What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Reviews: Saris’ Gran Fondo Rack

I’m just back from the PEZ Family summer holiday, which means sneaking in a few bike rides between shifts chasing the kiddies around the pool. With the SUV packed to the rafters with gear and Nonno, the only place for my bike is on the outside. Luckily Saris asked me to check out their new Gran Fondo rack.

The latest in a long line from the rack-meisters at Saris is called the Gran Fondo – and while the name harkens to the latest cycling “fad” that we North American’s have only just discovered, this rack is a sold design that’s here to stay.

Out of The Box
While I’ve already looked at both the 3-bike Saris T-Bones, and their one-biker Solo racks (follow the link and scroll down the page), this two-bike model required a bit more hands-on assembly than I’m used to. Not that I shy away from twisting the wrenches, (my hours assembly kids toys over the past 6 years should qualify me as an expert of small-tool assembly), but this was one where a quick read of the detailed but easy to follow instruction manual was in order.

The built up rack weighs about 14.5 lbs, but comes in several pieces that bolt together with a couple small wrenches and allen keys – the stuff you’ve likely already got in your toolbox. Unlike some of my other builds, my pre-read of the instructions the night before ensured I didn’t make any mistakes (like putting the wheels of my youngest daughter’s tricycle on backwards… agh – she’ll never notice), and if this takes you more than 30-40 minutes then you should let someone else do it.

I like a bit of space to keep my eye on all the bits, but everything fit together exactly like the instructions said it would, and I was soon holding the built up rack in my hands. Only thing now was to get it from my basement office into the garage without scratching the walls… The dimensions are large enough that you’ll want to move it carefully through doorways, or just save yourself the trouble and build it outside.

Quality of the parts is consistent with the other Saris products I’ve seen – and that’s high. The rack is essentially a frame of aluminum tubes with two plastic bike holders attached. Pretty simple – and that’s how a rack should be. The edges are nicely finished and hardware is rugged without being overdone.

As a strap on rack, (you don’t need a trailer hitch to mount this one) it rests on the back of the vehicle with 4 large rubber feet, that are soft enough to both stick securely, and not scratch the surface. You’ll want to make sure the contact areas are clean though before mounting, as the rack will shift a small amount while driving, which could result in scratched paint if the right amount of grit gets in there.

I used a wet cloth to wash off the contact points on the rear hatch and the feet of the rack before I strapped it down.

In addition to a few bolts that hold the frame together, the adjustable knobs are big enough to grasp and adjust easily.

Mount It Up
The rack itself is secured to the rear windshield, tailgate, or back part of the vehicle by 6 plastic coasted hooks attached to the ends of tough nylon straps. I had no trouble mounting the rack up by myself, but some people might find the size of rack and placement of the hooks a tad cumbersome – depending on the height of your vehicle’s rear hatch. It is easier with a second set of hands to hold the rack steady while the other person places the hooks around the edge of the tailgate/ trunk.

The straps need to be snugged down to hold the rack tightly, and that’s easy to do with these metal clamps. They’re a smaller version of the tough tie downs I used when I was a kid racing motocross, and they work just as well.

Loading the bikes is as easy as lifting and setting them into the oversized wheel holders, which are adjustable to fit both 26” & 29” wheels. For this road trip I was also taking my daughter’s 20” wheeled bike along, and while the Gran Fondo rack is not specifically designed for these smaller wheels, I did manage to get her’s fitted and strapped in with no problems.

The bottom wheel gutter is adjustable up and down the frame to fine tune the position for the most secure fit, and is easy to do on the fly.

Once into the rack, the bikes wheels get secured with the Saris’ standard issue heavy-plastic straps. These have performed well for me on the T-Bones rack and did exactly the same here – no worries at all – and zero slippage.

A Different Position
Likely the biggest difference of the Saris Gran Fondo from other trunk mounted racks is the positioning of the bikes – mounted vertically at the back. This allows for a slightly more aero-effect than mounting them either on top of the roof, or sideways across the back. Up on top, a taller profile obviously creates more drag, and also a hazard when driving into places with low clearance. How many stories have you heard about someone destroying bikes because they forgot about the roof rack? The Gran Fondo’s orientation allows for more vertical clearance, as the bikes do not sit as high as on a standard roof rack.

And since the bikes sit vertically off the rear of the vehicle, they also hide better in the vehicle draft, and slice the air more efficiently because of the vertical orientation. I have noticed that bikes mounted sideways across the back can act as a sail, catching wind and even slowing some vehicles down.

Thirdly, no part of the bike ever comes close to touching your car, which is one less scratch to worry about.

Securely attached to the back of the PEZ-Mobile (okay, it’s the Mrs. Pez-Mobile), the top of the rack still clears my garage doors.

On The Road
Most of my rides allow me to leave right from home, so driving to a ride point is not something I do often. When I do I’m probably more nervous about the state of my bikes on the rack than other guys. My big test for the Gran Fondo had us travelling about 400km each way on Canada’s national highway to our annual summer destination in BC’s Okanogan. This year we took NBonno (my father in law) along for the ride, which made for a jam packed SUV. And ever since the arrival of my second daughter, my bike has been relegated to the outside of the vehicle for the journey, and the last couple of years I’ve used the T-Bones rack with complete satisfaction.

With my car full of summer holiday gear, my only visibility to the rear is from the driver’s and passenger side rear view mirrors. The Gran Fondo held the bikes nicely out of view – and while this is also dependant on the width of the vehicle, I was happiest that I never saw any disconcerting bike sway as we drove.

Overall the bikes and rack stayed very secure, even at speeds of 140kmh. The first leg of the journey was 15 minutes across town to pick up Nonno. Here I did notice a slight loosening of the straps, which was easily remedied with another good pull on the two bottom straps.

The next test was over 90 minutes of highway speed driving, but this time they held tight. I noticed on my return trip that a quick check about 10 minutes into the drive revealed the straps to be slightly loose – which I then retightened for a solid hold all the way home.

The two side straps were not as compliant – with both refusing to stay tight on any leg of this trip. However, it must be noted that this was more a function of how the straps mounted to the trunk of my Audi Q7 – the angle of the strap to the door side was just enough that it would work itself loose with the small movement from driving.

This did not impact overall performance, as the rest of the rack held tight – and I tested this by grabbing it with both hands and giving it a good strong shake. I reckon the sliding of the side straps could be fixed with a couple pieces of strategically placed tape. My biggest concern was not the rack coming loose – since the top and bottom mount straps seemed to do all the heavy holding here – but instead was whether the loose and flapping straps might scratch the car.

Off the car, storage for some folks could be a challenge as the 34inch x 36inch x 28inch (approx) dimensions require a reasonable amount of space. It could be slotted away on a garage wall with a couple of bike hooks when not in use, or disassembled and placed back in the more compact box.

Priced at US$369.99, this one is at the higher end of the trunk mount category, and might simply be more than some folks want to pay for a two-bike rack. But for the rest, I see the Saris quality, ease of use, and stylish design being the big appeal.a

• The Gran Fondo is $369.00, and you can get more info at SARIS.com

BUY this rack on Amazon here.

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