Tested: Thule 917XTR T2
By Vernon Felton
I can't speak for riders out on the east coast, but out west, you see a whole lot of bikes clinging to Thule T2 hitch-mount racks. There's a reason for that—these things are solid. The T2 began life as a Sportsworks product about nine years ago, but after Thule acquired that company, they made a few tweaks to the original recipe and called it their own. I owned a crusty Sportsworks version for seven years before acquiring the latest T2. In the year since, I've subjected the T2 to the same kind of abuse—winter snows, spring rains, summer heat, lots of mud, no maintenance given, no kindness shown. The T2, however, keeps on keeping on.
So let's start with the obvious part of the review: It's a hitch-mount rack, which means that you need to spring for a receiver. U-Haul, Les Schwab…there are a lot of places that'll do the deed for you. I have a 2-inch receiver on my hitch rack and the T2 fits into that thing with nary a wobble. My wife has the same rack on her WRX (albeit with an inch-and-a quarter receiver) and it's just as rock solid under full load, at speed, on bumpy fireroads.
Yes, there are downsides to hitch racks. You could reverse your loaded rack into something, sometimes your car tires dump tons of grit (think muddy logging roads) right into your front disc-brake caliper and, well, that's all I've got for the negatives. On the upside, hitch mounts eliminate the likelihood that you'll smash your bikes into the ceiling of a parking garage (the bane of roof racks) and do away with the whole pain-in-the-ass that is the act of hoisting heavy full-suspension rigs onto the roof of your car. I'm of an age at which I pull important muscles while doing entirely un-heroic things (like hefting bikes or brushing my teeth), so I'm a huge fan of the way I can easily heft a big bike to bumper-level and zoom off. Not having to take off your front wheel is also a plus as it eliminates all those occasions when your muddy front wheel makes dirty love to something precious inside your car that was supposed to stay stain free (wedding dresses, holy shrouds, that kind of thing).
Of course, you could say all these things about any hitch-mount rack, so back to the Thule we go: The T2 accommodates most wheel sizes, including 29er wheels with big treads on them. Thule claims the retention arm will clear a 29×3.0 tire, which is saying something (Thule also sells a fat bike adapter). The rear wheel is secured by a simple ratcheting strap. The sliding rear wheel mounts help the T2 accommodate bikes with everything from stubby to sprawling wheelbases. If you have a 2-inch receiver, you can bolt on Thule's 2-Bike Add-On extension that'll let you strap on another two bikes. Four DH bikes on one hitch rack? You bet.
I've found the T2 almost flawless. Again, the lack of wiggle and flex in the rack's pivot hardware is nothing shy of amazing. The thing is damn near bullet proof. I am brutal with my equipment and the T2 has shrugged off my worst behavior. But I said the T2 was "almost flawless.” My quibbles are as follows:
The SecureHook retention arm utilizes a ratcheting mechanism to lock the arm in place on the front wheel. While mine hasn't failed, the ratcheting itself becomes noticeably less pronounced in cold weather. To wit, you normally put the bike on the rack, slide the arm up and over the front tire and push down to secure it. During summer months, that action is accompanied by crisp clicks and a very secure "Well, that thing is locked in place!" sensation. When the mercury drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the clicks become indistinct, the grey trigger develops a mushy feel to it and I have to make an extra effort to make sure the retention arm is locked in place. Yes, it all still works—I haven't had the retention arms slip yet, but when the weather gets icy, it's a bit unnerving.
The rear wheel straps on the original Sportworks rack had a tab on one end that made it impossible to easily pull the strap free of its respective tray. The updated Thule straps have no such tab, which makes replacing the straps easy, but also makes losing them a possibility. Someone, in fact, liberated one of my straps at the trailhead a month ago, which, now has me wrapping a bungee cord around one of my rear wheels. Lame. I prefer the old strap design, which didn't allow that kind of thing to happen. Replacement straps, on the upside, are inexpensive and readily available. One of these days I'll get around to ordering one.
There are some other nice touches to the Thule T2. While the locking mechanisms aren't particularly robust, I love that each retention arm features an integrated cable lock, which I usually bolster with about six feet of Kryptonite cable if I'm going into the store or pub for more than a few minutes. The rack's hitch pin also features a locking cap, which should stymie most theives' attempts to liberate the rack from your vehicle. Finally, the T2 rack folds up neatly with a minimum of fuss and when you need extra clearance to load something into your vehicle, removing the keeper pin and dropping the rack out of the way is a breeze.
Rugged. Well thought out. Time-proven. Thule's T2 has a lot going for it. I remain impressed.