Guest poster Jeff Hemmel fills our winter days with thoughts of warmer climes — and taking our bikes along. Here’s his take on a Thule rooftop rack system.
Like a lot of people, I occasionally take a bike on vacation. Other years my Giant Sedona DX typically came along for the ride, but lately I’ve spent a lot more time on my Trek road bike, so when out latest trip drew near, it was the Trek that got invited to the dance. (Sorry, Sedona, but it really meant nothing, and I swear I was thinking about you the whole time. Honest.)
Problem is, my trusty hitch-mount bike rack didn’t really fit a road bike’s contours — and cables — too well. On top of that, we were also considering taking our smaller car, one without a receiver hitch. Enter the subject of this review, the Thule Echelon fork-mount bike carrier.
Or rather, the Thule Crossroad rack system and the Thule Echelon bike rack review. Huh? You see, today a lot of cars (okay, a lot of cars of the sport wagon/SUV variety) come with lengthwise factory rails, but no widthwise crossbars, leaving it up to the consumer to add the rack portion of the equation. In other words, before I could rack, I had to rail.
I’ve had good luck with Thule equipment in the past, so I chose their Crossroad system. Setup proved pretty simple. A polyethylene-covered, galvanized steel Thule load bar slides through a pair of the Crossroad’s feet, and then the assembly can be placed atop the factory rails. Thule accommodates a wide variety of rail styles by relying on a flexible, rubber-coated steel band to actually secure the foot to the rail. To fasten, pass the free end under the rail, hook it in the appropriate slot on the foot, then simply tighten things up. The outer cap of the footpad includes the necessary Allen key, and also serves as a handy knob to tighten things down. As you tighten the strap around the factory rails, the mechanism simultaneously locks the load bar in place, no tools required. Once I had the front half installed, I repeated it on the back.
Hints? Do a basic line-up beforehand. At the rubber-coated base of each footpad is a small arrow. Try to line it up with the center of the factory rail to best spread the load. I would also suggest upgrading to the locks Thule offers, both to keep your rack secure, but also to just make sure no one pops off an end cap and leaves you without your tightening tool, or a loose cap ends up along the side of the highway. Single-key lock packs come in multiples of two. Plan ahead to cover all four feet, as well as whatever carriers you choose to install afterward.
With the basic Crossroad system installed, next came the Echelon. A square bracket and two bolts lock the front of the carrier to the forward load bar, and the rear is attached to the aft bar with a simple backing plate, bolts, and screw knobs. That’s really all there was to it. Loading the bike is just a matter of positioning the rear wheel in the carrier tray, slipping the front fork’s dropouts onto the front skewer, and clamping everything in place.
I preferred the Echelon’s front clamp to cheaper alternatives for multiple reasons. For one, the cover/cam lever secures the fork in one simple motion. For another, a large adjustment knob makes for quick adjustments while securing and releasing. Loading a bike takes under a minute. At highway speeds, the rack proved surprisingly solid, although I’d again upgrade to a lock on the clamp just for peace of mind, not only to keep the bike in place, but also to keep the bolts inaccessible for any really determined thieves.
The complete Thule 450 Crossroad system, with a pair of 50” load bars, runs $240; the Echelon bike carrier $150. You can see how your own vehicle measures up at thuleracks.com.