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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Review: Inno Square Bar Roof Rack and Yakima Front Loader Bike Rack

 We've been doing a mountain bike ride week after week, and my approach has been to remove the front wheel of both the kids bike, lay down a back seat, and then squish the kids together on the remaining seat. It's kinda uncomfortable, and has no room for child seats. We're thinking about doing further drives with the bikes, so it was time to consider what I didn't want to think about --- a roof rack.

Before doing that, I considered buying a 4 bike hitch mounted bike rack. The limit there is the tongue weight limit of a 1.25" hitch rack, which is 125 pounds. If your 4 bikes weigh 30 pounds each, that's 120 pounds and then you still have to account for a beefy bike rack. No way would this be safe and reliable. Keith Bontrager's been quoted to say that roof racks are the number one cause of bike death, and I agree, but short of spending $40,000 on a mini van, there was no way to avoid it.

The local car rack shop quoted $1,200 (including installation) on a roof rack and recommended the Yakima High Road. Cursory amounts of googling made me realize that the High Road would not accomodate Bowen or Boen's bikes, which had 20" and 24" wheels respectively, so not only was the local guy the most expensive option, there was no way it would have worked for the kids bike.

I visited etrailer and discovered that the 2012 Scion xB would accomodate an Inno Square Crossbar bike roof rack. I viewed the installation video and convinced myself that this did not seem like a difficult job at all! I was about to just buy it, and then decided to visit Amazon. It turned out that a lot of people are even less mechanically inclined than I am, and I ended up buying the base bars, refurb'd versions of the IN_SUIT Stay Rack, and brand new K300 Fit Hooks for about 40% off the etrailer prices. The Yakima Front Loader would accomodate Bowen and Boen's bikes, and those are impossible to find on discount, but the all-in price was more than $500 off what the local guy was quoting me.

The installation was dead simple: fit the bars in the stays, fit the hooks to the stays, and then tighten with the included through until the tool clicks indicating correct torque. The forward stays do move if the roof is wet (with condensation, for instance), but what I do notice is that the slop is only towards the front of the car. Once the stays are pushed to the rear most position they can't move back any further, and of course with bikes on the roof that's the only force they're subject to, so they're safe. Mounting the bikes onto the roof suck --- I use a step stool for this purpose, and now keep one in the car permanently. The most precarious part about mounting or unmounting bicycles is when I'm on the step stool alongside Skyline Blvd and pulling the bike on or off while traffic is whizzing by me at high speed. It's disconcerting and I try to time my mounting/dismounting for when there's no traffic. The Front Loader appears to be pretty secure, with a screw that you pretty much tighten all the way to lock the front wheel down and a rear ziptie style lock that prevents the bike from exerting any amount of force on the rack.

The bikes are secure either on the freeway or on Highway 9 and Page Mill Road, and I only have to remember that the car is now much taller than it used to be and never to drive it into a garage anywhere.

With the bike racks off the roof rack makes no noise that I can discern, so as far as I can tell there's no reason to go with the "aero" version of the rack vs the square version. But with the bike racks on there's an annoying sound that starts up around 55mph and gets louder. It's quieter than Boen's screaming so I'll put up with it but for a long trip without the need for a bike rack you probably want to remove it, which isn't a big deal.

I still think the ideal bike carrier is a mini van or full size van, but you can't buy an electric one today so I'm just going to drive the Scion until the market for electric cars expands to include those of us who are avid cyclists.

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