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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15 thoughts on “The Thule Commuter Pannier and Tour Rack (go together like Ikea and Super Villains)”

  1. Kevin Love says:

    Ted wrote:
    “The Thule rack can carry a top load of 55 pounds…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    So the first passenger who hops on is going to break the thing. What is the point of something so flimsy and crappy that it will be broken with normal use?

  2. Slick Willy says:

    55 lbs is plenty of payload for most commuters and would work out just fine. I’m not a Thule fanboy, just simply think your comment is a bit ridiculous. It’s almost like you’re trolling….

  3. Kevin Love says:

    55 lbs is grossly inadequate for normal everyday use, as the first passenger that hops on will break the rack. This price is a bit high as well.

    For less than a third of the price, one can get a proper rack. See, for example:

  4. Slick Willy says:

    Where does it say that this rack is intended to carry people? This is not a passenger carrying item. This is intended to carry people’s groceries and school/work supplies. How often do you see adults riding on the back of another’s bike sitting on their rack? I think you’re perception of racks in general is a bit skewed if you base their usefulness on if someone can sit on it.

  5. Joel says:

    I have commuted for about two years and I NEVER have anyone ride on my rear rack. As far as weight goes, my normal pack and panniers rarely carry over 25lbs. That is my lunch, locks, morning coffee, rain jacket, tools, wallets, glasses, snacks, and a change of outfit.

    Most carry on bags are limited to 42lbs at airports and I think mine is so heavy that I am carrying bricks. I weigh it and am surprised it was only 32lbs. Very hard to imagine more than 40lbs of bike cargo without a cargo trailer.

    I am not endorsing this product but I find it good that some manufacturer is trying to address rear suspension bikes with new cargo ideas.

  6. BluesCat says:

    The Zéfal Raider racks on my two commuter bikes are rated at a maximum of 55 lbs. (25 kg). There is NO way I’m going to EVER carry even THAT much weight on my rear wheel. I would blow out my knees in addition to my tires!

    I think the disconnect here is that I believe Kevin rides a Pashley, and so is into a European view of utility cycling where they actually use bicycles as Wedding limousines.

  7. Tim Sherman says:

    After commuting on a bike without shocks for years the bolts that hold my rack on are shot and new bolts don’t tighten down after all of the stress. A rack that mounts boltless is of interest to me. When I have a load of goods on the rack the loose bolts squeak. That is annoying. Thank you for the revue of the Thule racks. Do the mounts hurt the finish of the frame?

  8. Kevin Love says:

    The wedding rider is adorable!

    But on a more day-to-day level, failure to have rear rack passenger capacity seriously limits the usefulness of a bicycle.

    See, for example, these people:

  9. BluesCat says:

    Hey. Kevin. It doesn’t limit the usefulness of MY bicycles!

    I ride alone,
    Yeah, with nobody else.
    Yeah, ya you know when I ride alone,
    I prefer to be by myself!

    (Sung to the tune of George Thorogood’s “I Drink Alone.”)

  10. Joel says:

    I am with you BluesCat, no seat, no ride!

    (I like the Delaware Destroyers with George also). “Move over mean old dog…., the big dog is moving in.”

  11. Kevin Love says:

    Dear BluesCat and Joel,

    If your level of social interaction with your fellow human beings is such that you refuse to give anyone a ride, that’s OK. That’s your right and I’m not judging you.

    But that is not how I and the people I know interact with each other.

  12. BluesCat says:

    (Uh, oh. Hey. Joel. In spite of what Kevin said, I’m thinkin’ HE thinks you and I are social pariahs!)

    Kevin –

    Actually, my reasons for “riding alone” have absolutely NOTHING to do with being an ill tempered, unfriendly old grouch (which Mrs. Cat will say I am; at times), and EVERYTHING to do with some facts about riding in Phoenix, Arizona, and some other, more noble, aspects of my personality:

    1. With my house full of people, my time on my bike is the only time I have to be all by myself, and allow solitude to recharge my spirit and make me much more able to cope with the REAL grouches I encounter almost every day.

    2. Part B of ARS 28-813 prohibits people from using “a bicycle to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed …”; NONE of my bikes are designed to carry more than ONE person.

    3. Most of the streets in Phoenix that I ride do not have bike lanes and have posted speed limits of a least 25 mph; this means that most motorists are doing at least 40 mph as they rocket by, inches from your handlebars; two-on-a-bike simply ain’t safe.

    4. None of my friends, associates or family members who ride bikes — or would feel comfortable riding two-on-a-bike with me — live within a 30 mile radius of my house; offering a ride on my bike to another is something that simply will never happen.

  13. Joel says:


    Ditto for me. New Jersey State Motor Vehicles law is very specific:

    39:4-12 Feet and Hands on Pedals and Handlebars; Carrying Another Person.
    Bicyclists should not drive the bicycle with feet removed from the pedals, or with both hands removed from the handlebars, nor practice any trick or fancy driving in a street. Limit passengers to only the number the bicycle is designed and equipped to carry (the number of seats it has).

    I have the right to use the roads of New Jersey but I also need to show responsibility and obey the traffic laws.

    As BluesCat alluded in his post, my time of solitude on my bicycle allows me to be more social throughout other parts of my day.

  14. Tommer Peterson says:

    Why they continue to sell these panniers when the attachment mechanisms simply do not work is a mystery. The design of the twisting locks that purportedly grasp the rail is completely flawed.

  15. Peter says:

    I’ve got the Thule racks front and rear on my full suspension mountain e-bike (does that make it an MTeB?). Been running them for a couple of weeks. Ingenious design, look gorgeous. Have not yet entirely overcome their interference with gear cable on rear, which has to run over the mounting hardware. This issue will vary from bike to bike; no other reviewer has reported this issue as being this difficult to solve. You would expect that on most bikes you would find a mounting position that would work. Just minor interference with gear changes, but that’s not acceptable, and I can see long term wear and tear issues. I want to solve it. The solution may require re-engineering the gear cable stays on the bike. Hoping the bike shop has a better idea.

    I have the Thule basket mounted on the front rack. This is brilliantly functional and good looking.

    Like this reviewer, I also have a combination of Thule and Ortlieb bags mounted on the rear. The Thule Urban Tote is brilliant. Faultless. Plenty of room for shopping and any other junk I want to carry around. Attaches beautifully, stays put, no rattling, perfect.

    Using a non-Thule bag is problematic. I got the Ortlieb Downtown because it makes a great office commuting bag. Waterproof, lots of volume, lots of practical pockets that are sensibly laid out. The Thule Commuter was going to be too small and had no pockets that would make it useful as a briefcase.

    But the Ortlieb requires both the Thule side rack and its own Ortlieb mounting hardware. The combination is a lot less elegant and more wobbly and rattly than the Thule rack and pannier combination. I have also found that the Thule side rack twists under the load (7kg on last ride to the airport for a two day business trip). I have done some more fiddling that should minimise the twisting and I can live with it. I just wish Thule made a more office-functional commuter bag, then I would have perfection.

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