A Common Sense Guide to Bicycles

Front and Rear Bicycle Racks

Published: 05/05/2012 by eBicycles

Installing a rack to your bicycle is one of the easiest ways to give your leg-powered machine a serious functionality makeover. Racks dramatically increase the range of what your bike can accomplish. Suddenly, your well beloved bicycle becomes capable of not only providing you joyful morning rides and relaxing evening cruises, but it also becomes a regular luggage-hauling, load-toting, heavy-duty vehicle.

From the grocery store to the library, from overnight touring to short distance commuting, bicycle racks can become an incredibly valuable and highly useful accessory for any cyclist.

Before purchasing and installing a bicycle rack, it’s important to understand what styles of racks are available. This will help you determine exactly what type of rack should best meet your needs. The following guide will describe the main styles of both front and rear bicycle racks, and will provide all the information you need to make a wise bike rack decision. By so doing, you will beef up your bike’s functionality and increase the range of what’s possible with two simple wheels.

Front Bicycle Racks

A front bicycle rack rests over the front wheel of a bicycle, and is usually mounted somewhere on the fork. This type of rack is less common than the rear rack, but it can provide some unique opportunities for both the practical and the adventurous cyclist alike.

Front bicycle rack, single mount point
© Moto@Club4AG / flickr

Front racks are great for carrying lightweight loads.

Types and Uses

The world of front bicycle racks is divided into two primary groups, both of which are defined by their distinctive methods of installation. There are front racks that have one anchor point—usually bolting into the front brake studs—and there are front racks that have two anchor points—most often bolting into threaded mounts located both at the bottom of the fork and midway up the length of the fork.

Diagram of front rack with single anchor point
© eBicycles.com

The diagram shows a front rack with a single load bearing mount point, using the brake bosses. The bolt attached to the top of the fork provides stability for the rack.

Front racks with single anchor points are designed for lighter work and smaller loads. They may be used to hold baskets or other lightweight pieces of luggage. Typically, these single anchor front racks have a load bearing capacity of around 15 pounds.

On the other hand, front racks with two anchor points are designed for more heavy-duty work. Most typically, these racks are used for serious commuting and long distance touring. Because of this, double anchor front racks are almost always used to hold panniers—bags or small pieces of luggage designed to attach to bicycle racks. Panniers are useful for carrying loads such as groceries, clothes, and traveling gear. In addition to detachable trailers, panniers are the most common means of transporting loads with a bicycle.

Diagram of front rack with two mount points
© eBicycles.com

This diagram shows a front rack with two anchor points This type of rack can handle a substantial load, including cargo on top and on the sides.

Front bicycle rack, double mount
© insidestory / flickr

This is a double anchor front rack. Notice that it mounts to both the bottom of the fork as well as midway up the length of the fork. The added strength and stability of this type of rack make them great for long distance touring or heavy-duty commuting.

Double anchor front racks are usually built according to the “low-rider” design, so named because of the way they allow panniers to rest close to the hubs of the front wheel rather than up above the tire. This low center of gravity makes it easier to steer, and provides better overall maneuverability and stability. Often times, double anchor front racks can carry up to 30 or 35 pounds.

How to Install a Front Bicycle Rack

The installation of a front bicycle rack depends on the type of rack you’re dealing with.

Single anchor front racks generally bolt into the front brake studs. To install this type of rack, remove the brake stud anchor bolts from your front brakes. Leave the brake arms where they are and position the rack in front of them. Use the same brake stud anchor bolts to mount both the rack and the brake arms to the brake studs.

Front rack install points using brake bosses
© eBicycles.com

Installation points using the brake bosses and a stability bolt  at the top of your forks. This type of rack is suited for cantilever or side pull brakes.

Front rack install points using eyelets
© eBicycles.com

Installation points using threaded eyelets near the wheel hub and a stability bolt in the hole at the top of the fork.  If a bike uses caliper brakes, a stability tab can be installed behind the calipers.

Front rack install points using clamps
© eBicycles.com

Installation points using rubber clamps on the forks and a stability bolt at the top of the fork.

Double anchor front racks almost always require you to bolt the rack into threaded eyelets at the bottom of the fork and threaded braze-ons halfway up the length of the fork. A braze-on is a predrilled hole in the bicycle’s frame, and they’re included on most bikes that are designed for touring or long-distance commuting. If your fork doesn’t have braze-ons, there’s no need to panic. You should still be able to install the rack using a pair of vinyl-coated clamps. These are usually included with the rack, but can also be purchased separately.

To install a double anchor front rack, align the bottom eyelet of the rack with the threaded eyelet on the bottom of the fork. Insert the provided bolts, and leave them hand tight for now—you may need to adjust things as you go. Next, line up the rack’s upper eyelets with the upper braze-ons, and insert the provided bolt. If you don’t have braze-ons, wrap the clamps around the fork, and mount the rack to the clamps. At this point, go ahead and fully tighten all bolts.

Front rack install points using eyelets and braze ons
© eBicycles.com

Heavy duty dual anchor front rack installation points, using eyelets and braze ons.

Front rack install points using eyelets and clamps
© eBicycles.com

Installation points on a heavy duty front rack using eyelets and clamps.

When it comes time to actually use your newly installed rack, you’ll probably need to use some sort of strap, small cargo net, box, basket, or panniers to secure your load. Whatever your method, be sure your load is steady and that it doesn’t exceed the rack’s recommended weight limit. Finally, make sure the rack isn’t interfering with either the wheel or the front brakes before riding the bike.

Basket on front rack
© snaks / flickr

Using the front rack for a basket makes carrying cargo easy.  Putting the extra weight over the front tire is also more stable when riding.

Things to Consider When Buying a Front Bicycle Rack

Load Capacity - Single anchor front racks are less durable and can handle smaller weight loads than double anchor racks. Before purchasing a rack, be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommended weight capacity.

Quality - In general, bicycle racks are constructed out of steel, aluminum, or cromoly, which is a strong steel alloy. Steel racks are generally heavier, more durable, and they can be repaired if damaged. Aluminum racks are lighter, less durable, and can’t be fixed if they break. With this said, however, there are some high-quality aluminum racks available, but be prepared to spend more for these high-end aluminum racks. Cromoly racks are becoming increasingly popular, as they are lightweight, durable, and strong. For long distance touring or heavy-duty commuting stick with steel or cromoly racks; aluminum ones should do the trick for short distance, lightweight hauls.

Low rider front rack for panniers
© mooseblend / flickr

Low rider front racks are designed to carry panniers low to the ground, on each side of your bicycle. The mounting points are the same as other double anchor front racks.

Price - The amount you spend on a front rack depends primarily on what you want to do with the rack. If you’re planning on completing a long distance tour, you’ll need a solid double anchor front rack. These can cost anywhere from $40-$120+, depending on brand, model, and material. Single anchor front racks are typically much more affordable, running between $7-$25, but can only be used for very lightweight loads.

Front bag with panniers
© ebicycles.com

A cargo bag and panniers can strap onto your front rack, as illustrated.

Accessories - You should also consider exactly how you want to transport things on the rack. Will you be using panniers? Are you going to strap down a basket or small box? Will you secure items with a bungee cord? Either way, you should ensure that your front rack is compatible with whatever accessories you’ll be using to actually carry your loads.

Recommendations and Resources

For more information regarding front bicycle racks, check out the following resources:

Recommended manufacturers of single anchor front racks include:

Recommended manufacturers of double anchor front racks include:

Front Rack Product Table

The following table links to some popular front racks based on your desired load capacity. Hopefully this helps get you started on your search for a front rack. Note: some of the links go to the manufacturer's website, while others go to various shopping sites.

Light Load Medium Load Heavy Load
Rear rack with baskets
© ubrayj02 / flickr

Rear racks can be used for many purposes, such as attaching boxes and baskets to haul the groceries.

Rear Bicycle Racks

Rear bicycle racks rest directly above the back wheel of a bicycle. They are much more common than front racks, and are generally easy to install, easy to use, and very helpful for carrying a wide variety of loads.

Types and Uses

As with front racks, there are two primary divisions in the world of rear bicycle racks. This division is defined according to a rack’s installation design. In general, a rear bicycle rack either clamps onto the seatpost or bolts into the seat stays.

Seat post rack with cargo
© eBicycles.com

A seatpost rack is easy to install and can carry small loads.

Seatpost rear racks may be somewhat easier to install and uninstall, but they are much less durable. Because they’re not mounted to the actual bike frame, these racks are unable to handle heavy loads, and so must be restricted to lightweight cargo. These are typically used along with small bags, cargo nets, and straps. Seatpost racks are usually designed to carry between 10-15 pounds.

Bolt-on rear racks are much more versatile and rugged. Because they bolt into two locations on a bicycle’s seat stays, these racks are capable of handling much heavier loads. Bolt-on rear racks are by far the most common style of bicycle rack, and are used by everyone from casual commuters to hardcore cycling tourists.

Dual mount rear rack
© bluebike / flickr

This bike features a bolt-on rear rack. These racks are usually designed to handle fairly heavy cargo loads.

Bolt-on rear racks are capable of carrying loads anywhere from 20-80 pounds, depending on the specific model. They are most often utilized by strapping cargo directly to the rack, attaching a box, bag, or other carrying case, or by hanging panniers off the sides of the rack. Regardless of the specific method used, a bolt-on rear rack is the most practical and helpful type of rack for cyclists of all skill levels and intensity.

How to Install a Rear Bicycle Rack

Heavy duty rear rack
© vxla / flickr

Installing a rear rack is easy, but be sure your bicycle has the necessary mounting locations.

Rear seatpost rack install points
© eBicycles.com

A seatpost rack attaches to your seatpost using two or four bolts. Ensure you have a metal seatpost (aluminium, titanium or steel) before using one of these racks.

Of course, the installation process for a rear bicycle rack depends on its specific design. If you’re dealing with a seatpost rack, the installation should be fairly quick, easy, and straightforward. Most racks of this type clamp onto the seat post with a two- or four-bolt clamp. To install, simply remove these bolts, position both sides of the clamp around the seatpost and re-insert the bolts. Tighten the bolts and be sure the rack is securely fastened to the seatpost.

Installing a bolt-on rear rack requires the bike to have two anchor points: at the bottom of the seat stays near the dropouts, and up toward the top of the seat stays. Bicycles that are designed for long distance touring and regular commuting will usually include threaded eyelets and braze-ons for rear rack installation. If your bike doesn’t have these features, you should still be able to install a bolt-on rack using vinyl-coated clamps.

To install a bolt-on rear rack, begin by aligning the rack’s bottom eyelets with the threaded eyelets at the bottom of the bicycle’s seat stays. Insert the bolts—they should be included with the rack—but leave them only hand tight, as you will probably need to adjust things throughout the installation process.

Now you need to mount the rack to the upper seat stays. Some bolt-on rear racks require you to use thin metal connecting rods to mount the rack to the upper braze-ons. These connectors are initially not attached to the rack, so before you can bolt the rack to the top section of the seat stays, you’ll need to use the set of bolts, washers, and nuts—all of which should be included with the rack—to attach the connector rods to the rack. Once again, leave these bolts hand tight so you can make adjustments as you go.

Rear rack installation using eyelets
© eBicycles.com

Attaching the bottom of the rear rack to the frame using the threaded eyelets at the base of the seat stays.

Rear rack installation using seat stay braze ons
© eBicycles.com

Attaching the top of a rear rack using braze-ons. The nut will not be necessary if your braze-ons are threaded.

Rear rack installation using vinyl clamps
© eBicycles.com

Attaching the top of a rear rack to seat stays using vinyl clamps. Clamps may be included with your rack or you may need to purchase them separately.

Once the connector rods are attached to the rack, align them with the upper braze-ons and insert the final bolts. Check to make sure the rack is nice and level and then tighten down all bolts. If you’re installing a rack that doesn’t use separate connector rods, align the rack’s upper eyelets with the upper braze-ons and insert the bolts.

Vinyl clamp for bicycle racks
© Nitto

Vinyl clamps, such as these, can be used if your frame doesn't have braze-ons on the seat stays.

Finally, if your bike frame doesn’t have threaded braze-ons, use a set of vinyl-coated clamps to attach the rack to the top portion of the seat stays.

Before strapping down a heavy load and pedaling off down the road, be sure that all bolts are fully tightened, that the rack doesn’t interfere with the wheel or the brakes, and that the rack rests parallel to the ground.

Things to Consider When Buying a Rear Bicycle Rack

The rear rack you purchase depends largely on what you hope to accomplish by installing a rack to your bicycle. If you want to carry very lightweight pieces of cargo over short distances, then a seatpost rack will probably do the trick. If you’re hoping to complete a long distance tour, or you want to use your bike to haul your gear on a regular basis, then you should look into a bolt-on rear rack.

With this in mind, here are some other things to consider when purchasing a rear rack:

Rear rack with childseat
© insidestory / flickr

A rear rack can be used to carry cargo, including children. This child seat clips into a rear rack that is securely bolted to the frame

Load Capacity - Keep in mind that seatpost racks can usually hold between 10-15 pounds, while bolt-on racks can handle as much as 80 pounds. Because there’s such a dramatic range when it comes to rear rack load capacity, it’s important to check the manufacturer’s suggested weight limits before committing to a particular rack.

Rear rack on touring bicycle
© russteaches / flickr

This rear rack, made of coated aluminum, is designed to carry a full touring load - including a bag on top, and panniers on the side.

Quality - As with front racks, the quality of rear racks usually depends on the material out of which it’s constructed. Steel racks are heavier, beefier, and have the advantage of being repairable. Aluminum racks are lighter, but also flimsier. And finally, cromoly racks typically maintain a good balance between strength, durability, and weight. The important thing is to find a rack that will meet your needs both in terms of weight capacity and price.

Price - Rear racks can cost anywhere from $15 to $100 or more. The key factor in a rear rack’s price is the material and the weight capacity. The more heavy-duty and burly the rack, the more expensive it will generally be. Because rear bicycle racks are so common, though, you can usually find good deals on high-quality used racks, so don’t be afraid to explore sources like Craigslist or your local bicycle co-op for some good deals.

Pannier over rack
© jenny pics / flickr

Panniers secure to racks using clips, straps and velcro. This pannier has  a handle for easy carrying when not attached to the rack.

Accessories - The final thing to consider when purchasing a rear rack is how you plan on actually hauling around all your cargo. Typically, cyclists will strap cargo directly to the rack with cords or nets, attach some sort of box or luggage, or use panniers. Whichever method you choose, be sure your rack will accommodate any necessary accessories.

Recommendations and Resources

For more information regarding rear bicycle racks, and for additional ideas on how to use a rear rack to carry your cargo, check out the following resources:

Some recommended manufacturers of seatpost racks include:

Recommended manufacturers of bolt-on rear racks include:

Rear Rack Product Table

The following table organizes popular rear racks by load capacity to help you narrow down your search. Note: most of the links go to various shopping sites while some go to the manufacturers' sites.

Light Load Medium Load Heavy Load

Where to Buy

You have many choices for buying bicycle racks - online, local bike shops, craigslist or eBay. Online will give you the best deals, but no help installing the rack. While your local bike shop may not have the best prices, they will stand behind the rack they sell you, and will likely install it for you if you bring your bike into the shop.

If you decide to purchase a rack online, there is a chance it won't fit your bicycle perfectly. There are many types of bicycles and racks and the holes won't always line up everywhere. Your local bike shop can help in this case -- they'll have the necessary hardware that you need to mount the rack, in most cases.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a casual cyclist, pleasure-seeking pedaler, daily commuter, long distance tourist, or anything in between, installing and using bicycle racks significantly expands the horizon of a bike’s capabilities.

By making smart decisions regarding which types of racks to use, you will find yourself spending more time—and usually more enjoyable time—in the saddle. When you can simply haul all your stuff with you, there’s nothing your bike isn’t capable of doing.

Photo Gallery

Bicycle rack mounted over the front wheel.
© catt1788 / flickr
  • Front Rack
  • Touring Bicycle
  • Small Front Rack
  • Large Front Rack

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