Recession — what recession? So say makers of bike racks, who claim that the tough economy has encouraged more people to take up healthy, inexpensive activities like cycling. For those who would rather drive to the start of a century ride or an off-road trailhead, these innovative new bike carriers are loaded with convenience and security features to get you rolling faster and safer.
Rapid Roof Rack
Yakima Front Loader: Upright, solo-bike roof rack that bolts onto existing factory crossbars in seconds and does not require removal of the front wheel.
Likes: Extremely fast and safe to install and load. Out of the box, it clamps over any type of existing bars — round, square, aerodynamic — without tools in about 30 seconds. Loading a bike is a breeze: Adjust a clamp on the support arm to the proper wheel size (20 to 29 inches) and slide the rear wheel tray to the correct length. Then raise the bike to the roof and roll the front wheel into the loop. A small hoop automatically captures the other side of the front wheel, allowing the bike to stay vertical as you lock it down by turning a big red knob and secure the rear wheel with a ratcheting strap. Total time: 60 seconds. A built-in security system locks the bike to the bike mount with a thin cable; the bike mount can be secured to your car rack with another cable that is sold separately. The rack folds flat when not in use. 13 pounds.
Dislikes: At 56 inches long, it's too short for recumbents and tandems. If you don't have preexisting hardware, a pair of 48-inch crossbars and four Q Tower bases run an extra $299.
Price: $159. (971) 249-7574; http://www.yakima.com
Thule 971XT Helium 3-Bike Hitch Carrier: Ultra-light aluminum three-bike hitch-mount carrier with many convenient features.
Likes: Simple to use secure, and hassle-free features. It weighs 40% less than Thule's three-bike steel counterpart, which makes for easy installation and removal. No tools needed; just insert into hitch and tighten up knob. Built-in cable locks for hitch and bikes deter theft. Burly rubber straps and anti-sway devices hold the bikes firmly in place and prevent them from rubbing together. Arms fold down when not in use, and the entire unit tilts away from the car to provide clearance for a trunk or lift gate. Adapter works with 11/4- and 2-inch receivers. Rock-solid feel. Attractive powder coating.
Dislikes: Expensive. You need a separate cable lock to secure the front wheels. Some online reviewers have complained that the cradles that hold the bikes' top tubes are hard to adjust.
Price: $329.95. (800) 238-2388; thule.com
SeaSucker Talon: Single-bike roof rack that instantly attaches to any of a vehicle's metal or glass surfaces via four round 6-inch vacuum-adhered suction cups. The three-cup front-wheel unit includes a fork mount; the single-cup rear unit secures the wheel with a Velcro strap.
Likes: Super convenient for use with all types of vehicles. No crossbars or trunk lids necessary. Works even on all-glass roofs. The rack can be placed anywhere on the roof and windows and stored in the car when not in use. Each cup has a built-in vacuum finger pump, that, when pressed 10 to 25 times, sucks out the air from beneath the cup and holds it in place well enough to support a 200-pound load. The disappearance of a red band on the pump indicates the seal is complete and it is safe to load a bike. It took me about three minutes to install the Talon's 3.25-pound, three-cup front unit and the single rear cup, then attach a bike. Racks for two or three bikes are available.
Dislikes: Although the SeaSucker system is proven in the surf and boating world, it may take a leap of faith to get cyclists to trust their $4,000 dream bikes to high-tech vacuum cups while driving at freeway speeds or over bumpy roads.
Price: $250. (941) 586-2664; http://www.seasucker.com
Saris Bones 3: Curvy trunk-mounted, injection-molded plastic rack that holds three bikes
Likes: Simple and effective rack secured on the trunk lid by six tie straps. Angled arms allow you to stagger bikes so that the handlebars don't clash. Control devices keep them from swaying. Easy to install and take off. Prettier than simple metal-and-foam trunk racks.
Dislikes: Quite pricey when compared with conventional metal racks, such as the popular Hollywood Racks Express 3 ($64.95). The straps can be hard to undo when you're ready to remove bikes. All trunk racks may have the potential to scratch paint and/or dent trunk lids if overloaded.
Price: $159; the two-bike Bones 2 is $129. (800) 783-7257; http://www.cycleops.com
Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."