02 October 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Saris CycleOn Pro bike rack

Update - 10/02/08:
Saris' Product Manager Darren wrote with these comments. The company has a redesign on the way at some point (though the existing design should work just fine for Shimano-equipped and road bikes):

Thanks for the review. I think your observations and the comments expressed by readers are fair and accurate. We are looking into the derailleur issue which results with SRAM products. I have heard of users reversing the order of the bikes when carrying SRAM equipped bicycles (rear wheel captured in the ratchet arm and the front wheel clamped by the rim ratchet) although this has not been tested or validated as an approved solution at this time from SCG.

I haven’t owned a bike rack since about 1992 and it was such a piece of crap that I haven't owned another since. Times have changed and my need for more bike-carrying capacity has grown. I talked to a number of friends about their recommendations and Saris' CycleOn Pro came out the winner. I ordered the rack, and had a 2in receiver hitch installed on my truck.

When the rack arrives it requires some assembly. I hate any kind of assembly, but it wasn’t too bad and I had it done and installed on the truck in less than 30 minutes. The rack is sold with a locking hitch-pin (to lock it to the vehicle) and a cable style lock for the bikes (to lock them to the rack and/or vehicle). While the base CycleOn and CycleOn Pro will hold two bikes, I had ordered the additional 2 bike add-on so I could now fit a total of 4 bikes behind the truck. Crap. I forgot about the spare tire. I was down to 3 bikes and now the rack didn’t fold up and out of the way when not in use as it's supposed to. A quick search around town talking to the “experts” lead me to believe that there was no way to extend the receiver out; or that the shortest extender I could buy was 18 inches long- far longer than the 5 or 6 inches I needed. After being generally annoyed for a bit, a friend recommended an Internet search. 1.38674 seconds later I found a 7 inch receiver extension and ordered it about 2 minutes after that. I believe in supporting your local shops but our local U-Haul and trailer shops had no clue. Sometimes the Internet is the better way.

The Saris allows one to put the entire bike on the rack without taking either tire off. A simple but strong arm swings up and ratchets down on the front tire. Saris claims that it touches no part of the bike other than the tire so there is no rubbing or scuffing between rack and bike, or between bike and bike. Overall it works as advertised, but (and it is a BIG butt), the rack does not like SRAM derailleurs. This is upsetting to me because I like SRAM XO derailleurs and most of my bikes and my friends’ bikes have them. The arm that holds the bikes in place protrudes into the space that the XO derailleur would like to have. So you either turn the bike backwards in the rack (which is probably not recommended and creating new problems) or you tilt the bike a bit to get the arm lock into place, and then let the pressure of the locking arm push the derailleur against the previous bike’s locking arm- so much for no scuffing (not to mention the possibility of breaking a rear mech). Even more frustrating is the fact that it's such a simple fix. The lock arms are unnecessarily thick where the plastic lock mechanisms are and the SRAM XO only needs about 4-6 mm of extra room- Hell, I may well just Dremmel away at the plastic until it fits.

Since I am on a rant, I might as well mention that the bike trays that the tires fit in are perfectly parallel. This means that the handlebars of every other bike are in exactly the same spot. Why couldn’t they make the add-on trays slightly angled in the opposite direction- then the bars would be staggered slightly. Sometimes saddles get in the way of the bike next to them but that was expected and is easily fixed too by removing the seat post or rotating it 180 degrees in the seat tube).

The Saris is well-built however, and will work for a lot of bikes, but the add-on creates some issues and the SRAM thing is annoying in the extreme. The moral of this story and my advice to you is: try before you buy. Of course, you now know whether this rack will work for you. The CycleOn is available for either 1 ¼ inch or 2 inch receivers. It retails for around $440 for the base rack and another $270 for the add-on.



Now, I was one of the ones who recommended the CycleOn Pro to Charlie and feel like I should weigh in. After seeing how poorly my existing roof racks fit my new Saabaru and buying a home with a garage, I decided that it was time to rethink pushing multiple bikes through the air at 80mph for hours on end. After looking around, I decided to go with the Saris for its well thought-out design, American construction and lifetime guarantee. Unlike similar offerings from Thule, the Saris' locking arm doesn't contact the front of the bikes' forks- it locks at a preset angle. Because I'm not a SRAM guy, I haven't had problems with deraileurs rubbing, but bars often conflict with nearby saddles. After hearing about Charlie's problems, I did some experimenting. Whether or not your rear dérailleur hits the arm or not seems to have more to do with the bike's wheelbase than anything else. Charlie and my Mavericks have long-ish wheelbases and my XTR mech has the same problem in the outer position. Other (shorter or longer wheelbase) bikes, including 29ers and road bikes are fine. As Charlie says, try before your buy. Bar conflicts can be addressed to some extent by winding down adjustable-travel forks.

In use over the past three years, the CycleOn Pro has been generally good. The Pro model, over the base $380 CycleOn, adds a locking cable and expanding tongue. The cable is nice enough and keyed to match the hitch pin lock, which is handy. While the expanding tongue (the square tube that goes into the receiver) is nice, it won't keep the rack from bouncing around without a stout receiver. The 1 1/4in receiver that U-Haul sells for Subaru Imprezas isn't particularly stout. On another, with a better receiver, there is almost no rack movement, even without the using expanding tongue. If you have a fairly solid receiver hitch (like those that come on many SUVs) and aren't planning on carrying more than two bikes, I'd recommend saving the $50. If you have a suspect aftermarket receiver, you'll need all the help you can get.

Because the rack is removed so easily, I tend to leave it in the garage when not in use. When on the car but not in use, it does fold upright very easily, though this can restrict trunk/hatch access. After opening my trunk into the arms a couple of times, I stretched old tubes over them to keep prevent scratches. On the road, you can keep an eye on your babies. The roof rack wind noise that can render sunroofs useless is gone and fuel economy is much improved. The likelihood of hosing your bike/rack/roof by plowing into a garage or basketball hoop is greatly reduced as well. Obstructing your license plate with bicycles will attract the unwanted attention of Utah's Finest, but if you're nice and not drunk or high they may let you off with a verbal warning.

On cars with low exit angles (lots of rear overhang), the rack will hit the pavement (or dirt) from time to time. My knob for the expanding tongue is broken and the bottom of the rack pretty chewed up but still performing admirably. The rear wheel holders aren't designed to accommodate deep section aero rims, but 29ers fit fine. Overall, I have to say that the CycleOn is one of the better thought out and built racks that I've seen. Not cheap, but start adding up the cost of roof rack components and you'll get there pretty quickly. For $270, the Saris Thelma looks awesome but isn't 29er friendly.



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