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Are Pannier Racks Universal? [Do All Panniers Fit All Bikes?]

Pannier racks attach to bicycles, and touring bikes are often fitted with them as standard. They help support and distribute the weight of panniers. Panniers carry your items as an alternative to a rucksack or bag. The word is thought to come from an Old French word panier, meaning ‘bread basket’.

Popular amongst long-distance cycling tourists (and increasingly with modern commuters), panniers are a civilised way to transport possessions. They also take pressure off the back and hips, and their location on the rear of the bike, or less commonly, on the front forks, allow for increased carrying capacity. 

We’ll focus on the most popular pannier rack location – on the rear of the bike. Forward mounting racks and bags are widely available, but are usually used once the rear has been exhausted. 21st century carrying alternatives are inside the frame or around the handlebars. 

Panniers used to be one shape, like a fat lozenge, and were functional accompaniments on the bike. Increasing consideration has been given to use off the bike, so designs have been adapted for urban carrying of essential work items, security, and waterproofing.

Pannier racks and bags are now available for whichever type of bicycle you ride. The demand for different sizes and adaptations has led to the supply of new and different racks and panniers. You need to ensure that the models you choose are compatible with the bicycle and each other.

Do Panniers Fit All Bikes?

Panniers are available to fit all bikes these days. Everything from a folding version up to a fat bike. The size, shape, practicality and functionality of the panniers will reflect the use for the bicycle itself. You can take almost anything, from an electronic tablet to a tent, in a pannier.

The two main considerations when riding with panniers are whether your heel will come into contact with them whilst pedalling and how the weight and centre of gravity of their location will affect balance, steering and braking. 

Your frame composition and wheel size will determine the size of panniers available to you. The traditional double diamond frame seen on most bikes is such a smart piece of design accommodating 29 inch wheels which offer enough ground clearance for the larger pannier bags.

The folding bike, or full-suspension mountain bike has a very different frame shape with less clearance, so alternatives are needed. 

However, not all bikes are intended to be used with panniers. You should check thoroughly whether the bicycle manufacturer approves the carrying of any item fixed or mounted to the machine itself. Some will not and this may invalidate a frame warranty if damage is caused whilst carrying luggage or equipment, proving both costly and potentially very dangerous when riding. 

SOURCE: rawpixels.com

Are Pannier Racks Universal?

Not all racks are compatible with all bikes. But there is more than one way to attach a rack to a bike. Racks can be mounted on frame eyelets if they are part of the bicycle design. If you don’t have these, there are mounting systems using the seat stays, seatpost and rear wheel locking bolts. 

Starting with the traditional mounting method, the rack is usually made of alloy or steel. The top adjustable section fixes to two eyelets in the seat stays via attachable arms of a thinner metal, which can extend horizontally depending on the angle of the seat stay, size of wheel and tyre clearance needed. The lower section usually does not have the fixing arms. A much more rigid set up is needed at the bottom because here is where the weight of the bags rests. 

More expensive city and hybrid bikes from Decathlon include rear racks as standard and they will be standard on almost the entire range of the same models in the discipline of Trek and Genesis. 

As your bicycle becomes more sporting – say into the worlds of mountain biking and cyclocross, you may start to lose these eyelets. If you have a carbon-fibre framed bike, it almost certainly won’t have eyelets. The design of these bikes moves to a more compact riding position with shorter chainstays and a focus on aerodynamics. This does not rule out the pannier option. Make sure that your pannier rack is compatible with disc brake callipers if you run them.

If you buy a pannier rack with added P-clips, you can effectively create the missing seat stay eyelet and attach the rack as normal, then adjust. You can even buy racks which swap out the quick release system (if you have it) of your rear wheel with a lower section clamp.

If you have a mountain bike with very shallow-angled seat stays, then a clamp system will work. The clamp moves the rack out at right angles from any seat stay and then your pannier bag attaches. A lot of these bag support systems come with their own bags and are less adaptable to traditional panniers. One example is the Aeroe Spider Rear Rack.

Finally, there are rear racks where the top section is secured to the seatpost. These are usually elegant and tool-free mounting systems.

SOURCE: Unsplash.com

What Size Panniers Do I Need?

Panniers come in different sizes for all types of activity. The average commuter should only need one, to replace a backpack. The size and positioning to the rear does not affect balance or steering – you don’t need to get two. If you plan touring or camping trips, you’ll need to buy more panniers.

Most panniers start at a 10 litre capacity and ranges tend to top out at 25 litres. Again, these are similar to backpacks. You can expect to do some carrying but packing sensibly will mean you can stick to just one. Most will be compatible with laptops and will have a sleeve or insert for this purpose.

Be careful to check the maximum weight (usually including rider) that your bike is limited to.

Are Pannier Bags Universal?

Most pannier bags are designed to fit onto any type of rack. The diameter of the metal on these racks is sufficient for the hooks of the pannier bags to fit round them. In order to avoid bag wobble, inserts between the hook and rack increase stability. Some proprietary designs are not universal.

You should keep your eye out for signs of a locking system on the pannier which usually only works with the manufacturer’s own rack.

The modern world requires flexible and manageable use for pannier bags both on and off the bike. Their use has developed from the simple pleasure of staying on the attended bicycle all day when travelling from town to town, on a weekend trip. 

Design and functionality are not universal. Some bags are designed for a regular quick release removal from the rack. The degree of waterproofing will increase with the price. Storage can be a simple ‘bucket style’ right up to the ‘home office’ style of internal and external pockets with a lap-top sleeve.

Kevin Glenton


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Kevin Glenton

Kevin is a NCTJ qualified sports journalist. He cycles on towpaths, defunct railway lines, national cycle routes and minor roads in order to explore. His home is Manchester, shoehorned in by the Peak District and Pennines. A love for their steep roads remains unrequited. You can read more from Kevin here