The headlines are wrong
You’ve read the headlines.
Super light. Carbon. Fits any bike on the road, and quick-release to boot. And yet, believe it or not, these attention-grabbing attributes actually tell you nothing about the Tailfin set-up’s most unique benefit.
That’s because the real, key attribute of our rack and bags, the USP (Unique Selling Point) that puts it out in front of all our competitors, is one you will only ever experience first-hand riding with it yourself. That benefit is ride quality.
What the hell is ride quality?
‘Ride quality’ – we’ll be the first to admit that this is a difficult thing to quantify. Equipment can be weighed and capacities can be measured, allowing you to stack one product up against another in terms of cold, hard numbers. The somewhat subjective quality of a ride is a little harder to define – but we’ve done our best to break it down, using the concepts of ‘stiffness’ and ‘flex’.
These terms are no stranger to anyone who rides bikes. You will have read bike manufacturers championing the lateral stiffness of their frames over those of their competitors. The science behind these claims is sound – the stiffer the frame, the less it flexes under pedalling forces and the more the rider’s efforts are transmitted into the road. Meanwhile, it’s good to keep frames compliant on the vertical plane to soak up road buzz and provide a smooth and comfortable ride.
The motions of a load
When it comes to the stiffness that Tailfin is talking about, the concepts are similar – just applied to a different aspect of the ride.
When you are carrying luggage on a bike, there are generally two types of motion that are going to affect the quality of your ride experience:
- Firstly, there is the uncontrolled movement of luggage – this is the jolt of your goods shifting around as you ride over an uneven road surface. More often this is caused by poorly packing your goods, not attaching your framebag tightly enough or any rattle or wobble that is inherent in the system
- Secondly, there is the side-to-side progressive flex of the load wobbling around. This is effectively the stiffness of the load. This can be felt as a ‘fishtail’ of a saddlebag when you stand up out the saddle and lean the bike over beneath you.
Seat packs and pannier bags
With pretty much all fabric ‘bikepacking’ bags, a certain degree of this movement is unavoidable. This is a simple fact of the materials used – thinly constructed bikepacking bags secured via velcro straps can never be fastened securely enough to eliminate all of this movement.
Likewise, poor quality pannier bags can suffer from the same problem – thin, unframed bags hanging from the side of a rack suffer from a lack of structure and cheap plastic hooks that make it impossible to carry your luggage without it flexing and moving.
RACKS FLEX TOO
Traditional metal pannier racks, designed to attach to frame eyelets, have to cater for a whole world of frame sizes, geometries, axle widths, and eyelet positions. To cater for these very significant differences, traditional rack bodies are designed with a degree of flexibility built in. Take one of these racks in your hands and push the struts together – you’ll see them flex surprisingly freely.
This inbuilt pliancy has repercussions on the quality of the ride. In exactly the same way that a steel frame flexes minutely when sprinting out of the saddle, so too does a metal rack flex under the load of your luggage. While this suppleness can be an advantage for bike frames, helping them absorb road buzz, this isn’t the case when it comes to racks and luggage.
The pliancy required to make traditional racks adaptable to a variety of frames means that it lacks the stiffness to hold your luggage securely in place. Cornering, riding over a pothole, climbing out of the saddle – with a traditional rack, all these things will involve a degree of flex as the rack is acted upon by the weight of the luggage. That degree might be subtle, but it is real and unmistakably noticeable.
A NEW APPROACH
Taken together, these two issues can combine to create a frustrating and distracting experience for the rider. Both traditional panniers and newer bikepacking bags can be flimsy, and do not do enough to keep your possessions firmly secured to the rack. Likewise, the inbuilt flex required of metal panniers mean that they are simply not stiff enough to keep your bags securely in place. Your bags will rattle distractingly, sway beneath you when riding hard, or worst, throw the balance of the bike off and simply kill the joy of riding your bike fast.
With these two issues in mind, we set about breaking down the complete chain of linkages that are involved in carrying luggage by bike, and analysing how this system can be redesigned with the ultimate priority being stiffness and ride quality.
LINK 1 – FRAME TO RACK CONNECTION
First of all, this meant completely reimagining the way in which a rack connects to your bike. The eyelet mount system is flawed, not only requiring tiresome fiddling with tools to attach or detach the rack, but also creating too wide a variance from frame to frame to create a rack stiff enough for the task in hand. Tailfin’s patented axle mounting system totally resolves this issue: no matter what bike the axle is used on, it provides a totally uniform mounting point that never deviates.
LINK 2 – RACK STIFFNESS
Without the need for this inbuilt flex, we were free to create the stiffest pannier rack ever built. The T1 is not simply carbon for carbon’s sake – carbon fibre has a stiffness-to-weight ratio far superior to steel, alloy and titanium, allowing us to create a rack that was both extremely lightweight and also significantly stiffer than any of our competitors.
But carbon fibre is not just stiff and light – it’s also an incredibly versatile material that can be shaped into almost any form imaginable. Alloy and steel constructions depend welding together rods or tubes, creating yet more points of flex. Using carbon has allowed us to create the T1 in a single, monocoque frame design that delivers a stiffness far superior to welded structures.
LINK 3 – RACK TO BAG CONNECTION
Next up on our hit list was the bag-to-rack connection point. With almost all panniers, this is usually a simple plastic hook or an Ortlieb-style ‘holster’. Straight off the bat, these connections are intrinsically insecure – because there is no ability to fasten or tighten this connection, it will inevitably rattle and shake. All Tailfin pannier bags attach to the T1 by means of an Aluminium alloy cam-action clamp that firmly pre-loads the connection, eliminating any possibility of movement between frame and bag.
LINK 4 – BAG STIFFNESS
The pannier bag itself has also received a total redesign. As we’ve already noted, traditional panniers are inherently slack and flimsy things, usually made of a thin plastic sack. Tailfin panniers are built around a rigid backbone, constructed from a tough yet lightweight plastic frame. This backbone keeps the bag and its contents firmly attached to the rack, keeping your possessions totally secure and your ride absolutely smooth.
GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Taken together, these innovations deliver a striking real-world improvement in ride quality and bike handling. Keeping your luggage rigidly attached serves to eliminate off-putting rattles as well as safeguard the quality of ride that your bike can deliver, keeping the handling lively and the ride responsive.