Rack ‘Em

Published Cycle California, October 2017, Vol. 23, #10

Rack frame crop.jpg
“Stack ‘em, pack ‘em and rack ‘em.”
Fred Thompson (Mr. Trudeau, Dulles operations chief), Die Hard 2

For years, my vehicle bike carrier was the flatbed of my Ford pickup truck. Now some truck bed carriers are made special for that, such as the one owned by my buddy Pete from Chicago who can clamp in his bike without removing wheels. However, my truck rack consisted of two waist-high 2x4 wood railings, spaced parallel far apart, lengthwise, secured to a flat sheet of plywood underneath. Just think carpenter. I’ve never had to do anything more than lift the bike over the truck side and hook a bungee cord around the frame to the top rail. Often I’ve taken four bikes along and even a fifth at times, though the cab gets a little crowded with myself as driver and four other bicyclists squeezed in.

All that said, the day arrived when the old truck turned 200,000 and needed a new engine. The bottom line is that I got a new vehicle and one without a truck bed, hence had to go shopping for a bike carrier. At the local mid-peninsula bike store where I enquired, the sales clerk suggested Road & Rack in San Carlos. Searching the Internet, I discovered it was now The Rack Spot. That name dusted off my mental cobwebs of the Rack, aka the Saddle Rack, once a San Jose whiskey-shot saloon and boot-scootin’ dance spot in my pre-bike life long ago. It’s still in business but in Fremont and meanwhile I’ve traded the JD for Cytomax.

I drove my new Toyota SUV to San Carlos, found The Rack Spot on El Camino Real and began shopping for a bike rack. Having over a decade of setting my bike in the truck bed, I never had to worry about bike-on-roof height clearances or blind extensions off the back. Also, the bikes never slipped down or off, not even when I forgot the bungee cord, as rarely but sometimes happened.

The Rack Spot assistant manager, named Jean-Claude (not his real name), went through the different models with me. My SUV model that came prefitted with a roof rack could easily accommodate a linear frame mount type, with either the front wheel removed for a fork-clip on or else a the front wheel held by clamp arms. I could only think about my friend Andres who had twice driven his roof-mounted bike into his garage, ruining two bike frames. Even after he learned that lesson, his low-riding sedan still required the car doors to be opened to get bikes on top.  With my new SUV, getting the bikes on top of the tall roof would be a challenge even with the front wheel removed, and I preferred to keep both wheels on which might have required bringing along a stepladder. 

Still, that seemed preferable to mounting a hitch on the back of the SUV until Jean-Claude discovered a pre-installed hitch behind a removable cover. Now the choice was between a platform carrier with a ratchet-arm to hold the front wheel or an L-type with rubber straps. My friend Brian’s platform developed a pretty good wobble, which was fixed even though it still looked unstable. The ratchet-arm holding down the front wheel also tended to stick. Brian also had to put the platform up each time to avoid cars backing into it or people walking with cell-phones and smashing their shins (ouch). 

The type of hitch rack that needed no clamping-type arm and avoided the low platform issues was a simple hanging-type with rubber cradles in which the bike’s center bar rests. The one I got lowers to 45 degrees, clearing the SUV bottom gate that opens downward.  On-line shopping is great but at-store shopping means the rack gets assembled and installed at the store by someone experience, which Jean-Claude was, having a previous career dealing with Sears appliance service calls.

Just about everyone reading this article undoubtedly has his or her own bike rack preference.  Priorities differ and nothing is ever perfect. Well, I take it back—my simple carpentry makeshift bike rack was perfect. But it’s now history, as are those Jack Daniels-on-the-rocks and two-step days at the Saddle Rack, replaced by my brand new Thule-helium-aero and a two-bike mount from The Rack Spot