Review: Saris Gran Fondo Rack

Saris Gran Fondo Full Side View

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 Gran Fondo three quarter view

Assembly:

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Feet

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Rear View

Installation:

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Adjustment Knobs

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Strap and Hook

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Wheel Holder Label

 

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Front View

Review:

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Rear Wheel Pad

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Wheel Holder

 

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.

Saris Gran Fondo Wheel Tie

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.

Comments

Gregg C - 01/19/13 - 7:50pm

In for vids of donuts with bikes on the car!

mudrock - 01/19/13 - 8:02pm

$350 is a little pricey – that’s Thule and Yakima territory.

chuck - 01/19/13 - 9:10pm

More pics of the car please!

Jbird - 01/19/13 - 9:41pm

Nice car!

Tinsloth - 01/19/13 - 10:33pm

I have this rack as well, and I have to say it’s miles better than the thule raceway rack that I originally bought for it. For one, I can see out of the back window (the Thule pretty much covered the rear window on a fiat 500) and for two I can actually fit 2 full suspension bikes on it. The fact that it doesn’t fit IN my car is not a huge downside for me. I just leave it attached all the time.

I did have an issue with the nuts stripping out their plastic seats on the crossbar, which makes loosening and adjusting a bit more of a hassle than intended. My boss also had this issue with his rack. Overall, I’m super happy with the rack. It makes perfect sense for a small hatchback, if you don’t want to put a hitch on, or a roof rack.. It’s quite eye-catching as well. Lots of folks ask about it, and they’re always stoked to see how it works.

Jake - 01/19/13 - 11:18pm

The ZX is Rad!

Justin - 01/19/13 - 11:24pm

Looks like it’s made to compete with the Thule Raceway Platform which is also $350. It’s hard to say if one is better than the other, but it looks more likely that you could inadvertently run your bike into a low overhanging space with this Saris rack.

Nick Burklow - 01/19/13 - 11:42pm

Thank you all for the nice words about the car. It has proven to be a great machine and a lot of fun. Not as much fun as bikes, but darn close.

@justin – The Saris Bones series is a direct competitor for the Thule Raceway platform. As mentioned in the article, the Gran Fondo not only holds the bike in a completely different position, but it also does not touch the bikes frame either. Both of these features (in my opinion at least) make this a much more desirable rack.

Link to the bones racks from Saris:

http://www.saris.com/en/bike-racks/vehicle-racks/trunk-racks/bones-3-bike.html?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage_images.tpl&product_id=20&category_id=7

Harry - 01/20/13 - 2:31am

A complicated and ugly looking setup…kind of defeats the purpose of owning an interesting car with nice lines really.

I guess form follows function when it comes to utilitarian tasks however.

Marc - 01/20/13 - 9:28am

Harry,

I think it makes the car look like a missile launcher- which appeals to my inner 8 year old…

If you live in the kind of place where police will pull you over for obscuring your license plates (NOT New Mexico- but parts of the Northeast and all of Western Europe), then the design has a big advantage there.

Sadly, neither of my vehicles are on the approved list due to their ‘sporty’ wagon spoilers.

mb

Kyle - 01/20/13 - 1:52pm

i mean its a rad car, just not the rack i would use on it. but then again, i wouldn’t know what other rack systems would work, if any.

it might be the most ‘fred’ looking rack i’ve ever seen.

MattK - 01/20/13 - 6:39pm

Been using a Saris Bones on a Miata (NC) for a couple of years now and have to say I extremely happy with the Bones. If I ever get around to getting a second more practical car, (i.e. CTS-V Wagon or similar) I will probably stick with Saris racks.

Alex - 01/20/13 - 7:44pm

All City Mr. Pink with a ‘cross set up?

Ant'ney - 01/20/13 - 9:50pm

“Nobs”? “NOBS”!?!?!?!
Jesus Christos, it’s K-N-O-B-S.
KNOBS!!!!!!!!!

Excellent journalistic process at work here folks…….

ds - 01/20/13 - 10:07pm

^ Ant’ney is jealous of your car, just don’t take it personally.

Nick Burklow - 01/20/13 - 10:46pm

HAHA – Thanks Ant’ney. One mistake in an 1100 word article. Not bad for me.

@Alex – yes, that is my All-City Mr. Pink. It’s not really a cross setup though. It was geared more towards a gravel / winter commuter rig. It is a project bike that should be officially introduced here on BikeRumor soon.

ds - 01/20/13 - 10:54pm

I’ve been to Saris site to see if it could handle a DH bike. This is from manual (cautions section) :

7) Never place more than two bicycles (maximum weight 70 lbs/158kg) on model 872 carrier.

158 kg !!! 70 pounds = 31.75 kg.

How can you take this company seriously ? This is more than a simple mistake. I hope its not the same engineer who made the rack that wrote the manual…

And even if it was just a typo in conversion, 70 kilograms = 154.323584 pounds. Not even close to 158.
This is NOT professional. Security is NOT something to be taken lightly.

me - 01/21/13 - 10:19am

the wheel tray will definitely keep the back end of that very fast car on the ground. cant believe nissan didn’t think of that on their own.

what a hideously over thought product.

the ol in-flight back in the early 90′s was a much simpler elegant approach to hatchback racking.

guy - 01/21/13 - 12:00pm

@ ds-I would imagine that Saris is being conservative with the weight rating but at the same time 70 pounds at 70 m.p.h. is some serious drag on those hooks. Besides most downhillers (or one of their friends) own a truck of some sort for shuttle runs. That’s probably the better application

ds - 01/21/13 - 12:11pm

@guy

I was pointing the error in conversion (which makes 4x times the weight in kg), not approximation.

Alex - 01/21/13 - 3:01pm

Looking forward to more info on your project bike, Nick. I’ve been considering purchasing a Mr. Pink for a while.

Devo - 01/22/13 - 12:39am

Saris meets Wham-O
bike rack meets Trac Ball???

PaulCJr - 01/22/13 - 5:11pm

I have this rack and I love it. Anyone considering buying one should pull the trigger on that purchase.

WannaBeSTi - 01/23/13 - 9:57am

I looked into this rack for my 2005 RSX and it wouldn’t fit. Bummer. So I tried to fit the car pictured and Saris doesn’t have the ’82 Datsun 280ZX in the fit list. When I tried a lesser year…”No Fit”. I tried 2002 Toyota Celica…”No Fit.”

What gives?

Surly Shawn - 01/23/13 - 1:08pm

I saw one of these (or a very similar one) back in September. I was blown away. I like this idea and it has the potential to be a breakout hit for Saris.

The car is pretty dope also.

Matt Olsen - 01/26/13 - 9:31am

One may argue that an ’82 Datsun 280ZX does not make a car enthusiast out of you but if you need an excellent bike rack that doesn’t look like you bolted a small Ferris wheel to the back of your “classic,” check out what the boys over at SeaSucker have to offer. http://www.seasucker.com/product-category/bike-racks/

Nick Burklow - 01/28/13 - 1:37am

@Matt – While I own a 280ZX I grew up around old cars, and spent a lot of summer days at classic car shows. In regards to the seasucker rack, I am SUPER curious to try one. However, I simply don’t trust mounting it to my Datsun’s 31 year old T-Tops.

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