How Do You Use a Pannier Rack?

Pannier racks are a great addition to most bikes since they give you the option to carry much more cargo in an easy and reliable way.

They’ve been around for a long time and are a great design that work extremely well and are recommended for all cyclists going about their daily lives by bike.

But wait a minute. Let’s just be absolutely clear on the terms here. 

What is a pannier rack? These are racks that can be fitted on the front or rear of bicycles and then allow you to carry many more bags in a comfortable and easy way. Their name comes from the French word for a bread basket, from ‘pain’ (bread) + er making it the thing it’s used for, literally a ‘breader’ in English.

However, pannier racks do have their limits and can’t be used for everything, so it’s worth explaining a few more points around panniers before diving straight into buying one, or a bike that you would like to use them on.

So, in the paragraphs below, I will answer all of the key questions around pannier racks for bikes, how 

to use them for most benefit, how to fit them and the limits they have. Let’s get right to it!

How to Use a Pannier Rack

Pannier racks attach to rear or front part of your bike frame, sitting over the wheel. You can then use either pannier bags, bags with pannier attachments or trunk bags on your pannier rack.

You will need to clip and unclip these at the start and end of each ride to secure them in place since they cannot usually be locked to your frame.

How do you fit a pannier rack?

For most pannier racks, you will need to fit these onto your bike frame at the rear of your bike, looking for the ‘eyelets’.

rear frame of a bicycle with eyelets for a pannier rack

In the image above, you can see the rear frame of a bicycle with eyelets for a pannier rack on the angled part of the frame. You would need to use bolts that come with your panniers to attach them here.

Your rack can then be attached using a few simple tools like hexkey and a wrench, so there is no real need to pay someone to do it, although it would be cheap if you needed to visit your local bike store to ask for help with this.

Do pannier racks fit all bikes?

No, unfortunately not all bikes can have standard pannier racks on them, with most road bikes not being able to hold a standard pannier rack. That said, you can still buy a special seat-post-mounted rear rack that functions in a similar way to attach to your road bike.

Although this will work for most bike commuters on road bikes, you should be careful not to overload a seat-post-mounted pannier rack since road bikes are designed for speed and are not meant to be weighted down.

It is true that their frames can handle a fair amount of weight, but having this strain on your seat post, combined with it affecting the geometry of your road bike, could make it a little difficult to control your road bike if commuting with weighty pannier bags on the back.

Instead, you could either spread the load between a backpack and a pannier bag on your road bike, or you could look into a touring bike for commuting.

Touring bikes, by contrast to road bikes, are designed to handle a lot of weight yet they also have the drop handlebars for the same aggressive and aerodynamic riding position of a road bike, albeit with a heavier, more sturdy frame.

You can see my thorough guide to whether touring bikes are good for commuting here.

Pannier Racks for Different Types of Bikes

To keep things clear, below is a table of all the main types of bike available and the different possible pannier racks you can use with each:

Type of BikeFront Pannier RackRear Pannier Rack
Hybrid bikeNoYes
Road bikeNoNo* (but seat-post rack possible)
Mountain bikeNoNo (but seat-post rack possible)
Comfort bikeNoYes
Touring bikeYesYes
Gravel bikeNoYes
Folding bikeNoYes (for Bromptons)

Please note that this represents the majority of bicycles currently on the market. You may be able to find a mountain bike, for example, some with the eyelets to attach a pannier rack but these would be very much the exception, not the rule.

This comes back to a point I have made elsewhere that it is often better to buy a bike for commuting specifically through your local bike store since you can easily see the finer details of whether it would hold a pannier rack with your own eyes before committing to buy the bike, something which is possible but just a little harder online.

Why use a pannier rack?

Just to be sure, in case you need any further convincing, pannier racks are helpful to bike commuters, and cyclists in general, for the following reasons:

  • Avoids a sweaty back
  • Reduces back strain/pain
  • Lets you carry cargo easily

To clarify, pannier bags on your pannier rack keep you from having to use a backpack. When riding with a backpack, you will have no doubt found that they make your back quite hot and often sweaty, especially when riding up hills.

Carrying a heavy backpack is also a strain and can cause you have to further back aches or pains, which is clearly not a positive.

With a pannier rack, however, you can avoid all of the above problems by placing the bags on the rear and let the bike and the rack take all of the weight. 

Yes, you will feel it a little but it’s better to bear the extra weight through your leg muscles than it is through straining your back!

Other uses for a pannier rack

On top of commuting and carrying work gear, you can also do shopping, including groceries shopping as part of your commute with panniers. Check the link above if you’d like to know more on how to do this and become a ruthlessly efficient bike commuter!

How do you use panniers?

The simplest way to use panniers, or pannier bags, is by clipping them on to the frame of your bike. They will slide on from the top and usually have a pair of vertical hard plastic clips. 

Extra secure panniers will also come with a horizontal attachment to keep your panniers from rocking back and forth.

You can see more on how to use panniers in the video guide below

You might also be wondering if you can convert backpacks to attach to a pannier? In short, yes, you can do this using a pannier backpack, an ‘air pannier’ by Mundo Music (UK), or by using a bungee cord and attaching it to your backpack. Although converters do exist for backpacks, these are usually only suitable for branded products, like Ortlieb panniers.

As such, we can say that pannier converters for backpacks do exist but are rare and quite expensive.

A better option, however, and the one I use is the ‘backpack pannier’ as this offers the best of both worlds; ride with it as a pannier, carry it on your back throughout your day as a normal backpack.

Check out this full rundown for more on why I rate convertible pannier backpacks as the best option for bike commuters.

Clearly, if you are of more of a do-it-yourself persuasion, the bungee cord pannier ‘conversion’ is by far the simplest option, with a video demonstrating how you can do this below:

Related Questions.

How do you carry a trumpet on a bicycle? The easiest way to do this, as with many other musical instruments, is by using the Air Pannier by Mundo, the music store in the UK. This netting attaches to a rear rack and allows you to carry large items like instruments (in a travel case) with ease.

How do you pronounce ‘pannier’? The US pronunciation of pannier is [pan-yuh] /ˈpæn.jɚ/ 

The UK pronunciation of pannier is [pan-ee-uh] /ˈpæn.i.ər/. Most other anglophone countries will follow these. Note that ‘pannier’ is a noun from the French word for bread baskets or bags on bicycles.

Traditionally, it was common for French people to cycle to their local bakery and buy some of the daily bread. 

You can see more on this, including the audio for it, on the Cambridge dictionary website.

The video below also plays the two different pronunciations consecutively. As you can hear, there is very little difference between them but it can be heard if you listen carefully.

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