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Jeep Wrangler Bike Rack Roundup

Posted in How To on June 1, 2011
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Hey, fattie! Yeah, you, fattie-fat pants! How’d that winter sittin’ around gorging yourself with pig meat and candy work out for ya? Well, if you’re anything like us, you enjoyed the bacon-wrapped hell out of it. But now it’s time to get in shape for bikini season. For some of us, that could mean jogging (boring and too bad for the knees), going to the gym (too homoerotic), or riding a bike. That last one kinda goes with the Jeeping mentality. After all, a bike is sort of mechanical, right? A bike gets you into the outdoors like a Jeep, right? A bike can take to up and over mountains and get your adrenaline flowing like any good Jeep, right? Right! Maybe that’s why there’s such a strong connection between Jeep owners and mountain biking.

So, we’ve established you’re a Jeep owner, you love mountain biking, and you may or may not be kinda fat. That last one has nothing to do with the rest of this story, but you can’t always just chuck a full-size mountain bike in the back of your Jeep like it’s a pickup. And what if you’re not an antisocial type like Cappa? Maybe you want to bring a friend or three along with you on your rides. So if you are a hairy-chested, Jeep-driving, outdoorsy mountain biking he-man (or even one of those spandex-wearing road bike sissies), here are some good hitch-mounted bike rack options that’ll take your pedal-powered machine over the road.

Raxter Tarsus
Overview: The Raxter Tarsus holds two bikes up to 40 lbs each and has an overall weight limit (two bikes) of 80 lbs, or 160 lbs if a two-bike extension is added. It provides 8 inches between the bikes and the trays are raised 3 inches above the hitch. Raxter sent us its extended length model with a longer receiver hitch for spare tire clearance on Wrangler models. The Raxter Tarsus came with Raxter’s quick hitch clip as well as the company’s anti-rattle hitch bolt.

Assembly: The box was a bit hammered upon delivery, but nothing was missing from inside. All the small parts inside were bagged and the larger pieces were wrapped and protected. The tray crossbars attach quickly and easily to the frame with two bolts each.

Vehicle Access: We installed the unit on two Wranglers: a YJ with a 31x11.50-15 spare and a JK with a 35x12.50R17 spare. Neither required an extension. There is no drop-out/fold down feature for easy cargo area access. The JK spare tire hit the rack when opened, completely limiting access to the cargo area. We could squeak the YJ tailgate open enough for minor access to the cargo area.

Operation: The Raxter employs folding arms and two Velcro straps per tire. It’s a time-consuming operation to attach and detach the bike, but once the Velcro straps are tightened it’s a very solid method of retention. It also allows the bikes to be adjusted left-to-right on the trays for handlebar and seat post clearance when two bikes are carried. As delivered the tension on the folding arms is intentionally tight. The arm tension can be loosened, but the additional tension is a safety precaution in case the operator forgets to fasten the Velcro straps. You get used to it. The Raxter Tarsur will work with 29-inch tires and we mounted an 18-inch kid’s bike with no issue.

Highs: Simple design. Tucks tight to Jeep when folded. Good quality Velcro used. Solid bike retention to rack.
Lows: Velcro straps time-consuming and cumbersome to operate. No drop-down feature means a drop-hitch extension must be used or the rack must be removed to access tailgate or cargo area on many models.
Price: $294 (average price found on web)
Bottom Line: Not fancy and no frills, but a solid method of bike transport.

Kuat NV
Overview: The Kuat NV is a beautifully crafted steel and machined aluminum beauty that can carry two bikes with a maximum combined weight of 110 lbs. The trays mount at 13 inches on center, which provides about 9 inches between bikes and the trays are 6 inches above the hitch. The Kuat offers lots of additional features like anodized aluminum accents, its Trail Doc built-in bike repair stand, and a cinch-tight cam system instead of a traditional hitch bolt to eliminate rattle and wobble.

Assembly: The Kuat NV came perfectly wrapped and protected in a heavy box like it was fine crystal, but it did offer one of the more labor-intensive assemblies. The trays are a two-piece design that sandwich the base and attach with long Allen head through-bolts. Kuat supplies all tools needed for assembly, but it can be a fumble lining up the heavy tray ends and getting the recessed Allen head bolts started.

Vehicle Access: The Kuat required an extension to mount to either Wrangler. With a 12-inch hitch extension we could open the YJ tailgate almost to 50 degrees before the tailgate steel hit the NV’s base. On the JK the tailgate could be opened far enough to easily access the cargo area, but the spare hit the base before it could be opened enough to allow the hardtop lift glass to open. The rack would have to come off or a drop-hitch extension used for full cargo area access.

Operation: The Kuat features an aluminum rear tire tray with a sliding ratcheting rear wheel strap. The front tray is fixed anodized aluminum and a pivoting support arm locks in the front tire. To operate, completely remove the wheel strap from the ratchet mechanism, fold the pivot forward, drop the bike on, and lock down the front pivot support arm to the front tire. Then, position and fasten the rear ratcheting wheel strap. The Kuat’s pivot arm release is a button on the top of the locking mechanism and can be a bit difficult to depress sometimes if you have a somewhat-weak grip. The NV will accommodate standard 26-29-inch wheels, but requires a bolt-on adapter to the pivot arm if a 24- or 20-inch bike is used. The NV only comes with one adapter, but additional adapters can be purchased separately. We tried the Trail Doc repair stand, but found it a bit wobbly with a 30lb 6-inch XL bike mounted to it. Still, if you’re stuck making a field fix it’s better than nothing. It sometimes got in the way of loading the inside bike, however and during our testing we often found ourselves wishing for it to be gone. We’d like to see Kuat add a less-expensive NV without the Trail Doc to its product line for those who don’t feel the need for an in-the-field repair stand.

Highs: Exceptionally beautiful design with high fit and finish. Silky-smooth and precise rack pivot release and pin function makes for easy fold up/down. Good departure angle.
Lows: High price. Pivot arm ratchets not exceptionally smooth in function. Trail Doc not exactly wobble-free.
Price: $499 (average price found on web)
Bottom Line: It’s like the BMW M5 of bike racks. Lots of features and prestige packed in a beautiful package.

Thule T2
Overview: The Thule T2 is built with steel and aluminum and can hold two bikes up to 60 lbs each and has overall wieght limit (two bikes) of 120lbs, or 240lbs if a two-bike extension is used. The trays are adjustable on the base, but generally you set it up with the trays 10 inches apart on center (provides about 7 inches between bikes) and the trays are about 3 inches above the hitch. The T2 comes with keyed locks for the pivoting support arms and anti-rattle hitch bolt wrench with a built-in bottle opener. We also tested Thule's optional two-bike add-on tray.

Assembly: The Thule T2 arrived in a nice, undamaged box and all the parts and components for assembly were cleanly wrapped and bagged. Assembly is a multi-step process involving bolting on the rear wheel trays and then bolting the trays to the base using clamshell brackets and hardware. The base and trays feature stickers with delineations for trouble-free positioning of the trays.

Vehicle Access: The T2 fit the YJ with no receiver extension, but the spare tire prevented the rack from folding up. The JK required an extension just to reach the hitch pin. Of all the racks that we tested, the T2 was the only one that allowed either vehicle’s tailgate to fully open when dropped down.

Operation: The T2 employs a fixed front tire tray and a sliding rear tire tray with ratcheting wheel straps for different wheelbases. With the pivoting support arms extended and swung out, drop the bike onto the tray, compress the pivoting support arm over the front tire, and fasten the rear wheel strap and tighten. The wheel strap is a quick-release design that allows the strap to be removed from the wheel tray without the need to completely remove the strap from the ratcheting mechanism. It makes for faster loading and unloading. The pivot support arm release is on the side of the mechanism where you can easily get your palm on it for good leverage. Overall, we found the T2 offered the fastest and easiest loading and unloading of any of the racks we tested.

Highs: Easy operation. Full cargo access. Relatively light and easy to fold/unfold and remove. Works with 29-inch bikes and we used it with an 18-inch kid’s bike.
Lows: One of the mounting bolt holes for the two-bike add-on tray required gentle filing to align the bolt holes with the T2 base. Extension required for use on Wrangler.
Price: $377 (average price found on web)
Bottom Line: A very user-friendly, easy to live with option.

Yakima Holdup
Overview: The Yakima Holdup is an all-steel design that can hold two bikes up to 60 lbs each and has an overall weight limit (two bikes) of 120 lbs, or 240 lbs if a two-bike extension is used. The trays are 11 inches apart on-center, providing about 7 inches between the bikes and the trays are raised 6 inches above the hitch. The Yakima Holdup came with a locking cable, anti-rattle hitch bolt, and assembly/hitch bolt wrench. There’s also a built-in bottle opener on the back of the rack.

Assembly: The Holdup arrived carefully packaged inside a heavy box. It literally took longer to unpack the Holdup than it did to put it together. For assembly, you simply locate the wheel trays onto the base and attach them with four (two each) bolts.

Vehicle Access: The Holdup required an extension for use on both Wranglers. We doubt it would fit even with a small stock spare tire. We used a 12-inch extension because that’s what we could find, but we could’ve made a shorter extension work. The Holdup will drop down 20 degrees for easier bike loading or cargo access, but we could only open the tailgate slightly before the spare tire hit the frame at the pivot pins. The drop feature could be advantageous in a hatch-back, but for vehicles with a swing-out tailgate the Holdup must be removed or a drop-hitch extension must be used or for any real access to the cargo area.

Operation: The Holdup employs a folding front tire tray and pivoting support arm to lock the front tire into the rack. Out back, a pivoting wheel tray with a ratcheting wheel strap fastens the rear tires and adjusts angle for different wheelbases. The rear wheel strap must be fully removed from the ratchet mechanism and then the bike can be dropped on the trays, the pivot arm positioned and compressed onto the front tire, and the rear wheel strap fastened. Completely unfastening the rear wheel strap takes a couple of seconds, but otherwise the Holdup is fast and easy to load and unload. One gripe we had was that the release lever for the pivot arm mechanism is on the inside. Its location is very close to the bike fork and it can be hard to depress if your hands are large. Also the bade pivot pin sometimes required jiggling of the rack to get the pins to snap back into the bores when folding the rack up or down.

Highs: Bike trays are high off the ground for great departure angle. Heavy steel construction for durability. Trays fold up completely.
Lows: Awkward pivot arm mechanism release. Relatively heavy to install and move about. Limited cargo access on Wrangler unless rack is removed or drop hitch extension is utilized.
Price: $375(average price found on web)
Bottom Line: A solid steel, high-clearance option for your weekend warrior.

Sources

Thule
800-238-2388
Kuat
877-822-5828
http://www.kuatinnovations.com
Raxter
918-706-7987
http://www.raxterracks.com
Yakima
888-925-4621
http://www.yakima.com

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