Quick Review: Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus Rear Trunk Bag

A couple of years ago I decided to get a rack on my Trek FX7.2 to enable me to carry more stuff when using my bike for commuting or running errands. Since my bike is a Trek, I got a Bontrager rack. However, to save a few dollars I ended up getting some semi-decent bike panniers from Banjo Bros. to tie me over until I figured out what I really wanted.

This past April, there was a sale going on at Freewheel Bike on the Bontrager trunk bags. My friend Chuck has an Interchange bag and loves it. So I decided to head over to the store and check out the selection and see if I found something I liked. I did some examinations of the three different models, and as soon as I showed my wife the features on the Deluxe, she insisted I invest in the higher end model. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier.

DSC09244The Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus rear trunk bag is the top of their Interchange line. The Interchange series simply means that it hooks into a Bontrager rack easily and quickly, without any velcro straps. The front of the bag hooks into the front metal loop on the rack and then it clips into place on the rear. It’s a super simple system, and it’s solid and foolproof.

The main compartment is around 10L of capacity, and I use it to store all the essential bike gear, such as tire levers, CO2 canisters, and a spare tube. The beauty though, of this model, is the expanding side panniers that allow you to increase your total storage to a full 36L. You unzip the side pockets, and they expand into a full pannier on each side that velcro’s to your frame at the bottom. It’s quick and easy to expand, as well as simple to pack away again.

DSC09247I used this rack for a shopping trip this past Sunday and the expanding capacity was perfect. I used a single pannier for my laptop on the way down to the co-op and coffee shop, but then once I finished shopping I extended the other pannier and loaded it down with groceries. I also had a fair amount of space left over in the main trunk that I could use as well. It was the perfect amount of space for a small grocery shopping trip. If I hadn’t had my laptop with me, I could have even fit more into my bags, but as luck would have it, I didn’t need the additional space.

DSC09246-2My bike was pretty weighed down by the time I started heading back home, but the bag stayed put, and I never noticed any type of rattling as I rode. As I rode I also encountered another wonderful feature of this bag… a rain cover. I came across a short sprinkle on my journey, but all I had to do with pause quickly and pull out the hidden rain cover that is stored under the lid. It doesn’t cover the side bags, but the main trunk stayed nice and dry.

Despite the expense, I can’t say enough good things about this bag. I love not needing the full panniers for most casual rides, but love the flexibility to expand my storage when I need it. I’d recommend keeping your eye out for a sale to ease the sticker shock, but even at full price, it’s a great piece of gear that I hope to use for a long, long time.

Fat Bike, meet Bike Rack

One of the things that I discovered very quickly after getting my fat bike was that my old Yakima Holdup bike rack wouldn’t work anymore. The wheel trays were just too small for a fat bike tire, and all of the modifications I saw online, to make it work, were larger than I wanted to tackle. They also looked like something that wasn’t very stable, and I don’t want my bike falling off my car… ever.

Thus began the process for trying to find a new rack that would work with fat tires. First though I had to sell the old one to help fund this new rack. It took over a month to sell the old Holdup, but eventually I found a buyer. Now I just had to decide on what rack to purchase next. I did a ton of research, but decided to go with the default upgrade, the Yakima Holdup Evo. We had some gift cards at REI and decided to go ahead and purchase the rack there. I brought it home and started assembly.

img_4058It was very familiar to the old Holdup, and everything made sense, except for one small thing. The anti-rattle mechanism was no longer a simple bolt in the receiver, it was a weird mechanism that involved a long threaded screw and a piece of metal that was supposed to lock the rack to the receiver. However, I just couldn’t get it to work right. I managed to secure it once, but after that I wasn’t able to get it to reliably fasten anymore. The piece of metal that serves as the brace kept sliding into the casing of the hitch mount, and I couldn’t get it to stick.

img_4057I know some people like this mount style, but I think the one I had was just plain defective. I just didn’t like the complexity of it, and decided I didn’t want to have to deal with it. So I brought the rack back to the store, and decided to try out a Thule, specifically the T2 Classic. Years ago the Thule line was on my radar, along with the Yakima, and so I was familiar with the brand, and it seemed like just as solid of a rack.

img_4063My only qualm was that the T2 Classic didn’t come with all of the locking mechanisms. Initially, it looked like I would have to spend another $60-$80 to get locks that would secure the bike AND the hitch. However, after doing some research, I discovered that all I actually needed to do was spend $20 to get two additional key cores that were identical to the keys that came with the rack. This ended up making the T2 Classic cheaper than the Holdup Evo, which is a solid win in my book. Plus, the race used a simple anti-rattle bolt, instead of a fancy locking mechanism.

img_4065I brought home the Thule and got it assembled. Frankly, it was a lot easier than the Yakima. I was able to assemble it in a fraction of the time, and I didn’t have to do any weird balancing acts to attach certain parts. Within an hour I had everything locked and loaded on the car and I tested to make sure the bike fit like it should. Everything looked good, and the next morning it got it’s first workout, as I got a ride back from my wife’s choir gig. I’m pleased to report that my bike made it home just fine.

The Thule also has the great feature of being able to tilt backwards, giving access to the trunk of my vehicle without having to remove the bikes. The construction felt sturdy, although some of the mechanisms felt stiff. I’m assuming that will soften up more in time. The arm locks felt solid and clicked into place without any issues, and the ratchet straps worked as advertised. I did have to follow the instructions to make the ratchet strap work for my fat tire, but that took no more than 1 minute to adjust.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my purchase, and I’m looking forward to getting out more often with the fat bike now. In fact, we’re getting a ton more snow this weekend, so perhaps Sunday will be another adventure ride!

Gear Review: Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack

Every since getting my pop-up trailer, I’ve had one niggling issue. I have no where to attach my bikes for traveling. My primary bike rack is a Yakima HoldUp, which is a great way to transport bikes. However, with the secondary receiver hitch that I purchased, it sticks out too far, and would impact the turning radius of the trailer. I needed something that would hold the bikes closer to the car.

A simple hanging bike rack might be a good option, but I wanted to avoid spending many hundreds of dollars for something I would only be using a few times a year. In my search I found the Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack. This is a really unique trailer bike rack that clamps on to the actual hitch, and then acts like a standard hanging rack. It clamps on close to the vehicle, which keeps the bikes close and away from the turning radius of the camper. To top it off, I got it for less than $80.

img_2929What I liked

The rack is light, and super easy to assemble. It’s easy to store on a shelf in my garage when not in use. Sliding my bike on to it was very easy, once you realized how to rotate the mounting points to the side first, and then rotating them into place. The rubber straps that attach the bike seem sturdy, and are relatively easy to attach.

The general construction of the rack is solid, and nothing felt “cheap” in any way. The straps that attach from the sides to the car, felt strong and they secured the rack solidly. The addition of little reflective ends to the bike mounting arms is a nice touch. In general the rack is what it says it is, and feels durable.

img_2928What I didn’t like

There are a couple of issues with this rack, which may actually prevent you from being able to use it. First, in order to extend the rack and secure the clamp, you have to press down in the locking mechanism. I can’t overstate this enough; this requires a great deal of downward pressure and strength. Every time I had to do this, it took all my upper body ‘oomph’ to get it to attach and click in to place. I feel like some form of screw, similar to a scissor jack, would be a lot easier to work with.

Along the same lines, removing the rack is downright scary. To release the crossbar, you need to pull out the pin securing it in place, and then pull up on a release handle. When you do, the stored energy causes the rack to slam closed, like a bear trap. It’s truly frightening and feels dangerous. Again, I feel like this is a design aspect that should be re-thought. I’ve seen pics online of people who have been scratched or poked by the slamming components.

Finally, the biggest issue with this rack is that, even without bikes on it, you had to give up access to your trunk. To get into the trunk of your car requires removing the rack completely. With how difficult and scary it is to do this, it means that you do it as infrequently as possible. This past weekend I found myself using the seat fold-down feature from inside my car to get access to gear. It was just a lot easier than having the mess with the rack.

Final thoughts

My feelings on this rack are somewhat mixed. I love the concept, and it allows me to use it with my trailer easily. It accomplishes what it says it will, despite being imperfect. I think with a couple small design tweaks, this could be a really cool rack. However, it does serve my purposes, and at less than $80, it’s what I was willing to invest in. I feel like it’s probably a good buy for situations like mine, but I wouldn’t want to use it as my only bike rack. It’s just not easy enough to work around for day-to-day use.