The Thule Commuter Pannier and Tour Rack (go together like Ikea and Super Villains)

Just to be confusing, Thule now makes bike racks and bike racks. The former being the things you use to carry your bike on your car; the latter being the things you put on your bike to carry panniers, rack-top bags, kids, beer, etc.

Soon I suspect they will also be manufacturing bike racks as well — the things to which you lock your bike when you don’t want it to be stolen.

Thule Tour Rack
Thule Tour Rack on a Mountain Bike

I’ve been using a Thule Tour Rack ($98.99  $78.99) for awhile now on the Montague Boston 8. The Tour Rack works on nearly any bike — even bikes with no mounting eyelets, such as full suspension mountain bikes, carbon road bikes and the Boston 8.

It mounts to the seat stays of the bike with these ratcheting cam strap things. (See “A Guide to Backpack-Panniers.“)

The install was easy, but your prior skills at installing racks will do you no good. Because of the unique and versatile design of this rack (which can also be mounted to a front fork) I kept having a nagging sense of déjà vu. I had the hex wrench in one hand, and the instructions in the other and it occurred to me: Ikea! That other Swedish company.

If you find Ikea furniture difficult to assemble, you might want to find someone else to help you. The only mistake I made was not tightening the straps enough. Within a day, the rack had slid down the seat stays all the way to the dropouts. But after I readjusted the rack, and cranked even harder on the hex key, the rack hasn’t slid again.

Thule Tour Rack with Commuter Panniers and Ortlieb Vario Pannier
Thule Commuter Pannier (L), Ortlieb Vario Commuter Backpack Pannier (R)

With the Tour Rack, I’ve also been using a Thule Commuter Pannier ($118.99  $94.99) along with my Ortlieb Vario Commuter Backpack Pannier.

Thule Commuter Pannier
Thule Commuter Pannier

The Thule pannier mounts to the top rails with these strange rotating hooks. The back of the pannier clings to the side of the rack using — seriously — a super strong “rare earth” magnet. The magnet is mounted to the tube of the rack, and there’s a rectangular sheet of metal under the fabric of the pannier.

This magnet is so strong that mounting the pannier took a little getting used to. Once the magnet had grabbed the pannier, it was hard to line up those strange hooks to the top rails. I’d have to pull the pannier away and try again. But after a few attempts, I learned where the right target zone on the pannier was for the magnet. Now I can attach and remove the bag with one hand in seconds as easily as the one-handed systems from Ortlieb (QL1, 2, & 3 systems), Vaude (QMR system), and others I’ve tried.

Thule Side Frames
Thule Side Frames

The Vario pannier (and other non-Thule panniers)  requires the assistance of a Thule Side Frame ($19.49  $14.99 for a pair).

At first I thought the Side Frames were an inelegant workaround, but I came to appreciate the Erector-set-like flexibility to raise the mounting rail well above the level of the rack platform. (See the photo above with the Vario.)

The most weight I put on the rack at once was probably about 24 pounds, all on one side. I filled up a 10 liter Ortlieb water bag  with filtered water and put it inside the Commuter Pannier.

The tap water in Tucson tastes like a weak tea made from a hobo’s pocket change. That’s why.

Montague Bike with Thule Tour Rack and Commuter Pannier
Instant Dutch Bike: Just add water from a windmill

And then I rode about 10 miles this way — in 105 degree heat, uphill. Not that that’s relevant.

The load felt very solid. The Thule rack can carry a top load of 55 pounds, and a side load of almost 40 pounds. For some reason, this was a surprise. The rack doesn’t look that strong, but it is.

The Commuter Pannier is pretty basic in function. There’s one pocket on the inside for a smallish laptop or tablet, I reckon. I throw my keys, and pens, and smallish stuff in this pocket.

Thule Commuter Pannier
From a tail light to romantic mood light.

On the outside there’s a larger pocket with no closure. I stuff my cable lock into the outer pocket, which makes it convenient. It also comes with a shoulder strap that I can tuck into that outer pocket to keep it from flapping around, but easily usable when I carry the bag off the bike.

There’s a little zippered pocket under the flap that closes the roll top. I keep thinking there’s an ideal use for this pocket, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

Thule Commuter Pannier, Touring Rack Loaded
It’s not real weight, it’s water weight.

And then there’s this other pocket called the “smart bike light pocket.” In theory, this makes it easy for you to keep your blinky tail light.

The Commuter Pannier has some interesting innovations, but I can’t bring myself to use that pocket.

The shape of the light itself may cause the pocket to turn the light sideways. Plus, there are the built-in compression straps on the bag which make fine attachment points for most clip-on tail lights.

Like many Tucson commuters I’ve seen, I’ve started using my blinky lights during the day, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to subdue the light’s ability to catch the eyeballs of motorists.

A very innovative feature of this and the other Thule Panniers is the attachment system can  completely  flip and hide like the bookcase that hides a secret door in the mansion of a super villain.


Thule Pannier Opening Blade

They even call it a blade, which makes it sound kind of diabolical. I haven’t found it necessary to hide the mounting hooks — they don’t poke into my side when I carry the bag on my shoulder. But, you know — Blade!

The Tour Rack and the Commuter Pannier are part of Thule’s Pack ‘n Pedal line. Here are some of the other products that I’ve touched, but haven’t tested:

Thule Large Adventure Touring Pannier Thule Large Adventure Touring PannierA lightweight, durable and waterproof touring pannier, ideal for rear mounting. Unlike the Commuter Pannier, just one big compartment.. $118.99  $94.99

Thule Small Adventure Touring Pannier Thule Small Adventure Touring PannierCan be used on a front or rear rack for commuting and touring. Also one big compartment. $118.99  $94.99

Thule Tote Thule ToteLike those re-usable shopping totes, but it’s also a pannier with the same vanishing hardware. $78.99  $62.99

Thule Rail Extender Kit Thule Rail Extender KitFor better heel clearance when you have big feet, or a small-framed bike. These rail extenders attach to the Thule Tour Rack allowing you to move your panniers back. $9.49  $7.59

Thule Handlebar Bag Thule Handlebar BagKeeps your camera or snacks within easy reach. The front mesh pocket can carry a flattish headlight (like the Planet Bike Sport Spot Headlight), but again there’s the reduction-in-brightness thing.  $98.99  $78.99

Thule Handlebar Mount Thule Handlebar MountAll of Thule’s handlebar-mounted accessories require this space-age looking thing. $48.99  $38.99

Thule Seat Bag Thule Seat BagThis mounts under your seat like a saddle bag, but it has more in common with a tool roll. $19.49  $14.99

Thule Sport Rack Thule Sport RackLike the Tour Rack, but without the ability to carry side loads. $88.99  $70.99

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