Driving home on I-4 after a fun, relaxing, and enjoyable Ice Cream Ride, my bike became detached from the bike rack, went airborne, and smacked onto the roadway. This happened just after passing the sign informing me that I was only nine miles from home. I had been moving at the posted speed limit in the inside lane and was able to pull over safely and park in the emergency lane. I walked about 200 yards back to retrieve my bike and found it crumpled off to the side of the road. I’m sure that I heard a whimper as I approached.
I picked it up lovingly, acutely aware of the many scrapes and bruises that it had incurred. The most obvious was that the front wheel was bent and the derailleur twisted, so it was impossible to roll it under it’s own power. I lifted it up in my arms and carried my Electra Townie back to my car. With a great degree of hesitancy, I placed it back in the cradle arms of the bike rack, which was still firmly affixed to my motor vehicle. Then I reattached the three rubber straps that were supposed to hold the bike securely in place, but had just failed – for the second time – resulting in the injuries which my beloved bike had just sustained.
Damage assessment – Cateye light missing / bracket ripped in half, 7-speed shift on right hand grip broken apart, both grips shredded, mirror on left side broken off (found near bike, pictured above), front fender bent and support arm snapped, rear fender broken in half, derailleur support arm bent, Topeak Explorer rack scraped down to bare metal, front wheel tweaked, and the front fork bent. OutSpoken Bike Shop in Lake Mary is toting up the repairs. It is all “fixable” but was unforunate that it requires this amount of service.
So, was this an isolated incident, or has it happened to others? The rack is a Yakima King Joe 2, quite a sturdy device. I thought that I’d thoroughly read the instructions and was always careful about rechecking the straps after loading the bike on the car. In fact, the first time that the bike dropped off the rack (driving home on 417 following the Tour de Cure ride earlier this year), I convinced myself that it must have been due to “operator error.” I recalled placing the bike on the arms of the rack and going around the side to put my helmet and other items in the back seat. The “possibility” existed that I had not properly cinched down the straps properly. This time I had witnesses who saw me attach and double check the tie downs. A quick Google search of “strap failure” for this particular rack instantly presented at least ten instances of bikes separating from the King Joe while driving.
The next step was to contact Yakima, the manufacturer. After answering a series of questions – including, “No, it’s not an electric bike, ‘Electra’ is a brand” – and convincing the customer service rep that I had properly attached the rack to the car and the bike to the rack, I was informed that I “should have been using a Tube Top.” Apparently this is an “optional” accessory that compensates for the fact that the top bar on the Townie is slanted rather than horizontal. I don’t remember being advised of this when I purchased the rack and will need to study the manual to see if there was any warning to use a Tube Top on my style of bike. Yakima has offered to send a free Tube Top ($ 35 value) and three replacement straps (while not worn, this was another precautionary measure – a $ 15 value). That doesn’t come close to making up for the cost of repairs.
While the Tube Top may be a solution; quite frankly, I’m more than a bit cautious about using the Yakima King Joe 2 again. At least I can put it on e-Bay with the peace of mind that I would be including the accessory that the next user may need, along with new straps.
For now, I’ve begun a search of hitch-mount racks. They are appealing for several reasons – easier to load the bike, more secure, the rack can be locked to the vehicle (always was a concern that someone could simply loosen the straps and steal both the bike and the rack at the same time.) I’m looking at three different models – Kuat Sherpa, Thule 916XTR T2, and the Swagman XTC2. The Swagman is about half the price of the other two. Does anyone have any experience with these options and feel strongly one way or the other. Does one have any advantages over the others when used with my style bike?
I’m looking forward to getting my Townie back, riding it for many more incident-free miles and keeping it from harm in the future.