The Thule FreeWay 3 is Thule’s cheapest bike rack, but that doesn’t mean it has had to cut quality to cut the price.
Thule is considered a stalwart of quality in the activity accessory market, offering everything from roof bars to bike racks and pushchairs to backpacks.
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How to fit the Thule FreeWay 3 to a car
The FreeWay 3 bike rack is designed to be mounted on your car’s boot or trunk, relying on straps to secure it to your car. There are six straps: two to secure the rack to the top of the boot, two to the sides and two to attach it to the bottom of the boot or bumper.
Hooks attach the rack to the car, and are made from metal that’s covered with a soft plastic-like material to help protect your car’s coachwork.
The rack contacts the car’s boot in four places and there are rubber feet to help reduce paint rub and minimise the chances of the rack sliding around on the back of your car.
Bikes are secured to the rack’s arms using rubber cups with straps that fasten over the bike’s tubes to keep it in place. The straps can be moved along the arms to increase or decrease the gaps between bikes.
The rack is supplied with a strap that’s long enough to wrap around the outer-most bike’s frame, securing all three bikes to the rack.
Weighing in at 5.1kg unladen, it’s possible to load the rack with 45kg of total weight spread across three bikes, where one single bike cannot exceed a maximum weight of 15kg — presumably, this is the limit of the rubber straps that secure the frame to the rack’s arms.
Thule claims the rack is carbon-frame compatible and can also be used with Thule’s frame adapter, which creates a faux top tube on bikes with dropped tubes or particularly awkward-shaped frames.
The rack is compatible with a light and number plate board, but this isn’t supplied with the rack. It also doesn’t come with any security features, but that’s no surprise because a determined thief would be able to snip the rack’s straps, removing it and the bikes all in one go to later untangle their swag.
Supplied in a fairly large cardboard box, the rack comes disassembled with instructions on how to turn it into the correct configuration for your vehicle’s rear end.
The assembly process is pretty straightforward, with the only head-scratching moment occurring when trying to decide which way around the fastening knobs need to be fastened, which attach the arms to secure the bikes to the rack’s vertical body. For reference, it’s vertically.
Mounting the rack to the car for the first time is also a relatively stress-free process, especially if you’ve managed to assemble the rack in the correct configuration for your car’s boot.
It does require a small amount of skill to get the rack to stay put while you attach the top two straps to take its weight, but once they’re on it’s a doddle to attach the rest of the straps to the car.
Thule FreeWay 3 bike rack bike loading
Depending on the shape and size of your bike frame, loading it onto the rack can be easy or a bit of a struggle. The set width of the rack’s arms means that if the frame is quite small then there’s a chance it won’t be wide enough to slide on to the rack. In this instance, an extra frame adapter is required at a cost of £26 / $49.95 / AU$69 / €28.95.
If your frame is traditionally-sized and a small or larger, it’s likely this won’t be an issue, however. In these circumstances, it’s very easy to attach the bikes to the rack.
Simply slide the frame on to the rack, with its arms underneath the bike’s top tube placing it onto the rubber cups, then use the straps to secure it to the rack.
It is worth noting that the rubber mounting cups and straps can be rotated to fit the bike’s seat tube or down tube, but it’s less likely they’ll be used in this way.
Because of the short length of the rack’s arms you need to be reasonably good at playing bike Tetris to get three bikes on the rack comfortably and without pedals contacting other bikes — or your car’s boot or the bike’s frame or forks rubbing each other. Practice makes perfect here and once you’ve mastered how to get your bikes on the rack it isn’t too hard.
Thule FreeWay 3 bike rack driving stability
Head out on to the open road and the rack surprised me with how stable the bikes were, especially when they were tightly secured to the rack using the supplied strap.
They didn’t pivot outwards in the wind and when driving over rough terrain the bikes remained motionless, not jumping up or down or contacting each other.
Thule FreeWay 3 bike rack problems
Even though the rack’s structure bears the weight of bikes well, hardly wavering in the face of a heavy electric mountain bike, the mounting straps do tend to stretch as the bikes are loaded onto the carrier.
Loaded with a modest 24kg, spread over two bikes on the rack, the straps stretched enough under the bike’s weight that the lower two hooks that secure the rack to the car came unclipped as it sagged.
When the securing straps are tightened beyond what I consider to be ‘tight enough’ to really quite bloody tight, the rack does still sag slightly under the weight of the bikes, which results in the metal rubberised hooks rattling over bumps as you drive.
The resulting sound is akin to someone throwing ball bearings into your car’s engine, and if you didn’t know that it was emanating from the bike rack you would make a swift trip to your local car mechanic.
Although this loosening of the straps didn’t seem to affect the rack’s stability or damage the car’s bodywork it is an alarming noise for the mechanically-attuned out there.
The lack of security is a bit of a blessing in disguise and should stop you from becoming complacent with where you park your car with your bike strapped to the boot. If you had a large chain or lock it would be possible to secure the bikes to the towing eyelet if your car has one.
Thule FreeWay 3 bike rack bottom line
At £100, the Thule FreeWay 3 represents a fair investment for a bike rack at double the price of the cheapest equivalent in Halfords. Although you know that you’re getting a good quality and well-made product, even if it isn’t faultless.
Depending on the sort of bikes you’re going to be strapping to the rack, and the sort of car you’re going to putting the rack on, there are other, but more expensive, solutions out there that offer a more stable carrying platform.
For lighter bikes or shorter journeys, the FreeWay 3 is a perfectly viable and solidly performing rack that’s easy to get on and off the car, doesn’t take up much storage space and should work with enough different bike frames to not be prohibitive.
If you can’t afford a tow-bar mounted rack or don’t like the idea of the bikes being on the car’s roof, this is a good and relatively inexpensive compromise.
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