Tailfin Alloy Rack with Pannier Mounts

Leading the way on adventure cycling bike racks

Sam Huby, Editor at Large (Bikepacking)

Tailfin’s minimalist racks have been around for half a dozen years now, and in that time they’ve gone from being something of a curiosity to a regular sight among bikepackers and long distance gravel riders. Intrigued by this blurring of the lines between bikepacking and traditional rack-and-panniers touring, we decided to try out their alloy option, with small pannier bags, on a tour of the Outer Hebrides.

Fitting is straightforward even when carried out on a rainy campsite, as ours was. At the lower end, it can be fitted directly to frame bosses at the rear dropout, or if you haven’t got those you can mount it on the axle and there are a range of adapters for QRs and all flavours of thru axle. At the top it’s secured with a strap around the seatpost. With various adapters and extenders available it might be a slight exaggeration to say it can be fitted to any bike but it’s not far off. The seat post fitting, frame bosses and thru axle options, mean that this carrier can be fitted to your carbon bike frame too – meaning that we’re all now potential adventure seekers.

After the initial installation, if you’re prepared to leave the almost unnoticeable little lower pegs on the bike you can take the rack off and put it back on in a matter of seconds. When I first laid eyes on one, I assumed this would be its primary appeal; to owners of sleek racing machines of one kind or another who occasionally felt the need to carry a bit extra for a spot of light touring or whatever. Interestingly though it seems to have been most enthusiastically adopted by the bikepacking fraternity. I’ve no data on this and it may just be the circles I move in; but a quick scan of the many ‘Rigs of the XXXX- Divide’ galleries online suggest there’s some truth in it. I’ll come back to this later, but for now back to the Hebridean rain.

A Hebridean adventure test

The trip was a five day tour, roughly following the Hebridean way, adjusted to account for the vagaries of Calmac ferries and the logistical challenges of getting back to an Oban car park in time to fulfil various obligations the following week. We carried lightweight camping and sleeping gear and only the barest minimum of cooking facilities (for tea, mainly).

We had the alloy version of the rack with the built in pannier mounts. If I was buying one, I think the extra cost of the carbon fibre version for a few grams of weight saving would be unjustified given that I’d be loading the thing with a few kilos of baggage anyway. Also, I’m old enough to harbour a few, probably unjustified, superstitions about the suitability of carbon for load bearing application in a knockabout environment. Likewise the pannier mounts; I can’t see the point of not having them; they’re pretty unobtrusive and they give you another loading option. Admittedly you do have to use Tailfin’s dedicated side pannier (various sizes from 5L-22L) and there are 3-pack mounts on the fork legs for stuff sac or Nalgene bottle cages, but still. We did in fact use the Tailfin panniers, and in many ways they were the best part of the system (see below). We didn’t use the dedicated Tailfin top bag, largely because we didn’t have one, instead strapping a tent to the rack platform. Which seemed as good a use of the space as any.

For the first two days we rode in more or less constant rain. Now, in my experience, if it rains long enough and hard enough,  everything will get wet. Having said that, one of the only pockets of dryness in those first couple of days were the side panniers. Made of Hypalon and nylon fabric and a rolltop closure, they kept out the Scottish weather when the seams and zips of our other bags eventually let in varying amounts of moisture. Even when everything else is damp and clammy, there’s deep joy in a dry change of socks. The panniers attach using Tailfin’s own X-Clamp hooks. These are super sturdy and seemed maybe a little over engineered at first glance, but they hold the bags immovably against the rack even when they’re heavily packed. The locking mechanism holds the solidly in place and there was no trace of movement even on the roughest terrain we encountered.

A significant step-up in load-carrying abilities

One of the problems with reviewing decent cycling kit is that when it works well it just works and if it does it’s job well part of that is being unnoticeable, just getting on with it without any fuss. That’s pretty much the case here; the Tailfin rack system carries a decent amount of stuff, keeps it dry, doesn’t rattle or sway and showed no sign of damage despite a fair bit of being thrown about and generally abused. From a bikepacking perspective a more interesting question might be why one would prefer this system to the more usual seatpack or indeed a traditional rack and panniers. From its earliest days, bikepacking was almost defined by eschewing racks to carry luggage. Racks and panniers were held to be cumbersome, heavy, rattly, insecure and altogether unsuitable for off-road touring. More recently manufacturers and riders have been adopting a hybrid approach.

As well as Tailfin, companies like Revelate Designs, Ortlieb and Restrap produce small minimalist panniers aimed at off road touring riders. These tend to sacrifice some of the capacity and practicality of traditional setups in favour of light weight, smaller profiles and rattle free fitting, but still represent a significant step up in load carrying capability over standard bikepacking bags.

So if you’re a bikepacker who tends to carry a lot of gear, maybe for cold conditions, or on longer trips then the Tailfin system makes a lot of sense. While the rack does limit you the use of Tailfin’s own bags, at least in terms of panniers, it also has some significant plus points over more standard racks. For a start its sleek aesthetics mean it doesn’t look too industrial or spoil the lines of even the sleekest machines.

In fact, many months after the Hebrides trip ours is still on the bike. It’s been used for shopping, commuting and the odd day ride and performed solidly and unobtrusively throughout. It’s so unobtrusive it’s never seemed worth the bother of taking it off. Ant, it looks kind of stylish on a bike – especially one made for bikepacking. It’s as though the two were meant to go together. Conversely if you do want to take it off it can be done in seconds (yes, I’m really that lazy). With additional sets of fittings too, it’s super easy to swap it between bikes. So the same piece kit can be used to extend your bikepacking luggage one day and transform your carbon road bike into a light tourer the next. All in all, Tailfin have done a great job and we really can’t fault how they’re redefining the possibilities for ordinary cyclists to be able to join the bikepacking community.

If you’re looking for an option to fit to your own bike, then definitely take a look at Tailfin. It will easily extend your cycling and adventure options, and will last you for many years.

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