In recent years, bike racks have undergone a radical evolution in both design and location on your vehicle. Gone are the days when every other car on the road was a Subaru wagon with a roof-top bike rack loaded with carbon race bikes. Now we drool over those same bikes directly in front of us at the stop sign, right there at eye level.
Then there are the trunk-mounted racks — the ugly stepsister of bike transport — which when loaded, inevitably look like a modern iteration of vehicle in “The Grapes of Wrath.” And with all those straps dangling everywhere.
Hitch-mounted systems are now all the rage — specifically the upright “platform” style with a wheel tray and a support bar over the frame or tire. This is entirely understandable: They’re far superior, offering easier, more secure installation and bike loading, less damage to the car, no mountain-climbing skills required to access the rack, and most importantly, offering almost no risk of your bike flying off on the highway. It also removes the inevitable slamming into your garage and trashing the bikes atop the car. They also offer upright mounting of almost any style of bike, frame design, or size. No need to take off any wheels, flip the bike upside down to accommodate modern frame designs, or employ your best sailor’s knots to secure them to the rack. Just place the bike in the wheel tray, secure the support bar and drive.
But some of us can’t afford the extra cost of a hitch or drive small cars ill equipped to handle one, and we don’t want a roof system for the above reasons. Enter the incredibly innovative — and according to our research, one-of-a-kind — Thule Raceway Platform 9003Pro 2 trunk-mounted rack (TRP). It combines the easy loading of a hitch-mounted, platform system, with the affordability, portability and compatibility of a trunk-mounted system, the TRP can be quickly mounted to most vehicle styles and just as easily removed to be hung in the garage for storage — all while keeping your bikes safely behind (not on top of) the car with almost no chance of getting loose.
Installation is as easy as any trunk-mounted system: Two plastic-coated metal cables (no cheesy, flimsy straps here), connect to the top of the hatchback or front-end of the trunk, and two more connect to the bottom. Two molded-plastic support bars rest on the vehicle, one high and one low, as per the instructions for your car. Using the same ratchet system as the other, highly popular Raceway racks, simply wind the dial to tighten the straps, and close the locking flap so no one can remove or loosen the rack (although you can still tighten when locked – very smart). The reinforced-thermoplastic rack is certainly heavier than most of this type, but it’s still light enough (35 pounds), and folds up small enough to easily carry back into the garage and hang on the wall for storage.
In this way, the TRP is much like other high-end trunk racks, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of a bar with hooks and straps to hang and support the bikes, the TRP has two trays which flip down horizontal to the ground — they’re extendable to fit various frame sizes and styles — and two adjustable support bars which swivel down on top of the frame. Simply extend the trays, drop in the bike, and bring the bar down over the frame: Locking dials tighten the clamps over the frame for added security (remember, the rack is already locked to the car, so the bikes are safe). Then make sure the trays are adjusted to the wheelbase and lock them with the rubber straps.
There’s very little room for improper installation here — if the clamps are tight and the straps in place, the bikes are not going anywhere. The only occasional tricky part to the process is arranging the bikes in the best position for the support bars. There’s one short and one long bar, for the inside and outside trays respectively, and some frames do better on the inside and vice versa. Generally what works best is placing the smaller frame (or the one with the lowest top tube), on the inside — that allows the longer bar to come over the inside bike onto the outside bike. You may need to get creative here, switching the direction of the bikes, etc., but we had no trouble fitting any of our many different bikes on the rack in various pairs.
Whenever I’ve placed bikes on the roof or on the hanging trunk systems, I’ve always driven with a touch of fear, constantly checking my clearance, or staring in my mirror to make sure the bikes weren’t flapping on the back. But after just a couple trips with this system I find I no longer worry, and rarely double-check them in my mirror: The bikes aren’t going anywhere. Of course there’s always the risk of backing into something with a trunk (or hitch) rack, but unlike roof systems, the bikes are right in your view when looking back.
The only issue we had over the months of testing was a loosening of the lock-down levers for the adjustable trays — one eventually fell out entirely (see image). This in no way impeded the rack’s performance or security, and we continued using it long after, but it’s definitely something Thule should fix. Also, the rack can only handle up to two bikes (up to 70 pounds total), which for families, is not sufficient. Other than that, the rack has functioned perfectly, even with our abusive testing which included taking the rack on and off the car way more than normal, mounting and remounting bikes, and generally mishandling it whenever possible.
Keep in mind, while trunk racks can be adjusted to fit almost any vehicle (and we’ve found it’s generally safe to do so), there are some vehicles Thule does not approve for use with the TRP, so make sure you check the website.
While the TRP is not a new product — it’s been around a few years — I’ve never seen one on the road, and only recently discovered it by accident. I’m not sure why it’s not more popular, or even ubiquitous, but it absolutely should be—except maybe due to the $450 price tag. And one final bonus: Thule makes this and all racks of this type entirely in the U.S.