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.

Sidewinder rack Yakima Sidewinder bicycle carrier

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.

Handlebar strap Handlebars lashed

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).

Front Pivot Pivot

Front Fork Front fork clamped in position

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.

Side mounted Side mounted

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.

Sidewinder Cradle Sidewinder cradle

Cradled in the Sidewinder Cradled in the Sidewinder

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.

Mounted to ride Mounted to ride

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.

Loday CoMo in Bra Dressed in her Bra

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 ...

13 comments on “Getting There: Yakima Sidewinder Cartop Carrier”

  1. Keith Edwards wrote:

    When we bought our tandem I looked at this type of carrier but had two problems. The first was the height of the car, I am too short to be able to reach up and secure the rear of the bike. The second was the price.
    I came up with the idea of using normal two section ladders with the lower wider section secured to the roof bars. The narrow upper section has the bike carrier clamped to that.
    I slide the upper section off the back of the car but leave the front of it resting on the lower one. The bike is then fitted to the clamp and the rear wheel secured to the ladder. I can then just lift up the back of the ladder and slide it along the fixed one.
    All that is left to do is secure the two parts of the ladder together.
    The biggest bonus is that it avoids tandem specific and very expensive carriers as I was able to use the shorter solo bike one and just clamp some thing for the rear wheel to sit on.
    Yours does look the business and very secure.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Excellent Kern. The 'bra' gives a rather sinister Valkyriesque appearance to the whole thing. It looks a super job, and I like the lock (my mother was Belgian).

    The only thing that stops the bike falling sideways seems to be the fork dropouts clamped in, and perhaps some friction around the bottom tube. If it was me I think I'd see if two side straps can be put on from somewhere on the top tube down to the side rails of the carrier. But then I tend to be belt and braces with bike racks.

    It seems you are making progress with the Pas de Deux anyway 😀

    PS: Keith's idea sounds ingenious.

  3. Hilary wrote:

    That is a most impressive device. I'm amazed that it is possible for one person to fit a tandem onto the roof of a car, in fact I wouldn't have thought it was possible to fit a tandem on top of a small car at all! (Shows how little I know about such things, I've always steered clear of bike racks).

    I imagine you must get a lot of curious/envious glances with Como on the roof! :)

  4. Alan wrote:

    Ingenious. If it was me, I'd have forgotten the front wheel.

    I understand that it's also important to remember the height of your garage doorway.

  5. Chris wrote:

    Once again I'm envious of your stuff, Kern. Your car rooftop kit is more impressive than my actual bikes. It certainly looks more substantial than the Halfords bike rack that I use.

    Those "bras" look a bit like some sort of vampiric bikini affair. Does the job though, eh?

  6. Keith Edwards wrote:

    Really it was not ingenuity but being a cheapskate and not having a way of shifting the thing after we bought it. You know needs must.
    I do as Patrick says and use two 1" ratchet straps that I put around the seat posts just to take some of the strain off the forks.
    I love the Bra thing and wonder it it would improve the aerodynamics?
    When we have been out on our tandem we have heard so many memories from older people about their tandems.

  7. Kern wrote:

    LOL: bra. When the kids came one evening to look her over they declared she looks like a Komodo dragon. We tried changing names for a bit ("Lady Komodo") but the original stuck.

    Alan makes a good point about height. Our minimum required clearance is 8 feet. As a family, we have some past experience with "low-flying" obstructions – not good for the bike :(.

    Keith: Do you have a photo of your arrangement? It sounds ingenious.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    Kern wrote: Keith: Do you have a photo of your arrangement?

    I'd like to see one too. If Keith can say if he agrees (assuming he has a photo) I can email my email address to him and he can send me a photo, then I can Post it.

  9. Mary wrote:

    What a great piece of kit... well, two great pieces of kit to be honest... (bike first, roof rack second) :)

    Love the way you can put the bike up onto the roof.

    My other half was very interested in this post, thanks for putting it on.

    PS How is the tandem cycling part going?

  10. Kern wrote:

    Hi Mary. The cycling is going well. We just finished our first road trip on Thursday – post on its way.

  11. Patrick wrote:

    Update: Keith kindly sent me a link to his car roof mounted tandem photos (and description) on the CTC forums. Thanks Keith :-)

  12. Kern wrote:

    Keith, your ladder solution is absolutely brilliant – I love it.

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