My qualifications to review bicycle-toting car racks are based entirely, though somewhat paradoxically, on my near total lack of qualifications on the subject. That is, I bought a roof rack 15 years ago, and have not purchased one since. And when I did buy mine, a Yakima, it was not based at all on comparison shopping, features, reviews, or price. I was a bike shop rat at the time, Yakima was what we carried, so that’s what I got. That said, it’s proven to be the right non-choice ever since.
Now, you have to understand that my “15 year old rack” is a little like old tale about the woodsman’s favorite axe. You know, “I’ve had this old axe for 15 years. I’ve replaced the head three times and the handle five times, but she just keeps on going...”
My rack’s evolution isn’t quite that bad, but it’s close – the crossbars are still original, and most of the system survived intact from about 1992-2002. It was originally purchased for a ’78 Chevy Impala station wagon, a formidable vehicle, and as such the crossbars are Yakima’s “holy crap!” length. From there, the same rack passed with some adjustment to a much narrower ’86 Subaru wagon, where they menaced sidewalk pedestrians until that car met an unfortunate head-on demise outside of Wilkes-Barre, PA. The only thing salvaged from that little incident, the racks were adjusted again and clamped to the gutters of an ’83 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, where they served me well until that vehicle’s engine caught fire near Scranton, PA. At that point, I believe I swore off driving that particular stretch of I-81, but the racks were rescued again and fitted to a 1986 Volvo sedan.
During the Volvo years, a slow evolution to the rack setup began. I’d moved to the fringes of Capitol Hill in DC, where I installed some of those newfangled “locking” bike mounts (though still the split-mount style rather than full trays, because I’m cheap). If you’ve ever lived there, you know why. Then, bypassing 1990’s vehicles altogether, I bought a 2002 Volkswagen, and to my surprise, vehicles no longer came with enormous chrome rain gutters. That forced a switch to the more modern Q-towers and clips instead of the gutter mounts, but the crossbars, bike mounts, and wheel hooks remained.
Over the years, the crossbars have grown a bit shorter than they were. They’ve been trimmed off a centimeter or so at a time as the ends have rusted from the rain, salty air, and salty roads of time spent in Virginia Beach, upstate New York, and Boulder before landing in the DC area. But trim them a bit with a sawzall, pop some new end caps in, and they’re set to go for another few years. All in all, the durability, the ability to adapt most of the same parts to different vehicles, the wide availability of even small replacement parts, and never having to worry about incompatibility with newer parts is what’s kept me with the Yakima’s for so long. That, and the fact that they’ve always stayed on the roof and held the bikes securely, which is nice. Maybe all of that’s the same with the other options – I’ve just never had to find out.
So until I have this guy build me a set of custom ProTour racks, complete with the hydraulic fold down wheel rack and a loudspeaker mount so I can shout “Venga! Venga! Venga!” from the driver’s seat of my black-market Skoda, I’ll stick with Yakima.
* Some of my regular readers might be wondering what this entry is about, since it has only a fragile and passing relationship to professional cycling, and a strange title. GamJams.net is a Mid-Atlantic (U.S.) regional bike racing site, and one of the better examples of the breed, I’d add. In addition to dishing out regional amateur racing news, maintaining an event calendar, and providing lists of resources, coaches, and beloved club sponsors, GamJams also periodically calls on its wide-ranging affiliate network to do honest reviews the equipment they use. Usually, I’m ineligible, because the stuff I ride is typically too old to be available anymore. And it’s not that cool “vintage” old, either – just that awkward 10-12 years old. But this time, that sort of durability seemed like a good selling point.