Thule T2 Hitch-Mount Carrier

Thule T2 Hitch-Mount Carrier

After some memorable altercations between my car, roof racks and bikes that were, in most cases, not mine, I elected to start carrying bikes inside my car. This was long before Bill Clinton was impeached. Roof racks proved to be as lousy for aerodynamics—and by extension, gas mileage—as they were for the marble exterior of 6420 Wilshire Blvd—the site of one former employer. Technically, the move was known as a Hagerman, for author and former MTB magazine editor Eric Hagerman, who was known for impact testing mountain bikes against the same building. His name became a verb, as in, “Patrick Hagermanned the Cannondale tandem into the building.”

The sounds were always memorable.

What I spent in body work is a figure best left forgotten, though 16 years later, I still haven’t forgotten.

During those intervening 16 years, I carried bikes inside my wagon. They were safe, un-bug-splattered, my gas mileage suffered not, and I still had enough room for luggage for me and another adult. I was even able to fit a baby and his stuff in. A toddler and a baby and a bike and luggage was, however, more than my Subaru could manage. It was time for a new solution.

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Because I park in a garage, and not on the street or in a driveway, I knew a roof rack was little more than an egg timer to sobs. It would simply be a matter of days before shards of carbon fiber would come raining in the open sun roof onto small people, eliciting tears, but mostly only from me.

I began researching hitch-mounted racks because I wanted something that would be both sturdier than a trunk-mounted rack and more gentle to carbon fiber frames. I looked at carriers from Thule, Yakima, Saris and Küat. This was not a shootout, nor did I actually spend time using the other racks before coming to my conclusion. I had to go about this like most consumers: I did a bunch of research and then made a decision.

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What I ultimately settled on was the Thule T2. Rather than any one feature being the deciding factor, it was the particular constellation of features that did it for me. In nearly every case, each feature found in the T2 could be found in another carrier, but none of them enjoyed all of these features except for the T2.

The biggest features I needed, the two that were non-negotiable—as in, if the carrier didn’t have these, it was time to look for another—were the ability to hold the bike by the wheels and the ability to accommodate 29-inch mountain bike wheels/tires. The T2 features a large locking bar that clamps down on the front wheel with additional straps the hold the rear wheel. The hold proved to be secure over multiple trips from Los Angeles to Sonoma County.

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Next up, the carrier needed to fold up when not in use. With the flip of a lever, the carrier folds up 90-degrees and out of the way and stays there until you hit the lever again. Better yet, if you pull a retention pin out of the carrier, it will fold down 45-degrees, giving you access to your car’s rear hatch even when bikes are on the carrier. I learned the hard way that it is important to hold the carrier when two bikes are on it before trying to lower the carrier for hatch access. I got clobbered by my mountain bike’s rear shock, which resulted in my cranium briefly adopting a new shape.

I’ll grant that I got better mileage with the bike(s) in the car, rather than behind it, but my mileage doesn’t suffer nearly as much as it did with a roof rack.

The T2 is remarkably secure. The carrier can be locked to the hitch so that no one can steal the carrier with bikes on it. Also, the carrier includes integrated locking cables. A stout set of bolt cutters could cut these, but the cables and locks are enough to keep all but professional bike thieves from stealing bikes on this carrier.

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The carrier isn’t cheap, but I’ve seen the damage that can happen to both bikes and cars with cheap carriers. At $449.95, it is twice as expensive as some setups, but this thing has yet to show a bit of wear in a year’s usage. Which brings me to construction. Some manufacturers have touted how light their carriers are. One of the things I like about the T2 is that it uses plenty of steel and aluminum to make it durable. The light carriers use an abundance of plastic to save weight. I had concerns about how long they’d last. And this brings me to yet another reason I chose to go with Thule. Because I’ve managed to injure bikes, cars and racks with my shenanigans, I wanted to make sure that replacement parts would be easy to purchase. And if there’s one thing that most bike shops all agree they must carry, it’s racks from Thule.

Right now, Mini-Shred is on a bike with 16-inch wheels, while the Deuce is still trailer-bound. And I do mean bound. In another 10 years, they are both going to be on significantly larger bikes and I’ll have a need for a carrier that can accommodate four bikes rather than two. As it happens, Thule offers an add-on that will allow you to add two more carriers to the rack.

I’ve had some concerns about getting rear-ended or scraping the carrier on the ground when rolling out of a parking lot. Statistically, I figure it’s far more likely that I’ll pull a Hagerman than someone will hit me. History suggests I got the math right on that one. And so far, I’ve only managed to scrape the main support on a driveway ramp once, and that was less a failure in my driving than a measure of how steep the ramp was. Given that I got 10 years of use out of my previous Thule system, I expect I’ll be using this until the little guys are into adult-sized bikes and, hopefully, longer.

 

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14 comments

  1. Dave King

    Nice review and thoughts. I’m still running a roof rack on my Subaru Outback despite introducing a carbon Fuji to the roof of my garage a few years ago. I always thought it would never happen to me although about 50% of the people I know have done it. Hoever, the bike feels more secure up top than on the trunk, although that’s just a gut judgement. I usually put my bike inside the car (when I can) for the same reasons as you – more gas mileage efficient, safer from injury, stays cleaner but also makes the ride more quiet.

    A few years back I was driving on dirt in Utah to go mountain biking. I was traveling a bit behind an SUV that had a hitch mount (although I can’t remember the brand/model now). On that washboard road, I watched the bikes and carrier bouncing around – so much so that hitch mount bike carrier sheared off at the base from the stress of that road. The bikes went tumbling but were basically ok. The hitch mount was destroyed, obviously. Not sure if this was operator error or if one should avoid rough dirt roads when bikes are loaded on a hitch mount. I also wonder if anyone else has experienced or witnessed this.

  2. Patrick O'Brien

    I have a suggested solution for you when the Outback has worn out. Get a van. We are an older couple and have no children save a 12 pound westypoo. But, we bought a Toyota Sienna van two years ago, and it has been one of the most versatile vehicles we have ever owned. Packed carefully, 3 bikes, 4 people, and luggage are no problem. We also sleep it in for quick overnight camp trips. And when more bikes, stuff, or people are involved, we pull a Let’s Go Aero Gearwagon behind it.

  3. naisan

    I tried the kuat and Thule but settled on the 1upusa because of build quality and the dual tire clamps which allow quick racking of all kinds of bikes with no adjustment.

    Very happy with the 1upusa a year later (and thousands of miles in snow, rain, and on rough dirt roads).

  4. Atganirider

    I have worked in the cycle trade and referred many customers to our local Thule dealer for this, and earlier iterations of the carrier, as well as having one myself
    In addition to the improvements in safety (not driving into a barrier with bikes on the roof) and fuel economy, there are other benefits
    One of the principle advantages is that you lift the bike only a short distance to put it on the rack. For shorter, or less strong people, this is a real plus compared to wrestling a bike into the back seat, or onto a roof rack. The result is that folk get out more as a family, if it is the smaller, less strong partner left with the children.
    A minor advantage is that, with a dirty cyclocross or mountain bike, all the muck drops onto the road, rather than in, or onto the car.
    The only downside, in my opinion, is the need to have a tow ball (UK parlance) on your vehicle
    Highly, highly recommended!

  5. DavidB

    I agree on the van idea somewhat, except for the gas mileage. I’ve had seven people, and seven mountain bikes all inside my 28 year-old Vangon Syncro. Yes, maybe a little crowded, but for four people or camping at the end of the Jeep trails it’s worth the horrible hit on freeway speed capability.

  6. Craig P

    I’ve been using this Thule carrier for a few months now – it’s an excellent bike carrier. Have it mounted on my Tacoma 4 x 4. Couldn’t be happier !

  7. Girl

    For those with roof racks, I offer the following advice (to avoid the inevitable, devastating “crunch”): put your garage door opener in your trunk!

  8. BikeDude

    I have used the HoldUp, T2 and Kuat products over the years. I have to say I prefer the HoldUp from Yakima. Works great for big wheels, bike trays fold when not in use and I really like the shiny black. :)

  9. DclDJ

    I’d like to hear why top tube mounts were discarded. Is it mostly for security / scratch prevention? I’m not disagreeing with your decision to go with a wheel held model; I’d like to have investigated that method myself. Since I have 5 bikes I need to pack (looking forward to try cramming #6 on in a year or two) the best option was a top tube holding model. Granted they need to be packed carefully and insulated (at least my bike does, the kids don’t seem to mind scratches too much).


    1. Author
      Padraig

      In short, carbon fiber top tubes. Even when people weren’t clamping them too tightly and damaging them, people were afraid they might damage the top tube and so were afraid to use them. I’ve not heard this from any approved sources at any of the rack companies, but I did have two people tell me that off-the-record.

  10. Alex

    I am looking into getting a hitch mount carrier for my car and have to say that that for me the security and ease of access to your vehicle without having to remove the mount is a big priority. I’m still researching much like you did, but I am glad to read that the Thule T2 offers both of these. I will definitely add it to my short list.

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