In July 2009, after much debate, Odette persuaded me to buy a new car. I couldn’t argue that the “cash for clunkers” gave us three times the trade in value I would have gotten otherwise, but the 4Runner was doing fine and I figured that I could get 250,000 miles out of it. Odette wanted the safety features of a new car and told me that if I accepted a car that qualified for the rebate I could spend the extra on a new bike. Having agreed, I got an Rav4 and I’m getting used to it…
The first thing I did after buying a new car, literally the day we drove it home, was to go out shopping for a roof rack for the bikes. (I went to a couple of places that didn’t have what I wanted in stock so I acted like a jerk and didn’t give them my business – going to REI the next day instead where they had lots of Yakima parts.) We had to order an ATOC tandem topper and it took a week to arrive. I installed it on a Friday night in the rain. That weekend we took a tandem ride with ETC and drove to the start with the tandem in the new rack.
The new carrier is more appropriate for the load than the improvised carrier I had been using. (I’ve got it mounted right over the factory rail so it ought to be able to handle the load.) I can get three other bikes on top so I didn’t lose any capacity with the smaller vehicle. (I came back later and put a basket on top so that I’d be able to carry a spare tire. I had to cut out the fairing to mount fork-blocks on the top rail of the basket, but I still get four bikes on the rack and in fact having the two inner ones higher means that the handlebars don’t bump into each other. I replaced the Yakima skewers with Tandem Topper skewers and got four keyed-alike padlocks to secure the whole set-up.)
This version of the Tandem Topper has a pivot in the fork block which allows you to hook up the front end of the bike while the rear tire is still on the ground. That is easier to manage than my old approach which involved lifting the tandem in one hand while pulling myself up onto the door sill with the other. It should also minimize the scratches on the roof that came from shifting the bike while trying to get it into the fork block with one hand. It isn’t as rigid as a regular mount, though and it makes me nervous to have the tandem wavering because of the play in the pivot.
The first time loading the bike went fine. The first time getting it down was almost a disaster since I forgot to pull the pin that allows the fork block to pivot. Luckily Odette was there to back me up. The second load and unload were uneventful. ATOC’s instructions say to strap the handlebars to the seat post so that it can’t bend at the headset. I don’t think that this makes it any more secure while travelling (otherwise you’d do it on any bike in a fork-block type carrier) but it definitely makes the load / unload process easier to manage. (I had to do it a few times before I decided to follow the directions!)
Here’s a picture of Odette standing with the bike while the front fork is locked into the carrier.