I recently bought a new bike rack to bring the number I own up to 3, which seems a bit excessive. I need to get rid of one but the other 2 are brilliant so I thought they deserved a write up.
The first rack I bought, several years ago now, was a cheapish option to carry 3 bikes on the back of a saloon car. It was an adjustable rack from Hollywood that attaches onto the back with clips that go onto the edge of the metal boot and straps to keep it all tight. It works, having carried 3 bikes to the south of France and bikes to Mountain Mayhem, Enduro 6 and trail centres. It’s well made and well thought out. Once adjusted the bars can be locked with easy to use joints and the plastic coated parts are durable.
- It’s temporary. You fit it to take the bikes and remove it to get you car back. You don’t need to change anything on the car.
- Cheap. I think it was £60 or so so £ per trip is very low.
- Versatility. It can be used on many car types
- Ease of use. It’s a faff to use. After the initial setup of the bars to the right position you still have to attach 6 straps and tension them, one at a time, several times. Then the bikes need strapping on, and checking
- Confidence. It’s not the most stable of racks. You can see the bikes moving and I felt the need to stop several times on long journeys to adjust and check the straps and the bikes.
- Access while in use. Once it’s on, it’s on. The boot is out of action so you need to think ahead and make sure you have things you need inside the car.
- Car material. For all steel cars it’s fine but when we switched cars the new one had a plastic skin to the top of the estate rear door. While the rack was re-adjusted and worked, it played on the confidence I had as it was plastic holding up several thousand pounds worth (shhh don’t tell) of bikes.
- Security. The bikes and the rack aren’t safe and while you can lock the bikes together to make it cumbersome, all you need to do is slacken or cut the straps.
A new car (a Honda Accord estate) prompted a re-think on how to carry the bikes. We got the estate so I had more room for
bike trips away family holidays and the downsides of the hollywood rack meant it had to go (it’s not gone but it will be when I get around to selling/giving it away). I just didn’t have the confidence in it when attached to the Honda as the bikes moved around too much and knowing the upper straps were hooked onto plastic rather than metal made me feel nervous putting expensive bikes on there. I’m sure it was fine but the lack of boot access as well made it difficult to use.
A lot of research led to what I consider to be the best possible bike rack – a towbar mounted one. So, I had a towbar fitted (not a Honda one, not for £600) and splashed out on an Atera Strada 3/4 bike rack from the RoofBox company. Lots of people like roof mounted racks but they require you to put a set of bars on the roof, which takes time and then lift the bikes above your head to load and unload. Not a problem with light bikes but more fiddly and difficult than a towbar mounted one. You can also keep an eye on them when they are in the rear view mirror.
The Altera Strada – this rack is superb.
Speed of fitting. The rack itself fits to the car in under a minute. It’s not light but drops onto the towbar ball and the ratchet handle secures it in a seconds. It also locks onto the towbar for added security. It takes a little while first time out to sort out the best order of bikes and to set the wheel straps to the right position but subsequent uses take less than a minute to fit the rack and a minute each for the bikes. It’s very secure and with some pipe lagging to place on parts of frames to make sure there are no rub marks it’s fast and easy to use. Sometimes you need to remove or lower a saddle but it’s possible to get the bikes I carry on without doing this.
Confidence. It’s solid, the bikes are securely attached and are out of the wind so don’t move around too much or affect fuel consumption. All the weight is over the back of the car but it doesn’t affect things and I’m undecided on the beeping made by the indicators. Part of me likes it – a reminder that I have bikes on the back.
Access while in use. Brilliant. The rack has a feature whereby it slides away from the car allowing the boot to open allowing access to the contents while the bikes are on the rack. i’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve used it while at trail centres, travelling long distances etc.
Security. The rack locks to the towbar and the straps lock the bikes to the rack. The straps themselves are re-enforced to make cutting them more difficult. it won’t stop a determined thief but it will stop opportunists.
Build quality. I’ve had it several years and used it 30 or more times and it’s still as good as new. I grease the moving parts once a year
You need a towbar so it can’t be used on lots of cars
Cost. It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for
Size. You need a garage to store it and it’s not the smallest rack. While it’s in use it stays on the car or can be used as a bike rack if you’re camping (another plus)
The most recent purchase was dictated by the purchase of a new car. A Mazda MX5 with electric hardtop. Neither of the current racks work with it. The Hollywood won’t fit, plus the boot metal feels too thin to support the straps. The car also can’t be fitted with a towbar so that limits the options. After a lot of research there are only 2 possibilities. A Saris Bones – used by several people with soft tops (probably the only option for them) or a Seasucker. Given that I have the retractable hardtop the Seasucker Talon was the one.
The Seasucker has it’s origins in marine applications allowing mounts to be added to boats and
other marine craft with smooth surfaces. The company has adapted the vacuum pump technology to add in mounts for bikes to allow mounting to all sorts of vehicles. The Talon consists of two parts, a front set of pads that contain a front wheel mount on a triangular set of 3 pads and a rear single pad to hold the back wheel in place. Attaching a bike involves removal of the front wheel which needs to be stored separately. I also bought the additional flightdeck accessory that adds a front wheel mount along with a second pad for the rear.
The only concern I found when researching the rack was the use of vacuum pads and the consequence of failure. Given that the rack isn’t physically attached to the car this could be a big problem if the pads fail. I think the design and the addition of the flightdeck covers this. Each pad can hold 200lbs in weight so a bike mounted correctly (forward facing on a clean piece of bodywork) is unlikely to exceed this force. The three cups give redundancy so two could fail and
the bike will remain attached. The flightdeck adds redundancy for the rear pad which after reading a review of the ear pad failing for someone (resulting in the bike sliding around the car) meant it was a necessary addition. Given the limited internal space in the MX5 it also allow the rear wheel to be stored outside on the boot as well. The rack is easy to assemble with clear instructions and a spare pad is provided as well, which was unexpected but given the cost, a good thing to include.
The rack is quite small and the pads are protected by rigid plastic covers, which are easy to remove and OK to re-fit. A bit fiddly but once on they are secure.
Using the rack is straightforward. I attach the bike to the main part on the ground then lift it onto the car. I place the rack on the floor with the protective covers still on, remove the bike front wheel and attach the bike to the rack with the QR.
I then wipe the roof with a cloth to make sure there is no grit or dirt on the roof so that a) the rack can attach properly and b) the roof doesn’t get scratched.
Next is to remove the pads from the front part of the rack. I tend to put the bike upside down on bars and saddle but have also done it by lifting the front with one hand and removing with the other. The main thing here is to ensure the rubber pads don’t touch the floor. I then pour a bit of water onto the pads to make sure they are moist and will make a good seal.
Then lift the bike onto the roof. With the MX5 this is easy as it’s quite low and my bikes are all quite light. I find that with the roadbike I need the pads in a different position to the mountain bikes which have a longer wheelbase. When positioned the rear wheel rests on the boot. Attaching the pads to the car is a simple matter of pumping each vacuum pump about 10 times. You press each pad to the metal and can see the rubber start to depress after 2 or 3 pumps. The pump has a white band what disappears as the vacuum is established and the pump remains depressed. For the 3 pads this takes less than a minute in total.
Next is to lift the rear wheel from the boot and place it on the flightdeck. Velcro strap it in place and attach the rear two pads in the same way. Add the front wheel to the vertical holder, quick check that there are no white stripes visible and every pad is attached and that’s it. 5 minutes at most once you’ve done it a couple of times.
The Yeti has the front pads on the largest part of the hard top, the pads are almost flat.
When in place the bike feels very secure. First time I attached it I left the bike for 20 mins on the drive to check that the pads remained at full vacuum, which they did.
I’ve driven 90 mins with the road bike on the car and it’s perfectly fine. The bike is quite light at 16lbs and barely moves. The car handles the same and the rear view lets you see that the bike barely moves. All the pads retained vacuum and removal is simple
To unload the bikes it’s a reversal of the loading. front wheel off, release the vacuum on the flightdeck pads (by pushing on a rubber T near the edge of the pad. This lifts the edge enough to let air in and to release the pad from the boot.
The front pads sit across the folding hardtop. The front pad needs to be pushed down slightly when fitting as the roof curves but the platform is flat. An articulated joint would make this easier but would add weight and more cost.
Confidence: For a lot of people on forums this seems to be the big downside and stops them buying a seasucker. I had no real choice and now I’ve actually used it I’m very confident. The additional pad on the rear means that a single pad can fail and the bike is still secure. The bike feels secure and physically moving it moves the roof – which given the way the roof attaches means it’s going nowhere.
Build Quality: This is a well made rack. The only thing I’d change is the QR which could be better. One end has a thread which would be better if it were smaller allowing the fork to rest on a solid bar rather than the thread. Time will tell how long the pads will last.
SIze: As it’s very small this is a big benefit. Once the bike is off the rack easily fits into the MX5 boot
Access while in use: Not good as the bike sits on the boot. It would be possible to release the QR, un-velcro the rear wheel and lift the bike off the boot but you just need to be prepared.
Security: Not good. The rack can be removed in seconds so you can’t leave a bike on the rack. Seasucker do sell a security clip and cable which would be good if you nip away for a coffee etc but I don’t have one so can’t comment. Not really a problem for me as I will always take the bikes off at each end of a journey and always keep them in sight when I stop.
Cost: Not a cheap rack but it is well made and you get a spare pad. Worth the money ? Probably.
The Seasucker Talon paired with the flight deck is a cracking bike rack. It’s innovative and well made, small, easy to fit and flexible enough to fit onto any vehicle. For a hardtop MX5 and possibly other sports cars and coupé’s it’s probably the best, if not only, choice. I feel confident enough to put a bike worth a lot of money on the top and drive down the country roads at a decent pace. You do rely on the pads remaining functional so time will tell if it remains a good buy. for me is a 9/10