Just because you own a road bike doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck with the grind of the same local training loops.
Road bikes may be built for speed but there is nothing stopping you fitting the right racks and panniers and taking it on multi-day cycle trips.
With more riders wanting to get a taste of the touring lifestyle, packing options for road bikes have expanded significantly. This article guides you through what to look for in road bike panniers to help you explore further.
So, You Can Fit Panniers On A Road Bike?
The short answer is, yes! There are, however, some things that you need to consider.
When you buy a road bike, you are getting a bike that has been distilled down to its purest form for speed. This means frivolous details like eyelets are nowhere to be seen.
Touring bikes meanwhile have a plethora of eyelets all over the bike to mount racks. These eyelets are convenient for attaching racks but it is not the end of the world if your road bike doesn’t have any.
One option if you don’t have eyelets on your road bike is to attach P-clips to the seat stay where the rack would typically meet the eyelets. This is perhaps the easiest way to ensure that your road bike is compatible with the same range of racks open to touring cyclists.
P-clamps are cushioned metal fixings that simply attach to the frame close to where you traditionally find eyelets. They are cheap and secure.
The rubber shims should prevent your frame from getting damaged but some riders worry about the extra stress any load places on the seat stays.
Seatpost clamps do much the same thing as P-clamps and provide eyelets at the seatpost for compatible racks. Whilst these clamps typically don’t take much of the load, the do stop the racks and panniers from swaying from side-to-side when you get out of the saddle on steep climbs.
Another option, particularly if you don’t like the idea of attaching clamps to carbon bike frames, is to look for a rack that secures through the quick-release skewer at the rear wheel.
Being able to attach racks and panniers to a road bike is only part of the problem.
To the untrained eye touring bikes look remarkably similar to pure road bikes but there are subtle differences in their geometries.
One of these differences is the longer chainstay length on touring bikes. By increasing the chainstay length, touring bikes provide better stability and keep the rear panniers away from the pedals.
Too close to the pedals, as they might be on a road bike, and there is a danger of striking the panniers with your heel during the pedal stroke. At best this would be annoying, at worst it could be dangerous.
If you are attaching pannier racks to a road bike you have to be careful that you can still pedal freely. Look for racks that take this into account and provide some offset.
Carbon Seat Posts
Most modern road bikes, even ones with aluminium frames, have carbon seat posts. Carbon is stiff, lightweight but also helps to counteract some of the bumps on the road for a more comfortable ride.
Whilst carbon is strong, it is only strong when it is being used in the way it was designed. Putting too much weight on a carbon seat post is asking for trouble.
If you don’t have eyelets on your road bike and don’t like the idea of mounting P-clips, you could use a frame that mounts directly to the seat post. If you plan to do this you should be conscious of the weight and perhaps even replace your carbon seat post for something stronger for the trip.
Another problem with attaching racks to the seat post is that the bags tend to sway from side-to-side when you are riding, particularly when you are out of the saddle and pulling on the handlebars.
Other Considerations for Touring on a Road Bike
Instead of taking everything on your bike to be self-sufficient it is more practical to pack as light as possible, stay in accommodation en-route and buy supplies when you need them.
This is the so called “credit card” tour. It won’t win you kudos from hardened bike tourers but it will be more enjoyable if you are using a road bike.
To make your road bike more suited to the stresses of touring there are other, simple changes you can make that will have a big impact.
Remove those fast, skinny tires for something wider and stronger. You will be more comfortable and suffer less punctures.
Depending on how much you load onto your racks you might want to think about replacing your lightweight performance wheels for something stronger and more utilitarian. A snapped spoke or two is the last thing you want miles from the nearest bike shop.
The gear ratio you need for winning KOM’s might not be the same as the one you need for touring.
Best Panniers And Racks To Use On Your Road Bike
Pannier Rack 1: Topeak RX BeamRack with Side Frame
Beam racks, like the Topeak RX, are handy if your road bike doesn’t have eyelets and you plan on packing light.
The Topeak RX simply attaches to your seat post using a couple of Allen bolts. Different size shims are supplied to ensure a secure fit to different seat post sizes (28.6mm to 31.8mm).
The rack itself consists of Topeak’s “QuickTrack” mounting system where compatible bags slide into place on two rails and lock into place. It is a very secure system but is limited to compatible bags.
The mini-mudguard option keeps your bag and contents free of spray from the road.
The weight limit is 7kg, which is about right for anything that you are going to dangle off your seat post.
Pannier Rack 2: Axiom Streamliner Road DLX Racks
The Axoim Streamliner Road DLX Rack is a great rack if you own a road bike but don’t like the thought of hanging all the weight on the seat post.
Instead, the weight is taken by the rear wheel quick release skewer. You simply remove the skewer, put the rack in place and then pass the skewer back through.
Sway is eliminated using a mount that goes over the rear brake and bolts on using the caliper fixing.
Once attached, this is a sturdy rack that will carry 50kg. Perhaps the best thing about the rack design is the heel extensions that keep the panniers further back from the pedal stroke.
Pannier 1: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers
If you have spent anytime commuting on your bike there is good chance that you will have seen the Ortlieb Back-Roller Panniers in action. There is a reason these panniers are so popular with commuters and tourers.
The uncomplicated main compartment has a total capacity of 40L which is more than enough if you are planning to attach to a road bike.
The name of the rack comes from the fact that they are sealed closed by rolling the top and then securing with a single clip. Simple but highly effective at stopping rain cascading into the bag.
Attaching the pannier to a rack continues the functional theme. The carry handle opens and closes the top hooks making installation and removal ridiculously straightforward.
If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and the Ortlieb Back-Roller Panniers are testament to that.
Pannier 2: Topeak RX Trunk DXP with Panniers
For credit-card bike touring, the Topeak RX DXP is a well thought-out rack system suitable for a road bike.
The 7L capacity is not made for epic, solitary trips in the wilderness but is aimed at light commuting and day rides where a normal saddle bag won’t do.
The rack is compatible with Topeak’s “QuickTrack” system and is therefore an excellent companion to the Topeak RX mentioned previously. To install, you simply slide the pack onto the rack rails.
The Teflon coating wicks water effectively although the lack of waterproofing around the zips means your contents are unlikely to stay dry in the rain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Tour On A Road Bike?
With the appropriate racks and panniers, there is nothing stopping you touring on a road bike. It might not be the most comfortable way to travel but it is still a bike.
Do Panniers Fit All Road Bikes
With the right rack installed, most panniers will work on a road bike but there are things you need to consider. You need to make sure the weight doesn’t exceed the rack limits and the placement of the panniers doesn’t interfere with your pedal stroke.
What Should I Wear When Touring With A Road Bike?
Since bikes are the ultimate transportation, it just doesn’t feel right confining them to the same local loops every time you saddle-up. Owning a road bike is no excuse anymore as there are plenty of rack and pannier systems that can help you explore further afield.
Another option when seeking adventure and something that is gaining popularity is bike packing. Instead of attaching racks you simply use larger saddle bags to lug your essentials.
Whatever method you choose, we hope this article gives you confidence to get out there and find great routes.
Here’s a video (from the great CyclingAbout YouTube channel) on bikepacking bikes versus touring bikes – talking all about panniers: