Tailfin's unique rack and matching panniers are ultra-light and can be fitted to pretty much any bike. It's a pretty pricey setup, but makes a real difference if you ride with luggage a lot.
Inventor Nick Broadbent brought in a prototype for us to prod and poke and it was a natty-looking thing, a world apart from the collections of welded steel or aluminium tubes that make up pretty much all of the rest of the rack market.
Broadbent turned to Kickstarter to get his idea off the ground, and the response was impressive: his goal had been to raise £50k and the total raised when the Kickstarter closed was over £150k. The final production version of the rack is, unsurprisingly, a bit different in some respects and has gained a bit of weight, but is still an eye-catching and very effective way of carrying stuff on just about any bike.
What we're testing here is the Tailfin T1+SL package, comprising the rack and one Super Light pannier. The rack weighs 350g, and the pannier is 650g – or 800g if you include the removable pocket insert. You can buy the rack on its own, likewise the panniers, as they'll work with other bags and other racks, but there's no doubt that they are best when used together. This is in part because the combination saves a useful amount of weight over the competition, but I would argue that the main advantages are the rock-solid, zero-rattle stability of pannier mounting and the simple, elegant, tool-free attachment to just about any bike, rack mounts or no.
The rack itself looks quite a lot like the lower half of a carbon fork: a single approximately-parabolic arc of lovely carbon. Our test rack is in bare weave, so there can be no mistaking what your rack is made of, but you can have it black (matt or gloss) or gloss white if you prefer.
The Tailfin design was intended for bikes that don't have rack mounts, and instead of bolting to eyelets it attaches to replacement rear axles which have special pegs at the end. When you buy your rack, you choose whether you need a standard QR or any of the standard thru-axle sizes. If you change bikes later, you can buy spare axles.
I used the standard QR mounting as in our photos, which is exactly like using a regular QR and requires no tools, as well as a 12mm thru-axle which needs a 5mm Allen key instead of the usual lever to tighten it. Tailfin can also supply screw-in pegs for frames with rack eyelets, although it cautions that an eyelet intended to hold mudguards may not be strong enough for a loaded pannier.
Once your pegs are in place, fitting the rack is an almost ridiculously quick job, and completely tool-free.
The lower end of the rack attaches to these pegs via a beautifully engineered custom clamp that Tailfin designed itself – a lever opens to fit around the peg and is then held closed by a small sprung stainless steel pin. That pin is captive, meaning that it can't fall out, and there are no screws to tighten; it's all tool-free.
When clamped, it is a very snug fit on the peg, meaning that there's no rattle or movement at all. It's an example of the brand's willingness to engineer something from scratch rather than use off-the-shelf parts, where it believes that it can improve upon how things are done elsewhere, and I really like it.
The rack is supplied with security Torx screws and a key you can use to make the rack harder for thieves to remove when the bike is locked up. They screw through the lever that attaches to the pegs.
At the apex of the rack is an arm that hinges out forwards and attaches to the seatpost with a simple strap and over-centre catch mechanism. The arm is extruded aluminium rather than carbon. Nick told us that he investigated using carbon for this part but it offered only very minor weight saving at too high a cost.
There is no need to loosen the fixing bolts at each end of this arm, as they run through plastic bushings allowing pivoting without rattle, so you simply swing this arm to the right angle to meet the seatpost and clamp it on.
Our test rack came with two different lengths of strap to go around the seatpost, allowing for different diameters and also aero posts. The strap itself is made of stainless steel moulded inside a plastic outer, so it is amply strong but won't damage your seatpost.
Tailfin offers two similar 22-litre panniers at the moment, the Super Light that we have here, and the Ultra Durable version which uses a heavier laminate material. Both have ultrasonically welded seams and both have another tricksy piece of custom engineering to fit them to the rack.
The hook mechanism uses a lever to operate a cam that clamps up tightly on the short bars at the top of the rack. It might take a second longer than something like a Klickfix mechanism, but it's held much more tightly in place when clamped up.
Panniers are supplied with shoulder straps that clip onto extra loops attached to the side clips – so they don't need removing when you fit the bag to the bike and can just be bundled inside the roll-top. One thing that's missing is a handle for carrying the pannier in your hand; for me, I'd happily accept a 25g weight penalty in the name of convenience here.
Having installed the rack and loaded the pannier with my usual commuting paraphernalia (lunch, some clothes, a pump and a spare tube), I set off for work wondering how much difference I'd notice. Road cyclists are commonly obsessed with the weight of the bike and their gear, but is a rack really the right place to spend money saving weight?
Here's the thing: the difference was significant and immediately noticeable. With moderate loads it was easy to forget that I had anything on the back of the bike – not something I've done when using my usual Topeak Super Tourist and Ortlieb pannier setup.
The weight difference is significant, sure – the Tailfin weighs exactly half what my Topeak rack does, and the pannier saves further weight – but the main difference is the absolute solidity with which the pannier and its contents are held in place. There are no rattles when you ride over broken tarmac. Stand up and swing the bike on a climb and you don't have the sensation of the pannier moving independently of the bike.
The pannier uses a conventional roll-top closure with adjustable straps to allow you to cinch it down, which helps hold the contents steady. Note the little pockets for the strap ends to be stuffed into, so they don't flap around – another neat touch. There is a substantial stiffener built in – in early prototypes this was carbon but is now a rigid but hollow plastic part – this makes a big contribution to holding everything in place. Also included is a removable insert with a pocket. The pannier will hold a 17in laptop and I found it easily swallowed my lunch and some work clothes.
The lower fixing hook is another bespoke part, positioned and sized such that it holds the bag snugly against the rack. The rack legs have rubbery pads where the lower pannier hook contacts – further evidence of an almost obsessive desire to eliminate rattles.
Buy the rack on its own and it's £249.99, which is pretty serious money. Bundled with one pannier it's £319.99 and with two it's £399.99. A pannier on its own is £89.99. If you want to use the rack with your existing panniers, you need the booster bars, which are included with the rack.
These neat CNC'd pieces bolt through the short stubs on the rack to allow fitting of conventional pannier hooks. I had no difficulty fitting my Ortlieb pannier using the booster bar.
Also included with the rack is a plastic mudguard, which clips on quickly to the rack and is held in place via a rubber o-ring. It does an honest job of keeping the majority of spray off your back, but offers no protection to gears, feet or friends. Tailfin tells us that it is working on longer mudguards. Mounting the rack to the rear axle, with 35mm tyres, I found that it couldn't co-exist with my 45mm SKS Chromoplastic mudguards, but when I used the screw-in pegs in my frame's eyelets, it sat a bit higher and fitted nicely.
If you buy this for year-round use in the UK, I'd suggest you'll be keenly interested in Tailfin's forthcoming longer mudguards.
Also apparently in the pipeline is a top bag, although we haven't seen this yet.
It probably goes without saying, but the Tailfin is intended mostly for relatively light duties, tested and ISO certified to carry up to 18kg (9kg per side). That's comfortably enough for most commuters and for some light bikepacking. Round-the-world tourists are likely to prefer something that can be welded back together in the back of beyond. Tailfin offers a crash replacement scheme whereby if you do break your rack in a crash, it'll sell you the required replacement part at 30% discount.
The Tailfin isn't the first bike rack designed to allow use on bikes without rack mounts. We've previously reviewed Thule and Arkel products that allow you to carry stuff on the sort of bike not really designed for it. The Tailfin makes a strong case to be the best option for this type of bike, on the strength of how quick and easy it is to fit, and also how the weight of the load goes into the axle rather than to parts of the bike that might not be strong enough.
One final point: if you use the axle mounting as Tailfin intends that most users will, you will need to remove the rack if you need to take the rear wheel out, for example to fix a puncture. You'll need an Allen key or multi-tool to wind out a thru-axle if that's what you're using. It's a good idea to grease the thru-axle threads when you first fit it, to be sure that it'll come back out easily when you need it to.
Should you buy one then? For the majority of cyclists, spending over £300 on a rack and pannier will feel pretty extravagant. The value proposition of small-volume, high-end niche products is always hard to weigh against the mainstream.
Here's how I look at it: at least half of my annual miles are on my commuter bike, with a rack and pannier fitted. In the winter months, I regularly remove my heavy Topeak rack to get some unloaded weekend miles in.
Would I baulk at upgrading the stock wheels with some that cost £300 or so? No. For my money, the difference that I felt swapping from a heavy rack and standard pannier to this setup was more transformative than that you get from upgrading the wheels. The total absence of rattling and weight-shifting, plus a useful weight saving (not that different, in fact, from what you might see with a good wheel upgrade) is immediately noticeable and makes the bike simply nicer to ride. Plus, fitting and removing the rack takes no time at all.
Yep, I like this product a lot, and I like way that Nick Broadbent set out to improve all of the aspects of the traditional rack design. I hope that he adds further products to the line-up, with the same slightly-obsessive design approach. In particular, I'd love to see a lower-cost aluminium version of this rack, with the same clever fixings and absence of rattle, for those not in a position to spend this sort of money.
Lightweight rack and pannier that's super-fast to fit and holds its payload rock-steady on any bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Tailfin T1 + SL Super Light Package
Size tested: Maximum load: 18kg/40lb
Tell us what the product is for
Tailfin says: "The T1 is an ultra-lightweight carbon pannier rack that is totally compatible with virtually any road, gravel, race or commuter bike - even carbon bikes without traditional rack mounts UK-based company Tailfin have now released the T1, a totally unique rack design that is carbon-friendly, ultra-lightweight and can be installed on nearly any bike in a matter seconds. The T1 has been released alongside Tailfin's two pannier bag offerings; the Super-Light and the Ultra-Durable.
'The traditional pannier rack design hasn't changed in 50 years, and it shows,' says Tailfin founder Nick Broadbent. 'Traditional racks are heavy, ugly and can be a total nightmare to install.
'What we wanted to produce was a bike rack system that was lightweight, beautiful, and would fit easily to any road bike in seconds, without tools.'
At just 350 grams the T1 is certainly lightweight. Meanwhile, the rack's totally unique design means that it is completely safe to use with carbon frames - making it the perfect option for anyone who wants to carry luggage at speed. That could mean losing the rucksack sweat from your daily commute, or even allowing you to take your high-end race bike on a touring adventure.
The T1 has been ISO certified up to an 18kg load, meaning that it is perfect for everything but the most extreme touring trip.
'So many people get put off touring because they think they need to buy a specialist touring bike,' explains Nick. 'With the T1, any bike can be a touring bike.'
Tailfin are offering a choice of two pannier bags: the Super-Light (weighing just 650g) and the Ultra-Durable (weighing 800g). Both models feature rolltops and High-Frequency welded seams making them totally waterproof, whilst the UD also features an external zip pocket. Both bags have a 22 litre capacity.
Both the T1 rack and the UD and SL pannier bags have been specifically designed to work as part of an integrated system, in order to provide an unparalleled rider experience. All mounting points have been manufactured to exact tolerances in order to total eliminate any irritating rattle. Meanwhile, the bag's internal spine helps to achieve a total integration of rack and luggage, helping to prevent the unpleasant 'tail-wag' of other pannier or soft bag solutions.
'When we designed the T1 we knew we had a totally unique and groundbreaking product - it isn't like anything else on the market.
'Our products allow you to experience so much more on the bike you love, opening up experiences that previously just wouldn't have been an option.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
All axle standards available.
Rack weight: 350g
Pannier (with insert): 713g
Beautifully made using almost entirely bespoke parts.
Holds the pannier impressively firmly in place – no rattling, no wobbling.
You won't be able to weld it back together if you're in the back of beyond, but Tailfin is happy supplying replacement parts (rather than the whole thing) if needed. No obvious weaknesses.
The Tubus Airy rack might be 40g lighter, but as a package this is a seriously lightweight option.
It's awfully expensive compared to mainstream competition, but 'twas ever thus with innovative, low-volume products. There's nothing else like it on the market.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well. A rack and pannier that you can genuinely forget are fitted to your bike.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Beautiful bespoke-engineered solutions, how firmly it held the payload in place, no rattling.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not much. I'd like a hand-carry strap on the top of the panniers.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
This is an exceptional product. Many will baulk at the high price, but if you ride a lot with luggage then it makes a real difference, as well as allowing you to carry stuff on bikes you wouldn't otherwise be able to.
About the tester
I usually ride: On-one Bish Bash Bosh My best bike is: Rose X-Lite CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.