Words & photos by Mike Stead
The Tailfin Alloy Rack was an instant hit when launched a few years back. To my mind, it still represents the last word in being adaptable, light, fast and practical. With options across the system to suit almost every bike and rider's need, there's a plethora of spare parts, a five-year warranty, and the performance is well worth the hefty investment.
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Tailfin's rack comprises two U-shaped frames attached by pivots at nearly right angles, attaching bags to the top and sides of the resulting L-shape. Because it pivots in the middle and at each end, the system fits almost any rigid or full-suspension bike. The bushings in the frame that allows articulation are replaceable, on request from Tailfin.
There's a simple ladder strap at the front of the rack that goes around the top of your seat tube or post, attaches to a hook and has a locking lever to hold it tight. One note here is that you must tape the tube or seatpost to avoid the paint or alloy being scratched when the inevitable grit gets in between.
The top stay section has two length options to choose from, with guidance that the longer option is better for smaller bikes, those with dropper posts or those with less than 10cm of seatpost visible. The longer option shifts the cargo rearward, improving clearance around the saddle, whether dropped or not. Even on my XL-frame Sonder Camino, I prefer the longer top stay for a more-level look and dropper clearance.
At the bottom of the rack, legs are well-designed 'fast-release' dropouts to secure the rack to your dropouts or axle. You can spec the rack to come with either permanent fixings to your frame using your existing threaded frame bosses or with fast-release dropouts to fit your frame bosses. I'm running fast-release dropouts and a special thru-axle with the proprietary Tailfin interface. The thru-axle option is great if your bike lacks rack mounts or is already loaded with mudguard stays. The fast-release dropout can be set up with the provided security Torx screws, so no one can easily nick your rack.
A caveat here is the shape of your dropouts, particularly on mountain bikes. If they are 'cowled' - i.e. they flare out widely from the flat area the axle butts up against, there may not be enough clearance for the rack's dropouts to clip into the ends of the axle. My eMTB, for example, has dropouts that flare a full 19mm out; therefore, it can't fit the Tailfin rack and doesn't have any frame bosses to thread the frame mounts into. If you are in any doubt It's definitely worth checking the "what axle do you need" page on Tailfin's site where most manufacturers are listed. They have also contacted us to say that if you have any issues they may well be able to help with a work-around or of course give you a full refund if all else fails.
I'm using the 'Universal Axle', which is included with all rack + axle options. The Universal Axle is a mix-and-match kit that lets you fit the rack to pretty much any through-axle-equipped bike, from road to Boost MTB and including 1.0, 1.5, 1.75 and Speed Release thread pitches. The standard through-axles are £10 cheaper than the Universal as an aftermarket purchase. In my view, the Universal axle is a great choice to futureproof your rack for any bike or to be able to lend it to a friend. The only trick with the Universal axle is to remember to unthread it from the drive side - so you don't unscrew it in half inside your hub.
This version of the rack includes the stubby Tailfin pannier mounts and the universal three-bolt luggage cage mount layout if you want to carry a serious quantity of water or cooker fuel on the side, or perhaps other circular, long gear like tents or poles.
Tailfin Alloy Rack | Performance
There are more mounting options than you can shake a stick at, and the luggage is likewise a smorgasbord of choice. But north of £500 for a rack, axle, top bag and two panniers is a fair wodge of cash - so how well does it perform as a system?
The answer is - quietly and efficiently.
Carrying a day's worth of camping gear and food, the additional noise on the gravel bike over rowdy terrain was zero. Not a squeak, rattle or hum. That also means nothing moved around, so barring the apparent weight, there was no pendulum effect when pedalling hard. For longevity, the lack of movement helps to prevent progressive wear on moving parts and contact points.
What I loved about the Tailfin rack system is that the luggage could be removed and reinstalled in seconds. Strolling into a cafe shop or bar holding a couple of panniers and/or a top bag is very easily done, relieving the stress that someone is outside pilfering your gear.
Tailfin do some nifty accessories to enhance the functionality of your setup. There's a £20 light mount that fixes underneath the rear of the Trunk Bag, where you can then fit a seatpost-mount light that would otherwise be obscured. There's also a £20 cargo mount with triple bosses that lets you carry a large bottle or item horizontally underneath the Trunk Bag, either strapped directly or in a cage.
Tailfin Alloy Rack | Value & verdict
As for direct competitors, Tailfin has had this market pretty much to themselves until recently but that might be about to change with the introduction of the Quick Rack from Ortlieb which offers a similar setup for a lower cost. We have one on test at the moment so we will report back on that asap.
Looking at this as a system, the weight is pretty hard to beat. At slightly over 600g in weight (including axle) with the capability to carry 27kg / 64 litres of stuff, is a genuine feat of engineering and design wizardry. Yes, the price is right up there. However, suppose you work through the component value, the options it provides, the weight of the system and factor in the five-year warranty and parts availability. In that case, Tailfin compares very well with other premium bike luggage setups, including 'traditional' bikepacking setups with frame bags and saddle holsters. You can easily spend £300-400 and end up with a smaller volume and far less utility.
If you want rock-solid and silent rides, configuration flexibility, future-proof options, great aftersales support, and a slick package with a huge warranty, check out Tailfin's Alloy Rack.