When it comes to the portage of my bicycles, I don’t exactly have the best vehicle for the job. My passion for bikes is first, but cars have always been a close second. When it came to purchasing a car (my first in 5 years), I went for fun over practicality and choose a 1982 Datsun 280ZX. I found that if I push the front passenger seat all the way forward, take off the front wheel, and then remove the seat post I can get one bike and myself in the vehicle. That worked for a while, but living in the suburbs and driving to rides with friends wasn’t really an option. It was time for a rack.
Obviously, a hitch rack wasn’t an option. Saris contacted us with interest in supplying their Gran Fondo trunk rack for review and I jumped at the chance. With other BikeRumor writers having good luck with Saris’ products in the past, I had high expectations for this rack.
Head on past the jump for a full breakdown…
Saris designs and manufactures their products right here in the USA, and backs them up with a lifetime warranty. Already we are off to a great start. When the box containing my new rack arrived it did require some assembly. Having built enough Legos, Ikea furniture, and even a couple of bikes here and there, I figured it would be a fairly easy assembly. I was correct. The instructions (don’t skip this step) were very easy to follow, and I was able to assemble the parts in under 20 min. If you are not mechanically inclined, and find this process to take 45 minutes or more, asking for some assistance may be a good idea.
This is the first Saris product I have had my hands on, outside of visiting with them at tradeshows. I had the impression their products were quality, and this rack backs that up. The main frame is anodized aluminum and should withstand the weather for years. The straps, buckles, and other hardware feel very durable as well. And, thanks to that aluminum frame, the entire rack comes in at a very manageable 14.5 lbs.
Once built, I took the rack outside for a test fit. My ’82 Datsun is not on the approved list of vehicles found on Saris’ website, but after emailing them a couple of images of the car, they said it should work just fine. The feet on the rack are made from a nice rubber that is soft enough to stick to the vehicle, but won’t damage the paint, but do make sure the area underneath them is clean before positioning the rack. I keep a soft cloth handy in the back of my car for this purpose. The hatch on my car is at a fairly mild angle, so when positioning the rack, I had no trouble doing it by myself. If you have a tall vehicle and / or a steep vertical hatch, you may find it helpful to have a second person.
The first time you fit the rack to your vehicle, you may need to slide the lower cross bar holding the bottom feet up or down to get the fit right. In my case, I had to slide the bottom feet as far down as they would go. This is done by loosening the yellow nobs, positioning the cross bar, then tightening them back down. The nobs are easy to grip, and once tightened down, feel and stay secure.
Next come the six tie down straps with their coated hooks. First, attach the top two straps to the hatch and moderately snug them down. Next, fit the bottom two hooks, and again moderately snug them down. Once you have the rack in the correct position, attach each side hook and snug all of the straps down tightly, ensuring the rack is centered on the hatch. Last, rotate the wheel holders into the correct position.
Finally, load up the bike(s). The front wheel rests in the large cradle, and that cradle can hold a 26″, 29″, and 700c wheel with up to a 2.2″ tire securely. If you run fenders forget about it however, as the cradle is designed to hold the tire and will pinch and bend your fenders. Also, the tie downs for the wheels are a decent length, and should accommodate most rim depths But if you are running a tri-bike with a disc wheel, or some crazy deep wheels over about 65mm, you will need to swap them out, or find another way to carry the bike. After measuring the tie down length it seems that the max depth (including tire and rim) is 85 mm. The rear wheel rests on a pad that is adjustable up and down to accommodate different frame sizes. For my 58cm frames, I have it about as far down as it will go. Once on the rack, use the zip tie like straps to secure the wheels to the rack and you are all set.
The Gran Fondo rack, as I’m sure you have noticed by now, holds your bikes in a much different, vertical position, as compared to more traditional horizontally mounted hitch and trunk racks. This, in theory, should allow for better fuel efficiency when hauling your rides around, since the bikes are mounted in a more aerodynamic position. Having always owned a station wagon prior to moving to Oregon, I have never used any other racks, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I don’t notice any difference when driving with the bikes on the car versus when they are not, so it seems to be working fine.
Another huge advantage is the fact that no part of your bike’s frame ever touches the rack. This makes it an ideal rack for transporting that $10k race bike to the crit.
With bikes mounted and rolling down the road, I never noticed any swaying or instability. Even in sharp turns at speed they stayed in place. My usual trip with a bike on the rack is a 20 minute drive into Portland, and on that trip the rack and straps haver never come loose. When leaving town on longer trips, I would highly suggest double checking the straps when you stop for gas or snacks, as they may work a bit loose over a longer journey.
At 14.5 lbs, the rack is easily carried to and from the vehicle. It is rated to hold two bikes weighing up to 35lbs each, making it capable of carrying your full suspension rig plus a buddy’s to the trailhead.
The rack has proven to be a pretty great product, but there are a couple of nits to pick. The fact that I can’t take a fendered bike with me is a bit of a bummer. Living in the Pacific NW, two of my five bikes have fenders, and this time of year is when I really need them. Using something like SKS’s quick release Race Blade fenders could remedy the issue, but I could see that being a big hassle to mount and remove the fenders every time you travel with the bike. The other issue is the size of the rack itself. It’s great that the wheel cradles fold down, but the overall footprint of the rack is large enough that it simply will not fit in my car. This is a bit of an issue when traveling with the rack, as I can’t take it off and stow it in the vehicle. That said, I have a very small car, especially compared to more modern vehicles. I have a feeling this will fit in the majority of the hatchbacks and SUV’s on the road.
Overall, the pros definitely out weigh the cons with, and this rack comes highly recommended. It’s secure, stable, easy to assemble, and easy to install. The vertical position works great, and it is fast and easy to mount up the bikes. The final hurdle is price. At $350, it may be a a bit steep for some. But if you are like me, and the bikes you carry are worth more than the car they are on, it may not be a bad investment.