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.
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.
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.
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.
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.