If you’re anything like me, the value of most of the bikes in your stable is likely to be worth double if not triple the value of my car (a 1998 Subaru Forester affectionately named the Green Goblin, in my case).
Trusting a car rack made mostly of plastic and thin aluminium to hold and carry something of great monetary (as well as emotional) value elevates my blood pressure quite a bit. Matters get even worse when the main support of the rack grabs that expensive carbon frame.
Why not attach to the fork you say? From where I’m currently sitting I can see three lightweight carbon bikes, with three different axle standards, which I will have to load on the roof of the Green Goblin this week – so that won’t work.
Got lots of bikes with lots of wheel sizes and axle standards? No trouble for the Thule 594XT
It’s situations like this that demonstrate just how useful Thule’s 594XT Sidearm is. This no-frame contact rack can handle just about any wheel size, axle standard and frame design on bikes with tyres measuring up to a claimed 66mm / 2.6in in width — though we reckon it could handle wider.
The versatility of the 594XT Sidearm comes from the ‘SecureHook’, which grabs the front wheel and pushes it back into the wheel loop on the tray. There are no annoying dials or levers to fiddle with, and securing the bike is as simple as pulling down on the locking ratchet arm. Give the bike a shake and the 594XT offers a surprisingly firm grip.
Our test sample was not new out of the box and was missing the 'road bike adaptor', a rubber block that goes on the ratchet strap
As with just about every rack on the market the rear wheel is secured with a simple ratcheting strap. Unfortunately our test sample was missing the Road Bike Adaptor, a rubber block that goes on the rear strap to fill in some space and prevent the strap from touching the roof of your car. A purchased rack will include this piece.
There are a few other no frame contact roof racks out there, like the RockyMounts Brass Knuckles and Tomahawk racks (which see a similar design to the Thule), and the Yakima Highroller and Frontloader. Though we haven’t so far used the RockyMounts racks, the two options from Yakima have been a staple for the BikeRadar Australia crew.
While the Yakima options may offer a marginally more secure hold than the Thule, they're more awkward in terms of actually getting the bike fixed up on the roof – a job that can almost requires two people if you’re transporting a heavier bike. That said, the addition of a front ratcheting strap (as seen on the Brass Knuckles and Tomahawk racks) would be a welcome addition, more for peace of mind than security's sake.
The alloy tray provides more support than most racks while loading bikes
Thule's burly double-walled alloy wheel tray is part of the easy mounting equation, with the tray offering a big target to hit with the rear wheel before you align the front wheel and ratchet down the wheel hook.The arm can be swapped by removing a few bolts, and rotating the hook, allowing the bike to be positioned to either the left or the right side of the car.
With one of the two provided lock cores, a plastic cover at the base of the Secure Hook's arm locks to the rack, covering wingnuts that secure the rack to the car.
While getting your bike in place is straightforward though, we think Thule needs to re-evaluate the way its initial setup instructions are laid out (maybe even taking some notes from fellow Swedes Ikea) as the included ones are confusing. The oversight seems worse when you look at the simple-tool free installation some of Thule's other racks such as the 591 and 528.
While we're moaning, the 594XT is also a bit of an eyesore when not in use. The Green Goblin’s peeling paint, dents and scratches from many adventures are likely to catch your eye before its roof rack, but if you're the owner of a younger car whose life has been a bit easier you may turn up their nose at the 594XT's aesthetics – which come across as having been a secondary consideration. Certainly Thule offers far classier looking options.
On the upside, when out of use the rack adds no extra wind noise at speeds up to 120kph / 75mph, as far as we could discern.
Lightweight road bike? No problem!
As we mentioned at the outset, if you're in charge of a stable of bikes with ever changing wheel sizes, axle standards, and frame designs, and don’t like the idea of putting extra pressure on your lightweight carbon frame, upright racks that grab the front wheel are your best option.
Having used three of the best, we can say the Thule 594XT is perhaps our pick of the bunch, despite its quirks. Its ease of use is somewhat overshadowed by its clunky looks, but all things considered it does exactly what it’s supposed to and the easy loading, secure hold and five-year warranty make it a great option for hauling bikes.
UK availability was TBC at the time of writing.