After several years of painstakingly stuffing my bike (and often a riding buddy's bike, too) into the trunk of my 4Runner, I decided, enough is enough. It's time for a proper bike rack.
With so many makes and models to choose from, the options felt dizzying when I started perusing. After much deliberating between different styles and features, the Yakima StageTwo seemed like the best option for me. And with over a month of heavy use now, I believe it was the right choice.
The StageTwo is a basic platform-style rack that mounts onto the trailer hitch of my vehicle. It comes in two options for either a 1.25-inch or 2-inch receiver, so any car with a trailer hitch should be able to use this rack. I chose a platform-style rack because it's simple. Loading and unloading bikes is super easy, and getting the rack on and off the car is a breeze as well. But as I assembled and installed the rack (which took about 45 minutes, most of which involved lining up just a few tricky bolts), I began to notice some slick features that really cover all the bases of convenience and security.
The first notable feature is the hitch lock. Just as I was starting to wonder, What if someone tried to steal the entire rack off my car? I realized that Yakima had a nifty solution. There's a locking knob that tightens to expand the rack's hitch into the hitch receiver, which not only prevents it from being removed, but also eliminates any play in the hitch mount, keeping the rack rock-solid even on the roughest of roads. So far, so good.
For additional added security, all of the bolts on the rack require a proprietary wrench (provided with the rack) to disassemble. So it's not like any Joe-Schmoe with a set of allen keys could make off with your bikes.
The bikes are locked into place by folding arms with a plastic hook that goes over the front tire, which makes for a very secure attachment. An additional ratchet on the back wheel keeps the rear end from slipping off.
The folding arms also each include a cable lock. Now this is one feature that I thought could be improved. The cable and lock stow away nicely into the folding arm when not in use, but the cable is just barely too short to reach around through the bike's frame triangle. Instead, it's designed to go through the fork, which means that theoretically, someone could steal the bike by removing the front wheel. There is a dedicated bracket on the rack for an additional cable lock that could fit through the bikes' frames, but the built-in cable doesn't quite nail it.
Fortunately, the rack does nail it on convenience features. When I first had it installed, I noticed that it added about three feet to the length of my car—this would surely complicate parking in downtown Bozeman. But Yakima thought of that, too! The rack includes a handy lever that allows me to fold it up flush with the rear of the car, so it only sticks out about a foot. And when I want to open the trunk, the rack folds down the opposite direction so that the trunk can be opened even with bikes on board. Okay, this is pretty sweet.
On top of all these design features, the build quality of the StageTwo is bomber. Its all-metal frame feels very secure and durable. No shaking, no swaying, no rattling around. It's heavy, that's for sure, but because it doesn't get in the way, I don't find the need to ever take it off my car. I've actually only removed it once since the first installation, when I needed to tow a trailer. That's a testament to its convenience, and the weight is a testament to its ruggedness.
All said, the StageTwo is an awesome bike rack. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a simple, convenient, well-designed means for transporting bikes. It doesn't have the high capacity of vertical hitch racks like the HangTight 6, nor the complete trunk clearance of a roof rack, but for me, it hits the sweet spot. I'm hitting the trails more often now that there's no game of Tetris involved with transporting my bike, and it's paying off in fitness, finesse, and plain-old fun. The only downside is I'm racking up a higher tab at the bike shop with all this wear-and-tear on my steed...
Available at yakima.com; $749.