Thule Hanging Hitch Bike Rack Review

I’ve had it for over 2 years, and cannot find my paperwork on it, so I don’t remember what the model number designator is.  In short, it’s like the 9029 Vertex 4 bike, except that it’s all straight tubing (instead of the new arched design).  2″ hitch mount, 4 bike, fold down ‘bike support arm’, and foldaway main support pillar.  It has the Thule bike cradles with anti-sway straps.

Here it is:

What do you mean you don’t see it?  It’s in there!

Mine is steel, powdercoated black.  I’ve posted that picture to show that in all reality, my rack has been tested pretty thoroughly.  I’ve had a flotilla of fatbikes strapped to it, in terrible thunderstorms, bombing up the highway to the Barry Roubaix I’ve had 4 bikes loaded up (as shown above…an obese Big Dummy + child seat, a Trek FX 7.4, a Casseroll and a Trek road bike), and numerous other configurations.  In the pic above, the bikes shown represent quite a significant amount of weight.  Moreover, the rack has lived on the back of my cars for over 2 years now…all of the time.  All rain, snow, salt, and other inclement weather.  Here’s the Barry Load:

At Barry, the rack was pressed into service as an impromptu service stand as well:

Here’s a view of it folded down (and being used as an anchor for canoe tiedown):

On mine, I used to run a set of LED lights at the bottom, wired into my trailer light controller, until an errant carwash broke a light (and I haven’t replaced them).  I don’t have any pictures of just the rack, by itself, because frankly…I don’t think about it.  It’s just there.  It serves a purpose and is functional.  I don’t particularly love it, and there are some areas where I don’t like it.  But it has been very, very durable and functional.  Let’s review:

Good:

  • Super-durable.  Paint/powdercoating looks good.  No rust after 2.5 years exposed.
  • Very sturdy.  Even with heavy loads, it isn’t going anywhere.
  • Versatile.  Some bikes are hard to fit on it, and some require an adapter, but ultimately, I’ve never found a bike that will not fit.  The Dummy fits (with some clever geometry), fatbikes fit, road bikes fit, etc.  Even with big bikes, you can really fit 4 on there.
  • Low maintenance.  In the time I’ve had it, I have lubricated it (white lithium grease) twice.  Once because it was getting stiff, and once as a prophylactic measure.
  • Low profile.  Folded down, it is unobtrusive.  On the back of the car (sans reflectors and lights), it fits right in–you don’t notice it.
  • Easy to use.  I carry bikes on it 3-4x/week.  It is very easy to slap a bike on and off, quickly and efficiently.
  • Easy to lock to.  With a single bike, a big U-lock around the frame of the bike and the frame of the rack = instant security.  Throw in a cable around the wheels to protect something that others might ENVE.

Bad:

  • Hard to lock.  It uses a bolt to tighten down to the receiver hitch, to avoid rattling.  That works great, but it means you cannot use a locking pin in the hitch.  So you either have to use Thule’s special locking bolt (which could be defeated quite easily), or a cable lock to lock the hitch to the vehicle frame.  Less than ideal.
  • Cheesy connectors.  The connectors are easy to use, but not very strong.  The rubber straps are weak (and will deform and pop off without warning under strong wind loads).  I end up reinforcing the connectors with a bungee cord, nearly every time I use the rack, for added peace of mind.  I’ve never lost a bike, but I had one nearly blow off when a truck passed me going the other way on the highway, on a windy day, once.  That bike happened to be the Superfish.  On the day I was taking it home for the first time.  It hung on by one strap until I got pulled over, but it was far closer than I’d have liked to a tragedy.
  • Sway.  Because the connectors are plastic and rubber, they permit bikes to sway a bit, even if you strap them tightly.  That leads to:
  • Damage to frames.  Because the connectors hook to the bike frame, they can scratch the frame.  No issue with titanium frames, at all.  But with painted frames, watch out.  After unwittingly causing paint chips on the Ridley, I started wrapping frames with old innertubes before strapping them down.  That’s a disadvantage of any frame-mount/hanging rack.  In addition, because of the sway, if you drive long distances, you’re going to have damage.  On a recent trip up to Madison, I had the Dummy and FX on the back, both appropriately strapped and protected.  The little sway of the rack wore through an innertube and scratched the FX’s frame on that several hour car ride.  That’s really, really annoying to someone with bike OCD like me.
  • Sliding connectors.  The bike mounts slide on the cylindrical extensions that the bikes hang from.  That’s convenient for small adjustments.  However, as the rack has worn, it means that the connectors slide easily…so a bike on the rack will slide backwards from wind pressure…or multiple bikes on the rack will slide into each other.  It’s annoying, and again requires you to use extra straps/bungees to hold things in place.

All in all, it is sturdy, functional, and reasonably priced.  For bikes that can be banged up a bit, it’s great.  For bikes that you want to keep in very good condition…you have to exercise extreme caution (and even then, you may have problems).  I’m writing this review now because I’m contemplating bike needs/wants for the next year, and very high on the list is a tray-style bike rack that will hold bikes securely without scratching them.  The Thule is sturdy, but it’s a blunt object.  I’d prefer something a bit more surgical.  Quite frankly, when I first saw the damage that it had done to one of my bikes, I was pretty miffed.  (And when I saw scratches on the FX even after taking the precaution of wrapping with inner tubes…well, that just sucked).  I’ve looked at the latest generation of Thule hanging hitch racks.  They’ve improved the lateral stability of their bike hangars (should slide/sway less), but otherwise, they’re pretty similar to what I have.  I treat the Thule as a lesson learned.  Got a nice bike?  Get a nice bike rack.  I’ll keep it for Dummy transport, but I look forward to replacing it for general use.

 

 

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One thought on “Thule Hanging Hitch Bike Rack Review

  1. Pingback: Kuat NV rack: Preliminary Thoughts. | ridingagainstthegrain

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