Outside magazine, June 1999
Next Up: An Attachment for the Kitchen Sink
If you're still wedging your bikes into the trunk each weekend, or if you're hoping that your new rodeo boat--short as it may be--will fit into your SUV, it's high time to shell out for that least glamorous piece of gear, the sport rack. Indeed, the question is no longer whether you should carry equipment on the outside of your vehicle, but how. Those who've gone the SUV or minivan route, like 24 percent of last year's auto buyers, will probably want a rack that mounts to a bumper hitch. Still, although these models save you from having to stretch precariously to load your gear, there's a limit to what they'll carry. If you're looking to haul watercraft, for instance, a roof rack is a necessity. This option consists of uprights, crossbars, and separately sold mounts for various kinds of equipment; count on a half-hour of setup time. No matter what you choose, rest assured that all the models here will handle your toys with motherly tenderness.
|Thule 400 Aero Foot and Big Mount|
Yakima's TerraFirma (888-925-4621), perhaps the smartest value of this breed, holds four bikes and will set you back just $229. The rack resembles a giant "S" and cradles the bikes by their top tubes. Stability comes by way of a bar that extends beneath the bikes: It's fitted with rubber straps to thread through the wheels of each bike, snugging them down tight. Built-in locks secure bikes to rack and rack to hitch.
The only trouble with a rack that holds bikes by their top tubes is that, well, not all bikes have top tubes. Hollywood Racks skirts the issue with the Team Rider ($240; 800-747-4085). Trays with simple hook-and-loop straps secure the wheels of two bikes, and an adjustable arm clamps onto each bike's seatpost, thus allowing you to haul even the most eccentric frames. Also, you can lower the Team Rider from bumper level and rummage through the back of the vehicle without removing the bikes. It's a useful if elementary rack, built with durability in mind.The TranSport Series from Sportworks ($270; 888-661-0555) employs the same approach, though by slightly more elegant means. While the rear wheel rests in a conventional tray, the front jams tightly into a slot that prevents it from wobbling. For good measure, a spring-loaded arm reaches up to grip the top of the front tire. Very slick, very quick. Best of all, when empty, the rack folds flat against the bumper, so you can leave it on your hitch all summer.
While many racks tilt down to provide entry to the back hatch, the Saris Big Easy B.A.T. ($329; 800-783-7257) is cleverly designed to swing to either side--even when it's loaded with four bikes--for still greater access. The trick is a marvelously engineered hinge that works smoothly under load. The B.A.T. has adjustable rubber straps to keep the bikes from jostling one another, and unlike most hitch-mounters it holds skis or snowboards in its standard configuration.
Saris's roof rack ($210) is designed to be, among other things, a cinch to install. Set the preassembled crossbars and uprights on your roof, spin a couple knobs, and watch as the contraption centers itself. Mounts to carry any sporting equipment slide easily into a channel atop each crossbar. If you're thinking ahead to next winter, check out the Alien ski/snowboard mount ($100), the coolest we've seen. (It carries four pairs of skis or two snowboards.) When not in use, the Alien folds flat for better aerodynamics--and aesthetics.
Thule makes some 200 kits to adapt its 400 Aero Foot rack ($185; 800-238-2388) to the precise contours of an impressive variety of vehicles, whether you own a sleek new Volkswagen Passat or a beastly '82 Plymouth Fury. The niftiest of Thule's many mounts is the new Big Mouth upright bike carrier ($100). It clamps to the down tube (even an oversize one) so you don't have to pop off the front wheel, and yet the lever for that clamp is located close to the rack, within easy reach.
|Yakima Q System and Sweetroll|
The entire Yakima Q System ($195) comes off with the flick of a quick-release lever, a handy feature that allows you to remove it, for instance, in the off-season. Yakima's newest mount is the SweetRoll ($110), which lets you load a sea kayak or rowing shell without a partner's help: Hoist the bow onto the rear roller, lift the stern, and ramp it into place. The front end rests in a polypropylene sling. Like any worthy rack, it lets you forget your gear and focus on where you want to use it. —JOHN LEHRER
PHOTOS: Eric O'Connell