What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Reviews: SARIS T-BONES Bike Rack

After years of carrying my bikes inside the car, I could no longer ignore the effects of family expansion on my annual summer holiday – with the SUV packed to the rafters, there was no room left for my bike. Enter the T-Bones rack from Saris – the solution to my space issues and salvation of my summer vacation…

It was twenty years ago today… or something like that, when I last strapped my bikes onto the back of my car. My ’71 VW Beetle (yellow), had the obligatory leaky gas tank and perma-fogged windshield anytime the humidity rose above desert levels. A small squeegee actually became a permanent fixture on my dash – it hung nicely from that handle above the glove box.

I had to dig deep into the archives for this actual photo (c. 1987) of yours truly, and best bud “Mud” Murdoch, enroute to Whistler BC in a 1973 VW beetle – bikes are on the back. Once you’ve finished laughing at my hair, use your imagination to visualize the old strap-on rack we used.

The bike rack was a one of those strap on specials that held could be crammed with up to three bikes. Of course scratched bike paint was as much a part of my two-wheeled toting as the actual riding part.

After living through that ‘right of passage’- and finally earning enough money to buy an ‘adult’ car I vowed to forever buy vehicles inside which I could easily stash my bikes – no more racks for me!

The T-Bones comes with a bunch of cool extras – including a handy base to use it indoors as a place to … store your bikes, and a backpack style carry case.

Things progressed nicely over the years, as I acquired a series of hatchbacks and wagons that were perfect for carrying the bike inside. But after years of acquiring a lot more stuff – bikes, wife(s), kid … I finally hit the bursting point.

On last year’s road trip, the SUV was so loaded – including my bike crammed into the very top of the pile, that my 3 yr old daughter learned the nuances of SRAM Red shifters right from her car seat… Yeah it was pretty tight in there.

Secure stowage, light weight, easy to use, and no more chain marks inside your car.

Then – I saw for the first time Saris’ T-Bones rack at Bike Press Camp in June. Living in Vancouver – where they pretty much invented hard core free-riding, about all I ever see are big-ass racks hauling 2, 3, 4, or more heavy and dirty downhill bikes up the local mountains. The though of bolting something so … industrial… onto one of my vehicles was repulsive, and seemed like so much more work than simply tossing my bike into the boot of the wagon for a quick trip anywhere.

With my annual summer road trip only 1 month away, timing was perfect to road test the T-Bones.

The T-Bones are different – stylish, light looking and almost artistic in design – I’d never seen a rack that looked like you’d actually want to clean IT after use. Then I picked it up – 10 lbs tops – whoa- even Mrs. Pez could handle this baby.

The hitch mount is reversible, to allow clearance for a variety of vehicle designs and bumper sizes.

What’s Included
Although I consider myself pretty handy in the Mr. Fix It department, as I advance in years, I have less time, and even less patience to pull out the tools for all but the most required of maintenance. So my first thumbs-up was awarded to the T-Bones shortly after opening the box and sussing the contents and easy to follow instructions. There were only a few parts (all of ‘em present), and I was actually looking forward to working with the old hands again – especially as the fruits of my labor would involve the immense payoff of actually having my bike to ride on the summer holiday.

The hitch mount slide right into your hitch, and secures with a big & lockable bolt.

The most time consuming part of the process was getting a hitch put on the vehicle. But soon enough the hitch was in place, and although the T-Bones will fit either a 1.25, or 2” hitch mount, pretty much everyone I talked to recommended the larger size, in case I ever want to carry heavier loads.

The T-Bones comes in 2- and 3-bike models, includes all mounting hardware, and even a cool backpack type case for easy storage and carrying. You’ll need a couple of wrenches, and I added my own grease, but that’s it.

It also comes with a cool and handy base mount – which allows use of the rack independent of the vehicle, for example as an indoor storage rack for your bikes.

The T-Bones comes with not one – but three locks – two to secure the rack and hitch to your vehicle, and another to secure your bikes to the rack.

This baby went from box to on my car in under 2 hours, and that was taking my time to actually read and follow the instructions. Some assembly of the parts is required, but it’s all easy-peasy with basic tools found in any self-respecting cyclist’s toolbox, and knowing how the whole thing goes together actually inspired my confidence that this is a well built piece of equipment.

The hitch mount slides simply into the hitch, and bolts in place with a darn big bolt. This bolts comes with a built in lock, which is a nice deterrent to would be rack thieves.

The arms of the rack can be swung down and out of the way when not in use, and are easy to adjust with the built in thumb screws.

Use It
Once the hitch mount is in place, the actual T-Bones rack simply slides down onto the hitch mount, and clamps into place with the big yellow lever. There’s another built in lock, so the T-Bones can’t be removed without pretty much wrecking it. A nice touch.

The arms on the T-Bones are moveable up and down, so they can be tucked in for easier transport and storage when not holding bikes. They adjust easily by hand and lock in place with two big thumb screws.

The plastic straps are tough but flexible – and seem plenty strong to hold the bike in place.

Load Bikes
Before mounting, I prepped my bike with foam tubes around the frame (get ‘em at your local bike shop), to protect the paint and just keep things that little bit more secure. I recommend this for anyone who’s concerned about protecting the finish on their bike.

I’ll also add that Saris maintains this is not necessary, because the inside of the straps is a slightly softer rubber that is less likely to scratch paint. But if you’re paranoid of scratching your custom paint like me, then you’ll want to be extra careful.

Loading bikes is pretty easy – just slide ‘em over the arms and into the rubberized mounts, which fit pretty nicely under the top tube.

Each bike is held in place by three by 3 straps – two for the top tube, and one around the seattube to keep it from swaying. They’re easy to use and mine never jiggled loose.

The front wheel is not securable to the T-Bones, and I noticed mine swayed back a forth. Not wanting any part of the bike to move while in transit, I used a bungee cord to stabilize it, and it worked just fine. Saris does offer a strap of their own as an accessory ($24.95), and it’s long enough to reach through both the front and rear wheels to keep them from spinning.

One point of concern when transporting multiple bikes is how to prevent the frames from rubbing and paint from scratching. I strapped the full load of three bikes onto the T-Bones, cinched ‘em down and discovered a nice amount of clearance between each frame – see the green circled areas in these next two pics?

I did not test drive the fully loaded rack, nor did I test with bikes of different size frames, but I was impressed with how secure these three bikes – all 54cm sized top tubes – were in the T-Bones. I grabbed each one and wriggled it around – yup – still secure and very little –(ie: no) detectable movement.

Don’t get me wrong – If you care at all about your bikes finish, then you’ll want to wrap the tubes with a foamy before loading onto the rack, but it’s nice to know that the engineers at Saris at least were thinking about protecting your bike.

On The Road
My road test involved two stages: each an up and back drive of 5 hours and around 500km. There’s no better feeling than taking to the open road, family vehicle packed to the rafters – and your trusty steed secured and coming along for the ride.

The T-Bones performed flawlessly throughout my journey. The straps held my bike in place and were as tight after 5 hours of highway driving and jostling as when I cinched ‘em down.

This extendable cable lock is perfect for securing bikes to the T-Bones.

Because the T-Bones rack itself weighs just about 10 lbs., it’s easy to lift. And because it folds down nicely to fit into the carry case – which is also a great way to store it, it’s also easy to take with you. Or you can just pop it off the hitch and leave it inside your car.

Another bonus was that I did not have to unmount the bikes from the rack to actually remove the rack from the car – handy when I had to re-access the cooler I’d stashed in the back. I simply un-hitched the rack – with bike still strapped in – and used the floor mount to hold the bike while I loaded the car.

I like this rack – maybe not for heavy duty mtb use, but for lighter bikes for sure, and also if storage space is an issue – the T-Bones should be considered.

• Price: MSRP US$349.99 for 2 bike, $379.99 for 3 bike.
• Get more info at the website: Saris.com

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