Why does my bike rack wobble with panniers?

Have you noticed that your bicycle rack has started to sway or wobble? Here's some reasons why pannier bike racks wobble and how to fix it.

what are the reasons my bike rack is wobbling

If you enjoy commuting or cycle touring the classic way with racks and panniers, this troubleshooting guide to wobbling racks should be a useful read.

Should a bike rack wobble?

The short answer to this, is that no, bicycle racks should not wobble, especially if they haven't even got panniers attached to them yet!

The simplest way to do this, is to buy a high quality rear rack for your bike, and install it correctly. Take for example the Tubus rear rack on my Thorn Nomad touring bicycle pictured below. Made of chunky steel, and attached to the bicycle's pre-drilled eyelets – That thing's rock solid, and is not moving anywhere!

Bicycle racks on my Thorn Nomad touring bicycle

Not all racks for panniers are created equal though. If you have a visibly wobbly bike rack that sways as you ride, and can move from side to side at the touch of your hand, the bike rack has an issue that needs fixing! If your bike rack wobbles, here's how to troubleshoot and fix the problem.

Related: Best Racks For Bike Touring

Is the bike rack properly attached?

If the rack is not installed on the bike correctly, it will start to wobble as you ride. The most common cause of this is when the bolts that hold the rack in place are not tightened properly. Another cause can be when the washers that go between the bolt and the frame are missing or not installed correctly.

Even when you first put the rack on your bike, and tightened everything correctly, bolts might loosen with the first ride. They might also loosen if you have used panniers on the rack, and especially so if you have only been using one pannier on one side of the rack with a heavy load in it.

Solution: Double check that the bolts attaching your rack to the bicycle are tightened on a regular basis.

Has one of the struts snapped?

If you are cycle touring, and your rack starts wobbling, it could be a sign that one of the metal struts has snapped. This happened to me when riding through Sudan – quite literally in the middle of nowhere! I noticed my bike rack swaying, and on closer inspection saw that a metal strut had snapped.

Dave cycling in Sudan fixing a broken bicycle rack

I was lucky, and managed to get a temporary repair carried out using a steel plate and some banding to get the bicycle rack serviceable again. Well, I say temporary – it lasted me another 8000 kms of riding!

So, if your rack starts to sway, just make sure that nothing has snapped. You don't want to carry on with a broken rack loaded with panniers for too long as it is dangerous!

Solution: Stop cycling and check your bike's rack if you notice it wobble a little to see if anything has snapped off.

Are you overloaded on one side?

Another reason your bike rack might wobble, is if you are using just one pannier, or are using two panniers but have a lot more weight than one in the other.

The Stanforth Skyelander classic touring bike in front of the Acropolis in Athens

While racks and panniers are a great way to distribute weight, they cannot magically defy physics. If you overload one pannier on the rack, or only have one pannier on the rack in the first place, it will exert more force on the rack and may make it start to wobble. It could also begin weakening the rack.

Solution:  Use two panniers rather than just one where possible. Try and distribute the weight as evenly as possible on your bike rack when using panniers.

Stop Bike Rack Swaying

Bicycle racks are an important part of your bike touring gear. A poorly-made or incorrectly installed rack can lead to a wobbling bike and a dangerous journey. Buy the best (preferably steel) rack you can afford. Check that the bolts are fastened correctly on a regular basis. As part of your bicycle maintenance ensure that nothing is becoming worn. Always make sure to distribute weight evenly in your panniers and racks.

FAQ About Bike Racks

These are some of the most commonly asked questions about bicycle racks and if they are supposed to sway when riding:

How do I stop my bike rack from wobbling?

There are a few things you can do to stop your bike rack from wobbling. The first is to make sure that the rack is properly attached to your bicycle. Double check that the bolts are tightened on a regular basis, and that nothing has snapped off. If you are using just one pannier, or are using two panniers but have a lot more weight than one in the other, you might want to try and distribute the weight as evenly as possible on your bike rack when using panniers.

Is it normal for bike rack to wobble?

You should not notice any perceptible wobble on a well installed, quality rack for your touring bicycle. It should feel solid with no movement.

What are the best panniers for bicycle rear racks?

Some of the best panniers bike touring are the Ortlieb Backroller Classic Panniers: These panniers are made from durable and water resistant fabric, and have a roll-top closure system that helps to keep your belongings safe and dry.

What are the best racks for bicycle touring?

There are many different types of racks available for touring bicycles, but the best ones are made from steel and are properly attached to the bike. Tubus is probably among the best of the best when it comes to touring racks for bicycles.

More Bike Touring Tips

You might also want to read some of these tips and guides to bike touring and bikepacking:


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