Friday, November 9, 2012

Tested: Saris Gran Fondo bicycle rack

For the first product review of 2012, I'm going with an item that has resulted in a lot of hits to the blog from searches - the Gran Fondo two bicycle rack by Saris.

With Tanker's Giant TCX2 in size M 'cross bike and my 54cm Cervelo P1
Both bikes are held securely away from the vehicle.
What it is: A rack that holds two bicycles, up to 35lbs each with either 26", 29" or 700c wheels (ought to work for 650 as well). 

Not much in the wind, and lots of garage door clearance.
Why you want one: It complies with European legislation prohibiting bicycle racks from obstructing the rear license plate, but entails less aerodynamic drag (and resultant poor fuel economy) than a roof-mounted rack while dramatically reducing the odds of smashing your bike to smithereens if you pull into the garage. It works with almost any vehicle with a rear hatch - see the manufacturer's site for specific model recommendations.

Our cyclocross bikes mounted.
Duration used: 6 months on our 2008 Honda Fit

Price paid/purchased from: $0I received this rack as a prize in a contest on Slowtwitch. MSRP is $369.99CAN.

Tanker's Giant TCX2 in size M and my Norco CCX-SL in size S.

What rawks: This is probably the most user-friendly bike rack I've ever come across. Assembly is easy using the included instructions from Saris - it took us about 30mins from unpacking to completion, plus another minute or two of adjusting strap lengths for first use. It takes less than a minute to attach to the vehicle once set up, as the top straps will stay at the same length with only minor cinching required on the others. There is a great range of adjustment available to fit multiple vehicles and bikes - we're able to use this for my tri bike (2009 Cervelo P1 - 54cm), our cyclocross bikes (2009 Giant TCX2 - M & 2010 Norco CCX-SL - S), my 26er mountain bikes (2012 Louis Garneau Apex Elite - M & 1995 Kona Hahanna - 19") and even Tanker's 29er (2011 Trek Marlin). It's very easy to mount the bikes on the rack, and while there is some movement the bikes are held very securely even at Tanker's idea of a reasonable highway speed (130kph/80mph) and on bumpy, rutted, washboard dirt/gravel roads. We have experienced no issues with the rack shifting if we only have one bike on at a time, and it is still possible to use the back hatch even with two bikes mounted (though you may not be able to open it all the way without making contact with the roof of the car, and it's a good idea to have a second person hold the hatch while you dive in there unless you want to end up looking like a tacky novelty item). The quality of the materials used in the rack itself seem very good, and we have experienced no durability issues. The rubber-coated strap hooks and feet of the frame have not left any marks on our vehicle, and the rack is well stabilized by the 6-point attachment (2 top straps, 2 side straps and 2 bottom straps). While there is no theft deterrent provided with the rack and the ratchet straps are easily opened, we used a pair of small padlocked lengths of aircraft cable to secure the bikes to the rack (looped through either a pedal or the chainring and around the rack's frame) when we knew the car would be sitting unattended; a standard cable bicycle lock would work as well. Compared to horizontal-mount racks we have used in the past, the view through the rearview mirror/rear windshield is excellent, while still providing a reassuring view of both bikes throughout the ride. We did not notice any change in fuel mileage driving over 400km round-trip to a race with my tri bike and Tanker's CX bike on the rack, but have noted that both bicycles remain fairly clean despite encountering multiple rainstorms while using the rack and not having mudflaps on our car. Removing the bikes from the rack at your destination is fast and easy, but be prepared to answer a lot of questions about the rack along the way!

Fat tires and 29" wheels present a little more surface area to the wind.

What sucks: While the wheel cups do fold down, the rack doesn't really collapse for storage - at approximately 3' x 3' the frame is definitely something you'd be tripping over if you're tight on space. Larger diameter tires (2.2" and up) will settle into the front wheel supports, which can make it tough to get the bike off the rack. It doesn't quite support Tanker's enormous 29er away from the bottom bumper of our Honda Fit (though there has been no damage), and we have to watch ground clearance with that monster on there. It's also one of the more expensive bike racks on the market, and will not work on a vehicle that has a hatch-mounted spoiler.

Ground clearance may be an issue with large 29er frames.


What I wish it had: If Saris would include a couple of velcro or ratchet straps to cinch down the excess webbing, that would be awesome - we tend to forget to tie the excess so it won't flap in the wind, which may risk some damage to the bikes (noone likes scuffed paint). Would also love to see the manufacturer include some anti-theft method.

The rear wheel of Tanker's 29er (left) touches the rear bumper when mounted.

What I'm saying: While we absolutely love this rack, I'm not sure I could justify the cost if I was currently in the market for a method to carry two bikes. If price is not an issue, you have trouble remembering your bike is on the roof before that sickening crunch, or you must comply with European legislation, it's an excellent product that I would highly recommend to pamper your bike (particularly if you wish to avoid stress on a carbon fibre frame). As a freebie, I fully believe we will get many years of happy use from our Gran Fondo, and will continue to enjoy the conversations with fellow cyclists along the way who can't contain their curiosity about its unique construction!

For further edification: Road.cc and Pez Cycling reviewed this as well, the latter including lots of detail photos.

4 comments:

  1. A great review, you have included some interesting information. I see what you mean about needing some anti-theft methods, its nice to have some piece of mind, especially when you are handling expensive equipment like bikes. At least ratchet straps are easy to pick up and you can get good quality ones for low prices, but it's always nice when these items are included.

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  3. I see that this post is from 2012 but was searching for reviews of this product while shopping for a bike rack for a C-Max. Thanks, and it was good to mention the 29er as this is what I have too.

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  4. Brilliant review! I have ended up buying one of these for my Mercedes Sprinter Campervan. It fits nicely on the left door meaning I can still use the other for access. I use a SeaSucker Trunk Cable Anchor to get around the security issue.

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