Towbar-mounted racks are not as common in Europe as they are in the US, Canada, and Australia. This is mainly because in Europe most people choose to drive cars, or if they need something sturdier, vans - neither of which tend to come with a ball hitch as standard. To upgrade to a ball-hitch can cost anywhere from around €250 up to well north of €1,000 - VW UK quoted £1200 for our Golf, but our local mechanic found an alternative that hit the €250 mark - so they are a significant investment before you even think about which rack to go for.
• Supports wheelbases of up to 1300mm
• Support tires up to 4.7"
• Ball and hitch mount-only
• Integrated locks
• Easy boot access while loaded
• 5-year guarantee
• MSRP: 499.95€
When it comes to choosing a rack for high-end bikes, however, they are still far and away the best option - unquestionably offering better security for your bikes in-transit and a much lower impact on your fuel economy. For modern mountain bikes (read: long, low, slack), the Velospace is the best option from the Thule range. They describe it as a "Versatile bike rack for all types of bicycles – from e-bikes and fatbikes to small children’s bicycles (for 2 bikes)." They claim it is designed to support wheelbases up to 1,300mm, tires up to 4.7" and a total load of 60kg. We have been putting one through its paces for the last year.
Features and Construction
(From top left, clockwise) The bikes sit in two suitably deep trays; Sturdy rubber straps then hold the tires - they are easily tightened with a ratchet mechanism; The release foot pedal to tilt the rack to access the back of the car; When the rack swings back, it reveals the solid construction of the base of the rack. its movement is limited by a steel cord on either side.
Here in Europe, we don't have a proliferation of styles of hitch mounts.They are regulated by the European Union and only one style is permitted - the standard 50mm ball. The Velospace clamps onto the ball with a locking lever mechanism holding it in place. Inside the lever, there is a dial to increase or decrease the clamping force. It is worth noting that when the rack is locked on, it is virtually impossible for a would-be thief to attack the lock with a drill due to its placement. You simply cannot fit a regular drill into the space available.
Bikes are then initially secured onto the rack by two arms at around top tube height that are fitted with padded grips to minimize frame damage. Those arms can be easily removed for ease of storage or positioned to suit a particular bike. Once the grip is tightened onto the frame, it can then be locked in place by disengaging the mechanism to release the grip. At this stage, the bikes feel pretty solid on the rack, but they are then further secured by sturdy, plastic straps on the front and rear wheels.
One clever feature of this rack is the release pedal. When a rack is in its travel position, it you normally cannot open your car's boot - but with a quick step on this pedal, the whole rack tilts backwards to allow access. Fixation on each bike is so secure that they do not move when the rack is angled back..
(From top left, clockwise) The two gripping arms that secure the bikes to the rack. Both gripping arms have a locking head; At the mount, there is a clamping force adjustment for the rack to fine tune the balance between gripping force and ease of use; The main clamp locks to the ball hitch - both the gripping arms and the main clamp use the same key.
The Velospace assembles easily straight out of the box with nothing more than a 5mm Allen key. Two bolts hold the rear frame in place, then you simply clamp on the grips to hold the bikes and clip in a number plate. The ease of assembly means you can just as easily disassemble it for storage (it won't fit into my loft with the rear frame still attached) and it is very easy to switch number plates so you can use it on multiple vehicles.
Mounting a single bike on the rack is utterly simple, however, when you go up to two (there is also a three-bike version available) it becomes a little trickier. The problem is the shape of the modern mountain bike. If we were still in the 90s and all bikes were still built as a conventional double-diamond, then this would not be a problem. However, in 2018 with the ever-proliferating shapes of carbon and hydro-formed aluminium the tubes don't line up the same way. I never got to the point where a bike couldn't be mounted securely, but it does require some thought and a little patience to find a way to position the rack to some frames. This was most noticeable when shuttling with two bikes, it's not just a case of throwing them on and go for the next run.
The rectangular metal arms are not something you would want to have rub against your frame on a long journey, so you'll want to fit your bikes properly - although it is testament to the security of the fixation of this rack, that even when the arms looked to be perilously close to the frame, they never did make contact in-transit. At this price, it would be nice if it came with a simple neoprene protector for that arm, something like a chainstay protector, just for the peace of mind.
The boot access mechanism is worth paying attention to. It needs to close with a definite click, or else it will swing down when you pull away (This is advice from experience). Fortunately, the rack is so robust and the fixation so secure, that the only thing damaged when this happened was my pride.
The contact points for the bike provide good security and have left no visible marks on the bikes.
The rack comfortably handled a wide range of tire sizes - the largest tire we tested it with was a 2.8" Schwalbe Magic Mary on a 40mm rim, which it handled perfectly. Although we didn't have a fatbike on hand to test Thule's claims, they assured us that it would hold a 4.7" tire. In terms of fixation, it performed flawlessly, even on sections of pre-Autostrada in Italy, where the speeds are high and the potholes are frequent and deep. One note of caution would be in regards to the claimed compatibility with 1,300mm wheelbases. At 5'9" it's not a problem that would keep me awake at night, but the large Canyon Sender I mounted on this rack, with a wheelbase of 1,272mm in the long setting, was perilously close to the limits of what the rack can take. The limiting factor was the plastic straps around the wheels, as they do not extend too far. You'll need to place the bike accurately to make sure you can fasten both wheels securely.. However, if you do have a bike much larger than this, you may need a different type of rack altogether, as the Sender was noticeably longer than the width of the VW Passat I drive (the Golf is my wife's car). You would end up with an alarming amount of bike hanging out on either side of the car. How is it Holding Up?
After a year of wear and tear the Velospace is showing little sign of abuse and is working flawlessly. Being short of storage space (bikes take priority with our limited space), it has lived outdoors in the wind and the rain for the majority of the time, but it has not begun to corrode in any visible or functional manner. One of the big selling points on this kind of rack is the low impact on fuel economy. Certainly, if you stand a couple of bikes on top of your car you are going to notice it drinking fuel far more rapidly, and while the rear windscreen-mounted options maybe are comparable for fuel economy, I wouldn't let you mount my carbon trail bike on one. Ever. On a long run down through Italy the Velospace and two bikes (plus a heavily loaded boot) knocked around 5mpg from my fuel economy, which may be a worry if you're getting 30mpg or so from your vehicle, but with a modern diesel that will cruise at 50mpg+, it was not a big deal.Pinkbike's Take: