When it comes to toting gear, roof racks are the most versatile. One of the best is Yakima's Q Towers System ($195), which clamps onto your car's roof with a quick-release tensioning system. Add on the new AnkleBiter bike-mount kit ($100), which conveniently grabs your bike by the crank arm instead of the down tube. Another worthy contender is the Thule Aero Foot 400 ($183); new water-sports accessories for 1998 include H2GO saddles ($99) for kayaks, rowing shells, and sailboards and the Outrigger ($40), a spring-loaded extension bar that lets one person easily load a kayak or canoe onto the rack. For a bike, use the Velo Vise ($89).
Hoisting gear onto the roof of an SUV or minivan can be inconvenient or impossible; you might want to go with a hitch-mount rack. The Softride Access 400 Sports Rack ($250) carries four bikes; simply press a foot pedal and the rack smoothly lowers the bikes to ground level, enabling access to the rear of your vehicle. The massive new Rhode Gear 4-Bike Receiver Hitch Shuttle Rack ($250) also tilts away for vehicle access, but it lacks a spring assist. The rack arms conveniently tilt down when not in use, however.
If your gear needs extra protection or you're carrying small items, try a cargo box. The Kanga Co. makes a variety of soft-sided containers; the Hurricane RoofPouch ($174, 13.5 cubic feet) is 100 percent weatherproof. For more security, Packasport makes a line of aerodynamic fiberglass cargo boxes ($660-$925, 10.5-30 cubic feet) that feature refinements such as gas shocks and stainless steel hardware.