Traditional Bike Touring Luggage
When I first started cycle touring, I followed the traditional approach of bike rack and panniers, with a bungie or two to hold my tent on with. My bike would weigh a ton, but I could carry everything I was prepared to haul around with me. I remember taking on the first leg of my round Britain ride. With a wholly unsuitable mountain bike (but with road tyres), loaded up with two panniers, a top bag, tent and enough gear to help me camp out in luxury, I took on the huge coastal hills of Devon and Cornwall.
After my first day in North Devon, I was posting half of my kit home, as I struggled to even push my bike up the hills. It was set up to be a very challenging first 1000 miles even without the extra weight.. I did learn my lesson though and slowly started to rethink and replace my kit. I began to take a lot less on my trips, still too much initially, but over time I refined my requirements, and learned what I could live without.
Gradually I got my luggage down to a couple of panniers and a handlebar bag, but always a heavy and cumbersome rack had to be fitted to my bikes. It was such a faff to keep taking on and off that it became a permanent feature all summer, and only got removed in the winter months when I wasn’t touring.
As my bikes got more expensive, and I moved to Carbon frames, I needed a different solution. Carbon frames and normal luggage racks are not advised and can damage the bike. Carbon bikes don’t usually have rack mounts anyway.
As a woman who rides a ‘small’ bike and has a tendency to faff, I struggled to find a bike-packing saddle pack that worked for me. I went through a range of seat stem mounted packs, which were fine for day rides, and the odd hotel based overnight trip, but not really up for the job of proper bike-packing.
I took the plunge and invested in an Ortlieb seat back. I travelled to France with it. It was great, and I could just about keep it up off my rear wheel, if I packed it really carefully, and made sure I had something rigid along the bottom edge to stop it sagging. But, I could always guarantee that what I wanted in a hurry was at the bottom. When packed badly, all seat backs tended to find their way to rubbing on my back wheel at some point – usually when I was my most tired and least inclined to want to sort it.
Then one day, I spotted a photo of a racer (now my coach) with a rather intriguing bag set up that made me rethink my options.
Enter the Tailfin
Tailfin is a small independent manufacturer of exceptional high quality super light bike products. Founder Nick Broadbent wanted to solve the genuine problems experienced by the modern cyclist, and developed a carbon rack and pack, which was easy to fit on almost any bike without tools, and was light and stable enough even for the most dedicated of ultra endurance riders.
In early 2020 when I decided to invest in a Tailfin, I looked carefully at the options that were available.
You can purchase a rack and bag that separate – the AP20 trunk, so that you can leave the rack on the bike, and unclip the bag to take off, in many ways like a traditional pannier system. Alternatively choose the all in one Aeropack option, where you simply unclip the the arch, and take the whole set with you.
I chose the Aeropack, as I liked the compact nature of the set up, and the bag size on both options was still the same.
I have since added the tailfin cargo mounts to my set up, which means I have more options for carrying my overnight sleep system.
You don’t need a bike with any rack mounts to be able to fit your rack. Tailfin supply an extended thru axle or QR for your back wheel, or you can purchase separately some small frame mount adaptors. I use both. My carbon road bike as the thru axle, since it doesn’t have any mount points. But both my gravel (pictured above) and mountain bike have the frame mount adaptors so I can switch easily between bikes. And yes, the Aeropack fits them all, and copes with the roughest of terrain, and I barely know it’s there.
They have cleverly designed attachments to be able to fit even the most non standard of frame shapes.
When a bike bag business has engineering at it’s core whilst being run by bike enthusiasts, you know that a product will have been well through from the first seed of an idea. Nothing is released to the market without thorough testing by a range of real world riders putting the products through their paces.
They have created a modular system, that can be assembled with no additional tools. The quality is apparent as soon as you open the box. Nothing seems flimsy, and the only bit of plastic that you’ll see is on the clips, but even here, I have pretty much tested mine to destruction and it’s all going strong. It’s easy to switch parts should you decided you want an alternative solution, or as they bring out new accessories. You can replace a single part, rather than having to change the whole.
At Tailfin they are always looking at creating new products that enhance the range, and of course not everyone wants to travel light all of the time. And so, the rack arches have a range of options so riders can expand their options. The carbon racks can come with or without pannier mounts. The mounts are so unobtrusive that they seem like a sensible addition even if you don’t know if you will use panniers.
The alloy racks can also have mounts for cargo cages, expanding options once more.
They have a range of pannier options from the large 22 ltr capacity bags, right down to the new 5 ltr mini panniers.
If panniers aren’t your bag, and maybe tough off road adventures are more for you, then the range of cargo cages provide a whole host of options for carrying more. The design is clever in that they can be attached even to regular bottle cage mounts, unlike many other manufactures bulky cargo cages. There are 3 sizes, with the mini cage being added to the range in November.
Since I change my Aeropack between bikes, I love my cargo cages, and in fact toured Scotland earlier this year with an Aeropack & cargo bag options, whilst my touring partner opted for the AP20 + panniers option. She’s also a recent convert to Tailfin.
Sadly for me Tailfin have yet to release any Cargo Bags to their product line, although I was advised to ‘watch this space’. If they make them long and thin then it may just complete my set up as my current bags are too bulky to use on my front forks.
It’s fair to say that Tailfin products are not cheap, but you are paying for superior engineering, and outstanding quality without the weight. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has regretted their decision to buy this system. The sometimes long waiting times for products are testament to the popularity of the products. They have first class customer service. Tailfin take their commitment to quality very seriously, and will put right any issues as quickly as they can. All products have a 5 year manufacturing warranty, and they also have a crash replacement service.
If you are looking for a bombproof luggage system, then Tailfin are certainly worth taking a look at.
You can find all their products on their webpage
** Nb this is not a paid promotion, nor do I earn any commission from any sales (although I wish I did)
Jan 2022 – Shortly after publishing this post, I was invited to be one of Tailfin’s R&D Team Riders for 2022. Needless to say I have jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the development & testing process of Tailfin products, and maybe influence some of the next generation of Tailfin kit. As soon as new products become available I’ll be testing them to destruction (or rather hopefully not destruction) , and will let you know honestly what I think.
You can see my Rider page, and the other fabulous team members on the Tailfin R&D pages