A rear bike rack is a godsend if you regularly carry stuff on your bicycle. It saves you from having to lug things on your back or hanging bags unsteadily on the handlebars.
Though it won’t make your bike any lighter, a bike rack lets you ride personally unencumbered, with no baggage to make you hot or restrict movement.
This article suggests ways to use a rear bike rack and shows you what a versatile addition to your bike it is. It can transform your bicycle into a multifunctional machine and might even inspire you to ride more often.
Read more: Our favorite rear bike racks
Five Ways To Use Your Rear Bike Rack
To illustrate what a valuable asset a rear bike rack is, five possible uses are suggested below. Is any other bike accessory this versatile?
1: Attach Panniers To Carry Essential Gear To Work
Panniers are one of the best ways for commuters to carry their gear. They hook over the side of a rear rack. Though they’re often sold in pairs, you can also use a single pannier for commuting on one side of the bike (usually left in the U.S.).
If you need to carry a lot of gear to your job, you can go the other way and have three bags instead of two. One will be atop the rack and the other two alongside it.
You’ll find panniers vary considerably in cost. This is largely dependent on the materials used and whether the panniers are waterproof. Water resistant panniers will hold off spells of light rain but usually allow water to permeate in a downpour.
Other pannier features to look for include high-quality zippers and durable materials that are tear-resistant, abrasion-resistant and heat resistant. You also need compartments and a capacity that suit your intended use.
Brand names make a different to price, too. Panniers from leading manufacturers like Ortlieb cost more, but quality of materials and design is superb. The Back-Roller City Panniers are a case in point.
Video: Ortlieb Rear Bicycle Panniers
Of course, panniers have numerous other uses aside from commuting. They’re commonly used for touring, bikepacking and adventure cycling. You can use them for shopping, too.
2: Attach A Basket To Carry A School Bag And Books
Attaching a basket to a rear rack makes it easy to throw in school bags and books as well as other items. Some are designed with a fine wire mesh so smaller items do not fall out onto the road.
Again, bike baskets have several possible uses. In addition to school or college trips, they’re ideal for shopping. You can get easily detachable baskets with handles that double as grocery shopping baskets.
One thing to bear in mind is the height of the basket, which may make it hard to dismount unless you have a step-through bike.
Some bike baskets mount on the side of a rack, pannier-style. Top American brand Wald makes the 582 Folding Rear Bicycle Basket, for instance.
An obvious downside of many baskets is that they are not in the least weather-resistant. There are exceptions, as some are sold with a rainproof cover, but most do not have this.
You can use a product like the Hoobbii Waterproof Bike Basket Liner to make a regular bike basket waterproof for little cost.
A great benefit of bike baskets is their modest cost. The ability to carry stuff on your bike might be part of a positive lifestyle change, and it needn’t be expensive.
3: Strap A Gym Bag Directly To The Rack
One of the great ironies of partaking in sports and aiming for a healthier lifestyle is the unnecessary use of cars when travelling to sporting venues. It could be a gym, athletics track or a soccer pitch. Maybe it’s a swimming pool.
Just by installing a rear rack on your bike, you have the capacity to carry something and travel by leg-power more often. The cheapest way to do it is by strapping a bag directly to the rack.
Some rear racks are more versatile than others when it comes to strapping items straight onto them. For instance, the CyclingDeal Rear Cargo Rack has extendable wings that give more stability to wider loads.
Rear bike racks vary considerably in the way they’re fixed to the bike. Ideally, you’ll have a bike that has dedicated eyelets for this purpose. But there are rack designs on the market that cater to all types of bikes.
A minority of rear racks attach to the seat post only, which is ideal for streamlined road bikes carrying light loads. You’ll want more attachment points if you intend carrying anything heavy, however.
Rear bike racks can also attach to seat stays, and sometimes they fix to the seat stays and seat post simultaneously.
Needless to say, tying bags directly to a rack with bungee cords or similar is cheaper than buying separate baskets, panniers or cargo bags.
Video: Strapping Stuff To Your Bike
4: Carry A Tool Kit And Snacks
Most cyclists would love to go on bike rides unburdened by spare bike parts and tools, but you must be prepared for all eventualities. Most of the time, you can carry such items in a jersey pocket or under the seatpost.
What if you could put all this stuff on a small rear bike rack as well as some snacks to keep your energy levels up on long bike rides? Everything in one place. Maybe you want to carry a bit more than usual but don’t want a full-sized rear rack.
A rear bike rack that fixes to the seat post can easily carry lighter loads. That might mean a pump, spare tubes, multitool, patch kit, chain tool, sandwiches and a spare bidon or two of drink.
A small rear bike rack might be just enough to make you more self-sufficient without having to worry about finding shops or water sources. It’s ideal for the one-day tourer. An example of this type of rack is the Ibera PakRak Seat Post Bicycle Rack.
Be wary of attaching a rear bike rack to a carbon seatpost. Some people do it without issue, but you do so at your own risk. A sensible precaution is to use a torque wrench and tighten to the same maximum torque as the seat collar.
For peace of mind, you can use something like the Arkel Randonneur Seat Post Rack with carbon seat posts. This is advertised as carbon friendly, though you do need metal seat rails in recommended use.
Video: Arkel Randonneur Rack Demo
5: Carry Camera Gear In A Trunk Bag
Trunk bags can be used for carrying all sorts of things. They sit on the top of the rear rack and basically act like the trunk of a car. But they differ significantly in design.
One possibility with trunk bags is carrying a camera and lenses. For this, you ideally need a padded trunk bag with compartments. It also needs to be easily removable so you can carry your equipment at your destination.
An example of a trunk bag you might use for this purpose is the ROCKBROS Trunk Bag which has thick padding, detachable partitions and a shoulder strap. It also has fold-out panniers in case you need to carry more. A rain cover is included.
Padding and water resistance are high on the agenda if you need a trunk bag for cameras gear. You can also put a regular padded camera bag into one of these roomy bags if you want a smaller bag to walk around with at bike stops.
Other potential uses for trunk bags include carrying commuter gear, overnight bike touring and even shopping in some cases (like the one mentioned above with side bags).
Sometimes, trunk bags are designed to fit bike racks from the same manufacturer. An excellent example of this is the Ibera PakRak system with its clip-on, quick-release capability.
Video: Ibera PakRak Clip-on System
That’s Great, But What If I Want To Carry Even More Stuff On My Bike?
You can load a rear bike rack to the hilt and still need more space in some circumstances. Long-distance bike touring could be such a circumstance, or maybe you want to carry a big weekly shop in one trip.
So, how do you carry even more stuff? Here are some ideas:
The obvious disadvantage of backpacks is that they place a strain on your back, quite often make you sweat more and restrict movement. However, not all backpacks are equal. Many cyclists (e.g., commuters) carry backpacks every day on their bike.
Read more: Cycling backpacks for carrying groceries
Bottle Cage Cases
Rather than carry tools under your saddle or in your pockets, bottle cage cases are ideal for carrying essential spares and tools. This works especially well on rides of 2 or 3 hours where you don’t need both bottle cages for drink.
Front Bike Rack & Panniers
Over long distances and across multiple climates, you might fix panniers to a front bike rack. A rear rack is used more often because it has no adverse effect on bike handling when loaded. But you can put panniers on the front, too.
Video: Bike Touring Packing: Front Load Bias
Attaching a basket to the handlebar is another way to carry stuff, though you’re limited to light loads using this method. You can put groceries in a front basket, and some people carry pets this way.
You can carry things like bike tools, snacks, keys, credit cards and sundries in a frame bag. This usually fixes to the top tube, but larger bags may also attach to the down tube and seat tube.
Here is a top tube bag strapped onto a road bike:
Saddlebags attach to the seat rails of a saddle and are typically used for tools and a spare tube or two. You can buy large saddlebags that fix directly to the seat rails and seatpost simultaneously (no rack involved).