Pack & Pedal 1

Thule Bike Rack & Pannier

When I first started to ride a road bike I wanted it to be as streamline as possible, if you asked me to fix a rack and pannier system to it I would of said NO.  Well as you would expect thing’s change,  I acquired a winter bike that I can use in all weathers, as well as the possibility to ride to work.

The one thing I always said I would never do is ride with a backpack, this is both uncomfortable and painful.  So how else was I going to get my lunch and work kit to work and keep it safe and dry.

I searched all the options available to myself as a cyclist and as you would expect Thule came out as the market leaders.  I wanted to see what made them so good and why they were the top brand cyclists went for.

As with most emails to large companies I sent an email asking to take a look at their products,  after providing them with some information they were happy to allow me the opportunity to look at their products.  A few days later I received the Thule pannier bag and bike rack, once I received the items my review began.

What do you look for when you need to transport your daily items to work or any other social event. Well I looked at the Thule pannier and bike rack in great depth to get the answers you and I want.

The first thing I noticed when I received the pannier was the feeling, it feels kind of crispy to the touch but strong at the same time.  There was a good degree of strength and the outside of the bag looked and felt well made.

On the back of the bag there’s a few noticeable features that stand out at first glance, firstly there’s the securing hoops on the back where the shoulder strap thats provided can be attached.  This allows you to use the pannier as a normal bag once you arrive at your destination or to simply carry it easier.

Then there’s a letterbox shape near the top that doubles as the fixing point, it’s here that the pannier is able to fix to the bike.  By applying a little pressure on the bottom of the letterbox panel it flips round to reveal the fixing system.  A clever little pull cord that once pulled moves two fixing mounts that attach and lock onto the Bike Rack.

This is a clever little touch to the bag and when not in use discreetly hidden but there is a down side to this.  As you would expect with any area that secures a bag to a mount it needs to be strong enough to hold not only the bag but its contents.  With any good fixing come weight and when you hold the pannier alone it feels like any other bag.  Weighing win at 0.99 kgs when empty the bag is still quite light considering but when its attached to the rack system it starts to feel a bit heavy.

Moving on for a moment let me continue to tell you about the other features the pannier has to offer.  Inside the pannier there’s a nice little panel which allows you to hold a small laptop or macbook.  I say small because it wont house most larger laptops and to be honest you wouldn’t want to add to much weight to the pannier anyway.  There’s also a small zip compartment for fees or money plus some exterior pockets.

These exterior pockets also have a great little extra to them, if you want to slide a light into the pockets the material allows you to see the light shine through.  This is a nice feature and handy as it allows people from behind to see your carrying a pannier.

The Bike Rack comes as two pieces, the top plate and the mount.  All that’s required is to clip the two together and then you just need to mount it to the bike.  This is where it gets a little bit complicated, what should be really simple process is a bit of a headache.

The way the rack mounts to the frame is a strap and ratchet system x2 on both sides, you basically thread the strap through the ratchet and then use the hex tool to tighten the strap.  This needs to be tight in order for the bike rack remain in position not move or slide down the frame, its here that I found my only concern.

Let me explain a bit more,  I ride carbon bikes and as you may be aware carbon is strong but only to a certain level.  This is another area I find myself constantly checking,  once I fix the rack to the bike I’m constantly checking I’ve not over tightened the rack to the frame.  Not only that if I don’t tighten it enough when the pannier is attached the whole rack slides down the frame.

I might be looking at this as a concerned cyclist but it’s an area that could be improved, because its not just getting it on thats a little tricky but the removal is also a bit hands on.

Once you have the rack in place it seems to be fine and can certainly secure the pannier with an additional magnet that stops the pannier flapping around.  This is a nice touch but again increases the overall weight.

Heres a look at the racks weight and load Capacity,

Load capacity 25 kg top/18 kg side

Weight (kg) 0.99 kg

Material Aluminium/Plastic

So how do you remove the rack, well Thule provide a special key that you push into the release hole and turn till you get a release on the ratchet system.  Sounds so simple but in theory it’s not as easy, because there’s two fixings per side you need to do one at a time.  This is where it gets a little fiddly, in order to release the ratchet you need to undo one completely and then move to the next mount.  This process has to be repeated on all four mounts, which is a great but I don’t know how easy it is to get a replacement key if you should loose it.

So how does it feel in practice, well I went at this with a huge amount of scepticism.  When it was on the bike I thought it felt heavy and I was a tad concerned my heal would catch the pannier as I was riding.  Don’t worry all was good, in fact I was surprised with how it felt whilst riding.  OK there was a distinct weight difference on one side of the bike which you had to be careful of.  Once you covered a mile or two I found I had adjusted enough and never really noticed it was there.

If your going to be doing some long distance touring I’d strongly recommend you get a pannier for either side to spread the weight but for a commute to work or the gym its perfect.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the magnet holds the pannier whilst in transit.   A few times I had a concern the pannier would flap around but nothing, even when I loaded the bag right up it remained in position.

How did the pannier do you ask, well like everything I saved the best to last.  Finding a bag thats both waterproof and versatile is almost impossible.  Fear not Thule appear to have created a simple and brilliant pannier, I even tested this in the best way possible.  I filled the pannier up with toilet rolls so the pannier was full and then went out into what appeared to be a rain storm.

  First thing I’ll say is this is something I never do but for the sake of the review I wanted to make sure  I tested the kit in all conditions.  What happened at the end of the ride was just brilliant,  I was like a drowned rat after my ride and when I emptied the pannier I was expecting the toilet roll to be maybe a little wet or even damp .  Not even a drop touched the soft and super absorbent paper, this was a big smile on my face for the pannier.

Not only that the pannier also doubles as a back pack for any short walks you might have to do from where ever you parked your bike. This is a great addition to the pannier and makes it more than just a pannier.

Which brings me to the verdict,  as I have never used a pannier and rack before I was quite dubious as to my thoughts on the outcome.  However after looking at it I really do see the advantage of using a pannier and bike rack instead of a ruck sack.  OK it might look a bit odd on your road bike but the functionality of this set up is so good, it then allows you to just ride and not feel like a bags getting you all hot on your back.

I loved the pannier this was a really good bag and design, it not only has a great holding capacity but there’s also a nice little laptop section inside.  Remember its not going to hold a huge laptop but why would you carry a huge laptop around anyway.

The Rack system from first impression is well made and very sturdy, I’m not really sure on the locking system with the ratchets or the release key but it did it’s job.  If I was going to be really critical I’d like to see a better mounting system and look at reducing the weight a lot more.  I like the magnet stopping it from flapping around but it adds weight.

If your looking for a strong and sturdy bike rack and pannier system then this is ideal but be aware of the overall weight of the whole set up.  If I was going to be doing some long distances travelling and going off the grid then weight is going to play a huge factor in the trip.

Compared to other panniers out there and the quality Thule consistently provide you can see why there the market leaders of bike rack systems.

I hope to see a different mount set up in the future reducing the weight and ease of fitting and removing.  Even if they went to one ratchet system on each side and maybe a rubber strap as an additional fixing point, It like to see the use of the key removed as well maybe a push release system.

I understand why Thule have made it like this but I’d like to have seen it a little more user friendly.

Overall I’d still say this is one of the best out there but Thule need to be on top of their game and look at making it lighter or it’ll be suppressed by a lighter and stronger version.