First Impressions: Tailfin Bikepacking Gear

A couple of guys on our master’s racing team threw out the idea of taking a bike packing trip from Buffalo to New York City along the Empire State Trail. The total mileage for the route is around 570 miles. We blocked out a week in August to ride the route one way and take an Amtrak train back on the last day.

We are total bikepacking newbies, and this will be “credit card bike touring” for this first trip. We plan on paying for accommodations and food along the way. We’ll save a self-supported trip for another time, if this trip goes well.

We all have gravel race bikes that aren’t designed for bolting on racks and accessories for bikepacking. My TIME ADHX 45 is arguably a pure race bike with only top tube bosses for attaching a top tube bag. That puts us in the position of looking for soft bags to strap to our bikes.

UK-based Tailfin caught my attention because in addition to strap-on frame bags, they offer a rack system that can be used on thru axle and quick release bikes that don’t have touring bosses in the frame. I reached out to Tailfin about our trip, and they kindly sent a full setup for review. Here, I’ll offer my first impressions. After our trip, I’ll follow up with a more in-depth review.

Thru Axle Selection

The most complicated step of working with the Tailfin rack system is selecting the thru axle that is compatible with your bike, and even this isn’t that big of a deal. Tailfin’s website includes extensive guides and videos for all of their bikepacking gear, and the axel guide walks you through all of the information you need to gather about your frame. For thru axel, the length of the axel, the thread pitch, and the shape of the interface are the key details to consider. My TIME frame wasn’t listed on their website, but the thru axel details were easy to find on TIME’s website. For quick release, there’s nothing to worry about because the skewer they offer can be used for both 130mm and 135mm rear dropouts.

The Tailfin axels have attachments for the rack on the ends, giving the rack a fixed and stable contact point that doesn’t involve the bike’s frame.

Tailfin also offers frame mounting options if your bike frame can accommodate them.

Rack and Bag Selection

The racks come in carbon and aluminum and with and without pannier mounts. I wasn’t sure how much gear I would be carrying on this trip, so I opted for the carbon rack with the pannier mounts. I also decided that I wanted the removeable top bag instead of the lighter one that is integrated into the rack. And, I decided on the ultra-durable pannier bags instead of the super light version.

I wanted to run a frame bag, but I also wanted to fit two large water bottles. One of the few upsides to being tall and requiring an XL frameset is having more room in the main triangle of the frame. The frame bags come in three wedge-shaped sizes ranging from 1.9 to 3.5 liters, as well as six half-frame sizes ranging from 2.3 to 6.5 liters. The 4.5L half-frame bag appeared to be the best size for my intended use.

The top tube bags come in a zip and a flip option. I have a few other zip top tube bags on hand, so I decided to select the flip option for ease of access while riding.

Super Easy Setup

The rack assembly and pannier setup were easy to complete. Tailfin’s website includes instructional videos that I followed to make sure the clamps were facing the correct direction on the rack, top bag, and the pannier bags. The half-frame bag didn’t require any special instructions. The top tube bag has an option to strap or bolt on the frame, so the only work there was lining up which holes to use for the bolts.

I am impressed how easily the rack attaches and releases from the frame, as well as how easily the pannier bags and the top bag are added and removed. After the initial setup is complete, the whole system of bags take less than 10 minutes to put on the frame and less than that to remove.

Key Features

The material of the bags seems very durable, and they are designed to be waterproof. The panniers and top bag have large roll-top openings that make packing and access easy. After packing, the top gets rolled and strapped down to the sides.

There is an air valve on the side that allows compression, letting the air out and then closing the valve to retain a semi-vacuum seal. The shape of the compressed bag is maintained by the straps. Each bag has additional internal storage features, such as zippered pockets.

The half-frame bag has an internal carbon reinforcement struts that makes using the durable zippers easy but also prevents the bag from bulging out to the sides to the point that your knees would rub. The bag has a partition for smaller items on one side and bulkier items on the other. There is also a port in the front that allows for charging cables or a bladder hose to pass through. My favorite feature of the half-frame bag is the Velcro straps at the top meant to hold a pump.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like the flip cover option on the top tube bag, but I’ve come to really like it for ease of use. The opening is much larger than the zippered top tube bags I have on hand, making access quicker and easier while keeping your eyes on the road.

No Noise

I’ve only ridden the full setup around the neighborhood so far. However, I’m struck by how quiet the whole setup is. The points of attachment on the rack have rubber gaskets that eliminate any rattle when hitting bumps or going over rough surfaces.

I had the bags packed with dog towels to give them shape for this initial review. So, nothing was rattling around inside the bags either.

Not Cheap

This whole setup is a certainly a hefty investment. Tailfin has put a great deal of time and energy into testing and getting the smallest details correct. This is evidenced by the multiple iterations the bags have been through and the number of options available for each type of bag, including those that I’m not featuring here.

Here’s the damage if you are paying full retail:

$465 Carbon Rack w/ Pannier Option
$210 AP Rack Top Bag
$330 2x Ultra Durable Pannier Bag
$145 Half-Frame Bag 4.5L
$75 Top Tube Flip Bag 1.1L

Though it adds up, I’d argue that it’s worth keeping in mind that this setup allows you to convert a racing bike with no bikepacking features to a full-on touring rig, eliminating the need for buying a different bike for that purpose. Tailfin also offers a 5-year full warranty and a 30% off crash replacement policy.

More to Come

We have an overnight shake out ride planned in July before our weeklong trip in August. I’ll be dialing in this bikepacking setup and determining the best ways to pack and distribute shared gear among the three of us. One consideration I’ll be making is whether or not I need to run the pannier bags for the longer trip. I’ll follow up with a more extensive review based on those trips.