Two By Two

Two By Two

In the early 2000s I despaired of bike racks. There had been a proliferation of racks that allowed you to leave both wheels on the bike and an arm swung up and clamped the down tube. Fine for steel or aluminum, but those jaws would leave marks on bar titanium and crushed more than a few carbon fiber downtubes. Couldn’t a rack get the job down without marking or damaging the bike?

And then hitch racks hit and we haven’t looked back. I basically don’t see roof racks or trunk racks anymore. And why would I? The hitch racks are better in a host of ways. You know, why don’t we count them?

  1. They are less expensive than most roof racks.
  2. They are easier to use.
  3. They don’t require you to lift the bike as high.
  4. They won’t mar or damage the frame.
  5. While you can back into stuff, you can’t ram the bikes into a low overhang.

Saris has introduced a new hitch rack to their already extensive lineup. This one is called the Superclamp EX. It’s available in both two- and four-bike versions; I’ve been using the double.

Unlike most racks, the SuperClamp EX has wheel clamps on both arms. There’s one facing inside and another facing outside on each arm. The idea is that this will help hold the bike more securely and will also remove some stress placed on the front wheel. In that regard, it works exactly as intended. The bikes wiggle less and should I hit a big bump, I have less concern that the front wheel on a bike will wind up tweaked. Here, I’m most concerned about the front wheel of a mountain bike as nothing else has as much mass behind it.

The trick with using this rack is to find the position that allows you to secure wheels on each side of the rack. That’s not as easy as it sounds. I had to do some playing around to position the wheel trays so that I could grab the wheels of my mountain bike and Mini-Shred’s mountain bike, which is significantly smaller in every regard.

In addition to ratchets that hold the wheel clamps against the wheels, the arms also have ratchets that prevent them from opening outward without a button being depressed. That means that often the best way to secure a bike’s wheel is by positioning the arms pointing toward the sides of the vehicle rather than toward the midline of the vehicle, though I’ve used it successfully both ways. Straps secure each wheel to its wheel tray and reflectors on each wheel tray add to your visibility.

While the wheel trays will accommodate tires up to 4-inches wide, the challenge in using this rack is that the wheel clamps sit pretty close to the arms and it can at times require some effort to position the arms in a way to securely hold the wheels while avoiding the fork or rear triangle. This is more of an issue with a mountain bike than with a road bike. The good news is that the rack is built to carry a load and do it securely; you can carry bikes up to 60 lbs.—each.

The SuperClamp EX is $469 for the two-bike version and $849 for the four-bike edition. There’s a big handle that allows the rack to be folded away when not in use or folded out in order to access the vehicle’s gate or hatch when loaded. In terms of security, the hitch pin features a lock and the rack has tumblers to accept the cables which are contained in the rack and retract when not in use.

This was flat-out the fastest installation of any rack I’ve every used, and I appreciated that it came with a 2-in. hitch adapter so that no matter what hitch you have, you’ll be able to use the rack that comes out of the box. It makes inventory management much better for the manufacturer and retailers, the upshot being if you purchase one you know it will fit your hitch.

Final thought: The best racks are blind to the kind of bike they carry.

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9 comments

  1. Papuass

    On the other hand, if you ride wet roads, you will find your bikes covered with a layer of road dirt (even from asphalt roads) using hitch rack. Maybe using cover would help. Roof racks are still popular where I live and clamps are made more carbon friendly.

  2. Steven Soto

    Yeah, the “if you ride wet roads” is the big problem. A hitch rack will get your bikes much dirtier that a roof rack, and there are very few hitch racks that work with fenders (if you drive on wet roads, you ride on wet roads). Most fork mount racks don’t work with full fenders either, so down tube clamp is the only way I fly.

  3. James

    Gas mileage is also pretty bad with roof racks. Consumer Reports drove a 2013 Honda Accord at 65mph and got 42 mpg. With an empty rack they got 37. The deflector took it to 35, and with deflector and two bikes they got 27 mpg. Close to the mileage in an Odyssey without the “room for activities”.

  4. Jeff Dieffenbach

    With hitch racks, don’t forget to factor in the cost of the hitch receiver itself. LOVE the Odyssey comment … I’ve got a 2007 Toyota Sienna minivan–strike that, Cycling Utility Vehicle, or CUV–that easily holds 3 bikes inside (including a fat bike), can do 4 or even 5 in a pinch. Fantastic way to move bikes around.

    Sure, only 1 passenger. But hey, I’m an introvert, I’m fine with that …

  5. Miles Archer

    Toyota Sienna – 3 bikes plus an introvert 😉

    I put my bike inside my Honda Civic. While I’m also an introvert, I can only ride one bike at a time.

  6. Scott M

    I love the convenience of a hitch mount for some trips — particularly when I’m carrying more than one bike. I got rid of the top tube style right after it squiggled the graphic label.
    At times though, I don’t want to leave my bike sitting out for every passer by to fondle. Even when the bike is locked, there’s always the concern that a computer or tool bag could walk away. Therefore, many times, I still put my bike in the trunk of my Civic or inside the SUV.

    BTW, If you’re a cyclist, the introvert part is assumed.

  7. Michael

    I still use a roof rack mostly because of the other things I carry on it – canoes, kayaks, skis, large slabs of plywood, cabinets. Lots of roof racks still around here, probably for the same reason I still use one. They turn a car into something close to a pickup, without you having to drive a pickup or SUV. If I only carried bikes, I’d get a hitch rack, mostly because of the mileage and power loss with a couple bikes on the roof of a Honda or Subaru. This looks like a really nice hitch rack, though. Maybe if we ever buy a new car…

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