On The Rack!
Finding the right bicycle rack is essential for safe and happy travels…
by Richard Robertson
Bicycles are an excellent way to get around when parked-up while also doing something positive for your health. It seems there are almost as many styles of bike racks as there are bikes, and their suitability varies according to vehicle type and size. For instance, an RV with a solid rear wall has more options than one with barn doors. In general terms, suitable bike racks fall into two main categories: body or towbar mounted.
Body-mounted racks are most common on the rear walls of coachbuilt motorhomes, although some are now appearing on the barn doors of van conversions. From observation it appears Italian manufacturer Fiama (the awning people) has this market pretty much sown-up. Light weight and cleverly designed, these are high tech items and would probably be my choice if we had a coachbuilt. However, I'm cautious regarding barn-door-mounted racks as the thought of all that weight on the door hinges – especially whilst bouncing along back roads – can't really be a good thing.
Towbar-mounted racks are either held in place by the towball itself or a ‘tongue’ hitch in the square receiver of a Hayman Reese-style towbar. Most racks suspend bikes by their top bar, but an increasing number are cradle (or tray) style, which carry bikes on their wheels. In my onion the latter is preferable as it places no strain on the frame and also allows you to leave accessories on the bikes during transportation. They’re also more secure as bikes can’t sway backwards and forwards when travelling.
Like all aftermarket items, rack prices vary considerably but you still largely get what you pay for. eBay lists basic, new bike racks from around $50, but I wouldn't touch them. Primarily designed for cars and short distance travel when the sun’s out, there’s little likelihood they will withstand the rigours of longterm weather exposure and use under load, especially with e-bikes.
If you've invested hundreds or thousands of dollars in bikes you need to make sure what’s carrying them is up to the job. You don’t want the rack nor your bikes becoming road hazards and/or causing an accident somewhere out on the highway. Quality bike racks run from a few hundred dollars upwards of a couple of thousand, so like all things you need to shop around and work out which is best for you.
Racking Our Brains
Our ex-rental Ford Transit van-conversion has long been in need of a proper solution for transporting a couple of bikes. We used to carry a tandem up the aisle inside, with easy access via the rear barn doors, but that allowed no access to the beds/seating area. We’ve also used a conventional rack, but with Mrs now riding a heavy e-bike, the best solution appeared to be a cradle-style rack.
Fiamma and Thule make this style of rack and both are great but imported, and I was after Australian-made. While there are a surprising number of local manufacturers out there, for a while I'd had my eye on Melbourne-based GripSport. Established in 1998 as a boutique engineering company working exclusively in the bicycle industry, GripSport has a wealth of design and engineering experience.
The company makes a wide range of bike racks for cars, SUVs and 4WDs (and therefore motorhomes), plus caravans, camper trailers and ordinary trailers. It also makes bike stands for home or commercial use and bike trailers. When a long established business basically does nothing else except make bike racks, you know they have to be pretty good. Having watched videos and read reviews it became apparent GripSport’s robust and no-nonsense racks were exactly what I’d been looking for, especially when backed by a lifetime guarantee. Before going ahead, however, there were some considerations…
Our Transit has a Hayman-Reese towbar rated at 3000 kg, with a 300 kg ball-weight capacity, which is overkill on a vehicle with a 2500 kg towing limit. The towbar unit fitted includes a wraparound protection bar for the rear step and includes a couple of sizeable bump-stops underneath to prevent the hitch dragging on driveway entrances/exits and the like. Unfortunately, our van already has a decent amount of rear overhang and not a lot of ground clearance. That means she easily grinds those bump-stops on all but the most ‘civilised’ driveways. In 4WD circles an imaginary line drawn between the bottom of the rear wheels and the lowest point of the body behind them is known as the departure angle. The greater the angle the less chance of hanging-up the rear of the vehicle on obstacles. Because our departure angle is already compromised, any cradle-style bike rack sticking straight out of the hitch would reduce it to next to nothing.
Fortunately, GripSport makes racks with two height settings – straight-out or angled-up – and it seemed to be the perfect solution. In a Covid-free world we would have driven to Melbourne, had a look at the racks and factory, and (probably) had one fitted on the spot. However, our only option was to freight one here for self-assembly, and so the wheels were set in motion.
We settled on a GripSport GS2+ (the + means it includes the number plate mount and lights, which really are essential) for $995, the 50 mm square-hitch mounting option ($38), standard wheel hoops and a 7-pin flat plug for the lights. Total cost was $1033, plus $60 delivery. It’s worth noting the rack without the lights – the GS2 – is $795 and GripSport also makes the GS4 and GS4+ to carry four bikes. Prices are $1185 or $1385, respectively. I admit it’s a fair bit of coin, but the racks are rated to carry 30 kg per bike and this is from an Australian company that pays Australian wages and taxes. Eventually the box arrived and when opened I forgot all about the price…
The GS2+ is an industrially-engineered bike rack that will surely outlast our motorhome, me and the Mrs. The box weighed 23 kg and most of that was gleaming galvanised steel and bright red powder-coated fittings; the kind to make any big-boy’s heart sing. Forget lightweight imports with plastic fittings, the GS2+ is the real-deal and a thing of engineering beauty and surprising simplicity (there’s not a plastic fitting, ratchet or winding mechanism in sight). Importantly, being fully galvanised means it can sit out in the weather and/or by the beach with basic impunity.
Putting it together took and hour or so and unlike an Ikea flatpack (did you known Ikea is Swedish for one part left over?), there were no surplus parts. Nor was there any cursing or skinned knuckles, although a guide to the size of required hex keys and spanners/sockets would have been useful.
I assembled it in-situ and when complete couldn’t help but smile at its incredible sturdiness. The Mrs’ e-bike weighs in around 27 kg and it took me a couple of goes to work out how best to lift and load (it's easiest with two people but quite manageable on my own). Front wheels sit in open hoops while back wheels sit in what GripSport calls ‘wheel tacos’: literally, taco-shaped cradles that let you pass the supplied velcro straps through for added security. The bikes are held in place by removable, padded hooks over the frames. The hooks mount on a central ‘pivot bar’ and are secured to the rack by tie-downs. The pivot bar folds flat with the rack for loading and unloading the bikes and can be angled slightly so the hooks are over the best part of the frame. Once loaded, the bikes don’t touch each other and sit solidly in place.
At this point I should mention GripSort also makes the GSE range of e-bike-specific racks. They include loading ramps for wheeling the bikes on and off, plus a modified restraining system I think is actually a bit better. Unfortunately, because of the loading ramps the GSE doesn't have the option of height adjustment and therefore wouldn't work on our van. The reason I say the GSE restraining system is better is that it locks over the front wheels rather than the top tube of the bike frame. In the Mrs’ case, her e-bike has a steeply angled top tube because it's a ‘ladies bike’ and this has necessitated buying an adapter to ‘create’ a top tube. Apart from the expense – about $50 delivered for a quick-release Rhino Rack adaptor (stay away from the cheaper ones with those accursed wing nuts) – it adds another step to the process.
We’ve already done one long trip of about 1500 km with the bikes onboard and it was totally hassle-free. The tail lights are truly brilliant LEDs and I cinched-up the locknut in the Hayman-Reese receiver to stop any slight movement/clunking of the tongue. Apart from seeing the bikes through the back windows and just a ‘peep’ of tyres in the side mirrors, there is no noise or indication bikes are onboard. Loading and unloading is easy with two people (when an e-bike’s involved) and you quickly work out a rhythm to the process. We’ve also done a short trip with lightweight covers over each bike, fitted once in place but before clamping-down with the hooks, and that was also trouble free. The covers have elasticised ends that snug around the wheels and despite my apprehensions, they didn’t unduly flap around, nor come adrift. It’s a good way to protect the bikes from not only the weather, but also prying eyes.
Any downside? Well, we can’t use the barn doors despite the fact the bikes can be tilted over to quite an angle while in place (great with a hatch-back SUV, however). The rack is also a big unit that weighs 20-odd kilos and when removed takes some manhandling, plus needs storage space. It also doesn’t include a way to lock it to the vehicle, nor the bikes to it. My solution to securing the rack has been a Hayman-Reese lockable hitch-pin (about $50), while the bikes each get a high strength cable wrapped through the frame and the body of the rack.
To finish, it’s difficult to overstate how simple, robust and over-engineered our GripSport GSE+ bike rack is. It’s also difficult to overstate how securely the bikes fit and what peace of mind that provides. Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for, and in this instance it appears to be worth every cent..
GripSport Bike Racks
8 Northgate Drive, Thomastown
Vic. 3074. (Temp closed due to Covid)
T: (03) 9466-2553