Words by Ed Snyder
No, Not That Kind of Rack…
If you start talking about racks in Vegas, people don't think you are there for a bike convention. Honestly, bike racks have never been the sexiest topic, even within the bike-centric tribe we call home. Yakima and Thule dominate the market and while both have solid designs that work well, neither company's offering are so good they could not use improvement.
If Interbike is living proof of one thing it is that if a company or entrepreneur sees even the slightest room for improvement or innovation, they will probably show up in Vegas telling you why their design is better than anything else you have seen. The positive fallout from this relentless drive for innovation means that we have some additional quality and (dare I say it?) downright cool ways to get your bikes to the places we like to ride them. Of course we could always ride them there, but that is another column for another day.
Kuat is a company that splashed on to the car rack scene a few years back and now offers a stunning lineup to cover almost any niche you need filled that involves cars carrying bikes. If we were equating rack companies to watches we would say Yakima and Thule are like Timex and Casio; plenty of options that are durable and affordable. If that is the case then Kuat is more like Rolex; clearly offering more style and plenty of substance to back it up. If you thrive on attention, think it is pretty neat that people drool all over your rack and budget is not an issue, Kuat is the way to go. They added "sexy" to the car rack vocabulary.
Another newcomer is Swagman racks out of Penticton, B.C. in Canada. Their new Jackknife racks are not only eye-grabbing, but also offer some clever innovations. This new hitchrack-mounted design due out in spring of 2013 holds bikes by hanging them vertically with their sides facing the rear of the vehicle. The bikes are hung in an alternating pattern (the first one hangs with the bars to the left and the second with the bars to the right and so on) so there is no bar interference worries while you are travelling. This also allows the bikes too be hung closer together, which as Martha Stewart would say, is a very good thing. The end result is with the four-bike model loaded up it only extends off the back of the vehicle an additional 2.5 feet. Compare that to a fully-loaded Thule T2 in a 4-bike configuration, which juts off your rear bumper nearly 4.5 feet and the advantages are easy to see.
The construction looks first rate and the Jackknife comes in either a 2 or 4 bike configuration, depending on your needs. Both models have a single lever release on top that allows the upper arms to fold down and the lower arms to fold up simultaneously, creating a very low profile package for unloaded driving or off the vehicle storage. The wheel cups easily adjust without tools to accommodate 26, 29 or 700c wheels. There are no accommodations for 20-inch wheels so if you have BMX or kid's bikes this won't be the rack for you. The two-bike version has a suggested retail price of $500 and comes with a 1.25-inch hitch tongue and an adapter to slide into 2-inch hitches. The price tag on the 4-bike version jumps up to $700 and it is only compatible with 2- inch hitches due to the increased loads.
Inno racks was another company plying its bike-carrying wares at the Sin City spectacular, and while not as fancy as Kuat or Swagman's offerings they do look to provide solid, fully-featured rack systems that are every bit the equal of the most popular offerings in the category. Their rack naming system could use a little sizzle but even the uninspiringly named INH305 hitch rack has some features that are worthy of a look.
The base model is a 2-bike, hitch-mounted, tray-style rack that hold the bikes by only touching the tires (both front and rear). The system is adjustable for any size wheel between 20 and 29 inches and will accept tires up to 2.7-inches wide. You can add an additional tray to hold a third bike and that maxes out the capacity. The racks folds up to vertical when not in use and down (even when loaded) so you can access your rear hatch or tailgate ore easily. In a nod towards simplicity the system comes loaded with keys and locks, a locking bike cable and a locking hitch pin. The majority of those pieces are add-on's with the other major manufacturers and can quickly add up when building a rack system.
If you don't often carry 4 bikes or if you have wide range of bikes that you carry all the time, this looks like an option worthy of consideration. With a full set of features, easy adjustability and all the additional bits already included it might just be the right answer for taking your precious two-wheelers from place to place.
Baby Blue is the New Black
Adding colors has always been a way to freshen up a product line. Big, bright colors have been making a bit of comeback these past few years (led by companies like Troy Lee Designs and Fox) and that trend shows no sign of slowing for 2013. Almost everywhere we went, bright solid colors and patterns greeted us. The trend was especially visible in the helmet lines of all types. Full-face helmets were the most notorious marks, with not only brighter color options, but also more color choices than have been available for each individual model in the past.
Fox, Fly, THE, POC, Kali and a host of others tossed up options in a range of colors brighter than what you might see at the scene of a drive-by peacock shooting. Even within this multi-hued assault one color rose above the rest in frequency, as is often the case fashion. It is a bright light blue that I toyed with calling "Baby Royal" until I realized that Senior BIKE magazine photog Dan Barham (who is British) might be thrown unnecessarily into a tizzied, dancing frenzy of delight… so I scrapped the idea. But it is still a pretty cool color that a lot of companies are employing in their line for the upcoming season.
This Just In: Steel; Still Real
With all the talk about carbon as a super material these days you would think that steel bike builders had gone the way of the American Rust Belt, shuttered their doors and gone fishing. Lies. When properly applied, steel is a still an excellent material to build a bicycle out of. Case in point for steel's stubborn stance in the marketplace is the Ritchey P-29er hardtail race bike. I could wax eloquent about all the features of this bike, but Vegas has beaten me down a bit, so I will sum it up in just two words: simply beautiful. Everything you need to go really fast on two wheels and nothing you don't. Tom (Ritchey), if you are reading this; keep doing what you do. Plenty of us love it.
Sometimes it’s the Little Things
I love products that makes me say "Why didn't I think of that" and slap my forehead. Especially simple ones that solve universal problems in an elegant way. Efficient Velo Tools (EVT) has come up with just such a device for working on bikes with threadless forks.
When dropping the fork out of a bike with a threadless headset you are faced with two confounding problems: what to do with the bars (still connected to all the cables) and how to manage all the other associated hardware (spacers and the like) and keep it in order for reassembly. Most of the solutions are haphazard and end in tears, or at least a solid string of profanity.
Enter EVT's Stem Transfer/Fork service tool. A deadly simple, bullet-shaped piece of billet aluminum with a slightly oversized and knurled top section. You simply remove the headset top cap and then push the tool down through the stem. It does two things at once; it forces out the steerer tube (thereby dropping the fork into your other, waiting hand) and replaces that tube in the frame, holding all the small bits in place until you are ready to replace the fork. It is simple–brilliantly simple. When you need to replace the fork, you simply reverse the process and use the steerer tube to push the tool up and out of the frame/stem.
All I can say is "Well played, fine sirs, well played".