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Cycling Racks & Bags: A guide to carrying gear while bike traveling

Updated September 5, 2021

Regardless of the cycling genre you subscribe to, chances are you will one day want to consider a trip that spans days, weeks, or who knows, even years. These larger rides need a ton of planning which can be as much fun as the ride itself.

A big question that will arise during your planning is how to carry all the gear you need. Depending on the type of terrain you plan on riding and the length of your trip, you have options.

Bikepacking Bags vs. Panniers

Today, there are two methods and styles of carrying gear while cycling - bikepacking bags and panniers. Each style has its own pros and cons and making a decision depends on the type of ride you are planning. The basic rule is, panniers are ideal for road touring and bikepacking bags are great for mixed terrain including any off-road trails.

Bike bags are a newer method of carrying gear. They attach directly to the frame of the bicycle through the use of straps and clips. Bike bags sit higher up on the bike than panniers which allow for more agility and responsiveness while riding. Key factors when you’re blasting down a goat track in the Himalayas. A small downside of bike bags is that they take a bit more effort and planning. Bikepacking bags have less storage capacity so understanding your setup is key when using bike bags. Many bikepackers spend countless hours agonizing over the perfect setup. They call it bikepacking for a reason :)

Panniers clasp or hook to racks bolted to the bike’s frame. They have very large volumes which make them great for being on the road for long periods of time. A normal set of panniers can boast up to 20 liters per bag. They can definitely add weight to your bike as you will need to account for rack weights plus what you fill your bags with. On the plus side, they can be a cheaper option than getting kitted out with bikepacking bags.

Whether you choose bags or panniers make sure to choose something weather and waterproof. Many great brands focus on weatherproofing panniers and bags like Apidura, Ortleib, and Revelate.

Types of Bikepacking Bags

Frame Bags

Frame bags are just that - bags that fit in the negative space of your frame. They attach to the frame using velcro straps or bungee cords. Some manufacturers now allow for bolting the bag into place through water bottle mounts. Frame bags need to be sized for your frame. There are some off-the-shelf options out there. But, to get it as snug as possible you may want to consider talking to a bag maker and getting something custom. A company like Rogue Panda.

Handlebar Bags

Handlebar bags strap to your bars and can be used on most straight or drop bar bikes.

Seat Packs

Imagine the little bags most cyclists use to carry flat kit but scaled up for storage. Most seat packs strap through the bars of your saddle and attach to your seat post. The length and weight of your packed bag will determine how much tail wag you get. Tail wag is the movement of the bag from side to side as you pedal and definitely a bit of a buzz kill.

Fork Bags

If your front fork allows for it, fork bags can be mounted onto the front fork. They will need some sort of cage or harness. See below for a link to our Salsa EXP Bags review for more.

Stem & Top Tube Bags

Beyond the frame, handlebar, seat and fork bags there are still many other smaller and more convenient options. Top tube and stem bags are great options for quick access items like snacks or cameras.

Cargo Cages

Cargo cages are a newer way of adding packs to anywhere on your bike. Most cargo cages screw into water bottle mounts but can also be retrofitted to seat stays. See below for a link to our Salsa Anything Cage review for more.

Types of Racks & Panniers

Rear Rack

Rear racks are designed to hold anywhere between 20 - 50 pounds and attach to the braze-on mounts of most bike frames. Rear rack panniers can be as large as 20 liters and hold pretty much anything you need for that trek across Europe.

Front Rack

There are two types of front racks. A top mount that can allow for bags attaching to the side and strapping gear to the top. And low rider racks that only allow for bags on either side fo the front wheel. Low rider racks tend to be lower to the ground for better balance.

Car Racks

So how do you transport your bike to and fro? Of course you need something for your vehicle to get to the start of your ride and home when you're done. There are 3 main types of car racks - trunk racks, trailer hitch racks and roof racks.

Product List

Click each list item to learn more about that product. Some products in this list have been fully reviewed by us and labeled with an asterisk (*).

Barry Lachapelle
Barry Lachapelle

Barry has been cycling and creating digital products around the world for 20+ years. He was a design leader at IDEO, IDEO.org and Nike’s Innovation Lab.