Rack Packing: A Trendy Term for Timeless Touring

13 comments by Igor Shteynbuk

In the world of cycling, it's amazing how something old can be repackaged, sprinkled with a dash of modern marketing magic, and presented as the latest and greatest innovation. Enter "rack packing"—a term that's making some waves in the cycling community. But let's cut through the jargon and call it what it is: the same old rack and panniers setup that bicycle tourists have been using for decades.

The Not-So-New Kid on the Block

It's interesting to look at various "Rigs of" galleries on Bikepacking.com of how to approach off-road races over the years. Up until a couple years ago, racks were completely shunned with folks opting for pure bikepacking-style bags strapped from everywhichwhere on the bike. The idea is that hard connections using racks are more likely to break when bumped around off-road. This concept even bled into touring on pure road bikes with the style dubbed "road packing".

Photo courtesy of Bikepacking.com from 2019


For those of us who have been cycling long enough to remember when "bike packing" was simply called "touring," the rise of rack packing is mostly amusing. With a bit of marketing spin, rack packing is being sold as a revolutionary approach to long-distance cycling.

Photo courtesy of Bikepacking.com from 2024

The concept is straightforward: attach a rack to your bike, hang some panniers off it, and hit the road. This isn't rocket science; it's the bread and butter of bike touring. Panniers, those trusty saddlebag-like containers, have been faithfully serving cyclists since the 19th century. They distribute weight evenly, keep your gear accessible, and transform your bike into a pack mule ready for adventure.

What really grinds my gears is the way this rebranding overlooks the rich history and practical wisdom accumulated by generations of bicycle tourists. By dressing up the old rack and panniers system in a fancy new name, we risk forgetting the lessons learned by those who came before us.

Let's Keep It Real

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for innovation and improvements in cycling gear. But let's give credit where credit is due. The cyclists who have been touring for decades with their trusty racks and panniers deserve recognition, not a slick marketing campaign that pretends to reinvent the wheel. Or maybe they were simply visionaries.

Scott touring Sweden in 1993

In the end, whether you call it rack packing or simply touring, the joy of loading up your bike and hitting the open road remains the same. Let's celebrate the timeless tradition of bicycle touring and appreciate the gear that has carried us through countless miles and unforgettable adventures. After all, it's not the name that matters—it's the journey.

So, here's to racks and panniers, rack packing, bike packing, road packing, light packing, and everything in between. May your wheels keep turning and your adventures never end. Happy riding!


  • Mark Beaver

    A long-time bike tourist friend of mine coined the phrase “poodle-packing” for the way that bike-packing little bags strapped everywhere resemble the outrageous haircuts of French Poodles.

  • Anthony

    For those who think bikepacking (let alone “rack packing”!) is something new have a look at this picture of Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson from the state library of Western Australia.
    This was taken just after a ride from Coolgardie in Western Australia to Adelaide South Australia by bicycle in 1897. Arthur Richardson was the first person to circumnavigate Australia on a bicycle in 1899 riding 11,500 miles (18,507 km)

  • John

    Last year I rode the Pacific Coast from Seattle to Salinas, and all the younger riders I met were “bikepacking”, while us few old farts were using panniers. While the former approach may have some merit for off-road touring, I see no reason to do it when riding on smooth well-surfaced roads. Also, where do those folk keep their water? I can carry almost a gallon in my three frame-mounted bottles, so how would I carry that much water if I were “bikepacking”? I’ve toured on three continents using racks and panniers, and have never wished for a better way to carry everything. After working for fifteen tears in the bike biz I agree that it’s controlled by marketing “experts” who don’t know (or care) what happened before them.

  • Brian Thompson

    The bicycle business is such a fashion statement. Sealed bearings, triple chainrings, downtube shifters, just watch someone will discover steel frames and forks with rim brakes. These new steel bikes with rim brakes will be called “therapeutic” or maybe “life changing ride qualities”. I’m way out of fashion on my 1973 steel steed with rim brakes and yes it has a rack and bag. Love my rack and bag.

  • Bill Frye

    Oh, there’s also the [Compact Double]. I recently restored a 79 Holdsworth and was worried about it not having a triple like all my other tourers. Checked the rings, it’s identical gearing to what’s sold as a compact double today. Who woulda thought we already had that 45 years ago when disco was dying. And now the downtube shifters are cool too? Nothing’s new I suppose. Thank you for pointing out this idiotic rebranding of things already established.

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