How Do You Use a Rear Bike Rack? (Beginner’s Guide)

 A great addition to any commuter bike is a rear rack as this means you can have many different options when it comes to carrying bags and other items. First things first – let’s run through the quick answer to the key question for this article:

How do you use a rear bike rack? First, fit the rack onto the bike frame with screws on the rear part of the frame usually in line with the top of the rear wheel. Then, add a specially designed bag, usually a pannier bag or trunk bag, which clips on and carry all the cargo you can.

That’s the simple bit – now let’s look a bit more into the details of rear racks for cycle commuters riding to work.

What are rear bike racks for?

A rear rack adds a lot of versatility and allows you to carry far more cargo or bags than would be possible without, making them a very useful addition for bike commuting and beyond. These rear racks are also called pannier racks, as will be explained below.

What is a pannier rack? This is a rack that fits onto the frame of your bike and is most often at the rear, so it is often also called a rear rack. These hold special pannier bags, so named because of the French tradition of carrying bread (or ‘pain’) in baskets on their bicycles, so the name literally translates as a bread holder.

You can also have front pannier racks, although these are less common and not always possible to fit on all bikes. Touring bikes have the best options for front and rear panniers as they are designed to carry lots of bags to go on long-distance rides or tours.

How do you put a rear bike rack on?

Let’s break this down into 10 key steps. To fit a standard rear rack on your bike:

1.       Look at the area around the axel of the rear wheel and identify where your rack will best fit.

2.       Place the rack over your wheel and try to connect the bottom part of your rear rack with an appropriate part of the axel/wheel hub.

3.       Fit the bottom part of the rack onto the part near the axel that is sticking out – this should be easy enough to identify and your rack should fit cleanly on here. If not a good fit, you might be looking at the wrong part of the bike! You might also need to loosen a part of the wheel to fit it on – if so, get either a hex key or a wrench and make sure you tighten things back up well – you don’t want your rear wheel coming loose!

4.       Tighten the relevant part enough to hold the rack in place, but still loose enough so that you can move the rack into position – you will need the movement to attach it to the frame of your bike next.

5.       Look for the eyelets or attachment points on the rear part of the frame of your bike.

6.       You will then need an Allen key or hex key to loosen the bolts that come with your bike and are attached to the frame.

7.       Once you loosen the bolts, you can then align the part of the rear rack that attached to the frame. Often these are made of thinner metal than the main part of the rear rack.

8.       Slide the attachments for the rack into place and then thread the bolts back through and tighten them in place (again, only tight enough to align the rack).

9.       Check that everything looks right and you can tighten both the rear wheel

10.   Fit your bag on and see how it goes – take it for a ride to see if it is loose, rocking or making any kind of sound – if so, try tightening things and try again!

Remember to follow the instructions for your rear rack as they may differ to the points below, but here are the general points.

Looking for an easier ride to work? Check out my 21 bike commuter hacks to make your life easier now!

Other Related Questions

How to mount a bike rack without eyelets on your bike?

If your bike does not have these ‘eyelets’ or attachment points for a rear bike rack, then you can look into a rear rack that attaches to your seat post. These are commonly used by people with road bikes as road bikes don’t usually have the eyelets. Remember that road bikes do not have these attachment points for a rear rack because they are not designed to carry a load in that way. You can still fit one of these seat post racks but remember to keep the load fairly light as you don’t want to put too much strain on this kind of rack.

A road bike with a rear seat-post rack that works despite the lack of eyelets. Remember not to go too heavy on these!

How do you use panniers?

To use panniers on your bike, you will first need to have a rack, which is fitted on the rear of almost all bikes. Once the rack is fitted correctly, you can then clip your pannier bags onto the rack

How do bike panniers attach to a rack?

With special clips that go vertically over the bars on the rack and down the other side, securing the bag using a hook effect. Most good panniers will also have horizontal clip to stop them from sliding back and forth while you ride.

pannier bag on rear bike rack
Close up of my current pannier bag with the hooks clipping on visible in the top left.

Some of the more premium panniers will have the option to use a screwdriver to tighten these clips to fit your rack perfectly, but most work well without doing this. Simply clip on your pannier bags and away you go on your commute – your (less sweaty) back will thank for using them!

Can you put panniers on a road bike?

You can put panniers on a road bike but you will need a special type of pannier rack to do this. Since road bikes don’t have the mounting options on the frame (or ‘eyelets’) for adding a rack, you will need to buy a rear rack that attaches to your seat post to put panniers on your road bike.

The only downside to this is that the seat post racks generally have a lighter weight limit given the alternative mounting position. That being said, on a bike commute you should still have no problems carrying all that you need on a road bike with panniers on a rack fitted in this way.

The same road bike as above with a rear seat-post rack. This is an option if you want to commute on a road bike and carry panniers.

Road bikes don’t have the pannier rack option because they are designed for speed and are therefore made to be as streamlined as possible. Adding panniers and a rack are therefore not what road bikes were originally intended for, but don’t let that stop you for your ride to work.

Can you put a pannier rack on a mountain bike?

Although you probably can fit a pannier rack onto your mountain bike, it is not a good idea because mountain bikes are not designed for carrying loads in this way, mainly because the suspension on the rear wheel can cause problems when bouncing if there is a rack above the rear wheel.

You could probably fit a pannier rack onto a mountain bike easily enough using a rack that mounts onto your seat post, but you really would not want to go off-road with a rear rack in place for the points mentioned above.

Can you attach a backpack to a bike rack?

No, unfortunately you can’t attach a backpack to your bike rack. The only backpacks that do attach to bike racks are those which have been specially designed for the purpose. Ortlieb do offer a pannier backpack converter but this only works with Ortlieb bags, so it is of use to anyone with a normal backpack.

UPDATE: If you live in the UK, there is now one option for attaching a backpack on a bike rack and that is the Air Pannier by Mundo Music Gear, an online UK online music retailer who have made their patent-pending Air Pannier for carrying large items like musical instruments. It’s essentially a net that hangs from your pannier – you can see more in the video below:

Best Rear Bike Racks for Commuters

I just wanted to give you my recommended rear bike for commuting, and for me there has been one clear standout product that has worked really well:

My current commuter bike with my Topeak Explorer rear rack on it – holding up very well despite the years of use and often heavy loads!

Front pannier bags

Front pannier bags are a good option if you want to extra cargo to your bike for your bike commute, perhaps in colder months when you need thicker and heavier clothing.

The catch with front pannier bags is that they are generally only possible to fit on touring bikes. To be clear, touring bikes are like heavy-duty road bikes but they are designed to cover long distances at a moderate speed while being fully loaded.

This means that they have a heavier frame and have the connection points to install both front and rear pannier racks. Touring bikes are also easy to spot as they have drop handle bars but also have a thicker frame than their sleeker cousin, the road bike.

The frame on a road bike is usually made of steel giving them that extra strength to carry more weight.

If you want to use front pannier bags, the chances are that you will have to get a touring bike as there are very few other bikes on the market which will have the mounting options of a road bike in this way.

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