The Wall Street Journal‘s car reviewer Dan Neil once lamented the car buying public’s need to buy SUVs with carrying capacity they would largely never need. It was an exercise in contingency, he argued, the buying of a vehicle whose full capability might never be exercised. As a person who is modest in most ways, his assessment resonated with me, and the vehicle in question, an SUV with the ability to carry an entire hockey team plus their gear bags and air conditioning powerful enough to turn the floor of said SUV into an ice rink should someone spill their bottle of Crystal Geyser, left my memory moments after I concluded that I didn’t want a life in which I might begin to exploit that behemoth’s abilities.
All this is to say that when I first went to purchase a hitch rack for my station wagon (I spent a lot of years as a drummer, and certain contingencies, like the knowledge of the size of a bass drum case, can be hard to shake), I couldn’t figure why I could find only one rack made to carry one bike, and it was more than I could afford, considering I had two kids to feed.
So I drove around with a hitch rack of terrific quality, but carrying capacity that struck me as vestigial, not untapped. I mean, I’m more rucksack than steamer trunk. I reasoned that in most circumstances I had only one bike that didn’t fit inside the car, and that only occurred when I already had one bike and two kids inside said car.
The Thule T1 is one of those products that I encountered at Interbike last year and didn’t need anyone to explain to me. I had only two questions: Suggested retail ($329.95) and when it would be available (some months as of this writing).
I’d say most riders I know need a rack that will carry only one bike at a time. Carpooling to bike events or rides is a lovely thing that I endorse in this era of carbon footprints (feetprints?). Yet most riders I know drive themselves to the trail head or the race and head home, alone in their vehicle. That’s just reality. Another reality? If you don’t already own a hitch rack, a friend of yours does, and theirs will carry two bikes, at minimum. It may be that now is the right time for this to hit the market, at a point when all your friends can carry your bike, should you decide to carpool.
Of the many ways I’ve seen bikes carried outside of vehicles, the hitch rack is my favorite, the way Beethoven’s Ninth is my favorite of his symphonies—none of the rest measure up, as good as they are. It’s more aerodynamic and therefore fuel efficient, impervious to parking garages and fast food restaurants, and can’t embarrass you the way lifting a 45-lb. downhill bike onto a roof rack can. (I speak only for myself in this regard.) It also secures a bike without risking damage to or marring the finish of the frame.
The T1 folds up easily, but because it only holds one bike, won’t fold down in case you need to open your back hatch, should your vehicle have that instead of a trunk (not steamer). The reasoning is obvious enough: How hard can it be to take one bike off a hitch rack?
Having used a great many other hitch racks at this point, one of the enduring charms of Thule hitch racks is the way the rear wheel strap extends out, making it easy to catch with the rear wheel as I lift the bike into place. I love efficiency, and this is one of those graceful little moves that is easy to appreciate when it goes missing.
The T1 will fit any bike on the planet, if you don’t count fat bikes, and if you do, they have an adapter for that. Better yet, should you need to carry a kids’ bike, it can handle 20-inch wheels without need for an adapter (I’m looking at you Küat).
The recessed cable lock is so easy to use that I pop it on if I plan to stop at a 7-Eleven or even for gas, but it is, as we are prone to say, only sufficient to keep honest people honest. Crimes of convenience fulfill their own prophecies.
Oddly, one of its most charming properties is how much easier it is to make backing out of a parking space, turning what might be an eight-point turn into only a four-point turn. Again, efficiency.
Final thought: In a world where nothing is perfect, this fits the bell curve of reasonable contingencies.
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