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Ortlieb's Rack Three is a great option if you own (or you're looking at) the company's QL3 system bags, but it's a good all-round option even if you're not. Albeit a pretty expensive one.
Ortlieb trumpets this as 'The ultimate bike rack!' and although I wouldn't go that far, it's a well-thought-out and solidly made bit of kit. Constructed from 10mm aluminium tubing it's reassuringly heavy, and is suitable for bikes with any size of touring wheel.
Ortlieb has designed the Rack Three in conjunction with its bags and as such it has three protruding stubs on each side designed to be used with the company's excellent QL3 system, which offers simple quick-release bag mounting with no protruding hooks on the bag itself. Ortlieb makes a range of bags with QL3 mounts; they're more city-orientated as the QL3 system majors on its ease of use and neatness, but the weight they can carry isn't as much as a traditional hook-based system.
If you're using a more standard pannier with hooks then you can remove the QL3 mounts, and the rack offers two mounting rails, with the lower one dropping the bags so you can fit a tray or basket to the rack top. The Rack Three is compatible with the MIK system: you can drop in an adaptor to accept any MIK-equipped bag, tray or basket. That makes it pretty versatile for the weekly shop.
There's also a light mounting plate on the back that'll accept most standard dynamo lights.
Mounting the rack is easy enough, with a bottom mounting hole for the dropout and two adjustable arms to reach the seastay bosses. The arms are a sturdy tubular design rather than a pressed steel strut, and I found the rack easy enough to fit on a range of sizes of frame, although on one bike with a small frame it wasn't possible to get the rack level, as the seatstay mounts were too far for the struts to reach.
One thing to note is that the bottom mount hole is recessed in a cylinder, which means that if you're fitting both a mudguard and the rack to a single mounting point then the mudguard has to go between the rack and the frame; this isn't ideal because it places more stress on the bolt. I didn't have any issues during testing, but I wouldn't trust that arrangement on a heavily laden tour, for example. It's rated at 30kg so it's more than capable of handling expedition loads.
Some other racks (the Blackburn Central, for example) have a secondary threaded hole on the rack to attach a mudguard to, which is a great idea.
It's also a bit odd that Ortlieb has chosen to extend the mount out from the rack instead of moving the rack arms outward a bit and having the mount inside them, to give more clearance for disc brake mounts and the like. That being said, I fitted it to two disc-equipped bikes – one with a seatstay mount and one inside the rear triangle – with no issues.
In use I couldn't really fault the rack: it's easy to fit, it's very solid and it doesn't rattle at all. If you're going down the QL3 route with Ortlieb bags – and that system is very good – then it's an obvious choice. If you're going to fit standard bags then there are other racks – the Blackburn I've already mentioned, and the Tortec Epic, as another example, that'll offer similar carrying capacity for a smaller outlay.
If you're not fussed about top bag compatibility so much, the Madison Summit – now rebranded as the M-Part Summit – is probably the best value for bigger loads.
The Ortlieb is very versatile, though, and well worth a look even if you're not getting the dedicated bags for it.
High-quality rear carrier that's especially good when used with Ortlieb's QL3 bags
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ortlieb Rack 3 pannier rack
Size tested: One size, fits 26/28in wheels
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Ortlieb says: 'The ultimate bike rack! The ORTLIEB Rack Three offers you the right solution, whether you're on your way to work, the grocery store or around the world. One unique advantage of this all-purpose bike rack is its compatibility with all ORTLIEB attachment systems. Outfitted with convenient mounting elements for the QL3 and QL3.1 systems, the Rack Three allows you to attach all ORTLIEB bags directly to your bike without any other modifications. If you want to use the Rack Three exclusively for your QL2.1/2/1 bags, you can easily remove the attachment elements for the QL3.1/QL3 and thereby create even more space for your panniers.
'The Rack Three's double-rail design allows you to attach all bike bags with a QL2.1, QL2 or QL1 system to a top level or a lower level. Selecting the lower level gives you the option of simultaneously attaching a bike basket or a Trunk-Bag to the top of your bike rack and expanding your overall stowage space.
'Rack3 is suitable for bicycles with wheel sizes of 26' and 28'.
'The maximum load is 30 kg.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
+ Platform width: 100 mm
+ holder for optional rear light
+ tube diameter: 10 mm
WEIGHT 700 g | 24.7 oz
LOAD 30 kg | 1058.2 oz
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's a good, sturdy rear rack that'll carry plenty of load.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Solid build, especially good with Ortlieb QL3 bags but versatile for a range of luggage.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Quite expensive; bottom mounts are an odd design.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's expensive for an alloy rack; there are plenty of options at £50 and below that offer similar capacity. If you're committed to Ortlieb's QL3 system then it's an obvious choice and probably worth the extra outlay.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? In the right circumstances.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Probably, if they were buying into the QL3 system.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Good overall; if you're just using QL3 bags then it's worth an 8 as it's the ideal rack for them, but most people will carry a wider range of luggage over time.
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Merida Scultura, Dward Design fixed
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.