I’m still in Huaraz, craving to get back on the road… Unfortunately though, the pain in my back has flared up, so I’m having to delay longer. In the meantime, here’s one of a few reviews I’d intended to post before setting of to Peru.
Disclosure: I was sent this Pack ‘n Pedal rack and pannier by Thule via Bike Bag Shop (of which I’m affiliate) to try out. Generally I request gear I’m eager to take away travelling, or I try and finagle a discount, or end up buying it at full retail. But the guys at Bike Bag Shop thought it would be right up my street, so sent a set to Santa Fe for me to try out.
And it’s true, I’ve long been interested in these racks – back when they were called Freeload and based out of New Zealand, before the design was acquired by car rack giants Thule (who, incidentally, own Chariot trailers too). Nowadays, I tend to see lightweight framebags and softbags as ideal for mountain bike touring – but there are times when the capacity of racks and panniers are better suited to the job at hand.
So what’s the big deal with Thule’s gear? Well, the main appeal is that one rack provides an adaptable solution for all manner of styles and materials – from full suspension to carbon, 26in or 29in – and of any frame size too. The same rack can even be fitted at the front or back. As such, it can be moved from bike to bike with relative ease – making the system an appealing gateway into touring and commuting. Clearances are very good, though unfortunately a touch too tight for my 29+ Krampus – and hence a fat bike too.
As with any system that offers such versatility, there’s bound to be compromises. In terms of stability, the racks are considerably better than you might expect. But although the nifty ratchet system cranks down tight, there’s still more side to side play then there would be with a traditional triangulated rack attached with bolts. To handle the quoted 25kg top load capacity, they’re supposed to be tightened down to 15 Nm, but seeing as I don’t have a torque wrench, I just cranked them down as tight as the hex key would let me go – and the rack felt relatively stable. I expect there’d be some scuffing of paint over time, but details like that have never bothered – it’s the same with framebags.
As for panniers, there’s a whole range on offer – geared towards touring and commuting – I particularly liked the look of the Tote Bag for shopping. As it was, I tried a Small Adventure Touring Pannier (16L), sold singly. Compared to the competition, price and weight are definitely up there. At $100 and 2.3lb (1043g) a piece, these are neither light nor cheap panniers in any way. By comparison, the equivalent Ortliebs (Front Roller Plus) weighs 1140g for a pair, and cost $153 for two. Still, some nifty features help offset those extra grams and dollars, which are explained below.
Incidentally, there are two versions of the rack – the Tour and Sport. I tried the Tour ($100, 1kg), which includes rails for mounting panniers. The Sport ($90, 0.8kg) is effectively a platform for cinching on a roll bag or similar – without the rails, it’s also 200g lighter. The Sport may well be the better option for bikepacking.
Thule calls the pannier material waterproof but also offers optional covers. I’ve not had the opportunity to ride with them in prolonged rain, but I take existence of covers to mean the panniers aren’t monsoon proof – and that water will eventually soak its way through.On the plus side, this means they’re breathable – and gear is less likely to get stinky inside. However, it also means you’ll need the extra raincovers in the event of a prolonged downpour, especially if you’re carrying the likes of a laptop – in which case, expect to fork out an additional $15 per pannier. And while the roll top closure works nicely when the bag is packed, it does have a tendency to unfurl when it’s half full.
Versatility: the name of the game
So what’s my overall take on the system? All in, it’s a pretty techy setup, and I have to admit to being a little sceptical initially about stiffness and durability – given all the plastic. But it’s definitely grown on me, and there’s some neat ideas for sure.
As far as I can see, it’s a cargo-carrying solution that’s best suited to commuting and general, mid-weight touring – dirt roads included.
Really, the strength of the Pack ‘n Pedal in its versatility. Lash on a rollbag. Use panniers. Move it from your road frame to your suspension rig. Swap it from a 26in bike to a 29er. Fit it to a friend’s smaller bike. And, although I see it being of greater benefit to commuters than tourers, I like the fact that Thule are striving to create a practical solution off the bike – the fold-away pannier mounts are really nicely executed. I would, however, prefer these panniers to be 100% waterproof, given the roll top closure – and their price tag.
With the advent of ultralight soft framebags and matching seat and rollbags, a lot of mountain bikers might find a rackless setup is a better way to go for lightweight, mountain bike touring. But if you do want the extra space of a more traditional setup on your full suspension rig, then the Pack ‘n Pedal racks and panniers are certainly one way of doing it. For multi-month endeavours, I’d still stick with a more specific chromoly rack system though, assuming you’re riding a bike that’s designed for the task at hand.
Normally, I strive to take gear away on a trip before writing about it, but this wasn’t possible with the Pack ‘n Pedal – partly because I only had one pannier to play with, and also because I only had a couple of months to use it. If you have any longterm, hands-on experience with this system, please post your thoughts below. And if you have any questions, let me know!
There’s some interesting feedback here, of a more extreme nature. But it sounds like there may have been some user error involved too.