What: Thule complete roof rack system
How much: $786 (as shown, including 400 XT towers, Thule Eschelon fork-mount tray, Thule Sidearm upright mount, faring, crossbars and lock core 8-pack)
More info: 800-238-2388; thuleracks.com
Installation video: HERE
Thule, which hails from Sweden by way of Connecticut (home of its U.S. headquarters and most of its bike-rack manufacturing operations), has been producing square-bar roof racks for more than 30 years.
The company's basic rack system starts with the Aero Foot 400XT ($160), which grips the square Thule bar and the roof in a single, ingeniously engineered lockable cam system. As with the Yakima system, Thule requires the purchase of an appropriate Fit Kit ($70) to match specific vehicles.
The Echelon ($150) fork-mount rack has a super-long extruded aluminum tray, which is astonishingly torsionally stiff even compared to Thule's previous-generation trays—think double-wall rim versus single-wall rim. The rack head's ETC (Equalizing Twin Cam) feature lets users dial in clamp force with a single knob and apply even pressure to both fork dropouts, which can vary in thickness from one side to the other. This feature improves upon Thule's previous designs, however, most fork-mount racks that use a simpler (read: less to go wrong) QR-style fixture also "equalize" tension.
If the design of the Sidearm ($170) looks familiar, it's probably because the rack is based on the same, proven design found on municipal buses across the country. The "sidearm" mounts next to the tray, which takes up more room than Yakima's HighRoller, but swings into action for a tight fit on the front wheel (it ratchets down right against the fork brace). The Sidearm locks to the crossbars via one lock core, and a second locks the bike in place—this not only helps deter opportunistic thieves, but it also locks the ratcheting mechanism, creating a fail-safe against mid-drive bike ejections.
What: Yakima complete roof rack system
How much: $771 (as shown, including Q towers, ForkLift fork-mount, HighRoller upright mount, faring, crossbars and lock core 8-pack)
More info: 888-925-4621; yakima.com
Installation video: HERE
Yakima's rack system starts with Q Towers ($159), which hold the company's trademark round bars onto the roof of most any vehicle via Q-Clips ($70) that are contoured to fit individual vehicles' rooflines. [Caution: while installing, measure twice and clamp gingerly but firmly while balancing tension between each pair of clamps; mis-measure and these suckers can dent rooflines. Trust us.]
The new-this-season ForkLift ($139) is a chameleon among fork-mount racks. It installs in a cinch without tools—and without the hassle of adapters—to round, square or bladed factory crossbars, making it easy to swap between vehicles. The lockable, long-throw cam clamps down on fork dropouts and can be tensioned and operated with one hand—a key feature for loading heavy or awkward-to-balance bikes.
The HighRoller ($179) upright mount has been in service for a few years now, and its aerodynamic, symmetrical styling makes it an easy-to-swallow pick for car owners afraid of cluttering their rooflines. The design grips bikes without actually touching anything but the tire, which helps protect forks and frames from being burnished bald by road chatter. One Yakima lock core secures the HighRoller to its crossbars, while a second is located on a smartly stowable cable that deploys to fasten through a bike's frame. This keeps the frame itself locked to the rack, however, it doesn't "lock" the retention mechanism of the rack itself. The ratcheting device didn't budge a notch during testing, but if it ever did give way, the sling-like cable lock would keep the bike off the ground—a good thing—but could arc deep scratches across the side of the vehicle as the bike dangled alongside—not such a good thing. The wing nuts securing the HighRoller to the crossbar loosened after several runs through our Cone Course of Truth test track, but stayed tight after the initial break-in period. —Chris Lesser
Tale of the Tape
There's more than one way to skin a cat, and both of these systems deliver a very similar feature set for virtually the same cost. Both fork-mounts offer easy one-hand tension-adjust and clamping action, and even though the Thule Echelon provides a super-stiff tray, the Yakima ForkLift does about the same thing for about $10 less and with more versatility out of the box.
**Special thanks to Mazda for the sweet MAZDASPEED3 test vehicle!