What You Need To Know When Installing Panniers On a Carbon Bike (Simple Explanation)

Description Of The Situation

  1. You have a carbon bike that you use for recreational racing and/or luggage-free riding.
  2. You want to add utility to the bicycle by installing panniers.
  3. You’re not sure whether panniers can be mounted on the bike because carbon is a pretentious material that could crack and break if mishandled.

Condensed answer: Under the right circumstances, it’s possible to install panniers on a carbon bike. However, using a carbon bike for transporting cargo makes little financial sense and negates the weight-saving properties of a carbon frame.

More often than not, it’s best to avoid this practice.

Can You Put A Pannier Rack On a Carbon Bike?

Panniers cannot be directly attached to a bicycle. First, you have to install a front and/or rear rack.

A rear rack can be installed on a carbon bike if:

1. The Frame Has Rack Mounts

It’s rare, but some carbon frames have threaded rack mounts lower on the seat stays allowing you to attach the legs of a pannier rack via bolts.

Most carbon bikes that come with rack mounts are designed for “adventure” and gravel riding. They aren’t road race machines.

Below is a list of carbon models known for having rack mounts:

ModelRack StyleCapacity
Specialized DivergeRear55lbs/25kg
Willier JenaRearN/A
Bombtrack Hook EXT-CRearN/A
Jamis RenegadeRear25lbs/11.3kg
Fuji Jari CarbonRearN/A
Norco Search XR C1RearN/A
Tifosi CavazzoRearN/A
Niner RLT RDORearN/A
Trek 1120Rear26lbs/11.8kg
Table 1

A classic rear rack has 4 connection points – two for the rack’s legs and two for the arms.

Some frames have mounts for the legs but no connection points for the arms.

In that case, one of the solutions is to use a seat collar with rack mounts for the braces.

Sunlite seatpost collar with rack mounts

Note: Some frames have mudguard-only mounts that aren’t designed for loaded cargo racks. Consult the website of the manufacturer to know if this is the case for your model.

2. The Rack Can Be Attached To The Axle

If the frame doesn’t have eyelets for a rack, it’s possible to mount a rack that attaches directly to the axle of the rear hub.

Below is a list of racks that fit the description:

ModelPositionMounting Points/AxleWeightCapacity*
Axiom Streamliner Road DLXRearQuick-release skewers510g110lbs/50kg
Axiom Streamliner Disc DLXRearQuick-release skewers710g110lbs/50kg
Tubus DiscoRearQuick-release skewers720g44lbs/20kg
Tailfin X Series Pannier RackRearQuick-release skewers, Thru-axle, frame eyelets390-540g9kg/19.8lbs (per side)
Sherpa Classic Rack FrameRearQuick-release skewers, Thru-axle700g31.8kg/70lbs

*A rack may be strong enough to support a certain amount of weight, but the bike itself may fail to cope with the load.

FAQ: Why are thru-axle pannier racks so hard to find?

Because most bikes use quick-release skewers.

Thru-axles are more likely to be found on high-end bicycles that aren’t intended for cargo transportation in the first place.

Touring bikes are one exception, but they have dedicated mounts and don’t need racks attaching to the axle.

Below is a list of thru-axle pannier racks:

  • Tailfin X Series Pannier Rack
  • Old Man Mountain Sherpa Classic Rack Frame

Another option is to replace your thru-axle with one that supports the installation of a rack.

For example, Specialized has a product called Thru-axle Rack Мount that has threads inside the axle for lower mounting bolts. (source)

3. The Rack Attaches To a Non-carbon Seatpost

There are two types of rear racks – one connects to the frame or rear axle, the other mounts to the seat post.

Frame-mounted racks are better for heavier loads but require mounting points and are more difficult to install.

In different, seatpost racks are built for light cargo and are compatible with any bike that has enough seat post showing.

The two types are compared in greater detail in this post.

It’s possible to install a seat post rack on a carbon bike, but only if the seat post itself is made of metal (e.g., aluminum).

Most seat post racks come with a clamp that tightens around the seat post.

Since carbon has low resistance to clamping pressure (compression force), a metal seat post is needed or else you risk crushing the seat post.

Unfortunately, seatpost racks support very little weight (up to 10kg) and have a higher center of gravity negatively affecting the handling of the bike when the rack is loaded.

A front rack can be installed on a carbon bike if:

The Fork Has Mounts For a Rack

Forks with rack mounts make it possible to install low rider pannier racks.

The fact that a fork has eyelets does not always mean that it’s engineered to take a front rack.

It’s important to make sure that the mounts on the fork are for cargo racks rather than water bottles and/or mudguards.

To know if this is the case, you have to consult the manufacturer or a competent bike shop. Otherwise, you would be risking material damages and injuries because a broken fork results in an instant crash.

Example Model:

Specialized Diverge has a fork with rack mounts. The model can carry up to 30lbs (13.6kg) of cargo at the front. (source)

Tubus Tara is a low rider front rack known to fit the Specialized Diverge fork.

Don’t Use Racks With a Clamping Mechanism

Some racks have a mounting system that clamps-on to the seat stays as a way to circumvent the lack of mounting points.

Those models work fine on metal frames but could easily damage a carbon bike because carbon has low resistance to compression.

The same applies to relying on P-clamps as a way to connect the legs of the rack to the seat stays.

If the bike doesn’t have rack eyelets, it’s better to use one of the rack models that attach directly to the axle.

The Downsides Of Installing Panniers On a Carbon Frame

1. Negated Weight Savings

The main purpose of carbon components is to save weight.

By turning a carbon bike into a hauling machine, the benefit of using carbon is eliminated.

Once the bike is loaded, it doesn’t matter that the frame is lighter than a metal equivalent.

2. Carbon Bikes Are Not Meant To Be Commuters

Carbon bikes are high-end. Using one as a commuter makes sense only when you have the option to park it in a secured garage everywhere you go.

Leaving a carbon bike on the street is dangerous because:

a. The bike could be stolen.

b. Another cyclist may damage the frame or fork while locking or unlocking their bike.

3. Carbon Bikes Do Not Make The Best Touring Rigs

Dedicated touring bicycles are made of steel for a good reason – steel is tough, resistant to impact, and repairable with widely available machinery.

Also, steel is less likely to break catastrophically thanks to its high elasticity and strength. In different, carbon gives fewer warnings before complete disintegration.

Carbon is repairable too, but the procedure is more complicated and requires exotic equipment.

4. Constant Worry

Carbon demands extra care. The routine examinations of the frame and fork could become annoying when the bike is used all the time and for various purposes.

The Pros Of Installing Panniers On a Carbon Bike

The only tangible benefit of putting panniers on a carbon bike would be the extra versatility.

By adding panniers, you would increase the utility of an otherwise performance-oriented machine.

Having said that, the cons heavily outweigh the pros.

Getting A Beater Bike

No bike can do it all (race, commute, tour…etc.) because each discipline requires the implementation of certain qualities that become hurtful when the bicycle is used for different purposes.

For example, turning a race carbon road bike into a cargo hauler is akin to relying on a Lamborghini to transport construction materials. It can be done, but there are better tools for the job.

If you’re looking to transform your race machine into a commuter, it may be wiser to buy a cheap beater bike that comes with eyelets for racks and mudguards.

A beater bike offers the following benefits:

a. Less worry

If somebody steals your USD 150 bike, the financial loss is much smaller.

b. Freedom

You can lock your bike wherever you want without fear that someone will scratch the frame.

c. Prolonged Life Of Your Race Bike

When you use multiple bikes, the wear is spread across all of them. If you have a beater bike, you would be sparing the components of your race machine.

Alternative Solutions

Panniers are not the only option to transport cargo on your bike. You could also use bags that attach to the saddle, handlebars, or the middle of the frame.

Bags are light, and most models do not require a dedicated rack.

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