Words and photos: Georgina von Marburg

Today there’s seldom a trailhead that isn’t dotted with Shingleback Off Road’s vertical bike racks. Here in Northeast Victoria, the home of Shingleback, literal fleets of these iconic racks take over shuttle roads every weekend. Whether they’re on private vehicles or commercial shuttle companies, the Aussie-made product has expanded rapidly over recent years. Until now, Shingleback has only had a few models and accessories, such as the unique 2B90 we tested last summer, and the 3-6 bike rack options of the Shingleback Classic. However, it’s latest release is a key development that threatens to change the rack game all over again. 

AMB's guide to bike racks on your car

Whether they’re on private vehicles or commercial shuttle companies, the Aussie-made product has expanded rapidly over recent years.

The bike rack industry is generally quite stagnant; or at least, its technology doesn’t change and progress at the same rate as bikes themselves. Horizontal roof and hitch racks are very familiar, and vertical bike racks such as Shingleback have been late comers. But like all racks, the original Shingleback Classic has its limitations and subsequently missed some substantial groups of customers. The new Shingleback Boost (from $2450) and Sport (from $1990) models takes a huge leap of progress, away from the company’s own conventions and that of other brands; in doing so, it addresses the recent technological developments in bikes, such as enormous wheel bases, wide tyres, and e-bikes. The racks start with 4 bike options, although there are options for racks to carry more bikes.

TESTED: Shingleback Off Road Sport rack

In order to understand the differences with the Boost rack, let’s unpack the limitations of the original Shingleback Classic. 

Why the Boost trumps the Classic

Firstly, the Classic still encounters the same height issues as roof racks: you must lift bikes over your shoulders – and sometimes head – to reach the rack. But what if you’re a parent who’s just dropping their kids at the trailhead? Or an older retiree with a 25kg e-bike? Or what if you’re simply below average height? These are the customers who typically struggled with the Shingleback Classic and roof racks alike. 

But the ‘Boost’ feature directly addresses this drawback. The optional gas-strut mechanism allows the fully-loaded rack to recline and return with the pull of a lever. Not only does this enable boot access without having to remove bikes, but it will also save a few spines out there. In the recline position, riders can effectively roll their bikes on and off the rack with hardly any lifting involved. The 10 second process involves lifting a magnetic safety clamp, unwinding a pulley, and tugging a lever. You do have to yank the rack towards you initially, but the weight of the bikes will assist in almost effortlessly lowering and returning the rack. 

The optional gas-strut mechanism allows the fully-loaded rack to recline and return with the pull of a lever.

When spelled out as above, the Boost feature may sound complicated. However, in practice it’s quite intuitive. Throughout the two weeks of heavy-duty testing, the system worked as described each and every time. The only issue I had was with the feel of the lever; it does feel clunky and sometimes I wasn’t sure when the gas-strut was ready to recline or return. But after some practice, I got the hang of it. 

Of course, there are many moving parts in this new model. As the Classic is known for its brilliantly simple and robust structure, I was concerned the Boost would overcomplicate things with wearable parts such as the cable and bearings. But Shingleback assures me that all parts are an industrial grade and durable, and replacement parts will be available for those few occasions when necessary.  

New Cradles 

Another limitation of the Classic is its tyre cradle sizing and positioning. These cradles are welded in place and quite narrow, pressing against and sometimes degrading the sidewalls of tires. But the Sport and Boost racks introduce a completely new cradle design; these cradles are wider and their positioning is customisable. The bigger width obviously caters to wider tyres, but also means the tyre tread is what makes direct contact with the cradle, instead of the weaker sidewalls. Each cradle can also be brought forwards or backwards, meaning bikes can be spaced more appropriately to avoid brake levers touching the frame next to it.  

These cradles are wider and their positioning is customisable.

More Compatibility

Other limitations of the Classic relate to car model compatibility. The tyres of increasingly long trail and downhill bikes would occasionally scrape the ground while on the Classic rack, especially when driving on uneven terrain. This was less of an issue for raised 4x4s, but was a common concern for wagons and sedans. Well, the Sport and Boost racks have an answer for this too. The chunky new telescopic centrepost allows for further customisation, meaning the rack can be heightened for more ground clearance. Like the new cradles, this adjustment cannot be made quickly; it’s designed to be set during installation, but this shouldn’t phase most customers who use it with one car and the same bikes. 

The chunky new telescopic centrepost allows for further customisation, meaning the rack can be heightened for more ground clearance.

Aside from suiting cars with low ground clearance, the Sport also suits luxury cars with typically short hitch receiver tubes. In the past, Shinglebacks were predominantly seen on twin-cab utes and SUVs; but two different length hitch bars mean the Boost should now be compatible with exotic Euro-mobiles as well. 

 

Roadie Inserts

 

And speaking of Euro-mobiles, the Boost rack makes transporting your road and gravel friends much less awkward. The Classic rack requires short and skinny bikes to be wrapped in cloth or foam, lest the frame and rack make contact. But the Boost's ‘Roadie Inserts’ clip neatly into the cradles to securely cushion smaller tyres. There’s no excuse for gravel riders to avoid shuttle days now. 

 

Continuations 

 

While much has changed on this latest edition, some important facets remain the same. The bright orange bungee cords are an essential component of all Shingleback racks; they allow the bikes to move gently while hitting bumps on the road. Without these bungee cords, the bikes themselves would have to flex and bend on impact. I was especially grateful for the bungees while tearing up some unforgiving fire roads in Alpine Victoria. The steel mainframe with scratch-resistant powder coating also remains, retaining the sturdiness and quality finish Shingleback is known for. 

I was especially grateful for the bungees while tearing up some unforgiving fire roads in Alpine Victoria.


 

One rack to rule them all?

 

With such compatibility and adjustability, it’s hard not to see this rack selling well. The Boost rack has untapped significant new markets for Shingleback, markets which are only set to grow. Horizontal hitch racks may have lessened the need to lift heavy bikes onto a rack, but they did not eliminate it; the Shingleback Boost mechanism comes very close to doing just that. The Boost and a host of other new features prove that Shingleback have been carefully listening to customer feedback over the years, and it’s reassuring to have an Aussie made and owned brand at the forefront of bike rack developments. Sure the rack is pricey, but given the versatility it's a rack you'll have for many, many years – and it will likely adorn more than one vehicle in its lifetime.

RRP: $2450 (4 bike model)

From: shinglebackoffroad.com.au

Hits:

- No need to lift bikes over shoulder

- Customisable

- Compatible with wider range of bikes and cars

Misses:

- Lever feels a little clunky

- Customisable features require tools and time to set