Thule Aeroblade Roof Rack (Rapid Traverse Foot Pack, $194.95, Aeroblade Load Bars, $169.95), Thule Sidearm 594XT Bike Carrier ($199.95), 6-Pack Lock Cylinder ($79.95). http://www.thule.com
If I Can Install It, Anyone Can. (No, Seriously.)
When the half dozen giant boxes were delivered, “intimidated” is the most adequate way to describe how I felt about the prospect of installing the rack myself. I’d had the rack that previously adorned my beloved Toyota Corolla installed professionally, leaving nothing to chance. But Thule’s representative promised they made their “stuff very easy to install, and most people just read the directions and can do the full thing in just a couple of hours.”
I recruited a friend to help unpack, assemble, and install all of the components, including the foot pack, load bars and bike carrier. As promised, the directions were descriptive enough to make DIY installation possible for two people who’d never installed a roof rack before. I was surprised at how few parts and tools were involved, and each individual component came with everything necessary to ensure a secure installation.
We did run into a few hiccups in assembling the feet; when I read the specifications for how far apart the feet should be, they were slightly off from what looked to be a tight fit on my car. The most challenging part was inserting the locking mechanisms on to the feet, but once we figured out how to install one of them, the rest were a piece of cake.
Getting the Sidearm 594XT bike mount assembled was a bit difficult; the instructions and photos for the Aeroblade load bars were significantly easier to understand. We also had to backtrack more than once; the tray isn’t symmetrical, and if you mount the arm on the wrong side or in the wrong direction, you’ll have to take it off and try again. I was surprised to find that once assembled, a handful of relatively small screws and nuts were the only things keeping the Sidearm mount on the car. The mount itself is heavy, but not unmanageable for one person to install and remove. Though the installation went smoothly, I wouldn’t recommend choosing this mount if you intend to remove and re-attach the bike mount regularly; detaching and reattaching takes a while.
Even with a few hiccups, we assembled and installed the feet, cross bars and bike mount in under two hours. As a note, the Rapid Traverse Foot Pack is only made to fit Thule’s Aero profile bars, but after installing and using them, I can’t imagine why you’d go with another model.
Using the Rack to Carry Things Places
One of my biggest complaints about after-market roof racks is the noise. If you don’t choose carefully, it can sound like you’re within inches of a jet engine when you’re driving down the highway. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could hardly hear any extra noise from the Thule rack, which is thanks in large part to the shape of the Aeroblade load bars and WindDiffuser™ textured surface. I didn’t need any extra parts (i.e. a faring) to prevent wind noise no matter how fast I was driving. The rack also seems to stand up to weather well; after five months, there was no corrosion or rust noticeable.
Thule’s vertical load test showed the Aeroblade system can withstand 800 pounds of force, which helped ease my mind the first time I used the Sidearm bike mount. I’m accustomed to fork mount bike carriers, but avoiding the extra time it takes to take my front wheel off, then put it back on when I got home was appealing. There’s also no contact between the bike mount and the bike frame with the Sidearm.
It took some finagling on the first try to understand how to get the mount’s ratcheting arm the right length, once it was in place, everything worked just fine. It’s ideal for bikes with non-traditional frames and disc brakes. Between the ratcheting arm and the rear tire strap, my old K2 Zed 1.0 mountain bike stayed solidly in place on my roof on drives of up to an hour on back roads and highways. My big issue was the question of stability; the tray felt too wide for my road bike. I’d consider adding a front tire strap if you need the extra confidence that the bike’s not going anywhere, especially with bikes that have thinner tires.
General Safety and Security
Living in Philadelphia without a garage or a driveway, one accepts that certain things are bound to happen. Your bumper will get scratched, your doors will get dinged, and people who believe they’re entitled to things that aren’t theirs will occasionally take relieve you of your belongings. Cars are not 100% secure, and if someone wants something inside or on it badly enough, they’ll find a way. As a result, one of my biggest concerns with after market attachments is security, i.e. how easy it is for someone to steal it.
During the first few months of testing the Thule rack, I’d undertaken the process of removing the Sidearm bike mount each time I used it to avoid making my car an easy target. But after one mountain biking adventure, I drove home, parked, and left the bike mount on top of the car. A week later, I discovered the entire rack, bike mount included, locks installed, had been stolen.
In general, the rack is just like any other aftermarket automobile accessory - the only way to make it more secure is to bolt it to the car, and for most, that’s not a desirable option. Thule designed their racks to be as theft-resistant as possible while remaining easy to install and functional, and though the rack was stolen, it clearly took the thieves a good bit of effort and required serious leverage to remove it. So, though it’s a bummer the testing process ended prematurely, I don’t believe it was a result of faulty design, but rather of some determined asshole(s) with a burning desire to take something that didn’t belong to them.
Overall Impressions and Recommendations
In general, Thule makes a fantastic, well-designed, well-thought out product. I highly recommend the Rapid Traverse Footpack and Aeroblade Load Bars as a starting point for any roof rack system, and I’d use those components again in a heartbeat. They’re easy to install, perform well, and accommodate everything from bike mounts to cargo boxes and ski/snowboard carriers. I’d love to see a few edits to the installation directions to make them simpler, but overall, I was happy with the rack I tested.
If you’re the type of cyclist with a preference for getting your bike on and off of your car as quickly as possible, and don’t need to remove or reattach the mount at regular intervals, the Sidearm is a good option. But despite how easy the Sidearm bike mount was to use, I’m partial to fork mounts, especially for long distance travel.