We're not talking about those things to which you lock your bike outside of a store or the contraptions you bolt to your car to haul the bike you should be riding.
No, we're talking about a rack that fits onto your bike, most commonly known as a bike cargo rack.
Bike racks are something of an oddity in this day and age, when sport and recreation bike marketing is all about lighter and faster. Bike racks actually [gasp!] add weight to your bike, which enable your bike to gracefully haul and handle heavy loads.
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The idea behind a bike rack is to get weight off your back and put it onto the bike. This can come in handy for long bike tours, car-free living, die-hard bike commuting, or just carrying gear in an efficient way while avoiding a sweaty back.
Bike cargo racks can be broken down into two main categories: front racks and rear racks. A full setup can give you a carrying capacity upwards of 140 pounds.
What a way to add purpose and versatility to your trusty, two-wheeled steed!
Rear racks can generally carry more weight than their counterparts up front. Therefore most people who choose to have only one rack pick a rear bike rack setup.
The rear racks utilize their top rail for pannier mounting, which raises the bike's center of mass and changes its handling characteristics. Because of this innate design, it's important to pack heavier items as low as possible to maintain good bike handling. For carrying full capacity loads, we recommend looking at rear racks like the Tubus Logo Rear Rack, and the Tubus Cosmo Rear Rack. These racks include lower mounting rails so you can mount your gear closer to your wheel's axle for a more optimal, lower center of gravity.
Front racks are great for smaller capacity panniers which can carry light, compact items like clothing, snacks, and bike tools.
Front racks come in two flavors: top plate mounting racks and low rider mounting racks.
Top plate mounting racks include a flat plate across the top of the rack and side mounting rails. The top plate gives you additional carrying capacity by allowing you to tie down small items, like a lightweight sleeping bag or extra water, to the top, while your panniers are mounted at the sides.
The nature of the top plate design means that the plate sits above your front tire, so careful consideration needs to be taken when packing your panniers.
The low rider mounting racks offer one pair of mounting rails for pannier mounting, and the weight is directly centered over the front axle, which places your weight at the most optimal position for balanced bike handling. This can be advantageous for heavier, expedition-class touring loads, although you can't strap items to the top of the rack with this style.
Bike commuters with smaller loads may be impartial to these differences considering light loads have an overall lesser effect on their bike's handling.
Just like most bikes, bike racks are typically constructed from different materials. Chromoly steel and aluminum are the most common and each has its own advantages.
Tubular aluminum racks, such as those from Old Man Mountain, have high weight capacities and are lighter than steel racks. Commuter racks, such as those from Racktime, are also typically made from aluminum, but they use solid struts which do add some weight to the racks, but they are still a good option for light commuting.
Steel racks, such as the Tubus lineup, may weigh a tiny bit more than aluminum racks, but they have one significant advantage: steel is easy to weld and you can find someone in nearly every village or town around the world who can fix your rack.
For the rack connoisseur, there are the flashy stainless steel racks and the super light titanium racks, as well. With a lineup like this, you are sure to find something that fits both your needs and style.
Probably the most important question to ask when considering a rack is, Will it fit my bike?
Chances are, if you don't have disc brakes or a suspension fork, and your bike's frame incorporates rack eyelets at the dropouts, the answer is, "Yes!" If this isn't the case, don't worry, you just need to do a little research, as only certain racks may work for your bike. There are plenty of accessories out there that allow you to retrofit your rack for sturdy mounting on a variety of different style bikes.