Paul Andrews

Warning! Thule T2 rack failure exposed

In Equipment reviews, Mountain Biking on September 29, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Alert! Another report of a Thule T2 tray sliding off a rear hitch rack has been logged on the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance Yahoo! egroup list. Lots of comments have come in regarding this failure, which has been reported before.

Here’s the latest, from the list:


I was driving home from Whistler last night when my T2 rack jettisoned
the rear most carrier and the Turner bike that it was holding on the Sea
to Sky Hwy!

Now you have to know that the bolts were all as tight as they can be,
the brackets have stretched with time and use so both carriers are a
little floppy. IT all turned out ok and the cars and bikes behind were
able to see the bike in the center lane soon enough to avoid contact.
The bike sustained minor damage.

Rack and Road claimed they have never heard of such a thing happening
before. I suggested that the rack needs a “stop” that would prevent the
tray\carrier from sliding off the back even if the bolts became loose.
They installed a large carriage bolt in the hole intended for the 2 bike
extender. This should prevent it from happening again. I will calling
Thule about this matter tomorrow as they are closed on Monday.

They should issue a recall and or prescribe a fix such as the one I now
have, in addition shims could be applied to the streching brackets to
keep them tight to the rail.

I am grateful that no one was hurt. IT could have been very ugly.

Added Jennifer Lesher, president emeritus of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance in Seattle:

It happened to me in spring of 2008 – on I-5 in midday traffic. I filed a
report with the Consumer Products Safety Comission (and also posted to this
list serve).

A couple of months after I filed the report I received a call from someone
at Thule who wanted to replace the parts of my bike that had gotten damaged.
He was pretty tight-lipped about whether they were going to do anything in
response to my incident, but they did say that the new models were going to
have a stop. Maybe if enough people complain to the CPSC they will do a full
recall.

While I think the consumer/car owner bears responsibility for keeping the
bolts tight I have heard from others (Andy included) that you can have the
bolts super tight and still lose the rack. In fact, earlier this year one of
my brackets somehow got bent and was no longer able to be fully tightened
(since my incident I obsessively check my rack bolts). I tried shimming it
to no avail, so I finally went on the Thule site and ordered a new bracket.
Not sure why it bent, but it sounds like it has happened to others’ racks as
well.

When it happened to me, the bike damage was not too bad, but a few minutes
after it happened a group of motorcyclists came by in the lane I had been
driving in. I was horrified to think of what might have happened if the rack
had come off in front of one of them.

I would encourage anyone who has experienced this issue to file a report
with the CPSC: http://www.cpsc.gov/ and click “Report an unsafe product.”
It’s an easy process and might pressure Thule to do a recall. Pass it on.

I’ve used a friend’s T2 for more than a year and recently purchased a T2 for my van. What follows is a review, consistent with all reviews we post on Bike Intelligencer, of a product by someone who actually paid for one.

Thule T2 hitch-mounted bike rack

With the advent of hydrofoam and carbon fiber bike frame technology, conventional bike racks have become a bit problematic. The traditional arm-support systems that slipped under the bike’s top tube have been rendered awkward to useless by the swoopy swervy fat or monocoque bodies of contemporary frames. Even if a frame will fit on the old style, you quickly get into scraping and scratching if you mount more than one bike per rack.

A smart and sensible alternative to the straightarm system was devised by Sportworks, then purchased and propagated by Thule. It uses a swingarm and tray design. The racheted swingarm has a padded hook that secures the front wheel; the rear wheel is strapped on with a quick-release buckle. I recently purchased a Thule T2 setup fitting a 2-inch hitch receiver. I also have a Thule roof rack using the swingarm system. The roof rack has a shorter rachet, a less pronounced angle to its hook, and in my opinion secures the front wheel better than the rear hitch rack.

The T2 is a joy to use. You just lift the bike a couple of feet off the ground — a real advantage over hoisting it onto the roof, particularly if you have a freeride or downhill honker — and position the wheels into their respective slots. You clamp down the swingarm next to the fork crown, and that keeps the bike stable so you can strap the rear wheel in with the QR buckle. It all takes seconds.

Mounting two bikes is equally snappy, and you have the added benefit that the bikes do not touch one another (sometimes you have to adjust the seat height to avoid hitting the adjacent bike’s handlebars).

There are a couple of issues with mounting the bike, though. You have to be sure to snug the swingarm hook right next to the fork crown. Intuition tells you otherwise — that you should put the swingarm hook on the front (outermost) side of the wheel, providing a longer racheting angle that by the laws of physics would, if completely stable, provide better leverage. The problem is that there’s too much play between the swingarm and tire. My Ibis Mojo actually fell off a T2 on a bumpy fireroad because of this problem (lost a good set of handlebars, but lesson learned!).

In my opinion there should be a WARNING! sticker on the rachet housing itself, advising new users to be sure to mount the swingarm correctly.

There’s another issue with the swingarm. Thule sells a lock kit for the rachet body that supposedly keeps someone from releasing the swingarm and taking the bike. It’s a complete farce. With the swingarm locked down, all a thief has to do is deflate the front tire, which releases the wheel from retention.

Get a Kryptonite New York chain, the Fahgettaboudit, for use with this rack.

Then there’s the rear wheel QR buckle issue. For some reason Thule made the strap detachable from the base end. This is convenient in the sense you don’t have to slip the tongue out of the buckle every time you mount the rear wheel. But it’s also a bit of a nuisance to have to re-mount the strap in the base with each use. It also means the strap is easily stolen or lost.

Then there’s the issue of materials. You want the rack to be light, yes. (A T2 is still a heft; a T4, which uses an extension for four bikes that I definitely would not recommend for off-roading, must be a real pig.) But you want it to be strong even more. And Thule materials just feel, well, kinda cheesy. You’re paying $360 for this thing, it ought to be better made. Sportworks fans claim to this day that its racks were stronger and more reliable than Thule’s.

Which brings us to the topic of catastrophic failure.

Because the rack rails are basically clamped on the struts with a brace, they invite loosening up and slippage over time. In the case of the above episode, they slid right off the rail.

(There’s a small phillips screw at the end of the strut that apparently is a stop, meant to keep the clamp from sliding off. It’s a joke. If the clamp is loose enough to slide, it will easily slip over the screw.)

Bolting the clamps into the strut, rather than just using friction in a clamping procedure, would prevent this kind of accident. But I have a feeling that the aluminum used by Thule would fail with bolt-through implementation.

The workaround, which Rack n Road uses, is to put a retainer carriage bolt in the T2’s pre-drilled hole for adapting the rack to a T4. If you have a T4, that option isn’t available. But it seems like a workable solution as long as the carriage bolt stays in place.

At Bike Intelligencer we feel Thule should do a redesign of the T2, addressing not only the catastrophic failure but the other issues we’ve raised. In the meantime, a recall would seem to be in order. Far beyond the pain and expense of losing a high-end bike, too many liability issues surface with this kind of rack failure.

We’ll try to keep you posted.

For a promising alternative, check out Kuat’s new NV rack, scheduled for release Oct. 20. It comes at a higher price point ($495) but has built-in cables for locking the bike as well as, check it out, a built-in bike repair stand! Here’s video.

Interbike Video: Kuat Rack’s ‘NV’ from Bike Magazine on Vimeo.

  1. this is a pretty confusing and embarrassing review to be honest.

    You mention the small philips screw at the end of the spar, not the backbone, and claim that the clamp can slide over it, well the philips screw is there to stop the rear wheel cradle sliding off and has nothing to do with the way the bikes were lost when the whole spar assembly slid off the backbone.

    It was not a catastrophic failure, the clamps had stretched and the whole assembly ‘was a little floppy’ but the consumer still used the rack! WTH? Oh, the front wheel on my car is a little loose but I’m still going for a drive and blaming Toyota when the wheel falls off.

    I have sold and assembled hundreds of T2s and have NEVER seen any bolts come loose on their own, the bolts have blue loctite to prevent this. They do not invite loosening up over time. The only time I have ever seen a clamp come loose or become damaged is when the rack has been struck in a parking lot or in a crash and the bolts are still tight. There is a difference between the bolts coming loose and the clamp being damaged and ‘stretched’

    I assembled my own T2 4 years ago and have had zero problems.

    Your Ibis Mojo fell off the rack because it was installed incorrectly! You assumed the swingarm clamped onto the front of the wheel and got bit in the ass. Assume some responsibility and admit you did it wrong! The rack comes with instructions, did you read them? How can you do a review of a product when you don’t read the instructions and don’t know how to use the rack correctly?

    Thule is a great company and issues recalls when they are required, they cannot do anything about customers not fololowing instructions.

    • Can you shared the us the Part Number for the “retainer carriage bolt” that was installed at the back of the T2? Does it come with the Rack? I just purchased a T2 and would like to install the bolt myself.

      Thanks in advance for your help.

  2. [...] the back of his vehicle when the rail it was mounted to slid off the strut on his T2 rack. We ran a post on Andrew’s mishap and documented similar episodes from other mountain [...]

  3. [...] communications manager, Karl Wiedemann, has gotten back to us re our recent reports on T2 rack failures. Essentially what happens is that the outer most tray (spar) slides off the [...]

  4. No more than 30 minutes the exact same thing happened to my Thule T2. Unfortunately, I was in heavy traffic, my $6k bike was destroyed, and the mess sent another motorist in to the ditch. She and her passenger both left the scene on gurneys and were transported to hospital. I hope Thule steps up to take care of me…

  5. [...] Warning! Thule T2 Rack Failure Exposed [...]

  6. You wrote “Then there’s the rear wheel QR buckle issue. For some reason Thule made the strap detachable from the base end. This is convenient in the sense you don’t have to slip the tongue out of the buckle every time you mount the rear wheel. But it’s also a bit of a nuisance to have to re-mount the strap in the base with each use. It also means the strap is easily stolen or lost.”

    You’re using it wrong. Leave the strap in the base buckle. Whe you want to take the bike off, release the buckle (leave the strap where it is) and pull the cylindrical end out of the slotted hole on the other side of the wheel. You can keep the strap exactly where it is and never need to adjust it again.

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