The chatter of the old dirt road off Colorado’s Monarch Pass rumbled through the truck like an electric current. Loose change rattled in the console and the cooler had a fit.
But the bikes? The bikes didn’t move at all as we barreled down that washboard. They stayed exactly where I’d put them a few hours ago: on the back my truck, atop a Thule hitch rack. A Specialized Epic and an Independent Fabrication road bike sat next to one another and never bumped anything they weren’t supposed to, or took so much as a scuff from all the bouncing.
For anyone who’s used to packing bikes into a car, SUV, or truck, this moment — one of load, lock, drive, and forget about it — takes some getting used to. Most cyclists know the wheel-off and subsequent careful stacking of frames inside a car, or the due process of loading and unloading off the roof.
It’s an unsavory truth, but sometimes you have to drive your bike somewhere. Gasp. While there is a place for the ride to the ride mantra (mostly road bikes in your hometown), it’s inevitable that your bike will need to be racked and driven somewhere. So the decision of what rack to choose is a crucial one.
Without letting this go much longer, the Thule T2 916XTR hitch rack is an excellent piece of gear for anyone who needs to move bikes across town, state lines, or even four-wheel drive roads.
Thule T2 setup
All the stability of this rack comes at a weight penalty. Which doesn’t matter so much when you’re attacking I-70 in a V6, but setup may merit a helping hand for lighter individuals. At the VeloNews office it took us about 20 minutes to install the rack onto a hitch, and all the necessary tools were included in the box, although if you have your own wrenches they may make it a bit easier.
The installation process only involves a few simple steps, and Thule provides simple directions that are relatively easy to follow. We did, however, put the wheel trays on backwards at first blush, which was probably our fault. The crucial piece of the installation is getting the tension on the long bolt that affixes the rack to the hitch correct; don’t be afraid to torque hard to ensure the rack doesn’t rattle from side to side.
Once installed, the Thule is really a “forget about it” piece of equipment. We used to have to carry around extra locks and keys and cables to safeguard our machines from thieves in the night. No more.
The Thule rack has integrated locks into the arms that hold the front wheels of racked bikes in place. When needed, the cables extend out from the arms, looping easily through the frame, and when not, they tuck right back in. The locking mechanism is simple, and Thule proves one key to lock bikes to the rack and also the rack to the hitch — simple, brilliant. The cable is not particularly thick, more of a deterrent than real security, but that’s all we’re looking for most of the time.
Loading bikes is easy, as the rack is low to the ground, and can be done in a hurry and practically with one hand if you’re, say, carrying a coffee cup at the same time. And once there, bikes stay put: a swing arm coated with rubber holds the front wheels in place and, over the last year, hasn’t backed off the tire when pressed down firmly, no matter what the road conditions are. A strap holds rear wheels down. Be careful not to over-tighten the rear strap, as the ratchet makes it easy to do so.
Since there is no fussing with wheel removal, it doesn’t matter what axle or quick release you’re running. The rack fits 20″ to 29″ wheel diameter bicycles with up to 3″ wide tires. There is an extra part that can accommodate “fat bikes” with larger tires.
The 916XTR comes ready to handle two bikes, though Thule sells another piece that can add the ability to haul two more bikes. When not in use, a large lever releases the rack from its flat position and it raises up, closer to the back of your vehicle for easier driving in town.
It seems almost too easy, but that’s really all there is to it. Load, lock (maybe), and drive.
The bottom line
At $450 or so, the Thule isn’t a cheap option. But if you are like most dedicated cyclists, your bike wasn’t a cheap option, either, and it’s worth making sure it gets to wherever it’s going in one un-scuffed piece.
Since this rack gets the bikes on the back of the car, there’s less wind that blasts into each bolt (what we call the hair-dryer effect) and the bikes are protected from your ignorance of tree branches or, in my case, coffee place drive-through overhangs (sorry to my old CX bike, honestly I am).
If a new rack is in order and in the budget, the Thule is worth a long look.