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The new modular cartop racks ... what can they really carry?

The new modular cartop racks . . . what can they really carry?

Shove a kayak into your trunk? Forget it;some loads just can't be readily transported in the family four-door. Roof racks that can carry a boat, or skis, or lumber have been around for years, but what about a rack that can take any of them-- and more--safely and easily?

Modular racks have finally introducedversatility to rooftop load-carrying. Several systems now widely available let you clip different accessories onto a basic carrier, enabling you to haul anything from a sailboard or a tandem bicycle to the lumber for your new deck. They're good-looking and durable enough to stay on your car indefinitely--but easy to remove when you don't need them up there.

Almost all racks have locking options--handy, since the racks themselves aren't cheap. Count on spending $55 to $90 for the basic rack. Add-ons vary: bike carriers run from $30 to $70; ski racks around $50; sailboard, surfboard, canoe, or kayak holders around $40. Streamlined fiberglass storage cases run $400 to $600.

Which model fits your car?

These multisport, multiuse racks all usethe same basic frame--two crossbars and four stanchions. Crossbars are usually vinyl-coated galvanized steel, and they're durable. The stanchions come in many versions, as you see in the box on page 129; you can be reasonably sure of finding one that really fits your car. Mounting hardware and pads are made of nonscratching materials, so a well-designed setup won't scrape paint or dent trim.

Bike and ski shops and recreational outfittersusually stock the racks; shop around to see the range of models and options available. All major manufacturers print guides to their systems; these show which stanchion pieces and crossbar lengths you'll need for your car (crossbar length is usually the distance between door tops, plus a couple of inches). Because there are so many choices, you don't need to settle for a make-do setup; if the racks don't fit perfectly, keep shopping.

If you change cars, your racks can adapt.Conversion kits are available that alter the configuration of the stanchion feet, so you won't need to buy a whole new rack.

Securing the rack--and its load

Racks come as kits that you assemble andinstall yourself, usually with no tools or with a set provided in the kit. One person can assemble a typical rack in less than half an hour, but adjusting and mounting it on the roof are easier with two people.

If your car already has a factory-mountedrack, check with the manufacturer to see if modular add-ons are available for it. Several rack manufacturers make cross-bars that will clip onto existing roof racks, but, if asked, they recommend bypassing the factory rack and using their mounts. "We've seen factory racks mounted with everything from bolts to tiny sheet-metal screws,' one rack manufacturer told us. "I wouldn't put anything on a rack unless I knew how it was mounted.'

Factory racks usually attach to the sheetmetal of the roof. Most of the racks you see here grip into the car's rain gutters, which can offer a more substantial hold. Racks that rest on roof pads set the pads at the edge, where the roof is strongest.

Heed the weight limits the manufacturersspecify. Figure a rack on roof pads (with inside clip mount) can hold about 175 pounds, a gutter-mount rack up to 300 pounds--depending on the manufacturer. If you're carrying sheets of plywood or any other load that wants to take off, you'll still want to tie it down to your front bumper as well as to the rack; otherwise, if you hit a strong headwind on the freeway, you could end up with a convertible-- or at least lose the load or damage your gutters or doors.

A $10 to $20 investment in locks mayprotect your rack, but some components are easily removable. It's a good idea to lock them (and your rack, if it isn't secured) inside when you're away from the car with the gear. Ski racks can be left on, since nearly all have locking options, but most bike, boat, and board carriers could be removed by any reasonably adept thief. Some manufacturers offer a same-key option for rack and components; it's convenient but not critical. Keyhole covers are handy in cold weather because they keep the holes from icing up.

Bicycles: the easy way to carry the load

These mounts may be the best-engineeredpart of the system. At last, here's an easy way to carry bikes that doesn't bang them against your trunk, your car seats, or each other; doesn't get grease stains on the upholstery; doesn't make you take your bike apart to fit in the trunk; and, unless you drive under a very low bridge or tree limb, guarantees that your bike will arrive in perfect shape and ready to go.

The mounts shown on page 130 representthe range of ways available to hold bicycles. Each best lends itself to a little different style of bike, but they have similarities.

Upright carriers hold one or both tires ina wedge-shaped tray, with some sort of tie-down that anchors the inside rim of the wheel. The trays are usually sized to standard tires so the fit for skinny racing or fat all-terrain tires can be less than perfect.

For the thin wheels, we found wrapping alength of cloth around the rim gave it the added dimension to work with the hold-down strap. Some manufacturers make a tray extender for all-terrain bike tires, but the fit for such tires isn't so critical--as long as the hold-downs can be set tight.

Down-tube holders and all-terrain bikecarriers are two of several kinds of movable-arm carriers. Others grip different parts of the bike--the chain stay, the seat tube, or the bottom bracket. On most, the arm swings down when not in use, securing against the crossbars. As with skinny tires in trays, make sure there's adequate padding for a good grip. Keep shift or brake cables outside the clamp so they don't rub against the painted tubes. Inverted carriers, like the movable-arm carriers, let you carry a bicycle without removing the wheels. Because it's not all that easy to set an upside-down bicycle onto the roof of your car, this type of rack is best for lighter bikes. It's also good for cars with short roof lines, since the distance from handlebars to seat is much shorter than from hub to hub.

Fork mounts are great for bicycles withquick-release hubs. These racks hold bikes more securely than the other types, so they're less prone to sway. Loading and unloading are easy, since all the connections are at rack level. The front wheel sits in a separate fork that can--on most racks--fold down when not in use.

Several manufacturers also make racksfor tandem bicycles, though dealers rarely stock them. Check manufacturers' catalogs for details.

Photo: Basic rack consists of two vinyl-coated steel bars held to roof gutters by special clamping pillars

Photo: With one bike-carry option, front fork locks into quick-release skewer mounted on crossbar; wheels mount on carriers on back bar. Unadorned (right), the bars will hold almost any load you can tie down

Photo: To carry skis, standard add-on (above) sandwiches them between hinged rack wings. If there's not enough clearance above car roof, use diagonal cradles (right) or vertical mounts; pairs of skis lie at an angle or sole to sole so bindings don't bang against roof or each other

Photo: For lumber, inexpensive snap-on pipe insulation cushionsload and helps keep wood from sliding. Side load-stops are available with some racks. Weight limit varies depending on model

Photo: For closed storage, clamshell pod opens on gas pistons,locks shut to carry luggage and the like out of sight, protected from weather. Wind tunnel--tested shape still holds fair-size load

Photo: Surfboard-sailboard carrier's straps pulltight over board on small winches. One available cradle option lets you stack several boards; others hold kayaks, canoes

Photo: Upside-down. Padded pincers close around handlebars. Straps secure saddle in padded cradle. Good for lighter, racing-style bikes

Photo: Frame clamp. Open-jawed arm swings up to grip the down tube; wide stance on crossbars stabilizes load. Good for heavier bikes with fenders

Photo: Adjustable swing-up arm clamps on reartire, rim. Good for fat-tire bikes without fenders or quick-release front hub
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1987
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