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Load carrying for commuters

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Article posted: 27/08/2013

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For carrying your gear to and from work, there are two main options, carrying stuff on your back, or letting the bike take the load. If you prefer the idea of the latter, then you’ll need a rack and panniers to do the job. Here’s what to look for.

Racks

Conventional frame mounted racks –The best racks will be adjustable to fit a wide variety of frame sizes and configurations. Some racks have a solid rack top which doubles as a mudguard. Others have separate side frames which allow you to hang the panniers lower and further back – improving centre of gravity and increasing pannier/heel clearance. NOTE – conventional racks only fit bikes with the necessary fittings on the frame, which allow you to attach the rack to the bike using Allen bolts. If your bike has a rear disc brake there are specific models designed to accommodate the disc caliper. If in doubt, ask at your local bike shop.

Features to look for (as illustrated above right): Mounting points for a rear light | a 'dog leg' design to keep panniers from catching in back wheel | separate pannier rails to enable you mount your panniers lower down | a solid carrier top to act as a mudguard.

Seatpost mounted racks – these enable some load-carrying functionality on bikes that won’t take a conventional rack – e.g. full suspension bikes. Specifications vary, with some capable of carrying panniers with special side frames. However, their load capacity is generally limited and they tend to carry the load too high, which negatively affects bike handling.

Panniers

Conventional touring panniers

Often sold in pairs and designed for globetrotting cyclists, they’re equally useful for daily commuting, due to their high capacity, ruggedness and weatherproofing.

Single ‘commuter panniers’

Sold singly and usually high capacity (30 plus litres is normal) these can be just the ticket for commuters. They often have special laptop sleeves and multiple compartments allowing you to easily separate your work stuff from your wet weather gear, tools etc. They often come with a carrying handle – some even convert into rucksacks for off bike use

Bike briefcases

Styled like briefcases or laptop bags these are essentially business-like bags with pannier attachments. They often mount at an angle to afford the necessary amount of heel clearance.

Waterproof panniers

Ortleib, Vaude and others produce 100% waterproof roll top panniers which are great if you’re serious about keeping your commuting essentials bone dry.

Features to look for

Attachment systems – the best panniers have secure quick release attachments at the top and anti sway devices towards the bottom. Older and more basic panniers have simple hooks at the top and elastic to secure them at the bottom. Look out for Rixen and Kaul attachments – they’re arguably the best in the business.

Heel clearance - If you can, try before you buy, fitting the panniers to your rack and checking for heel clearance. If you’ve got big feet, big panniers, a bike with short chainstays, or a combination thereof, your heels could catch on the panniers. Some designs are angled or cut away at the front to remedy this and some racks feature low, rear mounted pannier rails which can help too.

Waterproofing – all panniers should be weatherproof to an extent. However, polyurethane roll-top panniers are the ultimate. Other panniers come with separate rain covers which offer similar levels of protection from the elements.

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