Thule has built themselves quite a reputation when it comes to making functional, well-built solutions to pack more things in to and attach more things on to your car, increasing your ability to lug more bikes and more bike related stuff around with you.
Offering no less than seven (in the UK market) towbar mounted racks, you’d hope that there’s a rack or solution for every bike-carrying problem out there.
There are also plenty of boot-mounted racks, but for the highest level of stability, least ‘shuttle rash’ (the damage caused by bikes rubbing against each other while in transit) and most security a towbar mounted rack has to come up trumps.
Thule VeloSpace XT3 details and specification
- £575 / $N/A / AU$1249 / EU: From €709 — region dependent
- Load capacity of up to four bikes
- Extra-long wheel trays for bikes with up to a 1,300mm wheelbase
- Wheel ratchets can take up to 4.7in tyres
- Detachable bike arms with AcuTight torque limiters
- Towbar coupling tightness adjuster
- Foot-pedal actuated tilt mechanism
- Rack can be locked to towbar and bikes can be locked to bike
- Combine with a Thule BackSpace XT to turn it into a storage carrier with 300 litres of capacity
Designed to carry three bikes in its standard configuration, the VeloSpace rack touts a high load capacity — up to 60kg — which should see you good for three electric mountain bikes (assuming each one weighs 20kg, and not a gram more) and is easily enough to carry three of the heaviest mountain bikes around.
Road bikes aren’t going be a problem for the rack, and it’s doubtful you’ll ever exceed the load capacity.
It’s certainly worth considering how much ‘nose’ weight your car’s towbar can handle — some have lower limits than the bike rack’s potential gross weight (its potential load capacity plus the unloaded weight of the rack). In this rack’s case it is 80.6kg.
It’s worth noting that on the main section of the rack, one bike cannot weight more than 30kg.
However if you’re after the option to carry more bikes, it’s possible to increase the rack’s capacity to four bikes with a VeloSpace XT Bike Adapter. It’ll set you back an additional £140 and has a maximum load capacity of 15kg.
The rack uses a 13-pin plug system for the light board that’s compatible with most cars, but seven-pin adaptors are easily available and cheap to buy if your car doesn’t have this system.
Thule claims that the rack is fat bike and long wheelbase bike compatible thanks to the long wheel trays — the area where your bike’s tyres sit — and the extra-long wheel straps that clamp your bike to the wheel trays. Thule claims that the rack can accommodate up to a 1,300mm wheelbase and up to 4.7in tyres.
Bikes are secured using detachable bike arms that are secured to the rack’s A-frame and clamp to the bike’s tubes using soft rubber clamping jaws that have an AcuTight torque limiter and click when they’ve reached optimal tightness to help stop your bike’s tubes getting pinched or crushed in the jaws.
The A-frame can be folded closed towards the wheel trays to reduce the rack’s height and size to help with storage.
The towbar mount’s tightness is adjustable with a small wheel beneath the rack’s tightening handle which allows you to adjust how securely the rack is attached to the towbar.
The rack’s party piece is the way it folds away from the car’s boot, even when it’s loaded with all of your bikes. The folding mechanism is activated with a foot pedal that’s located on the middle of the most rearward part of the rack.
The bike rack’s open angle should give you enough space to open even the largest of boot tailgates, such as on vans or large people carriers.
It’s possible to lock the rack to the car’s towbar, and using the same key the clamping jaw’s release mechanism can be disengaged, essentially locking the bikes to the rack.
The A-frame folds down flat onto the wheel trays to reduce the rack’s height and ‘L’ shape.
How good is the Thule VeloSpace XT3?
Storing, handling and attaching the rack
The first time you handle the Thule rack you’ll instantly notice how much it weighs and its rather bulky size. The rack isn’t light and its form makes it quite difficult to hold and move around with ease.
The A-frame, when folded down, is floppy and opens up when you turn the rack around in your hands. Although this isn’t a massive problem, you just need to be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re holding the rack to avoid damaging cars or other items if you’re in a confined space.
The rack’s weight could be a sticking point for some. At 20.6kg it’s not massively heavy but its size and bulk mean it has to be carried in a certain way, increasing how heavy it feels.
If storage space and your upper body strength aren’t issues, feel free to ignore these points!
The rack is easy to attach to the car’s towbar. The opening for the head of the towbar in the rack provides a secure base so you don’t have to support the rack’s weight while you’re fixing it to the car.
The clamp is easy to activate and the tension adjustment is intuitive and obvious in how it works: if the clamping handle is too stiff to close, loosen off the tension, if it’s too easy and the rack moves, increase the tension by turning the wheel clockwise.
Loading and securing bikes to the Thule VeloSpace XT3
Bike are easy to load onto the rack. You line the bike up parallel to the back of it and lift each bike in to place, putting the wheels on the wheel trays while tightening and positioning the rack’s detachable arm grab jaws in the correct place for your bike’s frame shape.
The jaws open wide enough to clamp virtually any sized tube without issue, except for really large ones seen on electric mountain bikes that are much bigger to accommodate the batteries.
Once you’ve managed to attach the grab jaws onto your frame you can clamp the wheels down to the wheel trays with the ratchet straps. This is once again a sleek affair and the ratchet system is easy to use.
There is a limitation with the ratchet system, though, that could be a make or break affair. Although Thule claims the rack can take bikes with a wheelbase of up to 1,300mm, I struggled to get a bike with a 1,272mm wheelbase attached and locked down easily — it required a fair amount of jiggling to get the ratchet straps engaged.
Once they were engaged, though, they tightened down the bike perfectly and the straps didn’t release or undo with the tension created.
If your bike doesn’t have a traditional shape — if it isn’t two triangles — then you might struggle to find a suitable location to clamp both the bike’s tubes with the bike arm jaws while still being able to secure them to the A-frame.
A complicated frame design, shocks or otherwise, makes it very hard to find a suitable way to thread the arms through the puzzle of bike frames. This is exceptionally pronounced for the third bike slot on the rack.
Once you’ve managed to get the bikes on the rack — which doesn’t take long — they’re secure and ready to be transported.
It’s also possible to lock the clamping jaws with the same key that locks the rack to the car’s towbar so that the bikes are locked to the rack.
This is achieved by the lock disengaging the jaw’s clamping mechanism so that it’s not possible to release the clamp from the frame.
If you really push hard or the jaws aren’t especially tight then it is possible to slip or force the jaws from the frame.
Although I wasn’t able to test the rack’s security features in the same way a determined thief would, I wouldn’t recommend relying on the rack’s locks to keep your bikes safe.
Thule VeloSpace XT3 bike rack travelling stability
Even with the rack fully loaded it’s incredibly stable. The rack does move around a small amount but this seems to dampen bumps and vibrations, further stabilising it.
If the rack does move, it would certainly be worth revisiting the towbar clamping mechanism’s tension.
The bikes remain entirely stationary on the rack with no side-to-side swaying or movement. The same is true for backwards and forwards movement with the bike arms and jaws doing their jobs impeccably.
If the ratchet straps are especially tight, the tension created in the bike’s tyres by the strap’s compressive forces does make the bikes ‘bobble’ up and down on some bumps and vibrations, although this hasn’t caused any problems.
Thule VeloSpace XT3 bike rack tilting mechanism
The rack’s tilt mechanism makes it very easy to access your car’s boot. There’s plenty of space to load bulky items into the boot behind the rack and the amount it tilts means that even large boots can still open — such as van tailgates.
The foot peddle that operates the tilt mechanism is easy to push and also generates enough force to initiate the tilting movement.
When fully loaded it’s worth keeping your hand on the outer-most bike’s handlebars to help slow down the rack’s movement.
There are solid metal cables that limit its opening movement and if the rack slipped or opened violently then it feels solid enough that no damage would occur.
Even when the rack has three bikes onboard, it doesn’t feel too heavy to open or close, but as with tilting the rack, when you close it it’s worth keeping your hands on the bike’s bars to slow down the movement to reduce the risk of anything getting damaged.
Thule VeloSpace XT3 towbar bike rack bottom line
The VeloSpace XT3 is an impressively capable, stable, high capacity bike rack that’s well-made and easy to use, and is worth every penny.
The only pitfalls are its large size, which limits storage options, and its unproven security and locking features that should be treated as a last resort.