Thule Bike Rack Review

Fellow Cyclechat forum member Steve H was kind enough to give me a lift to a recent forum ride starting 20 miles from home in Whalley.

I was slightly concerned about how we would be carrying the bikes because the Crud Roadracer mudguards on my bike are easy to break if you snag them. No worries necessary – Steve's car turned out to be equipped with a fantastic 4-bike Thule towball mounted bike rack!

Thule 4-bike towball bike rack
Steve H's Thule 4-bike towball bike rack

[Check out some great car bike racks – *CLICK HERE*]

There are 3 basic types of rack, each with their advantages and disadvantages:

  1. Boot (Trunk) Mounted. Advantage: cheap. Disadvantages: I don't like the way these racks sit on the car, often a foam roller resting on the glass at the back. I've had my bike on one and I shuddered every time the car hit a bump – visions of the glass breaking or the bikes falling off the rack. The bikes were swinging about. The boot door was out of action with the bikes on the back. The lights and number plate were slightly obscured and I think we could have been pulled over by the cops for that.
  2. Roof Mounted. Advantage: The bikes are out of the way. Disadvantages: It takes strength and height to get the bikes up there. If you are short, weak or very tired you are going to struggle. Wind noise in the car is increased by carrying bikes on top. That noise is caused by wind resistance which is going to hammer your fuel consumption at speed. Biggest killer of all – it is extremely common to forget that you have bikes on the roof and then drive into a garage or under a low barrier. That's your bikes trashed and possibly major damage to the car too. You don't think that would happen to you? Ha – that's what they all say! 😉
  3. Towball Mounted. There are two sub-groups of this type of rack…
    • Bikes are hung from a bar. Advantage: cheaper than the best option. Disadvantages: Swinging bikes, boot door probably blocked, obscured lights and number plate.
    • Bikes sit in slotted rails and are also fastened from above. Disadvantage: There is no escaping the relatively high price! This is the most expensive option, but also the best if you can afford it. Advantages: Bikes are extremely secure. You don't have far to lift them. Many of these racks can be tilted to allow access to the boot. They come equipped with a lightboard and a slot for a second numberplate.

As you can see from the photograph above – Steve owns the towball-mounted, slotted rail type of rack and I am very impressed with it. If I was a driver, something like that would be my rack of choice!

Here's a picture with our bikes securely fastened to the rack. (Mine's the blue bike with the yellow dragon squeaky horn on the handlebars.)

Thule 4-bike towball bike rack with 2 bikes attached
Thule 4-bike towball bike rack with 2 bikes attached

[Check out some great car bike racks – *CLICK HERE*]

I did a Q & A session with Steve to see what he had to say about his purchase …

ColinJ: How much did it cost to add the towball to your car?

Steve H: Can't remember exactly – the missus got it sorted for us. I think it was somewhere between £150 – £180.

ColinJ: Can tow bars/balls be fitted to all cars?

Steve H: In the main yes – although I haven't got a lot of experience of this. The tow balls have about 3 different shapes – standard balls, swan necks. However I think that end that attaches to the car can be specific to the manufacturer. I think most people would want to have it fitted rather than fit themselves. If you search the net there are a few mobile fitting services.

ColinJ: How long did you say it took to take the carrier off or put it back on?

Steve H: It really is dead simple. Pick up the bike carrier, carry to the back of the car, put the holder onto the towlball, pull the lever down and lock into place. First couple of times were a bit tricky and took a bit longer, but now I've used it a few times, I reckon I could get on in less than 30 seconds. Same for getting off again.

ColinJ: I notice in the first photo I took, there are none of the ‘arms' which hold the bikes by the top tubes. Do you take those off when they are not holding bikes? Is that easy?

Steve H: Yes the arms are removable. I'm a bit paranoid about this in case they get nicked. I takes a minute or two to take them on and off. Very simple mechanism. On the three bike carrier, the third arm has a lock on it. This means that when you have 3 bikes on that are interwoven together (handlebars and saddles etc), you can lock the third arm and it would be pretty tough for a thief to nick any of the bikes. When there aren't any bikes on, it is quite simple to take off the first two arms, so I normally take them off and store them in the car.

ColinJ: Did you say that you can tilt the carrier down to make putting the bikes on easier? (We didn't do that but I can see there is a lever and wondered what it is for.)

Steve H: Yes – the lever is hidden away near the number place so you wouldn't have seen it. The lever that was in view in the middle of the carrier is for attaching and detaching the carrier from the tow bar. The carrier can tilt backwards by about 45 degrees, which means you can then open the boot of the car. Pretty good for my car as it has a hatchback type boot.

ColinJ: Is the numberplate/lights board included or extra? If extra, how much did you pay for it? Are any other extras needed?

Steve H: The lights all came with it. There is an electrical attachment that links to the towbar (a 7 pin with a 13 pin converter – or could be a 13 pin with a 7 pin converter – can't remember which!)

Had to pay extra for the number plate. The carrier comes with the space for it, but I think there is some legislation about producing car proof of ownership docs to get a number plate produced which means they can't really do it by mail order. Most car accessory shops can print them for you if you turn up with your car documentation. Can't remember exact price, but think it was about £15 – £20.

ColinJ: Ease of use – marks out of 10?

Steve H: First couple of times were tricky as you have to pull the lever quite hard and have it lined up correctly, but once you've used it a few times it is extremely easy. 10 out of 10 for me. The carrier is a bit heavy. I can lift, attach and detach on my own, but it is too heavy / awkward for the missus to do. Possibly a two person job for some.

ColinJ: Quality of Construction – marks out of 10?

Steve H: So far so good. We had a few initial problems with the wiring where it wasn't attached properly and it ended up dragging on the floor for a bit and I had to repair it. Suspect this was a one off rather than a design fault, but can't be certain. For my experience, this would bring my 10 out of 10 score down to an 8.

ColinJ: A few sentences saying what you think of your purchase?

Steve H: Really pleased with it. I was a bit reluctant about getting a tow bar initially, as I wasn't that keen on the look of cars with them, but now we have it, I'm really pleased with it. I've had 3 pretty hefty mountain bikes on it with no problems, and with the extra attachment at the back for the fourth bike, we had all four of my family's bikes on for camping trips and things. I initially wanted a roof rack cycle holder, but I think the effort involved in lifting bikes onto the roof, especially after a hard ride, is just too much and risks scratching the car.

I think the thing I like best about it, is that apart from the tow bar, the cycle carrier and the bikes don't touch the car at all. This means a completely scratch free approach to bike carrying.

ColinJ: Thanks for the lift Steve, and thanks for the information!

[Check out some great car bike racks – *CLICK HERE*]

PS In case it isn't obvious – Steve's 4-bike Thule rack is a 3-bike rack with an extension piece added.

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