Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Thule Raceway Pro Rack

Not too long ago, the subject of bike racks came up with some of my riding friends, and someone asked what I use for transporting my bikes. The discussion might be of interest to some readers, so let me share. In general, I like the security of roof racks, but there can be issues with those. The most serious one is that it's important to remember that there are bikes on the roof when pulling into a garage or other place where height clearance may be low (easier to forget than you'd imagine!). Bikes on the roof can create a lot of wind drag on the highway. Also, some people have trouble lifting bikes up onto a vehicle's roof. Lastly, befendered bikes can present extra problems with the fork-mounted rooftop carriers because of interference between the fenders and the carrier mounts. I have a home-made solution to that particular issue in an older post (you can check that out HERE if you're interested).
The Raceway Pro comes in a 2-bike and 3-bike version. $350 for the
2-bike, and $380 for the 3-bike. Expensive but solid and secure.

In addition to the old Yakima roof rack I've been using for years (it's on its third car!) for the past year or so I've also been using a trunk-mounted rack from Thule that I think just might be one of the best of its type. It's the Thule Raceway Pro (also known as the 9002PRO - 3 bike). It's incredibly solid, secure, and easily installed and adjusted. It's an expensive rack at about $380, but it's a good one that I assume should last a long time.

One of the first things to mention is the rack's construction and ease of use. It's a substantial and fairly heavy piece of equipment - much heavier than a lot of the tubular steel or aluminum racks that are more common. The upper and lower support arms are wrapped in a soft, paint-friendly rubber. There are numerous positions available for the upper and lower supports and for the bike cradle arms, and a fit guide (included with the instructions) makes finding the proper position for a particular make/model of car pretty straightforward. On that note, I'll mention that my car was a newly re-designed model when I got the rack, so the fit guide that was included in the box didn't list my exact car - but I went online to the Thule website and managed to find a more recently-updated version of the guide, so I assume that they must update it on a regular basis. It's possible that there may be some vehicles that the rack will not fit, but that can be true of any rack, and there are so many possible positions available with the Raceway Pro that I can only imagine that such a list of incompatible vehicles would have to be shorter with this rack than with most others.

Installing the rack is easier than most racks of its type. Instead of the usual nylon straps that affix most trunk racks to the vehicle, the Thule uses steel cables that wind up inside the base and are tightened/adjusted with a simple ratcheting mechanism via a set of large knobs on the sides. I find that it's much easier to get the rack securely fastened than with the nylon straps. Once in place, this thing does not move. Even with two or three bikes installed, it seems very solid.

Instead of the usual nylon straps, the Thule Raceway Pro attaches with 
steel cables which are easily adjusted via large ratcheting knobs on the sides of the rack.

The cradle arms can be raised or lowered easily with a couple of locking levers, and the width/spacing can be altered for different bikes (like for carrying children's bikes, for example). The cradles are padded with soft rubber, and there are removable lower pieces to help minimize swaying back and forth. I read where another reviewer complained that he lost one of the anti-sway pieces when it apparently fell off while driving somewhere without bikes. I could see how that could happen, so I usually detach them and toss them in a storage compartment in the car when I don't have a bike on the rack for that very reason. Or they can be secured with one of the rubber retention straps instead of being left to dangle freely. Just something to be aware of.
One downside on the rack is that its weight makes it difficult to open a trunk or rear hatch when it's installed. I've read some comments where people complained about their car's trunk or hatch slamming down on them while they were stowing or retrieving items from the back of the car. Thing is, the weight is so obvious when trying to open the trunk or hatch, that I can't imagine forgetting about it. Nevertheless, I recommend caution in that regard.

Security is always something to consider when transporting bikes, and it's another area where the Thule is probably one of the better options out there. Understand that when talking security with a trunk-mounted rack, I don't think any of them could be considered "high security." If somebody really wants to steal a bike off of an unattended car's rack, they're going to be able to thwart any rack's built-in locking features. The built-in security is really more about stopping the opportunistic thieves. With that caveat in mind, the Raceway Pro's steel cables almost certainly provide more security than nylon straps when it comes to keeping the rack locked to the car. Anybody with a pocket knife can cut through nylon straps in seconds, but the steel cables would probably take a decent pair of bolt cutters to get through. And the cable winding ratchet mechanisms have locking covers to keep someone from easily loosening them. There is also a locking cable that secures the outermost bike to the rack. Why only the outermost bike? I suppose the thinking is that if the outermost bike is locked to the rack, it would be impossible to get the other bikes off. However, that does mean that when carrying only one bike, it has to be carried on the outermost cradle or it can't be locked. Still, locks on the other cradles would be handy.

Having said all that about security, I'd still add that if someone is really serious about it, or their bikes are going to be unattended for more than few minutes (or in a higher crime area) I'd still recommend locking them to the rack with a good U-lock or a heavy duty cable, or both. Besides, the built-in cable lock only stops someone from taking the frame off the rack, but doesn't stop anyone from stealing wheels or other components. It's just common sense to make the same considerations that you might take anytime you leave a bike unattended.

One more thing to mention about the Thule is that spare parts are available for it, and their service for spares is very good. As mentioned, I've been using the Raceway Pro for over a year now and recently discovered that I lost the keys for the locking features. Ordering spares from their website was easy and took only a few minutes - and the replacement keys arrived within 2-3 days. Excellent.

Although the Raceway Pro is probably one of the more expensive racks of its type, I've gotten quite a lot of use out of it and expect to be able to for a long time to come. It's sturdiness, ease of use, and security features make it a good choice.

14 comments:

  1. That's a lot of dough for a rack that scratches the car and the bike (with continued use that is).

    I sell a lot of the Saris Bones racks, same thing, half the price.

    To each their own, but why not get a hitch rack at that point? Love my tray style racks (Thule T2, Kuat NV etc), no frame touching, no vehicle marring, and not much more in cost.

    I always thought the point of these racks was price point, kinda odd pricing them into the same range as products that don't have their sort of compromises.

    Just counter pointing and head scratching, glad it works for your needs!

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    1. If your car doesn't have a hitch, it can cost upwards of $200 to install one. Alternately, there's a company that sells racks that use large suction cups! They may work, but not for the faint of heart! At the very least, I'd worry it might give my car a hicky.

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    2. I'd absolutely consider a hitch-mount rack if I had a trailer hitch on my car - but it's true that adding one can get expensive. When I looked into it, that's about what I was quoted for installation.

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    3. Counter-counter-point: Hitch-mount racks are cost-competitive with trunk-mount racks only if your vehicle already has a hitch. If it doesn't, then you have to factor the installation cost of a hitch into the price, and that usually bumps it up to the territory of roof-rack systems.

      I bought the bike rack for my car about ten years ago expressly because it was far less expensive than either a roof rack or a hitch rack. A good friend of mine went with roof rack system around the same time, and even with a sweetheart deal, it still ended up 3 times more expensive than my bike rack. It was worth it for them, because they use the rack for transporting kayaks and other large items than just wouldn't work for a trunk rack, whereas I was looking for only a bike rack.

      Yes, the paint on the trunk has been damaged by the rack and the bikes, but that's what touch-up paint is for : )

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    4. Counter-counter-counter-point: with low-level trunk-mount racks such as that in this post, you still need to get hitch wiring installed and fit a light+plate board to remain legal in many countries (because the bikes obscure the lights and plate), which often costs about half what a hitch-mount does, because it's not the bolting metal on which is the fiddly and expensive work.

      Either go high-level or go the whole hog and fit a hitch if you can IMO.

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    5. Counter-counter-counter-counter-point (whew!): bikes which are mounted laterally in a hitch rack would still require a light and plate bar, as the bikes would obscure the rear lights and plate with a hitch rack. In regions where a light and plate board is a legal requirement (check with your local authorities), you're looking an an inexpensive trunk rack + plate and light board vs. hitch installation + hitch rack + light and plate bar. On that basis, trunk racks are still cost-competitive with hitch racks.

      The best rack for your needs is not necessarily a hitch-mount system, or a roof rack, or a trunk mount. It's one that meets your needs, fits your vehicle, and is reasonably priced. My needs were minimal - 1-2 bicycles - so I bought a Yakima trunk rack. My friend - mentioned in my previous comment - needed to carry more things, so he went with a roof rack. Neither one of us has a vehicle with a hitch, so it wasn't an option; however, if your needs require a hitch and perhaps a trailer, then go with a hitch-mount system.

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  2. Buffing all the cumulative paint damage out will cost more than the cost of a hitch! =:D

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    1. After a year of use, I've detected no scratched or even dulled paint. No damage to the bikes, either. I'm also very careful when putting bikes on the carrier (or removing them).

      I don't know that I'd agree that the point of trunk or deck-mounted racks is to reach a certain price point or budget -- it always seemed to me that the point of them is that they should be easy to install/remove and that they can be moved from one vehicle to another, etc. That's just not the case with roof racks (which as I've mentioned, I generally prefer and have long used) or with hitch-mounted racks.

      The fact that so many of them are inexpensive is because they're crappy. For a lot of years, I wouldn't even have considered the trunk-mounted racks because -- as you've characterized -- they do often lead to damaged paint and damaged bikes. From what I've been seeing, this one is much better -- and I'd expect that's why it costs so much more than others of its type. Even compared to the Saris Bones that you mention, I've looked at the two side by side, and there's no question why the Thule costs more. It's much sturdier and more secure.

      Hitch racks are great -- the ones you mention look fantastic and I've heard nothing but good things. But as already pointed out, getting a trailer hitch installed means hundreds of dollars more on top of the already-pricey cost of the rack.

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    2. Counter-point: that's why they have anti-sway systems for trunk racks. The idea is that you lash the bike tight to the rack, or tight to the car, so that any movement of the bikes is minimized.

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  3. Glad you've found it satisfactory!

    Yeah, I'm a tad particular when it comes to finish on my bikes.

    So right off the bat, anything that suspends the whole bike by the paint job (when touchless options abound) is right out for me, or anyone I know with a bike they care about.

    Add to that, very close proximity, bikes swinging into one another with braking and hitting the gas (despite the anti sway measures they offer), and I've always avoided them for my own needs. Worth noting, I also eschew any of the roof or hitch racks that touch the painted surfaces, so nothing against strap ons exclusively! =:)

    Many newer vehicles upper spoilers are plastic, so won't bear weight, only adding to the reluctance to get too excited about them for anything but older cars and cheaper bikes.

    Seems my customers like easy loading, too. Fiddling with the TT hanger style units mounting procedure, then additionally strapping them down to prevent sway related injury, they really fall into the category of "I need to carry my bikes, I don't care about hassle, and it's gotta be cheap. Been that way at every shop I've worked in over the last 20 years or so too. I guess that's where my ideas of being budget solutions for budget bikes, comes from, and why I was startled to see one that pricey.

    If it's working, awesome!

    I just feel badly for your bikes, cause you've got a sexy stable, and it'd be a shame to beat them up!

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  4. I'm surprised you did not mention hitch racks. They are quick to install or remove, there is no contact with the vehicle, and bikes are really secure. Hitch purchase and installation is around $250 and the rack is another $150. I have two vehicles and I can switch the rack from one to the other in about a minute.

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    1. Hitch racks are cost-competitive with trunk racks only if your vehicle has a hitch point; otherwise, installation of a hitch + the rack really increases the total cost. Installing a hitch point on a small car, and only for a bike rack, seems rather silly. As I said above, the best rack to choose is the one that meets your needs and at a reasonable cost. If your needs extend only to carrying a few bicycles at a time, and only one one vehicle, then a hitch rack simply doesn't work out.

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  5. Those bars really suit the Mercian! What are they? They give the bike a 'balanced' look. Not quite the word I'm looking for, but the bike looks like it's comfortable and versatile.

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  6. Apologies...I see you've answered the handlebar Q in the actual post I was referring to 'Retrogrouch in Texas'- my bad, totally got the posts mixed up. Again, lovely bike, makes sense that you refer to it as a 'path racer'

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