Commuting by bike with a backpack or a messenger bag can lead to a sweaty back and sore shoulders. But with the help of the right rack, basket, and panniers, you can more efficiently haul and protect up to 65 pounds of stuff without affecting the ease of your ride. After nine months spent road-testing 23 top contenders for best rack, basket, and panniers (for carting around your laptop, backpack, heavy gear, or your groceries), we found the most comfortable and convenient setup for transporting everyday objects around on two wheels.
AU Editor’s Note: this post references some products only sold within the US, but you can buy and ship them internationally if you like the look of them. — Cam
This post was done in partnership with Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best homewares. This is a condensed version of The Best Bike Rack, Basket, and Panniers for Commuting; read the full review here.
If you’re just planning on running small errands around the neighbourhood (we tested our contenders by going to the pharmacy, dropping off packages, and getting takeout), a front basket might be the answer. They can hold up to about 5kg of stuff, but going beyond that can negatively affect handling. If you plan on toting larger loads, get a rear rack. The racks we recommend can carry up to 55 additional pounds. You can either strap that load on top or add a pair of panniers to your rear rack. Popularised by touring cyclists for carrying camping gear on multiday trips, these bags are designed to hook onto the sides of a rack, keeping things dry and secure in adverse conditions. We then spent nine months commuting with our contenders to examine durability, portability, and overall quality.
No matter what carrying methods you choose, some assembly is required. You’ll likely find pairs of brazed-on eyelets, threaded for a 5-millimetre metric screw, on the seatstays, at the rear dropouts, and at the ends of the fork; these are the attachment points you’ll use to install a rack or basket on your bike. If you don’t have these connectors, you can in most cases use P-clamps, meant for tacking down bundles of cables in construction and available at any hardware store. Wrap them around your seatstays to add a pair of mounting points. Most front baskets can mount directly to a front axle. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
For running small errands: Wald 198 Multi-Fit Basket
The Wald 198 Multi-Fit Basket is sturdier and more secure than the competition, and you can fit it on almost any bike or handlebars with a little effort. At 14½ inches wide by 9½ inches front to back, and 23cm deep, it has enough room for packages, bags, and other daily essentials. It’s also economical ($US30 ($41) at the time of writing).
“The gold standard for baskets for years has been Wald,” said Eric McKeegan, tech editor at Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times. “There’s a reason why they are on every single food delivery bike in New York City. They’re inexpensive, they’re strong, it handles in Big Apple weather, and they’re very made in the USA. It’s a pretty amazing product.”
Check out our full guide to read about our testing.
For toting larger loads: Topeak Explorer
The Topeak Explorer fits bikes better than most rack models do , and it’s easier to install and adjust thanks to flexible attachment arms and more than an inch of wheel clearance. The three-stay design makes it stronger and more stable than racks with only two stays, and its maximum rated capacity of 25kg is among the highest of the racks in our test group. Unlike cheaper racks, it still feels solid even when fully loaded down. A well-made taillight mount is integrated into the platform (which does double duty as a fender to protect you from road spray), and the rack ships with quality mounting hardware.
For carrying your laptop around town: Arkel Commuter Urban Pannier
The Arkel Commuter Urban Pannier can help you get yourself, your computer (up to 15 inches), and 23 litres’ worth of gear to where you want to go with minimal effort and maximum protection. The bag goes on and off the bike in seconds, offers extra measures to protect your laptop, stores everything you need in the place that you need it, and remains supremely durable and unobtrusive on the bike. It was the only pannier in our test group to have a metal backplate, which can keep a laptop from bumping against the rack itself or against the ground when you set the bag down. In addition, Arkel backs all of its products with a transferable, no-receipt-needed, lifetime guarantee.
For walking around a big campus or going up and down a lot of stairs: Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack
Backpacks are more comfortable than shoulder bags for carrying heavy loads when you’re not on a bike, but typically they sacrifice accessibility to the basics, like your wallet and phone. That’s not the case with the Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack, which has a cyclist-centric design and thoughtfully placed pockets and compartments. We were able to fit a laptop, cable bag, and repair kit into the dedicated interior pockets, and shoes, windbreaker, and lunch inside the main compartment, which zips open along its entire length and is easier to access than a rolltop backpack. Plus, conversion from pannier to backpack mode is simple.
For hauling heavy or oddly shaped gear: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers
The Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers — considered the gold standard for touring panniers — are what we recommend for toting larger loads. It’s no surprise that they have successfully crossed over to the commuting world — not only is their mounting system reliable and simple, but the panniers themselves are extremely durable and very waterproof (thanks to a rolltop design). A classic pannier like the Ortlieb is basically a big bucket you can dump anything — from groceries to shoes to jackets — into, with just a narrow sleeve for internal organisation, suitable for documents or a tablet (though there’s no padding) and a mesh zippered pocket for tools, lights, and other accessories.
For making trips to the market: Banjo Brothers Grocery Pannier
If the number-one thing you want to do with your bike is pick up your groceries for the week, a dedicated grocery pannier — featuring a wide-open top that won’t crush your produce and a flat bottom the same size and shape as a paper grocery bag — is both practical and affordable. The Banjo Brothers Grocery Pannier offers a higher build quality than the competition (including a stable mounting system with a pair of metal hooks on top and a lower hook fixed to an adjustable elastic strap), comes with a removable shoulder strap, and has handles on either side (like a tote) for stable carrying. Plus, reflective piping around the top seam improves visibility at night. This pannier also has button closures on the sides for easy foldability.
We have much more information about panniers in our full guide.
These picks may have been updated. To see the current recommendations, please read Sweethome’s guides.