For pickups and vans, there's no better bike carrier
I’m always mystified when there’s consumer demand for a product but manufacturers don’t respond. It’s like the update to the Micro Bus, which Volkswagen sat on for years despite huge demand. The same dithering has existed with bike racks: Rear hitch-mount haulers have ballooned in popularity, but no major manufacturer had produced a convincing swing-away version. Until now.
The RockyMounts BackStage Swing Away ($550) is the first mass-market, tray-style, hitch-mount bike rack that pivots bikes completely away from the rear of the vehicle, thanks to a pair of hefty hinges. On a pickup or van, that allows full cargo access without unloading the bikes. The design also provides a 30-degree downward tilt feature, so it’s possible to drop the rack below a truck gate for quicker bed entry if you aren’t carrying bikes. I have tested dozens of racks over the past decade, including excellent hitch-mount models from Thule and Küat, but as a truck owner, I’ll never go back.
Several manufacturers told me it took a long time to come up with a design because all that bike weight creates a lot of torque on the rack once it’s pivoted to the side. As such, this rack is built from seriously beefy two- and four-inch steel tubing and weighs 58 pounds. The BackStage is compatible only with the larger two-inch hitch size. Rather than a simple slide-through pin for mounting, it uses a threaded, lock-on bolt. Due to the weight, it carries just two bikes, with no extensions to allow for four.
In hauling position, the BackStage works like most other hitch-mount racks. The bike sits on a pair of wheel trays, which fit everything from road tires to fat bikes, and a pivoting swing arm ratchets onto the front tire to hold it in place. The detachable 7'3" cable lock, which secures underneath the rack at a metal anchor point, is long enough to thread through wheels and frames and thicker than the competition. I like the versatility of being able to use it off the rack as well as on.
To swivel the whole thing out of the way, you simply spin the locking handle at the front until the bolt releases (about eight turns), pull up the locking pin that holds everything in place, then swing the bikes out to the side of the car. Wisely, the locking pin fits back into place in the open position, too, which prevents the bikes from banging around in the wind or slamming back into the car if you’re parked on a slope. Rotation is always to the right side of the vehicle, and though several friends have remarked that it would be nice if you could switch the pivot direction to the opposite side for truck toppers with camper doors, RockyMount decided against that since it would mean swinging bikes into a traffic lane.
Given that the rack carrying two mountain bikes pushes 100 pounds, my biggest concern has been durability: How would all that weight affect the fittings and bushings in the pivots over time? I’ve been using the BackStage for more than three months, including lots of miles rugged New Mexico’s dirt roads, and so far I’ve seen no loosening or play. I was also worried that the blue plastic lock and tilt handles were too lightweight and not durable enough, but they’ve held up fine, and given the rack’s weight, the plastic was a smart, weight-saving decision.
I liked this rack from the day I got it, but I came to love it on a recent weeklong camping trip, where I lived out my truck bed during the monsoons in southern Colorado. The storms were forceful and sudden, and having the ability to quickly swing the bikes out of my way and climb into the bed for protection was a godsend. I also had to get up and out every morning long before sunrise. In the past, that would have meant locking the bikes elsewhere overnight, and then fiddling them back onto the rack in the cold and dark before I drove off. With the BackStage, I was ready to go. The rack won’t be for everyone, given its weight and complications, but it’s no overstatement to say that for truck and van owners, the swing-away design will make life a lot easier.
Other manufacturers have also gotten the message that consumers want swing-away hitch racks. At Interbike, Küat showed the Pivot add-on, due out this winter, which will incorporate swiveling functionality to any of its two-inch hitch-mount designs. I even heard murmurs that Yakima is working on a swing-away. Either way, I’ll be sticking with RockyMounts, not only because it works great, but also because the company had the vision to do it first. Now, if only we could get that VW Microbus with a two-inch hitch receiver.