&D, and they bring a lot of thought and creativity to the bikepacking room. An excellent example of this kind of thinking would be their clever suspension fork mounts. Suspension forks and touring?!

Tailfin's flagship product is their complete reboot on the traditional rack and pannier system. It is aimed at riders who want to go light and fast but also need the durability of being off-road and in the chonk. Tailfin sent us the full package—the Carbon Rack with pannier side mounts, a 20L top trunk bag, 2 x 10L mini-panniers, and the universal thru-axle. I received the kit in February of this year and have been waiting on a trip big and rugged enough that warranted the Tailfin. This summer, my buddy Andy and I set off for a 400km trip on North Vancouver Island's Tree to Sea Loop—a perfect testing ground for the Tailfin.

Installation

Right off the bat, I will say that the Tailfin is a high, high, high-end product. It is obvious from the very start: everything is super polished, and I quite enjoyed taking it all out of the minimalist, thoughtful packaging. The rack and bags are beautiful, and you can immediately feel the quality in every detail.

As I was preparing to install the rack, I got hung up on the universal thru-axle. In order to be truly universal, the axle is made up of a series of parts and spacers and my brain refused to play nice with the clear instructions that Tailfin provided. I was hoping to use the axle as it allows you to use a quick release and remove the entire rack quickly. After 30 minutes of trying to sort it out, I opted to mount the rack directly to my seat stay mounts. I would have preferred using the dropout mounts, but alas, Surly didn't seem to thread them properly. Boo.

Once the rack was attached to the frame, the tool-free seatpost connector worked like a charm. Just seeing the rack on the bike made it somehow look faster. All there was to do after that was screw in the mounts to the top trunk bag and side panniers and put them on the rack. A breeze.

tailfin on surly krampus

Let's hit the gravel...

The immediate benefit to the Tailfin system is that there is zero tailwag. This may seem like an obvious benefit, but coming from the seat bag world, I am always surprised at how much tailwag we tolerate. Tailfin describes the system as being ‘designed to flow with the bike'. It really feels like this is the case as the rack and bags are all super solid with absolutely zero movement or rattling while riding. Whether this means the rack is rigid or flexible, however, I couldn't really say :)

The AP20 Trunk Bag

The AP20 Trunk Bag is the main bag of the system and boasts 20L of volume with a max carry capacity of 9kg. The trunk bag is big, err, I mean huge. I have never carried a 20L bike bag on my bike and adjusting to this much volume in one bag was a bit tough for me. With that volume, I ended up overpacking and added a bit too much weight to my bike. This is my fault and not the bag's.

One sticky issue I had with the bag was making sure that it was packed in a way that could fit under my saddle. I found that I needed to pack all my clothes near the rear of the bag and less up front in order for it to fit correctly. I am not sure if this is an oversight or by design but it did feel a touch awkward. Tailfin does mention that the system is dropper post friendly. However, if I didn't pack my gear at the back of the bag, there was no way my saddle would be able to drop. I'm pretty sure I am not the first rider to notice this issue, as Tailfin does sell an accessory that will lengthen the seatpost connector by 50mm to push the trunk bag out from under the saddle.

The trunk bag was designed to be removed from the bike for ease of use. It has a simple roll top and compression straps to tighten the bag while riding. In British Columbia, we spend a lot of time in bear country, and the compression straps are a great place to hang our bear spray. The bag has two side access zippers. One is a small, long pocket for quick access items like pens or tools. The other is direct access to the main storage of the bag. I did try to access the main compartment a few times while riding and was a bit surprised to find that the compression straps actually overlapped the zipper. However, once I loosened off the straps, access was easy and I found what I was looking for.

Getting the trunk bag on and off the bike was super simple at first, but it seemed to be a bit more difficult over time. The bag has a hook under the front of it that slips into the front of the carbon rack. You then lower the back of the bag and use some steel pins to secure the bag to the rack. Over the course of my trip the pins seemed to become more and more difficult to line up. There are little rubber washers between the rack and the bag that seemingly got caught up everytime I mounted the bag. Once the bag was mounted however, I felt comfortable enough in its security to ride up any mountain.

I won't sugar coat this one—the trunk bag needs some iteration. The entire thing feels like it's a quality engineered product and works well, but there seem to be some simple mistakes in its design that prevent it from being amazing. The compression straps cross over the side access zippers, straps can get caught in the front hook while mounting, and needing to pack your gear in the rear to clear your saddle seem like easily fixable challenges.

SL10 Mini-Panniers

The star of the show, however, were the 10L mini-panniers. Like the trunk bag, the mini-panniers boast fully welded seams and are 100% waterproof. These panniers are hands down the best panniers I have ever used to date. There was so much to love about them. Mounting was a breeze with Tailfins XClamp, a fully alloy clamp that locked the pannier super securely to the carbon rack. Even when full of dust and dirt the XClamp seemed to work great and again no lateral motion or rattling of any sort.

The mini-panniers come with additional compression straps that could be used to secure the bags in two different ways. I ended up not using the straps. The material was stiff enough that they kept their shape even when not fully loaded. I LOVE this. The bags don't suffer that empty-bag-icitis look of being totally deflated when not full. My Salsa fork bags on the other hand look sad unless there's enough food in them to look happy.

My only critique of the panniers is that I would love them to have a hard bottom in order to stand when off the bike. I have come to love this little feature about my Salsa bags as it makes them super easy to load and unload on any surface. But—I admit—this is me looking for problems. I absolutely loved the panniers on this trip and will continue to use them for a long time.

Wrapping Up

There's a lot to love about the Tailfin system. You can feel the engineering and quality in every aspect of the product. Tailfin tests the system to ISO standards and offers a 5 year warranty which gives riders a lot of confidence in its durability. I don't think I have ever had a rear-system that I trusted as much as the Tailfin.

I will continue to use the rack and mini-panniers in my regular setup from now on. However, I still feel that the trunk bag needs some work. Having spent many years as a product designer, it feels like the challenges of the trunk bag are easy to spot but are ultimately fixable with accessories or a new iteration in the future. I would definitely be interested in trying it with the extended seat post connector—and I'd update this article.

That said, I love what Tailfin is doing. They are thinking in new ways and building on old technologies to deliver completely new products. I am not sure if many companies could pull off this level of innovation and engineering as well as Tailfin. Working to create products at this level of quality requires integrity and rigor. I am a fan of Tailfin and will be watching every move they make with interest.

✓ Pros
(Less than) zero tail wag
Super high-quality production and engineering
Builds on the concepts of traditional rack and pannier systems
Panniers, panniers, panniers, it's all about those panniers
✕ Cons
Not the cheapest system but considering the quality, it's hard to list price as a con
Would love to strap a dry bag to the rack
The trunk bag has small usability issues
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