Testing the Thule EasyFold XT 3 towball bike rack
Words: Mike Blewitt Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith
When faced with the dilemma of carrying bikes on a car, the age old problem of on top, inside and on the back is actually getting a little basic now when looking at on top or on the back, with so many options especially in the rear-mounted arena. Putting your bike on the roof can present a few options depending on front wheel on or off, and then hub standards. In the back of the car is getting harder as bikes get longer and bars get wider – or if your family has a child seat fitted. And even putting a bike in the tray of a ute isn't as simple as it was, with longer bikes and shorter trays. Having previously tested a Thule Euroway 3 bike carrier and Yakima FoldClick that mounts on a towball, I knew that fitting bikes on the back was an easy way to mount bikes without the stress of totalling bikes on a carport or low branch.
Vertical bike racks like the Yakima HangOver and Shingleback Vertical Bike Rack and countless home welder jobs are a frequent sight on the back of big vehicles. But we don't all have big cars and big garages to store shuttle racks in. And although the Shingleback rack can have a number and lights board included, vertical bike racks and even shuttle pads can make the legal requirement of having your plate and lights visible a little harder.
The Thule EasyFold XT has all lighting built in, it is literally plug and play. Plus there's a mount for your number plate. The unit folds for storage and has wheels and a handle right above the centre of gravity for easy manoeuvring in your garage and fitting to your towball. It quite literally gets placed over the towball, and you press the large lever down to lock it on - then use the key to lock it on securely.
There are three wheel beds for bikes, with the detachable arms to grab the right bit of the frame to hold it secure. These soft grip arms have a torque limiter, so don't worry you won't crimp a light alloy frame or crack a carbon frame. You can also lock them so they can't be undone, for extra security at a pre or post-ride pitstop.
We had the Thule EasyFold XT fitted up to an Isuzu D-Max while in Western Australia, and thankfully it didn't write off our use of the tray via the tailgate. You can just step on the back plate to lower the bikes down and gain full access.
There's a 60kg total limit for the rack, and a maximum bike weight of 30kg. We did only mount two bikes, a Specialized Turbo Levo and Transition Smuggler. With the droppers down getting the bars and seats to fit was no problem. Like any rack that has bikes next to each other, getting them nestled in can be part of the challenge with unique requirements presenting themselves anytime you try to fit a bike that's a different size, or has higher or wider bars. This isn't a unique problem and the fact remains that most three bike racks take two bikes really comfortably.
The mounts for the wheels slide in and out, with a large strap (and a rim protector) there to wrench them down into place. We had no problem with the longer wheelbase of the Specialized Turbo Levo. Do make sure you centre the bike, as even on the mighty D-Max we had about 10cm overhang out the side of the car each side.
On the road
For a time I didn't like rear-mounted racks. They never seemed stable enough. But recent models including this Thule EasyFold XT have me won over. Whenever I glanced in the rear view mirror I was pretty happy with the lack of movement. And while I'm the sort of person to run roof racks all the time, it's a little harder with this rack to leave it on, as the EasyFold XT doesn't fold up to sit closer to your car. I did get in the habit of folding the sides up at the trailhead, figuring it was easier to see so no one rode or drove into it. If you're concerned, you could always take it off, it really is quite easy.
Most bike racks have their good points and bad, and the Thule EasyFold XT is no exception. The packed size for storage and ease of moving it around and fitting it were great. I also really liked how it was ready to go out of the box, unlike many systems that involve some time putting it together. The fit on the vehicle was secure, as was the fit for bikes. It's also 100% legal out of the box (ok, if you move your number plate or get the accessory plate), where a lot of options aren't and the risk of a fine or loss of licence is something I'm increasingly wary of the older I get.
So is there a downside? For sure – fitting 3 random bikes might be annoying, having to find the best combination of how to put them on, and where to put the arms that secure them. A vertical bike rack has got to win for ease of loading and security for shuttle runs. At almost $1500 it is an expensive rack, but if you have to drive to your trails, or travel to ride a lot it is an easy cost to justify given the well-thought out design and small size when not in use. All in though, I think this is an exceptional rack for someone who wants to put it on and take it off with no fuss, and know that their bike is being transported securely.
- Secure storage for up to 3 bikes
- completely road legal out of the box
- Small pack size
- eMTB friendly
- 3 bikes can be a squeeze