Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Vancouver, BC
Bikes: 2007 ICE Trice T; 2008 Brompton M6L; 2009 Surly LHT; 2010 Surly Cross Check
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Yep, what everyone else said. Most panniers will fit most racks, and most racks will fit most bikes. But for a particular combo, you want to have your bike with you in the store if you can, to make sure the panniers you want fit a rack that will fit your bike.
That said, there's nothing magic about it or anything. If your bike has the screw-holes to put the rack on ("rack drop-outs"), that part is easy. And there's lots of ways that panniers attach to racks but generally they boil down to a couple of hooks at the top to fit a rail on the rack, and a hook or tab at the bottom.
I like the Topeak racks with the cool dovetailed run along the top--makes using a small rack-top bag way easier.