Getting There: Yakima Sidewinder Cartop Carrier
We knew that as soon as we picked up Lady CoMo we would be faced with the challenge of transporting her. We had a bicycle car top carrier from Volkswagen, but there was no tandem carrier available for it. Also, although the Volkswagen carrier is made by Thule, it is a lower end product (more on that later). So Lady CoMo now rides a Yakima Sidewinder.
There was one interesting note when Mary chose the Yakima. She was concerned that the rack would fit on our "small" car (a Volkswagen Jetta). The fellow at the car rack store says that 80% of all car top carriers are sold to small car owners.
There are a number of steps involved in getting the bike up, all of which can be handled by one person. Remembering them all is the challenge.
First, the handle bars are leashed to the seat post to keep the bike from flexing under pressure. Yakima stresses the importance of this in their instructions.
Next the front forks clamp is pivoted by unscrewing the red knob at the front. The clamp can pivot 90 degrees so it is perpendicular to the car. Then the key is used to unlock the clamp. What I found very interesting is that the clamp itself is stamped "Belgium" – I would have thought it would have been made somewhere "foreign". In any case, it appears to be a very high quality mechanism, make of solid metal (in contrast to the resin-based product of the Volkswagen-Thule rack).
Next the front wheel comes off, the front forks are inserted and the clamp closed. The red knob inside the clamp can be screwed to adjust the clamping pressure. Important: put the keys back inside the car immediately after locking (please don't ask me why I know this is important). The nice part of the pivot arrangement is that the rear wheel of the bike stays on the ground while the front is raised. This is what makes it manageable by an individual.
The "Sidewinder" label itself refers to the cradle at the back that the frame will rest in. This has two heavy-duty resin straps which are removed. The bike is lifted from the back and walked around to the rear of the car. The pivot moves somewhat during this walk around, but it needs a final push to align the pivot to the frame.
I wrap a cloth around Lady CoMo's frame to protect the metal from the cables while she's resting in the Sidewinder. The straps are reinserted and tightened, and the pivot screwed down at the front.
There she is – she's all set to ride! Normally we also put on the seat covers as well as two bike "bra's" to protect the frame from bug juice on the highway.
Our overall impression of the Sidewinder has been excellent. We were skeptical of the front fork clamping arrangement at first – our Volkswagen-Thule carrier uses an arm that swings upward and clamps around the diagonal of the bike frame. In practice I think the front fork clamp is superior. It feels more stable on the road with less sway. The most stressful highway drive we had was going to Virginia a few years ago when we came up behind highway transports. Their slipstream put the bikes through turmoil. The front fork clamping seems to hold the frame more securely and reduces the amount of sway.
One final note on the Volswagen-Thule cartop carrier: in hindsight I would not recommend it. Its locking and clamping parts are resin-based (rather than metal). We lost the tumblers to both locks over time and had to rig up an emergency arrangement of nuts, bolts and washers the morning we departed for Cape Breton. I know Thule makes a higher-quality bike carrier, so it is not fair for me to say that Yakima is superior to Thule. However, based on our recent experience (which includes carriers for our road bikes) I don't think you can go wrong with Yakima.
Shoot. I knew I forgot a step. I was supposed to put the front wheel in the car before driving off ...