There are a lot of players in the car rack market right now but when looking at roof racks two come to mind immediately, Yakima and Thule. I’ve had experience with both of these brands and in my mind it really just boils down to if you like round (Yakima) or square (Thule) bars.
For most of the years I’ve used roof racks it has been Yakima and it’s what we are currently using. Our set up while traveling through the US for 3 months was a set (4) Yakima Control towers to fit the factory rails on our truck, 2 fork mounted trays and a Load Warrior Basket with extension. On our camper we also had factory mounted rails and set up the same system to carry another 4 bikes.
This allowed us to carry 6 bikescand then also get bags and other gear on the roof. This left most of the rear cargo area clear for our Golden Retriever.
Fork vs. upright bike mounts
I prefer the fork mounts (front wheel off) as opposed to the full upright (keeping front wheel on) for a couple of reasons. First, I feel they are much more secure going down the road (less sway) and have a lower profile overall. Second, with carbon fiber road bikes there is no way I want to clamp an arm from the bike rack onto that frame.
Once we changed over for the Mexico leg of the trip we went with the roof basket and 2 surfboards on the roof and put the bikes on a rack off the receiver hitch. We seriously loaded the roof basket for this leg of the trip, I’d estimate 400Lbs+.
This is where we had our one and only problem with the rack the entire trip. The basket itself handled the load with ease but the clamps that lock down the basket to the load bar slipped as I drove of a drop down to the road, the truck lurched from left to right and one side went down first then the other. The drivers side clamps slid right off the end of the load bars! Jen and I were able to lift the basket back into place and re-tighten it. Being 6:30AM on New Years day we had few options to purchase anything to reenforce it (I really needed hose clamps) so I went with good old duct tape.
Again though the other 99% of the time we’ve used this system it has never moved and for this trip we clearly had it loaded to the maximum. I think the greatest thing is the basket itself had no trouble at all. No bending, warping, etc.
The biggest “concern” with roof racks in my opinion is not the rack itself (they are wonderful in so many ways) but the potential to forget the bikes are up there and drive into low hanging areas such as a garage. In all my years working in the bike industry I’ve heard enough stories to write a book. From driving into a garage at home to cleaning off the whole rack system going down the road and catching a low hanging limb after a bad storm. Obviously the bike can sustain serious damage in these situations but also your roof can be damaged, so be careful!
Receiver hitch carriers
A quick note on an alternative to the roof rack. Loading on the roof does not appeal to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason I hear is simply getting the bike up there! If you have a receiver hitch on the back of your vehicle I highly suggest you look at the Yakima Hold Up. This is probably the most user friendly rack I’ve ever used. You load with both wheels on only lifting the bike to your bumper height and it is secured with an arm that you simply pull up and over the front wheel. The loading process takes seconds.
The only problem I have with rear mounted racks is your bikes get filthy, especially if you drive dirt roads to get to your riding spots. You can spend hours cleaning your bike then toss it on a rear rack and cruise out to 18RD in Fruita and by the time your in the lot it is covered. Not only bad for the bike in general but specifically the drivetrain and cables suffer in this.